WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | 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.
To complicate matters, due to the financial turmoil the EFL has faced over the past 12 months, many of the leading high street bookmakers are shying away from even offering Relegation odds in League One and League Two markets. Nevertheless, I’ve sourced four fancies at appealing prices that could easily fall flat in the condensed forthcoming campaign.
But first, a quick word on market favourites Rochdale (8/11 Paddy Power). The Greater Manchester men registered three consecutive top-half finishes under Keith Hill after arriving at this level in 2014, although the Spotland side have been embroiled in three successive relegation battles since and could now be primed to make the move back down to League Two.
Legendary boss Hill parted company with Rochdale in March 2018 and relegation loomed. 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 in the Dale dugout but few predicted the almost immediate turnaround in fortunes.
Barry Murphy oversaw an impressive transformation and kept Rochdale heads above water again during the early-ending 2019/20 campaign. However, seasoned goalscorer Ian Henderson and midfield schemer Callum Camps contributed to data-defying performances as the small-budget squad punched well above their weight playing aesthetically-pleasing football.
Unfortunately, the departure of the aforementioned key duo, as well as full-backs Luke Matheson and Luke Norrington-Davies has left Barry Murphy’s roster drastically weakened for the latest renewal and it’s hard to argue with odds-on quotes for the Spotland overachievers to see their commendable seven-year spell at this level come to a close next May.
The market suggests Rochdale have a 58% chance of finishing in the bottom-four, and whilst I expect the minnows to land punters the goods, there’s little value to be had in the price. Possibly a play in your ante-post multiples, I prefer to focus my attention on more palatable offerings elsewhere, especially considering the possibility of financial implosions and points penalties again dictating proceedings this term.
Northampton (7/4 BetVictor)
Tranmere’s controversial relegation last season broke a seven-season streak of all four promoted League Two clubs avoiding demotion in their first campaign back at third-tier level. In fact, half of all League One newcomers have posted top-half finishes this century with only 10 (13%) suffering immediate relegation across completed campaigns.
So ante-post trends clearly favour the prospects of quartet Swindon, Crewe, Plymouth and Northampton (7/4 BetVictor) in their quest for consolidation. The former trio should have little to fear, led by smart and savvy tacticians with a penchant for attacking football, however, it’s hard to see how the Cobblers can escape a scrap at the bottom end of the table in their current guise.
Keith Curle’s charges were efficient, attritional and effective as they produced a couple of perfect play-off performances to seize promotion against the odds last season, although the base of Town’s overachieving outfit has suffered during a difficult summer transfer window; indeed, six of Northampton’s starting line-up at Wembley have since departed.
Key loan players Callum Morton and Scott Wharton are unlikely to return, whilst centre-back pair Charlie Goode and Jordan Turnball, as well as hulking centre-forward Vadaine Oliver have taken up opportunities elsewhere. In all, 13 players have left Sixfields with eight new arrivals coming in but depth and dexterity appears to have decreased.
Curle insists Northampton will be fearless in their approach and has refused to veer away from his attacking principles despite the significant step up in quality. The Town boss was not afraid to take risks during 2019/20, particularly at the back where his three-man defence would often be left one-against-one on the counter-attack, a risky strategy when implemented that could leave the Cobblers exposed.
Needless to say, knitting together a completely new-look backline could take time and doubts have to arise over a side that suffered 13 league defeats in 37 regular season contests last term, as well as bottom-half performance data figures across a range of rankings. The stats suggest Northampton should stay up, however, 7/4 (36% chance) quotes are too tasty to turn down.
MK Dons (5/1 BetVictor)
MK Dons’ return to League One provided rare moments of comfort or delight. The Buckinghamshire boys struggled to assert themselves early, collecting a solitary point from a nine-game spell – the worst run in the club’s short history – and a run of results that eventually led to Paul Tisdale’s contract being mutually terminated in early November.
Russell Martin was almost immediately installed as MK’s permanent first-team manager and set about improving standards across the board. The Scot’s leadership, alongside Luke Williams’ coaching acumen, improved the Dons’ plight to steer the newcomers away from relegation trouble, but his 1.26 points per-game average was rarely thrill-a-minute-football.
Milton Keynes could and should be eyeing up mid-table security this season although the sales of prominent pair and prized assets Alex Gilbey and Rhys Healey has left the Dons prospects appearing gloomier than anticipated. The latter notched 12 times in 21 outings last season, whilst the former was MK’s orchestrator in a squad that’s left looking impotent and threadbare in key areas.
Reports and rumours suggest eccentric owner Pete Winkelman is tightening the purse strings following the pandemic and a more financial frugal Dons outfit might not be able to replace their leading lights with like-for-like stars before the transfer window shuts, ensuring 5/1 (BetVictor) quotes on a bottom-four finish are a touch too big at this stage.
Wigan (6/1 BetVictor)
The magnitude of the global pandemic has had wide-reaching consequences, and in a sport where money talks, football is still coming to terms with the economic impact of Covid-19. Uncertainty and anxiety largely dominate the landscape and the future of the hardest hit clubs in the Football League pyramid is worryingly questionable.
With the Bury debacle still looming large, plus financial mismanagement contributing to three EFL clubs’ relegations last term, off-field matters are unfortunately now a key component when attempting to identify potential ante-post Relegation value, especially so considering the severe points penalties being handed out.
I take absolutely no pleasure in pointing punters towards what I perceive as a big value price in one of those sufferers, Wigan(6/1 BetVictor), to endure more pain with back-to-back relegations a very realistic proposition.
Seven (12%) sides to come down from the Championship have dropped out of League One at the first time of asking since 2000 – with Bolton being the most recent – and the Latics appear in a far worse state than the majority of those preceding teams too.
Nine of the side that featured in Athletic’s final fixture of 2019/20 have been poached and on the eve of 2020/21 the cash-strapped club have just 12 contracted players on their books. Wigan's administrators remain confident of a sale but the Latics’ plight is so severe that a supporters’ scheme was set-up to raise £500,000 just to secure the short-term future.
It’s a precarious position to be in and further financial penalties could conceivably come Wigan’s way if takeover talks aren’t wrapped up swiftly, with a worst case scenario seeing Athletic’s very existence in doubt. Unfortunately, off-field matters dictate this selection and I’m surprised to see the bookmakers that have offered quotes on Relegation providing prices anywhere above the even-money mark in the current situ.
Charlton (14/1 BetVictor)
Ordinarily, I’d be considering the current Charlton collective as the most likely for an immediate return to the Championship from the trio of relegated teams. However, as has been painfully pointed out above, these are anything but typical times.
The Addicks have been embroiled in another painfully uncertain summer, dogged by events in the boardroom. Matters remain unresolved at the time of writing and that anxiety and apprehension surrounding Athletic’s future mean 14/1 (BetVictor) quotes on Charlton dropping down to League Two are surely more appealing than best-price 12/1 on the title?
For now, managerial duo Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson are heroically guiding the Reds through choppy waters but both have been perused by bigger fish in the past, and should the pair opt to take up a more appealing offer, it’s not beyond our wildest imagination to see Athletic dragged down, especially so with off-field woe potentially leading to further punishment.
The capital club are already operating with one hand behind their back in a transfer embargo, have seen standout star Lyle Taylor exit, as well as Josh Cullen and Tom Lockyer, whilst offers are open for consistently-excellent goalkeeper Dillon Phillips. Alex Gilbey is an excellent addition but Athletic are still lacking bodies and experience across the park.
Charlton’s future success almost entirely depends on the suits finally putting an end to the never-ending mess that’s blighted the Addicks progress for over a decade. This certainly isn’t a football-based angle whilst Bowyer oversees proceedings, and more so a punt connected to the ongoing boardroom battle at The Valley.