EFL fan Tom Love (@TomLove_18) has scoured the dozens of League One specials markets and shared his best bets ahead of the 2020/21 big kick-off.
WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | League One: Specials
Gillingham to finish in the top-six (5/1 Bet365)
League One does look like a much more appetising league to follow compared to League Two this term. There’s plenty of teams that will be expected to be up at the summit come May with the likes of Sunderland, Portsmouth, Peterborough, Ipswich, Hull and Oxford all looking to mount a challenge, but it’s never as cut and dried as that, is it?
Remember who were one of the favourites for relegation in League One last season? Yes, Wycombe Wanderers. That's the same team that will be visiting Vicarage Road, The Riverside and The City Ground this coming season after they defied the odds to gain promotion to the Championship.
There will no doubt be ‘smaller’ sides that will fancy their chances of upsetting the applecart and one of those, you’d expect, would be Steve Evans’ Gillingham.
The colourful Evans draws quite a bit of negativity from opposition fans for his touchline antics but it does showcase his passion for winning. He has a track record of getting teams up and has tended to do sound business in the transfer window.
The Scot has been savvy again bringing in some exciting youngsters who will be eager to prove themselves. Highly-rated defender Zach Medley has joined the club along with Arsenal teammate, winger, Trae Coyle. Medley could be joined by Spurs graduate Christian Maghoma at the back so there will be no problem with agility and recovery pace but they’re also comfortable playing out from deep.
Jack Tucker impressed Gills fans too for his sturdy performances; the local lad picked up the Young Player of the Year gong and attracted a bid from an unnamed Championship club recently. It could be that Evans opts for a back three with Tucker, Maghoma and Medley, which would be a brave move given their inexperience.
Another youngster who is showing positive signs is left back Connor Ogilvie who collected the clubs’ Player of the Year award last year for his outstanding efforts. Meanwhile, Ryan Jackson returns to add experience at right back after a strong season at nearby Colchester.
In midfield there’s a lot expected of Matty Willock to have a breakthrough campaign. One of three footballing brothers, Matty is yet to really make his mark. However, Evans has talked up the youngster claiming him to be “nothing short of an outstanding talent.” If he stays fit he could be a key player for this refreshed Gills side.
Kyle Dempsey is a nice arrival from Fleetwood, a chief creator with an eye for goal and ability to get in between lines cleverly. Jordan Graham returns to the delight of the Kent faithful – he loves to get at his man and is somewhat of a traditional winger who gets bums off seats.
We all know Evans loves a big man up front and the physical pairing of Vadaine Oliver and John Akinde will cause havoc, no doubt. Akinde smashed them in for Barnet in his spell there and if they play to his strengths then he is likely to be their top scorer this season. Oliver had a good season with promoted Northampton and will provide an alternative off the bench.
Brandon Hanlan remains at Priestfield too, despite links to other clubs, but he can provide a different type of threat at the top of the pitch. I’d still expect another one or two forward players to come into the club too.
With the salary cap implemented in the EFL it is likely to make it a much more of a level playing field between the so called ‘big clubs’ and the rest. This, coupled with the likely lack of fans, will make it a really interesting campaign. There could be a few surprises, and I think if they can click, the Gills could be one of those.
Plymouth to finish above Bristol Rovers (11/8 Bet365)
Bristol Rovers rookie manager Ben Garner was dealt a crushing blow this summer with star striker Johnson Clarke-Harris moving to divisional rivals Peterborough. JCH managed to notch 14 goals despite being injured for a sizeable chunk of last season, carrying on his sterling form from the back end of the 2018/19 campaign.
Any other season the Gas would probably like to re-invest that money in a stellar replacement but given the strict salary cap imposed for EFL clubs it could prove harder than usual for the Pirates to get in someone of similar standing. They’re looking light at the top of the pitch with just James Daly, who has three EFL appearances so far, and Jonah Ayunga, who has yet to feature in the EFL at all.
As the transfer window drags on the chances of bringing in a replacement naturally diminishes and Garner, being a young manager, may not have the contacts that other more experienced managers would have to help bring players in.
Defensively, Rovers look OK with the additions of Max Ehmer and Jack Baldwin to supplement the talented Alfie Kilgour. However, left back Luke Leahy can be got at and isn’t the best defensively. In midfield they’ve lost Liam Sercombe to Cheltenham but replaced him with Zain Westbrooke which is possibly an upgrade but depth is again a problem and I cannot see where the goals are coming from.
Plymouth were deserving of their promotion last season under Ryan Lowe. The Liverpudlian seems like a great manager in the making; you can see how demanding he is but how he likes to mix a healthy social environment in the squad along with an intuitive tactical approach. It bodes well for Argyle going forward.
Last time the Pilgrims gained promotion to League One they rode that wave all the way to a seventh-placed finish, which shows that they are capable of the step up.
Lowe has brought in all-action midfielder Panutche Camara from Crawley, defender Kelland Watts on-loan from Newcastle, midfielder Lewis McLeod and powerful frontman Frank Nouble has joined from Colchester, whereas Ryan Hardie has returned for another loan spell from Blackpool.
Probably Plymouth's most notable signing is George Cooper coming in on a permanent deal from Peterborough after a superb spell down south last season. Lowe has opted to play Cooper in an unfamiliar wing-back role but he has adapted with aplomb and the fans loved him and are delighted the former Crewe wide man is back.
Argyle's additions are strong for this level in my eyes and with the ever-impressive Lowe at the helm I’m expecting them to go from strength-to-strength. Lowe has come accustomed to winning games from his spell at Bury a couple of seasons ago and that kind of mentality can count for a lot as the Green Army look to push for the play-offs.
I certainly think the 11/8 (Bet365) quotes on Plymouth against Bristol Rovers on the Season Match Bet represents decent value. I’d probably have them as favourites at this moment.
Blackpool to be the Highest Scoring Team (20/1 SkyBet)
There’s renewed optimism and excitement at Blackpool these days. We all remember the glory years of Ian Holloway and their promotion to the Premier League around a decade ago but since then it’s only gone one way for the Tangerines, and that is down.
Dodgy and somewhat selfish ownership saw fans refuse to come to the stadium in protest; in fact many would go to the pub pre-match, shirts, scarves and all, and come 2:45pm they’d be going up to the bar for another round of drinks to the bewilderment of many an away fan. Blackpool supporters continued their Saturday rituals but refused to put money in the Oystons pockets, and all power to them for being so stout in their opposition to the shambolic regime.
In June 2019 the club was taken over by Simon Sadler and he’s looking to be ambitious and getting fans firmly back on board has been the recipe this summer. I’ve been seriously impressed with their recruitment under the guidance of former Liverpool U23’s manager Neil Critchley, especially in forward areas.
Fifth and sixth top scorers from League Two have arrived at the seaside in the form of Jerry Yates from Swindon and Bez Lubala from Crawley. Neither are natural number nine’s you’d argue. They can play and score from a little deeper or wider than your natural striker. No doubt Blackpool would’ve had to beat off competition for the pair and it’s a real statement of intent bringing in a combined 25 league goals.
Along with that duo there are a whole host of alternatives who can come into what is likely to be a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation. CJ Hamilton had a rip-roaring season with Mansfield recently and he’s also in the door now to add even more pace to the electric looking frontline.
Liam Feeney may be getting on a bit now at 34 but that didn’t stop him supplying a terrific 14 assists last season. Sully Kaikai, Ethan Robson, Oliver Sarkic, Dan Kemp and Keshi Anderson can also fit in various positions in the attacking half of the pitch. It’s an abundance of riches that Critchley has at his disposal and it looks like attack will be the best form of defence.
We backed Peterborough in the Highest Scoring Team market last season and we cashed in as they stormed it, and they’ll no doubt be a threat again this season. They’re now short price favourites in this market despite losing the division's top scorer Ivan Toney to Brentford and taking quite a lot out of the market.
Looking at the other teams likely to challenge, Sunderland have a defensive-minded manager in Phil Parkinson, as do Ipswich with Paul Lambert and Portsmouth with Kenny Jackett. I don’t think Hull or Charlton have enough goals in them at the minute, although Oxford could challenge under Karl Robinson.
All these teams are shorter than the Seasiders and the 20/1 available on Blackpool being the Highest Scoring Team looks a bit too big to me and I’m happy to get involved at the generous quotes.