League One 2017/18 – Title Preview

The football league is often known as a minefield but Punters have had it pretty good with no winner bigger than 14/1 in the last 10 seasons and plenty of each/way successes for those near the head of the market. Indeed, the last four winners have all gone off shorter than 10/1, so short prices shouldn’t discourage you if you believe that a side is set to outclass their opposition.

 

Relegation to League One can take a whole to overcome – just ask Sheffield United fans – but Blackburn look ideally set to take a world of beating and it will be disappointing if they can’t get back up at the first attempt.

 

Rovers have been one of the most chronically mismanaged clubs in England over the past decade and one of the few good calls – bringing in Tony Mowbray with the club in meltdown under the unpopular Owen Coyle – came too late to save them, although they did at least manage to change the mood with Mowbray leading them to lost just three of their last 15 games. They took 22 points from their last 15 games, form that would have earned them a top half finish in the Championship over the full season, and for once Venky’s appear to have supported their aims.

 

Much of the deadwood has gone out of the side door and the signing of Bradley Dack from Gillingham for £750,000 was not only a statement of intent but also a serious addition in the middle of the park, whilst Ben Dack brings experience from Championship outfit QPR whilst he also impressed at Swindon.

 

The highlight is the addition of Cardiff legend Peter Whittingham, who helped the Bluebirds reach FA and League Cup finals whilst also reaching the Premier League, and Mowbray has also managed to bring back his former partner in crime Richie Smallwood, who had played at Middlesbrough for him and who also helped Rotherham win promotion to the Championship.

 

Wigan’s best signing could well be the arrival of Paul Cook from Portsmouth, who won League 2 last year, and the Latics ought to go very well again in a bid to repeat their title win of two seasons ago. However, 11 points separated the pair in the Championship last season and it’s clear who has had the better summer too. That said, they are major each/way players and if they can hold onto Max Power and Sam Morsy then their chances will increase significantly – and yes, we know the Will Grigg on fire chant.

Rotherham are the other relegated side but the danger for them is going down again as we’ll elaborate on a little later and it is impossible to see them being seriously involved.

 

MK Dons got nowhere near bouncing back on their return from the Championship but that doesn’t tell anything close to the whole story of their season. Karl Robinson had suffered a terrible start to the season which saw them winless at home in December, but the arrival of Robbie Neilson was just what they needed to reinvigorate the side.

They ended up going from two points above the drop to finishing a solid 12th by the end of the season, and given the changed that had to be made, their position of seventh in the second half of the season was a very creditable effort. Three teams that finished above them were promoted and now the ex-Hearts man has had a summer to build the squad he wants.

 

The arrival of Ethan Ebanks-Landell, instrumental in taking Sheffield United to the title last season, is a huge bonus and perhaps their best capture although there are plenty of other interesting additions. Ousseynou Cissé is said to be a dominating physical presence in midfield who comes from Tours whilst Neilson must have seen plenty of Peter Pawlett at Aberdeen during his time there.

 

There’s Championship influx thanks to Gboly Ariyibi who comes from Nottingham Forest and Conor McGrandles from Norwich, and there has been a lot of good things said about Ryan Seager who comes from Southampton.

 

The bulk of the existing side is clearly capable of challenging for promotion and fingers are crossed that Chuks Aneke can stay fit but even if he doesn’t in Kieran Agard and Robbie Murhead there’s attacking talent to go with the best defences and there’s very little not to like about their chances. A lot of new talent has come in but they’ve had far more time to prepare for this season than last season and they can go very well.

 

There are few stories more remarkable than Fleetwood Town’s meteoric rise through the divisions and the bookmakers appear to have severely underestimated their chances – once again – of a promotion challenge.

 

They were 5/2 for the drop this time last year but didn’t lose a game between November and March (18 matches to be exact) and whilst they couldn’t sustain that push through to the end of the season they still ended up finishing fourth. A 1-0 aggregate defeat to Bradford in the playoff semi-finals would have been a blow but keeping Uwe Rosler, arguably the best manager in the division.

 

There have been only two significant departures – understandable given their success last season – but where David Ball and Conor McLaughlin have gone five very good looking signings have come in and the squad has to be stronger as a result.

 

Conor McAleny scored 10 goals in 19 games on loan at Oxford last season and represents a powergrab for the Cod Army although the arrivals of Lewis Coyle, Harvey Rodgers, Kyle Dempsey, and Jordy Hiwula all add much-needed depth that should hopefully see them over the line towards the end of the season.

 

Most importantly for the whole squad however, might be the fact that Rosler has had a full pre-season with the squad, and if they can hit the ground running there’s no reason they can’t put together another really strong promotion.

 

Scunthorpe would have gone up if they’d gone through the middle of the season as well as the start and finish of it and they must be considered one of the main threats. Paddy Madden and Josh Morris are excellent forwards – the latter scored 19 last season and can go well again this year. He should be ably supported by Paddy Madden and Kevin Van Veen whilst Rory McArdle was a good poach from Bradford to beef up the defence.

 

It’s very hard not to see them being involved as well whilst Bradford, unbeaten at Valley Parade last season, should be right on the premises too even if manager and board are not always seeing eye-to-eye. The loss of Mark Marshall and James Meredith also complicates matters.

Oxford have added an interesting manager in the shape of Pep Closet, who was liked at Leeds, and would be the last of the lurking dangers to keep an eye on. The loss of Michael Appleton was a blow for their prospects but the addition of young midfield Xemi really takes the eye whilst Mike Williamson’s arrival from Wolves also looks like good business. They look sure to be around the playoffs once again this season and could be value for a top six finish.

Promoted sides can go and double up once again and whilst losing Paul Cook was a big blow for Portsmouth, replacing him with Kenny Jackett was a perfect swap and the two time League One winner has made some selective but quality additions. Ipswich forward Brett Pitman is top of the list although Luke McGee could also play a crucial role.

 

The American billionaire Michael Eisner- yes, that one with the Mickey Mouse – has also taken over the club, prompting a lot of optimism around Fratton Park, and they could be on the way up sooner rather than later.

 

Plymouth should arguably have won the title (League 2) last season and they have to be respected after nailing down a new contract for Graham Carey, who pulls the strings in midfield. They had the same amount of points as Pompey – 87 – and appear too big at three times the price especially with Derek Adams at the helm.

 

Advice – Title

3 pts Blackburn (4/1 general)

1.5 pts each/way MK Dons (14/1 general)

1 pt each/way Fleetwood (25/1 general)

 

Advice – Top 6 Finish

2 pts MK Dons (2/1 Bet Victor)

1 pt Fleetwood (7/2 Paddy Power)

 

Advice – Top Half Finish

5 pts Fleetwood (4/5 general)

 

Advice – Handicap

2 pts each/way Fleetwood +18 (14/1 Coral)

1 pt each/way Blackburn scr (18/1 Bet Victor)

1 pt each/way MK Dons +9 (18/1 Bet365)