FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the Outright Winner and Promotion markets ahead of the 2018/19 League One season.
WLB Season Preview 2018/19 | League One: Promotion
Sunderland (3/1 Ladbrokes) are the fourth shortest-priced ante-post League One favourites this century and although the Black Cats are understandable clear jollies in the Outright Winner market, I’m not at all sold on the price.
None of the three teams to start a third-tier season at a shorter price were crowned champions and it’s concerning for the Wearsiders that Sheffield United (2016/17) and Wolves (2013/14) are the only market leaders to dot up over the past 23 years at this level.
Blackburn disappointed punters at 9/2 quotes last term when arguably appearing a more reliable and rounded beast, and while Sunderland pitch up with £35m parachute payments, huge season ticket sales, cleared debt and a brand new owner, I’m happy to overlook the big fish in place of something a bit more wholesome.
Burton (28/1 SkyBet)
Relegated sides have claimed six (46%) of the past 13 League One titles and last season all three promotion berths were filled by teams that had dropped down from the Championship just 12 months ago. Such trends may cement views that Sunderland are the most likely tree-toppers but we’ve already been put off by price.
So how about a punt on a Burton team at 28/1 (SkyBet)? Yes, the Brewers have been chalked up at odds eight times the size of the Black Cats to take top honours despite winning three more fixtures and finishing four points above the ex-Premier League outfit.
Albion have been punching above their weight since entering the Football League in 2009 and have enjoyed year-on-year progression in 10 of their past 14 seasons. The fact Burton were still in the running for survival on the final day of their second Championship campaign showcases how consistent and competitive they’ve become despite obvious budgetary restrictions.
Nigel Clough remains in the hot-seat and there’s been little turnover on the playing personnel. Luke Naylor, Tom Flanagan, Tom Naylor and Hope Akpan are no longer plying their trade at the Pirelli but the experienced core remains in situ and crucially, striker Liam Boyce is fit to spearhead the attack from the start.
Pragmatic by nature, Clough put the finishing touches to a Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink side two seasons ago when Albion triumphed in this division. Between them, they built an organised and resolute team with a clinical counter-attack and there’s a reasonable argument to be had that a similar approach could pay dividends once more despite the lack of available squad bodies.
Bookmakers expect the Brewers to finish 14th, which feels unfairly harsh. But rather than feel sympathy for the Staffordshire side, have a wee wager on Burton at 28/1 (SkyBet) with each-way terms paying-out on the first four places with the Football League title sponsors.
Portsmouth (14/1 Ladbrokes)
After four seasons in the League Two wilderness, Portsmouth followed their title-winning campaign by narrowly missed out on the League One play-off places last May. Pompey concluded five points adrift of sixth spot with the wise Kenny Jackett overseeing serene progress.
The much-anticipated takeover by American businessman Michael Eisner last summer promised plenty but the Fratton Park club have taken a calm and collected approach to recruitment, and might now be ready to take the next step towards returning to English football’s upper echelons.
Tom Naylor, Lee Brown and Anton Walkes have added quality to a squad that lacked depth on occasion last term. Attacker Louis Dennis' arrival from National League side Bromley is an intriguing addition, while winger Kai Naismith is perhaps the only integral player to depart in the off-season.
The Blues were a touch too reliant on Brett Pitman’s goals in 2017/18 but early indications suggest they’ll have a few more strings to their bow this time around. Jackett’s men were efficient and effective in both boxes and are unlikely to alter their approach after a stable summer.
Pompey’s key asset though is of course, Jackett. A title-winner with Wolves in 2014 and a play-off promotion with Millwall, the well-thought of head coach should be capable of sustaining a top-six finish, while the 14/1 (Ladbrokes) available for top honours shouldn’t be ignored when punting each-way.
Luton (16/1 Bet365)
Half of the past 52 promoted clubs from League Two have finished in the top-half of their first campaign back at this level with four going on to secure back-to-back promotion. They’re numbers that only serve to cement the idea that the difference between the bottom two Football League divisions is minimal.
Plymouth and Portsmouth came close to piercing the play-off positions last time out, and in a less competitive League One renewal, Luton are fancied to kick-on having secured promotion back to the third-tier in style.
Manager Nathan Jones insisted the Hatters were the division’s best team despite finishing behind Accrington. However, performance data would back the Welshman up on such claims as the Bedfordshire boys racked up an eye-watering 94 goals en-route to comfortably securing autonomic promotion.
Jones’ attacking philosophy should reap more rewards at a higher level. The Bedfordshire boys have looked like a League One team in waiting for quite some time now and whilst doubts remain over Danny Hylton and James Collins’ ability to fire at this level, it’s not like Luton are short of a supporting cast.
Jorge Grant is an eye-catching arrival to add quality playmaking ability to a midfield that can already feature Elliot Lee and Luke Berry. Elsewhere, Sonny Bradley’s signing from Plymouth adds muscle and physicality to the defence and Matty Preston is another excellent addition to the group.
With plans for a new stadium in the offing and fortunes looking up on the field, Luton are fancied to continue their swashbuckling efforts and put together a serious assault on promotion. The 16/1 (Bet365) could look a little too large should prospects be realised over the coming 10 months.
2018/19 League One – Burton to win outright (28/1 each-way SkyBet)
2018/19 League One – Portsmouth to win outright (14/1 each-way Ladbrokes)
2018/19 League One – Luton to win outright (16/1 each-way Bet365)
League One 2018/19Football League analyst Mark O'Haire reveals his forecast 1-24 from the 2018/19 League One.