FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the outright market ahead of the 2017/18 League One season.
WLB Season Preview 2017/18 | League One: Promotion
Blackburn (9/2 Ladbrokes) are the second shortest-priced ante-post League One favourites since 2010 and although Rovers are understandable clear jollies in the Outright Winner market, I’m not totally sold on the price.
Sheffield United (2016/17) and Wolves (2013/14) are the only market leaders to dot up over the past 22 years but Tony Mowbray’s men shouldn’t be too concerned by that wretched record – 15 of the past 18 favourites have finished in the top-six with exactly half winning promotion.
With six of the past eight League One champions being chalked-up at single-figure odds, the trends case to support Blackburn grows. But as the summer’s progressed, I’ve grown a little insecure in my feeling that they’re undoubted third-tier winners.
Mowbray made a solid impact when arriving late at Ewood Park (W5-D7-L3), whilst the mood around the club is oddly better than at any stage over the past five seasons since Premier League relegation thanks to a flurry of excellent transfer business.
Rovers have the league’s best midfield, have so far retained Danny Graham and also kept hold of defensive personnel in Charlie Mulgrew, Daragh Lenihan and Derrick Williams. But hey, the Venky’s are still in charge and I’m not sure they’re twice as good as their League One’s rivals (as the odds seem to suggest).
Yes, Blackburn will be there or thereabouts and yes Blackburn could well hose up. But I’m a price punter after all and I just can’t pull the trigger on that 9/2…
MK Dons (16/1 BetVictor)
There’s no beating around the bush in north Buckinghamshire – MK Dons are gunning for promotion this season.
With Karl Robinson moved on after an unsatisfactory six-year spell midway through 2016/17, impressive, ambitious and articulate Robbie Neilson was brought in. Having worked wonders for Hearts, the Scot soon set about transforming MK’s fortunes.
The Dons were winless at Stadium:MK until Neilson took charge in December; his first fixture in front of home supporters in December saw MK overcome AFC Wimbledon and the ‘Robbie Revolution’ was born.
Whereas Robinson refused to alter his approach through thick and thin, Neilson’s adaptable and versatile systems have begun to bear fruit. He’s played three at the back, four at the back, one up top and two in attack at times; the former defender is keen for his squad to be comfortable in a range of formations.
Players have spoken about a new level of professionalism and discipline since the changes in the backroom and there’s certainly been a no-nonsense edge about Milton Keynes under Neilson’s stewardship.
Neilson arrived with the side only two points above the drop-zone; he returned W11-D7-L8 in his first five months in charge and saw enough to usher out the old era as soon as May rolled around. Five club stalwarts were sent packing and the rebuild began with a number of eye-catching arrivals.
Winger Peter Pawlett was a fans favourite at Aberdeen, Ethan Ebanks-Landell is a physically-imposing and versatile defender, Ousseynou Cisse should add muscle and presence to the midfield, Gboly Ariyibi has pace to burn, Conor McGrandles has plenty to prove at a young age whilst young forward Ryan Seager has a burgeoning reputation at Southampton.
Neilson suggested his work in the transfer market wasn’t yet complete but with Chuks Aneke returning to fitness, Kieran Agard and Robbie Muirhead dovetailing wonderfully in the latter part of 2016/17, plus the zest of bright young talent that’s arrived in Buckinghamshire, MK should be well-placed for a promotion push.
I’m happy to be on at 6/1 (BetVictor) for promotion and at 16/1 each-way outright with the same firm.
Fleetwood (33/1 BetVictor)
Fleetwood have risen from the North West Counties League in 2005 to League One in 2015, achieving a remarkable six promotions in 13 years. And the Cod Army weren’t far off enhancing that astonishing record last term…
Upsetting the odds to finish fourth, the Trawlermen suffered a 1-0 aggregate defeat to Bradford in the play-off semi-finals. But that defeat failed to cloud what was a wonderfully positive campaign under Uwe Rosler’s tutelage.
The German was linked with moves away from Highbury this summer but remains in the Fleetwood dugout, ready to mastermind another assault on the top-six. Having a full pre-season in charge will certainly aid Rosler’s who only arrived on the scene days before the season’s first fixture last term.
The Cod Army started 2016/17 as short as 5/2 for the drop following that chaotic off-season and by October’s international break the Trawlermen weren’t far off the bottom-four. Few fancied Fleet to pull clear of the mire.
A stunning 18-game unbeaten streak between November and March brought an unlikely automatic promotion charge to life but Town ran out of steam on the final furlong, failing to score in seven of their last 11 outings of 2016/17.
Nevertheless, arguably League One's smallest club are keen to plot another assault at the top-six and Fleetwood are underrated at 33/1 (BetVictor) to do so.
Right-back Conor McLaughlin and forward David Ball are the only significant departures but the arrivals of Kyle Dempsey, Lewis Coyle, Harvey Rodgers, Jordy Hiwula and in particular, Conor McAleny, should bolster the ranks for another promotion bid.
Former Everton striker McAleny netted an impressive 10 goals in 19 games during a loan spell with League One rivals Oxford last season and the Cod Army managed to beat competition from the Championship to land his signature.
With an outstanding £8m training complex to impart his astute tactical ideas on a young, hungry, ambitious and talented squad, Rosler is a man well capable of bettering Fleetwood’s most successful-ever season for the second campaign running.
Southend (25/1 Bet365)
Southend posted their best finish in the Football League for nine years in 2016/17 but heartbreakingly missed out on the play-offs by a solitary point due to a run of four defeats in their final six fixtures, each by one-goal margins.
However, Phil Brown’s boys must also look at the early season performances for clues as to how and why they fell so agonisingly short. After only 12 games, the Shrimpers were third bottom with a -11 goal difference, and following a disastrous 3-0 reverse at Rochdale, Brown’s position was under threat.
But credit to the Tango-tanned coach; a switch to 4-4-2 appeared to do the trick as key players returned from injury and Anton Ferdinand bedded in at centre-back. United then posted just four defeats in 27 as they propelled themselves right in the top-six mix before their end of season collapse.
There’s a stability and consistency surrounding Roots Hall. Brown is entering his fourth campaign in charge and having already built year-on-year progress with the Shrimpers, I see no reason why Southend can’t continue to improve and squeeze into the top-six this time around.
Midfielder Will Atkinson and centre-back Adam Thompson are the only significant departures but both local boy Michael Kightly and Michael Turner are eye-catching arrivals, should they stay fit. And with Nile Ranger out of prison in the coming weeks, the Blues will have their X-Factor back on stage.
Brown said Ranger’s had little access to activity whilst behind bars so it might take time for the former Newcastle hitman to find his stride. But you can be sure Southend will pull out the stops to ensure he does – last season the Shrimpers returned W12-D4-L4 with him in the team compared to W10-D9-L13 when Ranger was absent.
Still, Simon Cox, Marc-Antoine Fortune and Theo Robinson are capable forwards and key playmaker Ryan Leonard looks increasingly likely to stay at Roots Hall despite attracting the attention of Championship clubs.
Off the pitch the club have added an U21 team to their ranks and are pushing to become a Category 2 academy and I’m keen to keep the resurgent Essex outfit onside this season.
The 9/1 on promotion with BetVictor is well worth a whirl.
League One – MK Dons (16/1 each-way BetVictor)
League One – Fleetwood (33/1 each-way BetVictor)
League One – Southend to be promoted (9/1 BetVictor)
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