The last few months has delivered the annual shortage of domestic football, but all has not been quiet on the League One front. The off-season is never a dull time, what with transfer talk and various other speculation, and the summer preceding the much anticipated 2019/20 campaign has been no different.
There’s been no shortage of moving and shaking in League One over the last month or so, as clubs have been offloading and acquiring players, coaching staff and managers alike. Pre-season is now in full swing, which means that the wait for competitive football is almost over.
Ahead of the new campaign, we’ve picked out a handful of ante-post selections for punters to get stuck into.
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League One Winner Prediction: Burton Albion (each-way)
You’ll be hard pushed to find anything more than a smattering of punters siding with a team outside of the big four in the market, e.g. Ipswich, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Rotherham, though Burton stick out at the prices.
Not only are the Brewers one of only a handful of League One clubs that has stability throughout, but they’re a club that has recent promotion experience, while boss Nigel Clough, who been in charge at Pirelli Stadium since 2015, already has a League One runners-up medal on his CV.
Having dropped out of the Championship at the end of the 2017/18 campaign, Burton certainly didn’t pull up any trees last season, but they quietly enjoyed a solid first term back in the third tier, finishing 9th.
Losing the creative Marcus Harness is a blow, as is the departure of defender Kyle McFadzean. They’ve not made too many eye-catching signings either, or at least they’ve not pulled in a great deal of proven quality, but they’re settled, have much the same squad as last season, while they have continuity with a manager who has laid foundations over the last few years.
Despite losing a couple of key individuals and, not bringing in a big name (as of yet), the Brewers certainly aren’t short of quality. Players such as Stephen Quinn, Scott Fraser, Lucas Akins, David Templeton and Liam Boyce are amongst the most capable in the division, while the summer additions of Richard Nartey, John-Joe O-Toole and Kieran O’Hara add a blend of youth and experience.
In addition, Burton ranked highly in numerous areas last season (7th xG for, 10th for goals conceded, 8th for goals scored, 5th shots for, 1st touches in opposition box, 5th for shots conceded) which is positive given that they’ve got a similar squad.
Going against the first three or four in the betting won’t be for everyone, but at the end of the day, as a side that built a solid platform last season, under a manager who knows how to get out of this division, it’s not terribly difficult to make a case for the Brewers at the current prices. Frankly, there’s more to like about them than lots of other teams, some of whom are shorter in the betting, and thus an each-way punt looks worthwhile.
League One Promotion Prediction: Rotherham
Millers’ boss Paul Warne must be experiencing a serious case of Déjà vu ahead of the new term. Having come down with Rotherham at the end of the 2016/17 campaign, Warne carried the Yorkshire club to promotion the very next season, though a year on and the 46-year-old once again finds himself gearing up for a season in the third tier of English football.
After returning to the Championship in 2018, getting relegated so soon wasn’t on the agenda, but both Paul Warne and Rotherham have proved that they can go up just as quickly as they came down. The fact that the hierarchy have stuck with Warne is hugely positive, as it allows continuity, while having a boss that knows how to get out of League One is never a bad thing.
There has been some turnover in playing staff, though a few players from the last promotion campaign remain. The Millers’ have also made several eye-catching signings, which leaves them with a squad that looks just as strong, if not slight stronger, than the one that got them promoted in 2018. Bringing in Freddie Ladapo, who scored 18 league goals for a Plymouth side that got relegated last season, may just be a master stroke. The powerful forward thrived at this level last term and should kick on now that he’s playing for a side looking to get promoted.
When previously taking Rotherham up, Warne made a habit of acquiring the right characters; players with a winning mentality. In hard-working midfielder Daniel Barlaser, the Rotherham boss seems to have brought in someone who fits the bill, while much the same can be said for Shaun McDonald, who has joined from Championship Wigan. Carlton Morris, who was a very steady performer for play-off finalists Shrewsbury during the 17/18 campaign, is another eye-catching addition.
Overall, Rotherham have a squad that, on paper, looks as strong as several of those towards the head of the promotion market, while they have both a manager and numerous players who know what it takes to get out of this division having done so less than two years ago.
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League One Top Six Prediction: Burton Albion
There’s not too much more to say about Burton. They’ve got stability and continuity with Nigel Clough in charge, while their squad is similar to that of last term, when they finished 9th. Ultimately, the Brewers di the groundwork last season and they won’t need to improve much to cut it with the big boys. As touched on above, they appear to have more going for them than several of their competitors, so it’s not too difficult to feel that their chance of a top-six finish is slightly greater than the prices available would have us believe.
League One Relegation Predictions
Gillingham to be Relegated
Having operated at this level since 2009, Gillingham are an established League One club, though they’ve flirted with the drop in many of the last nine seasons. Things have changed over the summer; Steve Evans is now in charge, though while sometimes effective, he’s not exactly known for creating a harmonious environment, while the fact that the Kent club were one of the worst sides defensively, not for the first time, last season (ranked 24th for shots against, 21st xG against, 20th goals against) is hard to ignore.
The Gills no longer have Tom Eaves, who by scoring 38% of their league goals last season, notching no less 21, offset some of their defensive problems, while Tomas Holy, who was very good in goal, has also left for pastures new. They’ve made a couple of reasonable signings, but on paper their squad doesn’t look much stronger than a few of the teams priced shorter in the relegation market. On that basis, at an appealing 6/1, it’s worth backing that the Gills’ ten-year spell in League One comes to an end.
Wycombe to be Relegated
Wycombe’s workmanlike approach saved them last season, but unless they improve quite considerably, Gareth Ainsworth’s men are likely to find themselves battling against the drop for the second campaign in a row. Make no mistake about it, Ainsworth is a fantastic manager and his achievements – which took Wycombe from a club battling the drop in League Two to surviving in League One – are not to be sneezed at, though a manager can only take a club so far, while there was a feeling that his time at Adams Park was coming to an end towards the end of last season. Ainsworth remains, which is a big positive, but what also remains is the fact that he’s managing a club with a low-end budget and a limited squad.
The Chairboys have added some much-need youth by bringing in Giles Phillips and Jamie Mascoll, while Jack Grimmer is a decent signing, though overall, Wycombe’s squad continues to be an aging one that lacks depth. They no longer have Paris Cowan-Hall, while they cannot continue to rely on a 37-year-old Adebayo Akinfenwa.
It may be that Ainsworth once again gets more out of this squad than ought to be possible, while the fact that there’s only likely to be two relegation places on offer, what with both Bolton and Bury losing off-field battles, should aid the Chairboys, but someone has to go down and, all things considered, Wycombe appear to be one of the more likely types.
There’s no shortage of teams hovering around the 4/1 mark in the ‘Relegation’ market, though several of those appear to have more in favour than the side from Adams Park. On this basis, a bet on Wycombe’s League One adventure to come to an end is warranted.
League One Top Goalscorer Prediction: Liam Boyce (each-way)
Both James Norwood and Freddie Ladapo, who’ve joined teams expected (by the market) to be bang there, are obvious shouts, as is John Marquis after his efforts for Doncaster last season, though at a much bigger price, Burton’s Liam Boyce is tempting. The forward scored a modest 11 goals in League One last season, which isn’t too displeasing given that it was his first season in English football. With a full campaign under his belt, for a club that is now fully settled back at this level and where he’s the main man going forward, the Northern Irishman can kick on. Considering that there are more than a few more fashionable names in the hat, the 28-year-old won’t be everyone’s idea of the top goal-getter, but 33/1 for a striker who has scored 62 goals in 125 appearances for Burton and Ross County combined is appealing.
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