FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the outright market ahead of the 2017/18 League Two season.
WLB Season Preview 2017/18 | League Two: Promotion
Perennial ante-post favourites Portsmouth finally departed League Two at the fourth time of asking but even Pompey’s departure has failed to liven up the fourth-tier’s Outright market.
The two big spenders have been quick to flash their cash as they chase a return to League One and it’s difficult to oppose either at the odds on offer.
Mansfield (6/1 Sportingbet)
Only two jollies have taken top honours in League Two this century but Mansfield appear well-equipped to enhance that unremarkable record when May rolls around.
Rotund boss Steve Evans is bidding for a seventh promotion and was quick to get his transfer business sorted this summer. The Stags had completed 11 signging before June – the majority of which were of League One quality.
Overall, 13 additions have joined Town and with the likes of new centre-back David Mirfin and midfielder Will Atkinson competing for Championship promotion earlier this calendar year, Mansfield won’t be short of options.
Evans shouldn’t have too much extra to find from a Stags side that’s tabled successive top-half finishes at this level for the first time in well over a decade and returned W13-D8-L9 from his first 30 matches in charge (1.57 points per-game).
There’s no point in wasting further time here; we know what Evans is capable of, we’re all thoroughly impressed by their business and I’d be stunned if the Stags failed to deliver at 13/10 (Black Type) in the Promotion market.
For me, backing Mansfield each-way at 6/1 with Sportingbet is our best angle of attack with three paid places on offer.
Luton (7/1 Ladbrokes)
Luton were 10/1 third favourites to secure the League Two title last season but were unable to break the top-three despite tabling 77 points. Ultimately, the Hatters lost out in the play-offs and the pressure is now building on highly-rated head coach Nathan Jones.
The Welshman kept Town competitive throughout the campaign but the Bedfordshire outfit were often criticised for their lack of creativity in the final third, particularly when bottom-half sides visited Kenilworth Road with 10 men behind the ball.
The loss of Cameron McGeehan certainly won’t help in that regard but Jones has strengthened his squad significantly in several key areas and Luton do look very well-equipped to mount a major challenge for top honours.
Top goalscorer Danny Hylton pledged his future to the club and with Isaac Vassell alongside the incoming James Collins and Elliott Lee, the Hatters have the most impressive forwardline in the division. Meanwhile, the arrival of Andrew Shinnie and Alan McCormack adds brawn, bite and penetration to the midfield.
Elsewhere, the goalkeeping issue has been addressed following Marek Stech and James Shea’s signings and should Luton enhance their draw record at Kenilworth Road with a bit more thrust going forward, they’ll go very close to top spot.
I’ll have a bit of the 7/1 each-way with Ladbrokes.
Colchester (25/1 Black Type)
Having suffered League One relegation whilst shipping 99 goals in 2015/16, few expected Colchester to make any sort of mark on the top-seven in League Two last season, especially with John McGreal making the step-up from youth team coach to the club’s first-team manager.
Understandably, the U’s were an inconsistent beast and were even in the bottom-two after 17 matches. But from then on, the Essex raiders soon found their stride. In fact, bar a catastrophic W0-D4-L6 run of results between mid-September and mid-November, Colchester produced almost automatic promotion form.
In the end, a damaging series of injuries hit McGreal’s men hard. Towards the back end of the campaign, the U’s were without five or six key men and at one point in the season were without over a dozen individuals. So to finish a point and a place outside the top-seven deserves immense credit.
Summer business has seen leading scorer Chris Porter move on and centre-back George Elokobi leave, leaving fans frustrated. But should the likes of Kurtis Guthrie knuckle down plus the additions of Mikael Mandron, Ryan Jackson and Cole Kpekawa slot seamlessly in, there’s no reason why ColU can’t challenge.
Colchester’s record at the Community Stadium was mightily strong and if McGreal find the magic formula for sneaking a few more triumphs on their travels, I expect the U’s to feature in the end of season shake-up.
The 6/1 (Bet365) for promotion stands out.
Crewe 45/1 (Paddy Power)
Crewe appeared set for a second successive relegation under Steve Davis last season. Although sitting seven points clear of the bottom-two, the Alex were nose-diving down the standings having collected only six victories from 25 league outings.
Academy director David Artell, a man with multiple degrees and former Railwayman defender, took charge and immediately set about putting the underperforming side back on an even keel.
Crewe finished the campaign strongly, bagging eight victories from their final 17 matches, whilst averaging almost two goals per-game. The capture of Jordan Bowery on-loan was arguably the turning point and his partnership alongside target man Chris Dagnall reaped major rewards.
Bowery’s made his move permanent over the summer and will be keen to add to his dozen goals in 14 games whilst the arrival of Chris Porter from Colchester gives Artell excellent options in the final-third.
Centre-backs Eddie Nolan and Michael Raynes are solid replacements for Player of the Year Jon Guthire whilst young holding midfielder Brad Walker arrives highly recommended. George Cooper remains one of the division’s classier performers and with season ticket sales up by 10%, there’s a much more positive mood around Gresty Road.
Artell has addressed the lack of height and experience in his squad and whilst Crewe might still lack a bit of pace, they certainly seem capable of overperforming their ante-post odds with 10/1 (Bet365) available on promotion well worth of interest.
League Two – Mansfield (6/1 each-way Sportingbet)
League Two – Luton (7/1 each-way Ladbrokes)
League Two – Colchester to be promoted (6/1 Bet365)
League Two – Crewe to be promoted (10/1 bet365)
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