FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the Relegation markets ahead of the 2019/20 League One season.
WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | 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 prices suffering.
Unfortunately, the desperate financial plights of Greater Manchester pair Bolton (17/20 Blacktype) and Bury (1/6 Betway) – and subsequent 12-point penalties – have given the market a lopsided feel. The crisis clubs are both now odds-on for a campaign of misery with the Shakers’ minuscule price the shortest on record during the ante-post period.
The shambles at Gigg Lane – where virtually every member of both staff and playing squad moving on – means the seven-season streak of all four promoted clubs avoiding relegation is likely to come to an end in May. However, sadly for Bury, there mere existence in nine-months’ time is the more important aspect ahead for 2019/20.
Elsewhere, Lincoln and MK Dons will fancy their chances of piercing the top-12 and I’m also happy to discard Tranmere from my relegation portfolio despite the departure of talisman James Norwood. With half of all clubs tabling top-half finishes this century following promotion – and only 10 (13%) suffering immediate relegation, the trends support Rovers’ quest for consolidation.
Bolton (17/20 Blacktype)
I take absolutely no pleasure in pointing punters towards what I perceive as a value price in Bolton to suffer back-to-back relegations. Six (11%) sides to come down from the Championship have dropped out of League One at the first time of asking since 2000 and the Trotters appear in a far worse state than any team that’s gone before them.
The sharp decline of a former Premier League regular has been an uneasy watch with despicable chairman Ken Anderson at the helm. Now eye-watering administration costs threaten the future of Wanderers and the 17/20 (Blacktype) doesn’t appear to have grasped the full seriousness of the situation surrounding the Lancashire outfit.
Friendly fixtures have been cancelled as the few players left at the club await outstanding wages that total over 20 weeks. Bolton’s short-term aim is simply to field an XI for the opening day encounter at Wycombe but with contracted players desperate to depart, the situation could turn even bleaker by August.
Phil Parkinson is looking to plug gaps with over a dozen trialists training with the side, although the Wanderers boss looks to be fighting an unwinnable battle. Wanderers – only slightly shorter than Sheffield United to be demoted from the Premier League – are simply too big to ignore in what seems destined to be another dreadful chapter in the club’s proud history.
Rochdale (4/1 BetVictor)
Rochdale registered three consecutive top-half finishes under Keith Hill after arriving at this level in 2014 but the Spotland side have been embroiled in back-to-back relegation battles and could now be value to make the move back down to League Two.
Legendary boss Keith Hill parted company with Dale in early March and relegation loomed for Rochdale. The club were five points from safety, bereft of form, unorganised and shipping a slew of goals. First team coach Brian Barry Murphy was given the unenviable task of picking up the pieces but few predicted the almost immediate turnaround in fortunes.
Barry Murphy made an immediate impact, returning W6-D2-L3 in their final 11 outings with their only defeats coming against top-six opponents Sunderland, Portsmouth and Charlton. Dale’s resurgence pushed the club four points clear of the drop-zone and five places above the bottom-four when the campaign came to a conclusion. Quite remarkable, eh?
Can the good times continue to roll? Possibly. But with chairman Chris Dunphy leaving in December and affable Hill no longer around, could Rochdale potentially lose a slice of their identity? Ian Henderson – leading goalscorer in each of the past five terms is 35 in January and continues to carry the attacking burden, whilst recruitment has been slow.
Dale defied the data to preserve their third-tier status in 2018/19 – the Greater Manchester men were no higher than 22nd in the standings when viewing the major performance metrics – and so there’s warranted concern that the upheaval across the board at the small-budget side could have knock-on effects. The 4/1 (BetVictor) is a tough on the large side.
Southend (4/1 BetVictor)
Southend stagnated under Phil Brown’s watch and hopes were high 12 months ago that club legend Chris Powell could propel the Shrimpers into top-six contention following a fine spell when returning to Roots Hall at the back end of 2017/18. What followed was one of United’s most haunting campaigns in recent memory and last-gasp survival on the final day.
An unlikely triumph at Sunderland secured Southend’s League One status on goal difference with Kevin Bond presiding over the club’s final month six fixtures. An unprecedented spate of long-term injuries decimated the squad for the most part of the campaign, and the Shrimpers head into 2019/20 with a host of key personnel still suffering on the sidelines.
The disastrous season should have acted as a wake-up call at Roots Hall but a collection of expiring loans, released players, retirements and ongoing injuries have left the Southend playing staff bare. Australia captain Mark Milligan should add muscle to the midfield, although there’s little evidence to suggest United can better last term’s efforts. They'll be looking over their shoulders.
Bristol Rovers (6/1 BetVictor)
Bristol Rovers were another League One club that endured a season of malaise. The Pirates parted company with long-term boss Darrell Clarke in December following a rotten run of results – four victories in 21 – that left the Gas four points adrift of safety. By his own admission, mistakes were made, signings disappointed and goals were hard to find.
Clarke suggested the club was going “backwards” in his final press conference and criticised the Rovers hierarchy for their year-to-year budgetary cuts. Assistant boss Graham Coughlan picked up the reigns and led the Pirates to safer waters with a back-to-basics approach, as well as the impact of loan capture Jonson Clarke-Harris, who notched 11 goals in 16 games.
The Gas have lacked a clinical forward since the sale of Matty Taylor and there’s hope around the Memorial Stadium that JCH may continue his purple patch after joining on a permanent basis. Nevertheless, Rovers have registered only three top-half finishes this century and consecutive years of regression suggest another season of struggle may follow.
Defensively, Rovers were sound, although the exits of skipper Tom Lockyer and centre-half partner James Clarke could unsettle matters. A bottom-eight budget means additions are unheralded – full-backs Mark Little and Luke Leahy at least can make positive impacts – as the Pirates face another season of slogging it out in the lower reaches of the standings.
As with all ante-post recommendations, this is a price-based play. Bristol Rovers do have the capability to climb towards the safety of mid-table if all their key components come to fruition. However, there’s enough warning signs to suggest there’s wriggleroom in that 6/1 (BetVictor) offering to make the Gas a decent pre-season poke.