WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | League Two: Relegation
Perennial relegation favourites Morecambe (9/2 Bet365) again find themselves at the top of the market. The coastal club have finished 18th or lower in each of their past five renewals and were 22nd before coronavirus halted proceedings in March. Nevertheless, the Shrimps have arguably enjoyed one of their most promising off-seasons in years.
Despite tabling just four triumphs in 20 tussles, Derek Adams’ November arrival in the managerial hot-seat can only be considered a positive. The demanding Scot steered the Shrimps clear of immediate danger and has quickly set about building a squad capable of not just surviving, but thriving, in Morecambe’s 14th consecutive campaign at this level.
No promoted non-league club has suffered immediate relegation since 1987 and so both Barrow (7/1 SkyBet) and Harrogate (7/1 SkyBet) have historical trends onside. However, 2017/18 National League champions Macclesfield came exceptionally close to the drop in their first campaign back in the EFL and neither newcomer is expected to flourish.
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 League Two landscape, highlighted by Colchester’s necessity to release four key players ahead of their delayed play-off campaign at the back end of 2019/20. With no formal date confirmed for the return of fans in stadiums, the future of the hardest hit clubs in the pyramid is understandably questionable.
With the Bury debacle still looming large, plus Wigan, Bolton and Macclesfield’s financial mismanagement contributing to the 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.
Oldham (5/1 BetVictor)
Oldham are a club that fits the potential crisis tag in League Two. The Latics have been in depressing decline and suffering from ongoing disrepair during Abdallah Lemsagam’s erratic ownership of the Boundary Park outfit.
Players weren’t paid on-time for three consecutive months earlier this year, in June the club said they avoided going into administration after repaying money to two former owners, whilst in July a winding-up petition over unpaid taxes was eventually cleared. It paints a precarious picture during an unstable and uncertain time for struggling sides.
On the field, the questionable Harry Kewell is the eighth man to fill the managerial hot-seat in just over two years, however, Oldham have at least made positive moves in the transfer market. The Latics have strengthened in defence – only Macclesfield conceded more goals last term – and in attack there’s potential promise in Danny Rowe and Zak Deanley.
But Athletic are worryingly short in midfield areas and come into 2020/21 – a condensed, unrelenting campaign – shy of major depth and bodies required to consistently compete. Without further surgery and additions, Oldham may struggle to stay afloat, although the threat of off-field issues could supersede all or any positivity produced on the pitch.
Southend (10/1 BetVictor)
We correctly identified Southend as 4/1 shots for League One relegation in last year’s WLB Season Preview and the Shrimpers look prime candidates to extend their downward spiral on their return to the fourth-tier. Back-to-back relegations cannot be dismissed and neither can eye-popping 10/1 (BetVictor) quotes on the Essex boys delivering successive demotions.
The cash-strapped Blues offered little resistance as they recorded a paltry 19 points from 35 league fixtures on their way down, concluding the suspended campaign a full 16 points from safety. Sol Campbell has since departed Roots Hall with the club taking their time before eventually appointing former Bournemouth youth coach Mark Molesley in mid-August.
Molesley enjoyed tremendous success at Weymouth in his previous role and has already used his Cherries connections to strengthen a wafter-thin squad that’s lacking experience, leadership, confidence and numbers. His work has been made all the more difficult due to a transfer embargo with key central areas appearing particularly youthful and leading light Stephen Humphrys pushing for a move away.
To make matters potentially worse, a winding-up petition against Southend has been adjourned for a third time until mid-September with the Shrimpers owing an unspecified amount of tax to HM Revenue & Customs. Blues’ owners are looking to settle the debt through refinancing from the sale of Roots Hall but doubts and concerns remain rife over the club's ability to remain solvent.
Such monetary matters could easily come back to haunt Southend and supporters should be on-guard following a similar episode involving Chesterfield as recently as 2018, suggesting the double-drop is far from implausible.
Scunthorpe (10/1 BetVictor)
Scunthorpe supporters are approaching the 2020/21 season with a degree of optimism and positivity following the arrival of local pair Neil Cox and Mark Lillis as the Iron’s new manager and assistant. However, I’m not so sure the rookie duo can initiate major improvements from an underperforming squad lacking experience and bodies.
It’s been a rocky road for the Glanford Park group since relegation from League Two and when time was called on last season’s campaign, Scunny found themselves in 20th position having barely averaged over a point per-game. The Iron were also consistently amongst the bottom-eight across a range of major performance data metrics through 2019/20.
Cox was only given the gig in mid-August and inherits a roster that features just two players over the age of 25 (Jordan Clarke and Kevin van Veen). However, both old heads are crocked coming into the season with star striker van Veen rumoured to be out of action until Christmas with surgery required to fix a knee injury.
Of course, there are talented individuals elsewhere; Alex Gilliead and Abdo Eisa will provide plenty of attacking threat from the flanks but with returning skipper Clarke and one of League Two’s leading marksman in van Veen absent, the lack of seasoned pros, leaders and muscle in the changing room following a major summer clear-out could prove worryingly detrimental during the opening stanza.
I should say, there’s no suggestion Scunny are struggling financially and could incur any penalties under Peter Swann’s ownership – this is purely a footballing punt at a price I feel is a few notches too big. In each of the last seven completed League Two campaigns, a team priced up at 10/1 or bigger for relegation has dropped out of the EFL and the Iron fit the bill as a potential plunger.