There are many things that make league favourites. In this day and age it tends to be transfers that provide the key market moves, although managerial changes tend to have significant weight in the football league. Another thing that does make a significant impression for many when picking their choices is a fast finish to the previous campaign, and it’s with this that Sheffield United have been pushed to strong favouritism for League 1 this year.
And given just how impressive the Blades’ rally was last season, there’s good reason behind their market leadership. Stuck in the bottom four in January, Nigel Clough led his club on a sensational blitz that ended with United finishing best of the clubs that didn’t make the playoff and having the fourth best finish to the season in League 1 – the three teams that bettered them in the last 23 games are all now Championship sides.
It makes for an obvious title challenge this season and they deserve the utmost respect ahead of this year but most title favourites have usually come into the news season significantly strengthening their squads and I’m not sure that this can be said of United. The absences of John Brayford and Conor Coady will be keenly felt after returns to Cardiff and Liverpool from hugely successful loan spells, although not as much as the return of highly rated centre back Harry Maguire to Hull, even if for the price of £2.5m.
While Clough has bought well in Blackpool’s Chris Basham, James Wallace from Tranmere, and also Michael Higdon – who has plenty of form that entitles him to be feared at this level – those departures are a blow for his side and at a top price of 11/2 it would have been nice to see more encouraging signs.
Play off final losers L look at least as progressive, having bettered their seventh in 2012/13 with a fine third last year that ended in heartbreak as they lose their final on penalties to Rotherham, but they now arrive with a side that is arguably even stronger with the takeover of Francesco Bechetti having given the side extra financial firepower that could well provide the difference this season.
In a raft of pre season additions, Milwall’s Shane Lowry could be a stellar capture at centreback, while Jobi McAnuff’s experience at a higher level – he had 35 caps for a Reading side that came close to eh playoffs last season – could prove to be invaluable in midfield. Fresh from leaving a poisonous atmosphere at Nottingham Forest it’s likely that Darius Henderson still has plenty to offer upfront following his 9 goals in the Championship last season and adds to a forward line which already has plenty to offer – their 85 goals was second only to runaway winners Wolves last season – and the re singing of Dean Cox, a consistent scorer in the biggest games when it really counted last year, is another boost for a club which has one of the best atmospheres in the football league.
To add to this, crucially they have not lost any more key players than Moses Odubaejo – and if Henderson takes to football at this level he can more than replace his 10 goals from last season – with David Mooney and Kevin Lisbie also staying, and the majority of their rear-guard from last year in Nathan Clarke, Scott Cuthbert and Elliot Omzui, are all set to stay. Consider the fact that Romain Vincelot is still on the books at the time of speaking and Rusell Slade’s side look to have the tools to at least equal their third from last season and make by far the most appeal of the market leaders. Given the fact that 61 points separated top to bottom last year, they also look well worth supporting getting 9 points from Sheffield United and co on a season long handicap, where a title bid would see them very competitive.
A better atmosphere and less chaos at Bristol City saw them launch a charge in the second half of last season that was very similar to Sheffield United’s, losing just two of their last 17 games. Having kept hold of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Sam Baldock, Steve Cotterill’s purchase of Aaron Wilbraham from Crystal Palace is a decent forward option to have too. They are more than capable of going well but more appealing at a bigger price are Preston, who go in with a squad that has lost nothing from the previous campaign.
There have been just 5 additions to the squad but if Andrew Little brings his best form to the table then he can share the workload upfront with Joe Garner, whose 18 goals were a crucial part of their strong challenge, while the arrival of Calum Woods from Huddersfield could also prove to be a shrewd capture to give a couple of minor tweaks to one of the most impressive squads in the league last season.
Josh Brownhill is a fine young midfielder with plenty of creative talent and the pickup of Jamie Jones is an excellent addition and a blow for Leyton Orient at the same time, is a sign of the short but smart signings that have been made by Simon Grayson.
Grayson’s record at this division is outstanding, having taken up Blackpool, Leeds and Huddersfield, and with a deep – there are 27 registered players, all of very similar ability, for the manager to choose from, and he shouldn’t be far away from the Championship this time around.
A relegated side has come up in 5 of the last 6 seasons so the three dropouts all have to be considered. The summer exodus at Barnsley should prove very helpful for club morale for a more focused group of players ready to bid for n instant return but it includes top scorer Chris O’Grady from last season and the reshaping that Danny Wilson’s attempting is not going to be without it’s own effects. Doncaster’s failed takeover bid is a nightmare start for an attempt at bouncing back and David Cottterill, Chris Brown, and James Husband are all going to be big misses and so were the potential trialists that went missing.
Yeovil will miss Luke Ayron and Bryon Wesbter despite the good covers they’ve made for a major exodus and a lot of responsibility is on the shoulders of Ben Nugent.
MK Dons have been of interest to many over the summer and it’s not hard to see why with several impressive additions – Danny Green, Kyle McFadzean, Tom Hitchcock and Will Grigg are all expected to be pushing for first team football and all can make an impact – but the worry is a thin squad in terms of depth when many of the top contenders are loaded from top to bottom now.
Peterborough should be thereabouts for all that they were 11 and 12 points behind my selection last season and have now lost Lee Tomlin and Swindon’s lack of budget is not likely to be helpful in their bid for another playoff tilt here and while back to back promotions are not impossible, it’s hard to get enthused about Chesterfield, Scunthorpe or Rochdale.
2 pts each/way Preston (17/2 Coral)
2 pts each/way Leyton Orient (10/1 general)
Advice – Promotion
2 pts Preston (5/2 general)
2 pts Leyon Orient (7/2 general)
Advice – Handicap
1 pt each/way Leyton Orient +9 (18/1 Hills)