FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the Relegation markets ahead of the 2019/20 League Two season.
WLB Season Preview 2019/20 | League Two: Relegation
Perennial relegation favourites Morecambe again top the market at 7/2 (Bet365) despite surviving the drop with room to spare last term. The Shrimps have enjoyed 12 consecutive League Two campaigns and only featured in the bottom-six on three occasions; so it would take a brave man to bet against Jim Bentley masterminding safety once more.
The minnows’ leading lights have again been pilfered by rivals – Player of the Year Zak Mlls and Aaron Collins have moved on, and Andy Flemming’s untimely retirement leaves a void in midfield. But Morecambe – traditionally fast-starters – are in a good position off the field and should have enough spirit and endeavour to again defy ante-post predictions of doom.
No promoted non-league club has suffered immediate relegation since 1987 and so both Leyton Orient (16/1 Coral) and Salford (50/1 Betfred) have historical trends onside. However, 2017/18 National League champions Macclesfield came exceptionally close to the drop last time out and the Silkmen are the preferred main play to suffer this season.
Macclesfield (7/2 William Hill)
Macclesfield’s great escape was one of the EFL’s headline stories last term.
The Cheshire club were operating off a minuscule budget, lost boss John Askey after winning promotion and were floundering at the bottom of League Two without a win (W0-D4-L8) when Mark Yates was dismissed in early October. Club legend Danny Whitaker failed to light the touch paper in temporary charge and a major spark was required at Moss Rose.
Sol Campbell was the surprise incumbent and took charge with Macclesfield five points off survival in late November. The former England star guided the group to W7-D10-L9 – a 1.19 point average – to ensure safety by three points as relegation rivals Notts County and Yeovil imploded. His busy January transfer window certainly aided their battle against the drop.
Campbell’s relaxed demeanour and professional approach clearly paid dividends as the squad rallied behind his 3-5-2 system that suited target man Harry Smith. Town were hopeful of kicking-on in 2019/20 but the questionable ownership of Amar Alkadhi has led to numerous off-field distractions, including unpaid wages and regular winding-up orders.
What’s more, Smith is one of 11 players to have departed this summer, along with four loanees. Just one player remains from the title-winning squad of two season ago and with a bare squad, minuscule funds, questions regarding the club’s sustainability, plus the potential for Campbell to be lured away, Macclesfield surely face another season of struggle.
Cambridge (7/1 William Hill)
It was a forgettable season for Cambridge last time out as the U’s posted their worst League Two finish since returning to this level in 2014. Joe Dunne was sacked in early December and Colin Calderwood picked up the pieces three weeks later with the club siting a solitary point above the drop-zone. The Yellow and Black Army eventually survived by six points
It wasn’t pretty, mind. Cambridge registered the fourth-fewest goals across the whole EFL – firing 20 blanks and notching two goals or more in just 11 fixtures. The club were operating with only one fit and available striker on their books after Christmas and this summer have sold the team’s top goalscorer and arguably sole attacking spark, Jevani Brown.
Wes Hoolahan could provide the U’s with overdue invention but at 37, he’s unlikely to be involved regularly, whilst 36-year-old forward Jabo Ibehre is relied upon to lead the line. Kyle Knyole is an astute capture at right-back and Calderwood is unlikely to stray away from his pragmatic approach in search of confidence-building results, but the concerns are clear.
Despite realistic claims for progression in recent years, Cambridge have undoubtedly stagnated. There was no apparent improvement during Calderwood’s first six months and with David Amoo joining Brown in the outgoings, the side are severely undercooked in the final-third. A campaign lacking inspiration and battling the drop looms for The Abbey faithful with 7/1 (William Hill) an appealing price for demotion.
Carlisle (14/1 BetVictor)
With only two relegation places up for grabs, I’m always interested in opposing a bigger-priced fish. Why? Well, in each of the past seven League Two seasons at least one side has suffered relegation at odds of at least 10/1 or bigger, with the favourite for demotion surviving all bar once since 2011/12.
Notts County (50/1), Chesterfield (20/1), Leyton Orient (50/1), York (11/1), Tranmere (14/1), Bristol Rovers (28/1) and Aldershot (14/1) have all unexpectedly dropped out of the EFL and it's a timely reminder that shit can get very real for any club suffering from complacency or mismanagement. Carlisle (14/1 BetVictor) could follow that illustrious list this time around.
The Cumbrians policy for offering only one-year contracts to transfer targets and squad members has made for a long summer. Year-on-year budget cuts have also been noticeable with star playmaker Jamie Devitt departing, along with Tom Parkes and Jason Kennedy – overall almost 80% of playing minutes have been lost and the squad is still worryingly thin.
The shortage of available bodies – particularly in attack – was seen in last week’s friendly with Fleetwood when Carlisle began the second half with trialist defender Aaron Hayden playing at centre-forward. Head coach Steven Pressley has pleaded for patience from supporters and has entered the Scottish market but the Blues look well overpriced to drop.
Experienced centre-halves Byron Webster and Nathaniel Knight-Percival should give the group a firm foundation, although I remain unconvinced. Carlisle’s most positive patch of form in 2018/19 coincided with John Sheridan finding the magic formula with an influx of key loanees. Those assets have long departed, whilst injuries continue to bite hard.
Promising midfielder Josh Dixon has suffered a second cruciate injury, while their main midfield muscle, Kelvin Etuhu, is out until November. Pressley has a sizeable task on his hands to keep the club on an even keel during the high turnover of playing personnel and a campaign of steep regression looks to be on the cards for the Cumbrians.
2019/20 League Two – Macclesfield to be relegated (7/2 William Hill)
2019/20 League Two – Cambridge to be relegated (7/1 William Hill)
2019/20 League Two – Carlisle to be relegated (14/1 BetVictor)