FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the relegation market ahead of the 2017/18 League One season.
WLB Season Preview 2017/18 | League One: Relegation
With four clubs suffering League One demotion, finding a side to take the drop should in theory be easier than elsewhere in the Football League.
However, that one extra relegation place is reflected in the ante-post markets with pre-season odds suffering.
The League One relegation market is always one that intrigues me and I’m always keen to be a little more adventurous but at the same time, I’m happy to add one sub 2/1 shot to the portfolio.
Gillingham (7/4 Boylesports)
Gillingham became only the fourth League One side with the worst defence to avoid relegation in the past 12 seasons but the Kent club might not prove so fortunate in their attempts to preserve their third-tier status this time around.
The Kent club shipped 79 goals in 2016/17 and recorded just three clean sheets as they finished the campaign just a solitary point above the relegation zone, clinching survival on the very last weekend.
Justin Edinburgh’s stint in charge came to a close soon after Christmas but the arrival of Adrian Pennock in the dugout from January failed to stem the bleeding. In fact, performances and results deteriorated further and with funds tight at the Priestfield Stadium, key players have moved on this summer.
Bradley Dack, Deji Oshilaja and Cody McDonald departed and a costly court case with former caterers have made investment in the squad tricky for chairman Paul Scally.
New director of football Peter Taylor will work with Pennock and in fairness, defenders Alex Lacey, Luke O’Neill and Gabriel Zakuani should at least add a bit more passion at the back. But further forward, the Gills have certainly downgraded.
Tom Eaves and Conor Wilkinson have plenty to prove in attack whilst Liam Nash – scorer of 37 goals in the eighth tier with Maldon and Tiptree – is unproven as a Football League article.
Gillingham are undoubtedly weaker in key areas, short of quality on the ball and under the stewardship of a coach that guided the group to just four wins in 21 matches last term. I’m happy to board the relegation bus at 7/4 (Boylesports).
Walsall (11/4 Marathon)
Two years ago, 40/1 shots Walsall thrilled Football League fans on their way to a third-placed finish. Unfortunately for Saddlers fans, the side were unable to progress via the play-offs and in the summer of 2016 their leading lights were picked off by bigger budgeted clubs.
Club stalwart Jon Whitney had taken the reigns from outgoing Dean Smith mid-season and although there were valid concerns regarding his tactical prowess, Walsall were keen to keep him in position for the 2016/17 campaign.
On paper, the former physio enjoyed a solid first full season. The Saddlers finished a respectable 14th and at one stage in March were only four points off the play-offs. However, inconsistent and uninspiring performances soon caught up on the Black Country boys and Walsall ended their campaign with a sole success in 10 and one triumph against a top-half team since January.
A 4-1 thumping at home to MK Dons on the final day saw fans call for Whitney’s head whilst a local newspaper poll the following week suggested only 23% supported their manager. Strain has also been noticeable between Whitney and the club’s hierarchy following a number of contradictory public statements regarding transfer budgets.
It’s Walsall’s 11th successive season in League One and fans are beginning to get restless by the board’s apparent lack of ambition. The Saddlers operate on a bottom-four budget and the squad appears painfully thin coming into the campaign whilst there’s an overreliance on the sheer brilliance of pint-sized playmaker Erhun Oztumer.
Last season’s impressive loanees Jason McCarthy, Scott Laird and Eoghan O’Connell are no longer about, the only two strikers on the books bagged 11 goals between them last term whilst overall the squad managed just 51 goals.
Should Walsall continue to serve up an unappealing brand of football, Whitney will be surely be gone but survival still feels like it could be a struggle unless serious reinforcements are made.
Rotherham (9/1 Bet365)
In five of the previous 10 League One campaigns, a relegated Championship club has suffered a second demotion. In total six sides (20%) have dropped from the second-tier to fourth in the space of two seasons during that 10-year sample.
Rotherham look a little overrated in the markets and with their 9/1 (Bet365) tag for relegation implying only a 10% chance of a bottom-four finish, I’m more than happy to grab a bite on a value price.
The Millers finished 28 points adrift of Championship safety last season – the worst post-war performance in the second-tier. United fell to 33 defeats and conceded 98 goals; they collected a club record low number of wins (5) and equalled the record for most away defeats (21) in a Football League season.
Relegation was confirmed with seven games to play but it arguably had been coming. Rotherham avoided the drop by a single place in consecutive campaigns before folding last time out and asking the club to rid its losing mentality when 17 of last year’s squad remain, as well as the manager, seems far-fetched.
Player of the Year Tom Adeyemi, top scorer Danny Ward, key midfielder Richard Smallwood and defender Kirk Broadfoot have all left and whilst new signings David Ball, Darren Potter and Ryan Williams are amongst a reasonable raft of new additions, I remain far from convinced about Warne and Rotherham.
Warne suggested top-10 is the minimum the Millers should be looking to achieve but the jury is certainly out on the club legend as a managerial prospect. Despite not wanting the gig in the first instance, chairman Tony Stewart appointed him just four days after the club’s relegation. It all feels a little bizarre from outside.
Supporters of the South Yorkshire side are optimistic about what lies ahead, insisting transfer business has been shrewd and pre-season results impressive. But for me, there’s plenty to prove and that’s why I think the Millers are worth backing at a bulbous price to be playing League Two football in 2018.
League One – Gillingham to be relegated (7/4 Boylesports)
League One – Walsall to be relegated (11/4 Marathon)
League One – Rotherham to be relegated (9/1 Bet365)
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