League One ante post 2017/18
- Bradford to finish top six 6/4 (Bet 365)
- Gillingham to be relegated 5/4 (Paddy Power)
As a Bradford fan, it has taken a while to get over the heartache of last year's play-off final defeat to Millwall but, ultimately, our downfall in the final was the very issue that plagued Stuart McCall's side all season - not being clinical enough infront of goal.
The Experiemental 3-6-1 'expected goals' scatter showed only champions Sheffield United created a better number of genuine scoring chances than Bradford over the course of the season and, at the back, only Bolton conceded less.
With such a strong starting point to potentially work from this summer, it is, at first glance, surprising the Bradford board have been willing to let several key performers leave the club, while even McCall's own future was temporarily brought into jeopardy.
Rory McArdle, a defensive lynchpin at centre-half and member of the League Two promotion and history-making League Cup final team, has moved to Scunthorpe in search of a long-term deal while James Meredith, Bradford's sole representative in the 2016/17 PFA League One Team of the Year, elected to join Millwall for a Championship relegation battle.
Josh Cullen returned to his parent club West Ham, before being loaned back out to Bolton more recently as his employer's aim to further his development in the Championship, while player-of-the-season Mark Marshall has moved back down to London, joining Charlton, to be closer to his family, after his two-year deal was also allowed to expire.
Billy Clarke, a useful creative force in behind the strikers and the club's top scorer three seasons ago, was another to depart to Charlton.
With this in mind, McCall has been tasked with filling several major holes in his side over the summer, even before attempting to address the issue of finding a goalscorer.
To the board's credit, however, they have stumped up plenty of cash for McCall to strengthen - just as they did in the January transfer window last year when meeting Carlisle's release clause to capture hot shot Charlie Wyke - and they said from the day they bought the club that their long-term philosophy was to develop young, hungry players who could offer a re-sale value down the line.
With this is mind, the decision to allow McArdle (now aged 30), Marshall (30) and Meredith (29), to leave by not tying them down last season, starts to make some sort of sense, and, in truth, there is a resulting sense of excitement, and nervousness, about what the new season has in store.
Northern Ireland international Shay McCartan has joined for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £200k from League Two Accrington and playmaker Jake Reeves - AFC Wimbledon's star performer - has also arrived for (in the context of the division) decent money, believed to be in the region of £150k.
While those two signings are expected to compensate for the loss of Marshall, Clarke and Cullen, McCall has grown frustrated in his attempts to sign a new centre half, with his interest in the experienced Gordon Greer shelved before the Scottish veteran went on to sign for Kilmarnock, and the main issue remains that of who can score the goals for Bradford this season.
Bradford, as the Experimental 361 stats show, are very good at stamping their authority on games and dominating teams - especially infront of the bumper Valley Parade crowd, but they are particularly wasteful infront of goal.
Wyke was brought in as the big-money signing last season once James Hanson had joined Championship-bound Sheffield United, but opposition defenders soon picked him out as an obvious threat and he'll be in for a tough second season in view of his reputation.
The jury is still out whether young Alex Jones is ready to be relied upon for regular goals so, with that in mind, McCall is realistically pinning his hopes on Dominic Poleon, another recruit from AFC Wimbledon for a five-figure undisclosed fee, and Paul Taylor, a free transfer signing from Peterborough, to deliver the goods in rotation with Jones.
Both Taylor and Poleon were brought to the club to inject some much needed pace into the attack but both have been bit-part players in their careers to date and they need to step it up a notch if they are going to be the missing men McCall has been looking for.
Likewise, it would be foolish to place too much expectations on the shoulders of young Omari Patrick, one of the bright lights in an otherwise low-key pre-season.
The former Barnsley man lacks first team experience, though he grabbed his debut opportunity with both hands last weekend against Blackpool, netting a finely-taken winner in the manner of a young player brimming with confidence, but it would be a big ask to expect something similar every week from such a raw player at this early stage of his career and he'll need to be well managed by McCall.
If McCall pushed the boat out and signed a proven goalscorer I'd have a decent bet on Bradford to win the league and also be promoted, but my fear, and I hope I am proven wrong, is that we may end up having to settle for another top six finish - with our automatic promotion chances undone by a lack of a cutting edge in front of goal. We drew 12 home games (while remaining unbeaten) at home last season and need a poacher to turn those draws into wins.
Gillingham have lost their star player, playmaker Bradley Dack, to Blackburn, while striker Cody McDonald, who netted 12 times last season, has departed for AFC Wimbledon. A potentially reduced goal output, for a team 16th in the attacking chart last term, has to be a huge concern.
This is especially true in view of the Gills' weak defensive record last season - they shipped a whopping 79 goals - the worst in the division.