WLB Season Preview 2017/18 | The Football Lab's Dark Horses
You’ve heard about the Football League's favourites – the Middlesbroughs, the Blackburns and the Mansfields – I’m here to dig a little deeper and talk about the names a bit lower down the pre-season betting list.
The teams that not everyone will fancy, but could muster the spirit and work ethic required to perform above the sum of their parts.
Thirteen teams, according to the bookies, are more likely to reach the top six this season than Brentford. That is, despite the fact that the Bees scored 31 goals in their last 15 games, more than any side bar Fulham. They amassed 27 points in that time, with just their West London rivals and Newcastle gaining more, giving them valuable momentum.
The attacking trio of Jota, Lasse Vibe and Sergi Canos interchanged seamlessly. Many feared the worst when Scott Hogan left for Aston Villa in January, yet immediately after his switch, Vibe netted a brace against the Villans. Those two goals were the first of 12 in his final 17 appearances last season, while Hogan suffered from playing in a less suitable system in B6, scoring only once.
Although some punters might wait to know Jota's whereabouts before backing the Bees, we can see that they have a fluid system that is not reliant on individuals.
Florian Jozefzoon made a big impact on the right wing in a pre-season friendly with Southampton, showing his blistering pace and looking comfortable cutting inside. If Jota left, there is a possibility that he could step up a level, in the same way that Vibe did.
The one recent criticism of Dean Smith's side has been a lack of physicality in midfield, since Toumani Diagouraga left. Nico Yennaris is beginning to fill the void though and new signing Kamohelo Mokotjo should add muscle too.
The South African, who established himself as one of the most complete midfielders in the Eredivisie last season with FC Twente, retains possession effectively.
Daniel Bentley was among the Championship's best goalkeepers last season while stalwart Harlee Dean adds much-needed leadership and continuity in an evolving squad.
BetVictor have Brentford at 4/1 to make the top six – get on board now.
For a League One club that has graced the Premier League as recently as 2007, some might debate whether the ‘dark horses' tag should be applied.
My claim aims to dispute the bookies' valuation of Charlton, who are deemed to be outside the six or seven most likely teams to win promotion.
Yes, they finished 13th last season, but let's not pretend that this is anywhere near the benchmark for where the club should be with the players they have available.
The Addicks conceded just 21 goals in the 23 games Jason Pearce was fit for last season and his centre-back pairing with the burgeoning teenage talent of Ezri Konsa could provide the perfect balance of experience and youth.
Stalwarts Chris Solly and Johnnie Jackson provide a crucial bond with fans at this time of political tension, while loanee left-back Jay Da Silva captained England Under-19s to European glory. Da Silva will link up with Mark Marshall, arguably the most creative winger in League One last season, who joins from play-off finalists Bradford along with number 10 Billy Clarke.
Another quality wide option is Ricky Holmes, Charlton's best attacking player last term, who has signed a new deal despite Sheffield United links. The aforementioned trio will create for Josh Magennis, who hit double figures last term but offers more in terms of mobility and hold-up play.
Take 5/2 (BetVictor) on the Londoners making the top six this year. Karl Robinson built an excellent, attacking MK Dons side that won promotion in 14/15 – he has the tools to replicate that work at The Valley.
Shortly after David Artell took over at Gresty Road, The Railwaymen won half of their final 16 games, accumulating a points return that would have seen them finish fifth over a whole season.
Jordan Bowery helped Oxford to promotion while Chris Dagnall is a habitual goalscorer at this level and when the striking duo started together last term, they averaged nearly two goals per game. These excellent attacking options, which wouldn't look out of place in League One, are improved further by the signing of Colchester's 16-goal top scorer, Chris Porter.
At the other end, the Alex have looked a defensively savvier outfit since the change of manager. One of League Two's best shot stoppers, Ben Garrett, is protected by a new-look back-line, with few tears shed over defenders leaving.
Michael Raynes, whose presence helped improve Carlisle's defensive record by 26% last term and was regarded their best centre-back, joins from Brunton Park.
Youngster Perry Ng has also proved capable at centre-back and joins an exciting crop of academy graduates, including winger Callum Ainley and the creative George Cooper. Crewe possess a good squad and should be shorter than 9/2 (William Hill) to make the top seven this season.
After some tough times for the club, Artell could inspire a resurgence.
Championship – Brentford to finish in the top six (4/1 BetVictor)
League One – Charlton to finish in the top six (5/2 BetVictor)
League Two – Crewe to finish in the top seven (9/2 William Hill)
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