UK Football ante post 2020/21
Here's my ante posts for the new season......
- (5/9/20) Premier League - Chelsea (without Liverpool and Man City) 11/8 (William Hill)
- (8/9/20) Premier League - Hakim Ziyech to have 10 or more assists 15/8 (Paddy Power)
- (9/9/20) Premier League - Southampton +38 pts handicap 16/1 EW (Paddy Power)
- (4/9/20) Championship - Brentford to finish top six 8/11 (William Hill)
- (4/9/20) Championship - Brentford to be promoted 9/4 (William Hill)
- (4/9/20) League One - Oxford to finish top six 5/4 (William Hill, Betfred)
- (4/9/20) League One - Oxford to be promoted 7/2 (Bet Victor), 10/3 (Coral, Betfred, Bet 365) or 3/1 (William Hill)
- (8/9/20) League One - Peterborough top Midlands club 11/10 (Paddy Power) or 10/11 (William Hill)
- (3/9/20) League Two - Tranmere to finish top seven 6/5 (Betfred) or 11/10 (William Hill, Bet 365, Sky Bet)
- (3/9/20) League Two - Tranmere to be promoted 11/4 (William Hill, Coral) or 5/2 (Betfred, Bet 365)
- (8/9/20) League Two - Ian Henderson top goalscorer 10/1 (Sky Bet) 9/1 (Coral) EW (4 places, 1/4 odds)
- (1/2/21) League Two - Bradford to finish top half 15/8 (Sky Bet), 13/8 William Hill, Bet Victor)
- (1/2/21) League Two - Tranmere to finish top seven 5/4 (William Hill, Bet Victor, Bet 365, Sky Bet)
- (1/2/21) League Two - Tranmere outright 25/1 (Bet 365, 888 Sport) 22/1 (Sky Bet), 20/1 (William Hill), EW (3 places, 1/4 odds)
(5/9/20) Acca 1 (pays 12.18/1 with William Hill)
- Chelsea top London club (Premier League)
- Brentford top six finish (Championship)
- Oxford top six finish (League One)
- Tranmere top seven finish (League Two)
(5/9/20) Acca 2 (pays 8.86/1 with Bet 365)
- Chelsea to be top London club (Premier League)
- Brentford top six finish (Championship)
- Oxford top six finish (League One)
- Cambridge to finish above Stevenage (match bet) (League Two)
(5/9/20) Acca 3 (pays 4.19/1 with Bet 365) - all seasonal match bets
- Man City to finish above Man Utd (Premier League)
- Liverpool to finish above Everton (Premier League)
- Brentford to finish above QPR (Championship)
- Barnsley to finish above Rotherham (Championship)
- Cheltenham to finish above Forest Green (League Two)
- Cambridge to finish above Stevenage (League Two)
(9/9/20) Acca 4 (pays 7.57/1 with Bet 365)
- Leeds top newcomer (Group betting) (Premier League)
- Barnsley in a match bet with Rotherham (Championship)
- Peterborough to finish in the top six (League 1)
- Bradford top Northern team (regional betting) (League 2)
(9/9/20) Acca 5 (pays 13.96/1 with Bet 365)
- Southampton to finish over 49 pts (Premier League)
- Barnsley to finish above Rotherham (season match bet) (Championship)
- Oxford to finish top six (League 1)
- Bradford top Northern team (regional betting) (League 2)
(9/9/20) Acca 6 (pays 18.32/1 with Paddy Power)
- Leeds top promoted team (Premier League)
- Wycombe to be relegated (Championship)
- Peterborough highest scoring team (League One)
- Port Vale top half finish (League Two)
(9/9/20) Acca 7 (pays 112/1 Betfred or 105/1 William Hill)
- Chelsea to win Premier League (w/o Liverpool and Man City)
- Brentford to be promoted (Championship)
- Oxford to be promoted (League One)
- Tranmere to be promoted (League Two)
Man City and Liverpool were superior to the rest of the Premier League on the xG figures posted on Experimental 3-6-1 last season - not in the order you may expect, though, given Liverpool ran away with the title but it was Man City who actually came out top - both defensively and offensively.
I am not going to try split Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola's sides this season and have decided to take them out of the equation completely by picking a bet in the without the Liverpool and Man City market with William Hill.
Chelsea are 11/8 favourites, with Man Utd 13/8, Arsenal 8/1 and Spurs 9/1. Wolves are 20/1 and Leicester 22/1.
CHELSEA were the third-best side in the division on the aforementioned Premier League xG figures last season. They were actually not far behind Liverpool on both the defensive and offensive stats, so despite the actual 33-point gap that split the two, there is good reason to think, given their outstanding summer of recruitment, they could narrow the gap this year, or at least hold their position in third/fourth (they were actually fourth in the final table behind Man Utd on goal difference last season), which could likely still result in a winning bet in this market (if you assume the top two are a different class to the rest at the moment).
I wasn't impressed with Chelsea's defence at times last season and, like Man Utd, they looked to have one too many liabilities within it. However, experienced Brazilian international Thiago Silva has joined from PSG, along with left back Ben Chilwell, who was one of the star performers for Leicester last season, so one has to sit up and take note.
Attacking wise, however, their recruits are even more impressive.
Goal machine Timo Werner has joined from RB Leipzig and has been joined by fellow countryman Kai Havertz in a £70m deal from Bayer Leverkusen this week.
Hakim Ziyech was one of the star performers in the Eredivisie for Ajax and has caught the eye with his performances in Europe, so he, too, also looks a terrific recruit.
Bearing all that in mind, you look at Chelsea's potential line-up for next season and they appear to have superb strength in depth.
There will no doubt be more pressure on Frank Lampard this season now big bucks have been spent, as he was almost able to ease himself into the job while they were under a transfer embargo and expectations were lower last term. However, it wasn't a shabby start to his tenure, just missing out on third to Man Utd on goal difference (they conceded too many) and those aforementioned signings offer hope the rearguard can be tightened this term.
There may actually be further additions to follow before the transfer window shuts - a defensive midfielder (Declan Rice) and goalkeeper to challenge the wobbly Kepa (several targets) have been linked.
Lampard is certainly being given the financial backing of Roman Abramovich as the Blues bid to win their first title since 2016-17.
Sheffield United won the handicap market last year and this year's dark horse could be SOUTHAMPTON. Ralph Hasenhuttl's side started slowly last season but the enforced break due the Covid-19 break seemed to help them re-group and they won five and drew three of their last nine fixtures, finishing in 11th.
Their xG stats make for fascinating reading on Experimental 3-6-1 - they had one of the top 10 defences in the division and, attacking wise, only five sides - Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Leicester and Man Utd fared came out more favourably.
If they can carry that form into the new campaign, with no midweek European distractions, and improve a couple of places on that to finish inside the top 10 this term, with a +38 handicap they would be finishing around 90 points overall, which would put them firmly in the mix, especially since the each-way terms in this market are 4 places at 1/4 odds.
I was tempted to back Southampton to finish in the top 10 at 13/8 but by backing them in the handicap market we have a similar sort of bet onside in terms of the place return, but also have a shot at landing a decent return on the win side of the bet.
For future reference, the points Paddy Power are giving to each side on the handicap are as follows.....
BRENTFORD suffered play-off final heartbreak in losing 2-1 to Fulham in extra time last season, but they flirted with the top two in a pulsating finish to the regular season and finished only two points behind West Brom, who took the second automatic promotion spot behind Leeds.
The xG scatter plot on Experimental 3-6-1 suggests there was no fluke about their performances and, in actual fact, they were arguably a more rounded side than Fulham - both offensively and defensively, even though their London rivals pipped them to promotion at Wembley.
Only Leeds and West Brom had a higher xG figure than Brentford attacking wise over the course of the season, while their defence restricted the opposition's quality of chances as effectively as the champions, with both clubs recording an impressive xG figure of under a goal per game.
To break into the top two this season Thomas Frank's men probably don't need to improve a great deal - a lot will probably depend on how well the teams relegated from the Premier League - Norwich, Bournemouth and Watford - acclimatise to their new division.
Eddie Howe departing could be a big blow to Bournemouth, who have also lost star centre-back Nathan Ake to Man City and promising goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to Sheffield United. It wouldn't surprise if they lost Ryan Fraser and Callum Wilson before the end of the transfer window, either.
Norwich were horrific defensively last year, although they will enjoy more success in the Championship with their gung-ho style and at least haven't had their star players cherry picked - yet.
Watford were perhaps a little unlucky to be relegated last year looking at their xG performance - there were six worse defences than them and five sides fared worse than them on the attacking front, but the off-the-field anarchy that surrounds the Hornets is offputting when it comes to pinpointing a bet at the ante post stage. With Watford you couldn't state with any confidence who their manager will be at Christmas, let alone at the end of the season, and that's if they can put together a strong promotion challenge under Nigel Pearson's replacement, anyway.
The new man in the firing line, Vladimir Ivic, does have a talented pool of players to work with at Vicarage Road and, if he can make an instant impact on his arrival from Maccabi Tel Aviv, they certainly have the quality to finish in the title race, likewise Norwich, but I just think Brentford are the safer bet for a top six finish as they have everything in place to sustain a big promotion push already, and also have an excellent recruitment process to keep strengthening when they need to.
The Bees were already the highest scorers in the division last year (with 80) and they've since brought in 24-goal Ivan Toney, who enjoyed a sparkling season in League One for Peterborough last term and looks ready to take the next step up.
Charlie Goode arriving from newly-promoted Northampton adds further strength to their defence, too, and they basically just have a really strong core and good backup options. They have plenty of goals in the side and even if Ollie Watkins does secure a move to the Premier League (has been linked with Aston Villa), Toney coming in should ensure their output doesn't drop. Said Benrahma is another strong scoring option at their disposal, of course.
One area of uncertainty is how they'll take to moving into a new stadium, but I'm taking the view that they'll kick on and progress to the next level in their new home.
I've backed them to finish in the top six at 8/11 and also had a nibble on them to be promoted. With Norwich and Watford potentially tough nuts to crack back in this division, backing Brentford to be promoted does at least offer some insurance and keep the bet alive through the play-offs, should they miss out on the automatics.
OXFORD finished fourth in a League One table settled on a points-per-game basis last season, then lost in the play-off final 2-1 to Wycombe.
However, as with my Brentford bets in the Championship, I think they have plenty in place to mount a serious promotion challenge and could gain compensation this time around.
The xG scatter plots on Experimental 3-6-1 show Karl Robinson assembled a fully functional outfit last term. Only Portsmouth yielded a higher xG figure attacking wise and, defensively, Oxford were up there with the likes of Fleetwood and Coventry, behind Sunderland.
The U's lost Shandon Baptiste and Tarqiue Fosu to Brentford in the January transfer window, so it is to Robinson's credit that he managed to keep churning out the results.
Defender Robert Dickie has recently departed for QPR, so Robinson will again have to dip into the transfer market to bolster his squad, but he's on the verge of signing a contract extension himself and his early transfer business looks good - he's made Matty Taylor's (13 goals in 26 appearances last year) loan move from Bristol City permanent and brought in Sean Clare from Hearts with a view to deploying him as a right wing back. He's also raided Irish champions Linfield for Joel Cooper, and will hope the winger can become the latest gem he can polish from the Emerald Isle.
Robinson finished in the playoffs twice with MK Dons before taking them up automatically and will hopefully call upon that experience to lift them out of a division containing Sunderland, who should be watertight under Phil Parkinson, Portsmouth, who also came out really well on xG last season but have been surprisingly quiet in the transfer market this summer, and Peterborough, who have lost star striker Ivan Toney to Brentford but have a superb track record of bringing through talented goalscoring projects.
It looks like it could be competitive at the top again in League One this year but you'd like to think Oxford have solid top-six claims, so I've backed them at 5/4 and had a smaller bet on them at 10/3 to be promoted.
The way the 2019/20 season was concluded in League One was unsatisfactory to many, not least those associated with TRANMERE.
Their form had just started to pick up (they had won three in a row) before the season was suspended and they had been set to face relegation rivals Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons before the end of March, which would have handed them a live chance of climbing back out of the drop zone.
They were three points adrift of safety when the season was curtailed but had a game in hand on AFC Wimbledon, who were directly above them in 20th, though ended up slipping through the trapdoor based on points-per-game when the division was officially settled.
I think that feeling of injustice could drive the Prenton Park outfit on this season as they bid to bounce back to League One at the first attempt.
Looking at Tranmere's expected goal (xG) performance last year on the Experimental 3-6-1 scatter plots, the Whites were arguably the fifth worst team in League One last year, despite their league position.
Bolton, Southend, Rochdale and AFC Wimbledon fared worse than them on the defensive front xG wise. The same four teams fared worse on the attacking figures too, though Tranmere were not far behind MK Dons, Bristol Rovers and Shrewsbury on the latter numbers and their attacking output and results perhaps improved following the arrival of James Vaughan on loan from Bradford in January.
Vaughan, who was skipper at the Bantams after arriving from Wigan in the close season, before falling out with then-manager Gary Bowyer (he'd cut a frustated figure in a set up which starved him of service), netted three times in eight appearances during his loan spell on the Wirral.
Despite the best attempts of Bowyer's replacement, Stuart McCall, to convince him to stay in West Yorkshire for the forthcoming campaign, the former Bury hitman was insistent on making his switch permanent, and, after his Bantams contract was recently cancelled by mutual consent, he has put pen to paper on a permanent deal. Given his goalscoring record in the division for Bury several years ago, his signing looks a real coup.
Of all the summer transfer activity in the division, Tranmere's summer business has impressed me most. Tough-tackler Jay Spearing, who captained Blackpool in League One, looks one of the the best signings in the division as he brings plenty of higher-level experience, dating back to his spell at Liverpool, and he's just the sort of character his teammates can turn to for inspiration when the chips are down. He is the gritty character we need so badly at Bradford, but he'll be strutting his stuff in Birkenhead now instead.
Things didn't work out as well as hoped for Otis Khan at Mansfield, though that was also true of many of the Stags recent captures and if he rediscovers the sort of form he showed in League Two for Yeovil, he'll be another fresh asset, alongside Spearing and Vaughan, now the club settle in to life in a lower division.
It should be pointed out that Micky Mellon has left the club since the end of last season to take charge of Dundee United. Mellon was at the club for four years and oversaw successive promotions from the National League into League One, but Mike Jackson, Mellon's assistant, taking over the reins should at least ensure some sort of continuity and harness that feeling of injustice hanging over from last season.
It is hoped Jackson, now running the show himself, can step up and continue the revival the club were experiencing before the season was cut short. Remember, Tranmere knocked Premier League Watford out of the F.A. Cup last season (before being put to the sword by Man Utd) and Jackson, who had been assistant to Mellon at Shrewsbury before the pair moved to Merseyside in 2016, would have played in a key role in that giant killing, too.
It is thought the new salary cap that has been brought in by the EFL could be something of a leveller in League Two this year. Expenditure on player salaries is now capped at £1.5 million but Tranmere drop into the division with the bulk of squad who were with them in League One last year and, as such, any of those players on the books from before the cap was brought in will only count at the league's salary average (believed to be around £1,300) towards their budget.
For the same reason, Bolton, who were also relegated from League One, have to be afforded plenty of respect this season, despite the fact the club had been a circus act in recent years. The likes of Eoin Doyle coming in from Swindon and Antoni Sarcevic arriving from Plymouth, all before the cap was brought in, suggests the Trotters are another who could be throwing their weight about this season. However, there has been so much turmoil there, and they were so bad in League One last year, I have overlooked them for an ante post at the prices. They've brought in new boss Ian Evatt from Barrow (worked wonders to get them promoted into the Football League) and the squad has undergone major overhaul, but if they start brightly I expect they could be getting thrown into plenty of weekly accumulators over the season!
Salford are another team in the division with plenty of financial clout and the arrival of the effervescent Ian Henderson from Rochdale looks shrewd pre-salary cap business as they bid to continue their climb up the Football League.
Because of the threats posed by financial heavyweights like Bolton and Salford I've not backed Tranmere to win the division, but I think they have a strong chance of making the top seven and have snapped up the 11/10 for them to do so, as well as nibbling them to a smaller stake at 11/4 to be promoted.
Chelsea have made up for lost time since their transfer ban ended and have done some of the most impressive business in Europe this summer. German goal machine Timo Werner looks a top-class signing from RB Leipzig, while Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Ben Chilwell and Thiago Silva all strengthen Frank Lampard's side further.
I was tempted to include Chelsea in the without Liverpool and Man City market at 11/8 in my accumulators, but just incase Man Utd take a forward step this year with Bruno Fernandes pulling the strings (made a great impact following his arrival in January) and with Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood having another season of development under them, I've backed Chelsea in the top London club market to play it safe instead. I have taken the 11/8 as a single, though.
Realistically, Chelsea are up against Arsenal and Spurs in the top London club market. Spurs wobbled under Jose Mourinho last year and players like Dele Alli need to now step back up and start delivering for him again. They have also proven too dependent on Harry Kane in the past - an issue that has never really been addressed with the backup options they've had at their disposal.
Arsenal improved under Mikel Arteta last season, landing the F.A. Cup and then the Community Shield recently, and the Spaniard seems to be building something there, though Chelsea have superior squad depth after their summer spending splurge so I am hopeful they can finish top dog of those challenging from the capital.
With regards to the seasonal match bets, the Liverpool and Man City legs need little explanation as they are the class acts in the league and possess so much strength in depth. You could argue it's a bit pointless including the Liverpool leg at such short odds but they bump up the cumulative odds slightly and they and Man City look the two runaway title contenders, whereas Everton are a team who will likely be battling to finish between sixth and 10th, while Man Utd will likely be scrapping it out for the Champions League places behind the big two.
I think Brentford will challenge for the automatic promotion places, if not the title, whereas I view QPR as more of a top half of the table, but still mid-table sort of side.
Rotherham usually struggle in the Championship as they, sensibly, spend within their means, whereas Barnsley fared better than their bare results last season and might hopefully enjoy a smoother ride this season, following their narrow escape from the drop last time.
Cheltenham v Forest Green looks the most closely matched of the legs I've included. Both sides keep it tight and pick off teams with narrow winning margins, but I like Michael Duff who is in charge at Cheltenham and the capture of Alfie May in January last year was shrewd. I hope they can come out on top in this match bet battle.
Stevenage were lucky to avoid relegation on a technical decision, rather than on merit, and could be involved in another battle to avoid the drop (they only won three of their 36 completed matches last season), whereas Cambridge impressed under Mark Bonner in the latter stages of last season and have made some decent summer captures, most notably wily old veteran Wes Hoolahan, who returns from a spell in the A-League, and Paul Mullin, who fared well during a loan spell from Tranmere last season and has made his move permanent.
8/11 for Cambridge, in what appears a mismatch, appears excellent value - I'm expecting Cambridge to finish in midtable.
- Going through some of the specials, group and match bets, I've added a few more bets today.
Chelsea ranked second in the Premier League for shots and chances created last season and third for goals scored. Given they weren't that far off Liverpool on the xG numbers either, their new recruit HAKIM ZIYECH interests me in one of Paddy Power's specials markets (on the 'What Odds Paddy' ante post section) - they have him priced up at 15/8 to have 10 or more assists this season.
Christian Pulisic registered eight assists for the Blues last season and Willian, who Ziyech effectively replaces, registered nine.
The likes of De Bruyne (23), Trent Alexander-Arnold (15), Mahrez (14), Son (13), Robertson (12), Barnes (10), Salah (10) and Mane (10) all registered double-digit assists last term and Ziyech, who will be lining up in an ambitious attacking side containing the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, as well as Pulisic, should have quality players getting on the end of his teasing crosses.
In the Eredivisie for Ajax last season he notched 12 assists and he showed he is capable of performing on a bigger stage when scoring twice and registering two assists from six appearances in the Champions League.
Although the Moroccan picked up a slight knock in pre-season, he is reportedly only touch and go for the first game of the season against Brighton, and if he quickly finds his feet in this strong attacking outfit, you could easily see him giving us a really good run for our money here at 15/8.
Chelsea will give several sides a spanking at Stamford Bridge this season and Ziyech could be one of the architects of the destruction.
- PETERBOROUGH look a stonking price at 11/10 (Paddy Power) to finish top Midlands team in League One. Darren Ferguson's side have wrapped up the signing of Sammy Szmodics from Bristol City today and look to have an embarrassment of riches going forward.
Posh are expected to be challenging in the play-off positions at least, possibly even the automatic promotion places or for the title given the strength of their forward line. Eisa, Dembele and now Jonson Clarke-Harris, give them plenty of attacking power even though Ivan Toney has departed for Brentford.
They are up against Lincoln, Burton, Shrewsbury and Northampton in this particular market and I think it would be a surprise if any of those sides broke into the playoffs - which they'll likely need to do to outperform Darren Ferguson's men.
- In the League Two top goalscorer market I've backed Salford's IAN HENDERSON each-way at 9/1 (4 places, 1/4 odds) against market leader Eoin Doyle.
Salford are a club firmly on the up and although they finished 11th in their first season in the Football League, they've strengthened over the summer and look well equipped to kick on and sustain a promotion push as they continue to climb the pyramid.
The permanent capture of Ashley Hunter from League One promotion contenders Fleetwood (following his loan spell last season) also catches the eye among their other bits of summer business.
Henderson is 35 now but has been a terrific servant for Rochdale, scoring goals regularly in what has, recently, been a struggling League One side.
His goalscoring figures for the last five years (all in League One), along with Rochdale's final league position, have been:
- 15/16: 42 appearances - 13 goals (Rochdale 10th)
- 16/17: 49 appearances - 19 goals (Rochdale 9th)
- 17/18: 50 appearances - 20 goals (Rochdale 20th)
- 18/19: 49 appearances - 21 goals (Rochdale 16th)
- 19/20: 39 appearances - 16 goals (Rochdale 18th)
Dropping down to League 2 level, I'm putting my faith in him to outscore Bolton's Doyle, who ran riot in this division at Swindon last year.
The key difference, though, may be that Richie Wellens had established a fully functional outfit at Swindon - which Doyle slotted straight into - and was handed chances on a plate. He struggled when returning to Bradford in the January transfer window, before he was allowed to leave the club and join Swindon permanently.
Bolton, following their relegation from League One, are undergoing a full rebuild. New manager Ian Evatt is entitled to need a bit of time to stamp his ideas on the squad, which has been fully revamped, whereas Salford already had Graham Alexander and a good base in place.
Henderson, by contrast, scored on his debut in the Carabao Cup last weekend and hopefully will be up and running in the league swiftly too to steal a lead on Doyle, who will no doubt come good as soon as Bolton's form settles down.
I've added four more fun accumulators above. I won't repeat myself in outlining the reasons I like any of the teams I've got onside previously, though Bet 365's team total points market provides an opportunity to get Southampton onside (over 49 pts) using a slightly different angle to the handicap.
I've covered Peterborough to be highest league goalscorers at 5/1 with Paddy Power. Sunderland are 6/1 but I am expecting Phil Parkinson to set them up like a typical Parky side - like he did with Bolton and Bradford - be watertight at the back but not necessarily a gung-ho outfit. I may be wrong but I think Peterborough have the superior firepower on paper with the likes of Eisa, Dembele and Clarke-Harris on their books.
I've backed Leeds to finish top of the promoted sides in the Premier League. They are up against Fulham, who struggled defensively the last time they were in the top flight, and West Brom.
Based on their xG last year, Leeds had the best defence in the Championship last season and I expect that'll provide a sound platform for them to build on this year.
They have a fine tactical head coach in Marcelo Bielsa, who is capable of attracting big names to Elland Road, as the capture of Rodrigo from Valencia proved, and their star performers from the Championship are expected to take the step up in division in their stride - Kalvin Phillips, to name one, has now been capped by England since his promotion.
Defender Ben White has returned to Brighton following a brilliant loan spell but the Whites seemingly went to great lengths to secure Koch from Freiburg and he can hopefully fill the void following his £11.7m move.
Barnsley massive underperformed last season and, on xG, they could have expected to have finished midtable, rather than being involved in a prolonged relegation scrap. If they can kick on under Gerhard Struber this season they may be able to guarantee their survival much earlier in the season and, at the very least, give us a good run for our money in this match bet market vs South Yorkshire rivals Rotherham.
The Millers have proven a bit of a yo-yo club and although they are usually too good for League One, they, admirably (and sensibly) spend within their means when they arrive in the Championship. It is tough for them to compete with teams getting £80m parachute payments and they are expected to be involved in another relegation fight, likewise Wycombe, who I've also included as a relegation bet in one of the accumulators.
Port Vale finished League 2 strongly before the season was curtailed last season and narrowly missed out on a crack at the play-offs after losing only 2 of their last 13 games. They've kept together the bulk of that squad and could mount another play-off challenge under John Askey.
One team who might not be able to finish in the top seven, following some high profile departures, but may have a chance of sneaking into the top 10 behind Port Vale is my own side, Bradford.
Stuart McCall was unable to prevent a slide that had started under Gary Bowyer last season, before he was fired in February, and we finished ninth.
We've since seen captain James Vaughan ushered out of the door to join Tranmere and we haven't replaced underperforming right back Kelvin Mellor, nor signed the midfield general many of us wanted to see in order for us to kick on into the top seven this time.
That said, the permanent capture of Callum Cooke from Peterborough looks an excellent signing and the arrival of Elliott Watt from Wolves, following a decent loan spell in the division at Carlisle last season, further improves a midfield that often looked one-dimensional last year.
The skilful Billy Clarke returns to the club, having played a key role in League One play-off campaign under McCall during his previous spell in charge, but the feeling is that McCall, who came through the youth ranks at the club as a teenager himself, may also put faith in several of the youngsters coming through this season. The fixtures come thick and fast and having reliable backup options will be key for all sides.
Reece Staunton started in the Carabao Cup win over League 2 ante post favourites Bolton at centre back alongside the two O'Connors, with Ben Richards-Everton benched, and with four more of the young crop blooded in for the Football League Trophy 0-0 draw against a strong Doncaster side at the Keepmoat Stadium on Tuesday, and giving excellent accounts of themselves in a well-organised display, expectations for this season have suddenly been raised a notch.
It isn't beyond the realms of possibility we may see loan arrivals before the end of the transfer window, too.
If Lee Novak stays fit, and McCall - a strong man manager - gets the best out of the players at his disposal again, with no off-the-field interference holding him back this time, we might just surprise a few teams this season.
I think we lack the fire power of the strong promotion contenders but in this top 'Northern club' market we are up against Grimsby, Carlisle, Scunthorpe and newly promoted Harrogate Town and I'd like to think we will be pressing on for a top 10 finish, whereas those clubs may be destined to finish in the bottom half.
As we move further into the second half of the season I've topped up bets on two of the teams in League Two which interested me in pre-season.
Firstly, Tranmere, who I've now backed each-way to win the league at 25/1 (EW is now down to third, at 1/4 odds) and also to make the top seven at 5/4. We are already on a top seven bet from pre-season but I've gone in again as I think they have momentum and are coming with a potential title challenge.
League Two appears very open this season and there is no standout side in the division. I would rather take a chance on one at a price as I think some of those in and around the playoffs are wobbling. Teams are having to operate with small squads in these Covid times and with abandonments and rearrangements, some of those with weaker squads may struggle to deal with the demands of back-to-back Saturday-Tuesday games in the run-in.
I've also had a strong bet on Bradford City to finish top half as I think the Bantams have a strong bench, following an active recruitment drive in January, and could have options to freshen things up in the months ahead. Most notably, Danny Rowe and Andy Cook have come in to bolster a previously tame attack, and will provide competition for Lee Novak.
Sky are currently a best priced 15/8 on the top-half-finish bet, while William Hill, of the firms which are more accommodating, are 13/8.
Both Tranmere and Bradford began the season slowly but managerial changes have perked both teams up since December.
Keith Hill has got Tranmere firing and they moved into the playoffs after beating promotion-chasing Morecambe 1-0 at the weekend. They are only four points off leaders Cambridge, with a game in hand, and their next five fixtures see them face Port Vale, Stevenage, Grimsby, Colchester and Oldham, all of whom are currently in the bottom half of the table, handing them a real opportunity to continue the momentum.
Bradford have a trickier run in with Exeter, Scunthorpe, Salford, Morecambe and Cheltenham up next, though for a resurgent side who currently sit second in the League 2 form table and who are unbeaten in eight matches under interim managers Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars, those fixtures provide an ideal opportunity to take points off those above them to continue their climb up the table.
The arrival of a recruitment director, Lee Turnbull, has seen a more professional approach taken to transfers this window and half a dozen new faces have arrived at Valley Parade, along with several underperformers being paid up and moved on.
The side which made a stuttering start to the season under Stuart McCall and were sleepwalking into a relegation dogfight has found a new lease of life under the interim bosses since switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Bradford have pulled 10 points clear of the bottom two now and have two games in hand, following a spate of abandonments in January, so eyes are now beginning to glance further up the table.
Realistically, it is still going to be asking quite a lot of the side to make the playoffs, following such a bad start to the season, and automatic promotion form would probably be needed to sneak into the top seven.
However, a strong end to the season is anticipated nevertheless, and the price on finishing in the top half looks big at odds up to 15/8 and at least provides an achievable and realistic target to throw up a bet for the second half of the season. I'd make it more of a 4/5 shot, personally.
One gets the feeling something special is happening at the club right now.