FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the Outright Winner and Promotion markets ahead of the 2019/20 League One season.
WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | League One: Promotion
Sunderland started 2018/19 as 3/1 ante-post favourites – the fourth shortest quote for a League One jolly this century. The Black Cats were understandable market leaders after seeing Blackburn, Wigan and Rotherham all enjoy immediate bounce back seasons just a matter of months earlier. But Jack Ross’ men fell nine points shy of top spot.
The Wearsiders are back at the head of the market as 4/1 shots eager to enhance a worrying trend for teams at the top of the ante-post betting; Sheffield United (2016/17) and Wolves (2013/14) are the only favourites to dot up over the past 24 years at this level, although there are seeds of encouragement for Sunderland supporters elsewhere.
For starters, nine of the past 11 title winners were priced up at single-figure odds, whilst 10 (53%) of the previous 19 favourites this century have been promoted – eight via the automatic promotion places. Considering the Black Cats will still be enjoying Premier League parachute payments and huge (relatively) ticket revenue, the big fish deserve respect.
In nine (81%) of the past 11 campaigns, a relegated club has made an immediate return to the Championship, with six (54%) clubs taking top honours. Such trends should give Rotherham and Ipswich followers a boost, although I’m unconvinced either are league-winning material or attractive enough from an ante-post perspective for this column.
Portsmouth (9/1 Sport Nation)
Portsmouth were striding towards a return to the Championship midway through last term. Pompey sat five points clear at the League One summit on New Year’s night and Kenny Jackett’s charges were averaging 2.19 points per-game. However, a two-month spell without a win at the start of 2019 ultimately proved the Blues’ undoing as the campaign concluded.
Plenty of theories were concocted in an attempt to understand what went wrong at Fratton Park after losing out to in the play-offs. The most obvious solution can be found by analysing the amount of game-time Portsmouth’s leading lights underwent; an EFL Trophy success and FA Cup 4th Round appearance ensured Pompey played a mammoth 62 games in total.
Five of Jackett’s first-choice XI made well over 50 appearances and the Blues looked visibly fatigued when it mattered most. Nevertheless, Portsmouth’s regular season tally of 88 points shouldn’t be scoffed at – Pompey were only three points shy of Barnsley – and with the club now focussing all their efforts on promotion, I’m expecting a similarly strong tilt.
Of course, the departure of Matt Clarke and likely loss of Jamal Lowe could damage Portsmouth’s prospects, although the additions of Sean Raggett and Paul Downing make-up for the deficit at centre-half, whilst Marcus Harness is an exciting arrival as Lowe’s probable replacement. On paper at least, Pompey appear just as strong as 12 months ago.
Coventry (33/1 Blacktype)
Peterborough have the potential to make a major mark on the League One promotion race after an eye-catching glut of transfer business but I’m happier taking a watching brief with doubts surrounding Darren Ferguson in the hot-seat. With similar concerns encircling the majority of the market’s front-runners, there could be value to garnered elsewhere.
Indeed, 10 (53%) of the 19 League One seasons this century has seen a club priced up at 20/1 or larger finish in the top-three, with six (32%) campaigns featuring a team at 40/1 pinching place money. With that in mind, there’s two overpriced clubs I like with the ability to pierce the promotion places, starting with Coventry at a bulbous 33/1 (Blacktype).
The Sky Blues projected as a top-six side last term, posting the fifth-best Expected Goals (xG) ratio, as well as xG from open play. Mark Robins’ men were undone by a lack of killer instinct, particularly at the Ricoh Arena when welcoming the division’s lesser lights. Sure, centre-forward remains a problem position but Cov are working hard to address that issue.
Elsewhere, City snapped up Burton pair Kyle McFadzean and Jamie Allen to provide overdue leadership at the back, and a goalscoring presence from midfield. Allen’s arrival allows Robins to field one of the league’s strongest suits across the middle of the park with Liam Kelly and Tom Bayliss making up an attractive three in a possible 4-3-3 system this season.
Obviously, the knock-on effect of moving to St Andrew’s is inconvenient, if difficult to accurately gauge. The ever-lasting dispute with owners SISU threatens to derail any off-field stability but if Robins is allowed full control on first-team matters, I’d expect the Sky Blues to better last year’s very respectable eight-placed finish, with the caveat they sign a striker.
MK Dons (33/1 BetVictor)
Bookmakers anticipate strong returns from Lincoln and MK Dons after the pair secured automatic promotion from League Two last time out. With eight (11%) such sides this century enjoying back-to-back promotions and exactly 50% positing top-half finishes in the first season = up at third-tier level, ante-post confidence is well-placed.
The Imps are worthy 20/1 (Bet365) shots in their quest to follow in Luton’s footsteps, although it’s the Dons that standout, to me, at the prices. Paul Tisdale’s troops are a hefty 33/1 poke with BetVictor and arguably displayed the better credentials for a smoother transition towards the upper echelons of League One football last season.
MK might not have secured a top-three finish until the final day of the campaign but the Buckinghamshire boys are an ambitious bunch and were League Two’s leading lights in the major performance data metrics, topping the tree for ratio returns in xG, xG from open play and shots from inside the penalty box. Maintaining such standards could prove decisive.
Chuks Aneke was lured away by Charlton and will be difficult to replace but the return of Rhys Healey gives the attack a different dimension. Tisdale’s also made the smart capture of versatile defender Regan Poole, plus combative midfielder Hiram Boateng and highly-rated Brennan Dickenson down the left-hand side. Overall, the squad is certainly stronger.
Tisdale defied the odds at League One level whilst with Exeter and his adaptability in the dugout should ensure MK are a competitive and capable club pushing towards the top end of the table. The Dons signed off last season with 20 triumphs from 36 and I really wouldn’t be surprised to see this side competing for promotion honours come May.
2019/20 League One – Portsmouth to win outright (9/1 each-way Sport Nation)
2019/20 League One – Coventry to win outright (33/1 each-way Blacktype)
2019/20 League One – MK Dons to win outright (33/1 each-way BetVictor)