League Two ante post 2017/18
- Luton to be top south east club (vs Cambridge, Stevenage, Wycombe, Barnet, Crawley) 2/1 (Sky Bet)
- Mansfield to be promoted 11/10 (William Hill, Bet 365, Sky Bet, Bet Victor)
Luton were clipped into 4/1 for the outright title after destroying Yeovil 8-2 on the opening day of the season on Saturday and their strike pairing of Danny Hylton and James Collins (latter of whom netted 20 times for struggling Crawley last season) is expected to score goals this season - compensating for the loss of Jack Marriott to Peterborough.
Bearing in mind their title price, the odds on them finishing top south east club ahead of Cambridge, Stevenage, Wycombe, Barnet and Crawley seems plain wrong at 2/1 today - this looks one of the ante post bets of the season in my opinion.
Wycombe, Cambridge and Stevenage finished ninth, 11th, and 10th, respectively, last term, and all may well finish in the top half once again. Crawley (19th last term) and Barnet (15th), however, are more likely to be battling the drop than mounting viable promotion challenges.
Luton, with their firepower (fifth best attack in the league last year) and strong defence (second only to Portsmouth in conceding 43 in 46 last year) look the clear pick of the group though and they look genuine title contenders after a spate of summer arrivals with players who have been competing at higher levels. They could help turn some of those many draws into wins.
There are no big teams like Portsmouth and Doncaster to worry about this year, though Mansfield have strong financial backing under Steve Evans and by backing them in this 'SE' market at 2/1, rather than 4/1 in the outright market, I like thought of taking Mansfield out of the equation completely when getting Luton onside.
Mansfield had the sixth tightest defence in the league last year and the capture of Zander Diamond from Northampton could help improve that record further.
The big question, however, is whether Evans can improve the Stags' goal output - they were weak going forward last term and had the 17th best attack.
It wasn't as if Mansfield were particularly wasteful in front of goal, either. In terms of chance creation, Mansfield created fewer 'good' goalscoring chances than half the teams in the division and ranked poorly on 'expected goals' models on the Experimental 361 blog.
However, Evans' sides are typically strong going forward and if he can transform his current club as he did Rotherham, now he has had the benefit of a pre-season to work with his squad (he arrived in November mid-way through last season), it would come as no surprise to see them make their financial clout tell.
They are backable at 6/4 to finish in the top three with Bet Victor, but with Swindon splashing the cash on £350k recruit Kaiyne Woolery from Wigan and appearing to pose a viable threat, and Lincoln also respected due to the momentum from their promotion from the Conference, I'd rather just take 11/10 for Mansfield to be promoted.
That way, should something go wrong during the season and de-rail their automatic promotion/title credentials, there is always the chance of rescuing the bet via promotion from the play offs.