League One ante post 2018/19
29th July 2018:
- Luton to finish top six 7/4 Bet 365
- Luton to be promoted 13/2 Sky Bet
Background on Bradford
As a Bradford City fan, League One is the division which interests me the most this year, but I have absolutely no idea what may be in store for my beloved Bantams given an eventful summer at Valley Parade!
City started last season with Stuart McCall in charge and were rarely outside of the play-offs under his leadership, however, after a slump in form around the new year, McCall was sacked and promptly replaced by Simon Grayson.
Grayson's tenure was very underwhelming to say the least, though, and he failed to stop the initial rot. Very few fans shed a tear when he walked in the summer, despite his strong track record of gaining promotion from League One.
However, the recruitment process was protracted as Bantams joint-chairman Edin Rahic sought to appoint a head coach, rather than a conventional manager, to fill the void.
Seven weeks after the search for Grayson's successor began, Michael Collins, a youth team coach who had mixed his time with playing part-time for Halifax Town last year, was appointed - even though he hadn't applied for the job and only has limited coaching experience.
Martin Drury and Greg Abbott were also appointed into the new managerial set up, though with a rushed pre-season and a series of mixed results and disappointing friendly performances, many Bantams fans, myself included, are a little nervy heading into the new campaign.
That said, the permanent capture of Sean Scannell and season-long loan of Jack Payne, both from Huddersfield, are outstanding bits of business.
Richard O'Donnell, Anthony O'Connor, Hope Akpan and Josh Wright all look solid signings for the level and George Miller, who impressed on loan at Bury last season, could be a surprise package this season on loan from Middlesbrough, as could Sherwin Seedorf (Clarence's cousin), who has looked lively on the wing in pre-season friendlies since arriving on loan from Wolves.
The main talking point of the summer, however, has been the future of Charlie Wyke, who has led the line well since arriving from Carlisle to replace club legend James Hanson during the January 2016 transfer window but seemingly had his head turned a year later, with his form dipping notably in an out-of-form City side once McCall had departed and a move away from the club in the transfer window failed to materialise.
With only a year of his contract left to run and Sunderland and Bolton confirmed admirers, it looks a matter of not if, but when, he'll head out of the exit door. How quickly (if at all) Bradford are able to replace their top scorer will determine whether they can build on last season's 11th-placed finish.
Bradford have a tremendous amount of work to do if they are to emerge as genuine promotion contenders, however, so bad they were last year, and they were overachieving under McCall, with the squad at his disposal, to be in play-off contention for as long as they were.
The Bantams had the 19th best defence in the league and 15th best attack last season, so this is something of a baptism of fire for Collins and his management team.
It wouldn't surprise me if Collins was shown the door before Christmas if Bradford made a rocky start, especially if a suitable head coach replacement, perhaps from abroad, were to become available.
I hope Rahic's bravery with his bizarre appointment is rewarded, but there are just too many question marks hanging over the club right now to seriously consider backing them to get out of the division. All I will say is that, having backed Bradford for relegation at 15/2 on the day Collins got the job, I cashed out those bets straight after Payne and Scannell signed!
Looking for a bet
Taking off the rose tinted specs and trying to look at the division objectively, I like LUTON to finish in the top six at 7/4 (Bet 365) and, to a lesser extent, for promotion at 13/2 (Sky Bet).
Boss Nathan Jones isn't short on confidence and described the Hatters as the best side in League Two last year, even though they were beaten to the title by Accrington.
Quite how Luton didn't win League Two last year remains one of life's great mysteries. They had flirted with the summit in the opening months of the season and were consistently top dog between 21st November and 3rd March, trading at odds on to see the job out, however, they seemed to get a nosebleed towards the end of February and a poor run of form which saw them drop 14 points from seven games ultimately cost them the title.
Hopefully losing out on the title will have eradicated any complacency from this set of players, however, and having ended the season by winning four of their final six games, the Hatters deservedly secured their League One status for this season.
There were some likeable stats to back up Jones' claims (which were based on aesthetics); Luton had the joint-best defence in League Two last year (goals against: 46) and upfront they scored a staggering 94 goals, finishing 15 goals clear of second-top scorers Wycombe.
Their attractive style means they are a side appealing to prospective transfer targets and the summer capture of defender Matty Pearson from Barnsley is notable, while Jorge Grant, who was far too good for League Two opposition during a loan spell at Notts County last season (named in the PFA League Two team of the year), is a superb recruit in midfield.
Despite Plymouth's strong end to the season, defender Sonny Bradley has jumped ship to come to Kenilworth Road, and you just get the impression that the forward momentum gained during their promotion campaign last season may spill over into this season and give them a strong chance of finishing in the top six.
Both Danny Hylton and James Collins scored 20+ goals apiece last season and appear to be playing the best form of their careers under Jones.
Hylton has come on leaps and bounds since being banned and fined for racism at Aldershot earlier in his career and was one of five Luton players named in the PFA League Two team of the year last year; goalkeeper Marek Stech, midfielder Luke Berry, and defenders Alan Sheehan and Dan Potts were the others.
Olly Lee has departed for Hearts but the strong core of an improving, exciting side remains and if they can negotiate their way through a tricky opening month to the season in which they face Portsmouth (A), Sunderland (H), Peterborough (A) and Shrewsbury (H), you'd fancy them to cope with anything that is thrown at them to stay in the promotion mix.
Rest of the division
Sunderland are the sleeping giant in the division following their relegation from the Championship and, for all they have been a club in turmoil in recent years, a summer takeover and the appointment of the well-regarded Jack Ross from St Mirren offers their fans hope an enjoyable season may this time await.
Wigan, Blackburn and Rotherham all had good budgets and were promoted last season, so it is understandable why the Mackems head the outright betting at 3/1.
Personally, however, I think we may see the best of Sunderland in the second half of the season. There has been so much upheaval in rebuilding their squad over the summer and Ross has been frustrated in his search to bolster their attack.
Mo Eisa and Charlie Wyke were identified as the club's top targets, though Championship side Bristol City jumped in to land Eisa and a pre-season injury to Wyke has stalled getting him through the door, as has the interest in him from Bolton.
With only a week until the new season starts, and no transfer alternatives through the door, yet, I am hanging fire to back Sunderland. I hope to get them onside at some point once the season is underway, though, and hope they can finish strongly.
It is no surprise to see another side relegated from the Championship, Barnsley, towards the front of the betting at 8/1 (retained a good squad which includes top strikers in Bradshaw and Moore), while Plymouth and Portsmouth enjoyed solid seasons upon their return to League One last year. Pompey, especially, have to be respected with Brett Pitman - a likely contender for League One top goalscorer - on their books.
Charlton were solid at the back last year and will be hoping Lyle Taylor can add the extra goals needed to turn them into automatic promotion contenders.
However, a bigger danger than all of those sides could be Peterborough, perennial underachievers in the division.
Posh have a reputation for developing players which they sell on for notable profit, scoring lots of goals, and also bottling promotion, but sooner or later things will click and they'll get over the line.
Steve Evans was poached from Mansfield last year and now he has the benefit of a pre-season under his belt and a chance to splash the cash, we should come to expect some immediate improvement from them.
Evans' record with Rotherham at this level was impressive and if he can mould Peterborough in a similar manner then they could feasibly break back into the top six, if not finish higher.
Siriki Dembele has been snapped up from Grimsby and could be the next talent who is developed before being sold on for big money, while Alex Woodyard, one of Lincoln's strongest performers in League Two last year, is another interesting capture and has been handed the captain's armband for this season.
Jack Marriott and Gwion Edwards are notable departures, though Jason Cummings has arrived on loan from Forest to provide replacement goals.
Losing centre-half Jack Baldwin to Sunderland will come as a blow, though, as Peterborough already needed to tighten up at the back.
Although they were the fourth highest scorers in League One last year (only the three promoted sides scored more) Posh were only 14th best in the league defensively, keeping only nine clean sheets (even relegated Oldham and Bury mustered eight).
At 16/1 outright, 5/1 for promotion or 15/8 for a top six finish, there are certainly worse bets in the division than Peterborough, but I would ideally like to see a few more defensive additions.......yet Evans, speaking after their recent pre-season 2-0 defeat to Bolton, has spoken of bringing in another midfielder and two more attackers!
It is going to be interesting to see who scores the most goals this year.....a Steve Evans-led Peterborough or the up-and-coming Luton!