League Two ante post 2018/19
24th July 2018:
- Lincoln outright 9/1 Bet 365, Coral, Ladbrokes
- Lincoln top three finish 7/2 888 Sport, 3/1 Bet 365 (alternatively, can back them EW in outright market 3 places, 1/4 odds)
- Lincoln to be promoted 5/2 Sky Bet, 9/4 William Hill
Relegated MK Dons and Notts County, beaten in the play-off semi final by Coventry, both head the League Two betting at 13/2 for the forthcoming season.
Cases can be made for both sides; MK Dons still have League One-quality players on their books (Kieran Agard immediately springs to mind) who could run riot in this division.
Kevin Nolan's Notts County have a talented roster themselves and have strengthened over the summer in bringing in Kristian Dennis (scored goals in a struggling Chesterfield side last season and almost joined Bradford during the January transfer window) and paying an undisclosed six-figure fee to Crawley for Dutch winger Enzio Boldewijn.
David Vaughan (Forest, free) brings Championship experience to the table for the Magpies, while Kane Hemmings (Oxford, another six figure fee) and Andy Kellett (Wigan, free) are also solid additions - the latter gained League Two experience for Chesterfield prior to his switch to Lancashire.
However, the more I listen to Danny Cowley, the more I want to back his LINCOLN side in the outright, top three and promotion markets.
Cowley joined the Imps in the summer of 2016 and led them back into the Football League - winning the National League title with two games to spare. Just as impressively, he also took his side to the F.A. Cup quarter finals in the same season, only for them to be dumped out by Arsenal. Still, that was a tremendous run of form for a non-league side.
Last season's seventh-placed finish in League Two and Checkatrade Trophy success at Wembley represented yet more progress under his stewardship, and although they were beaten by Coventry 3-1 on aggregate in the play-off semi-finals, Cowley has since freshened things up with some exciting summer arrivals.
As the 'expected goals' scatter plots for League Two showed on Ben Mayhew's Experimental 3-6-1 blog at the end of last season, Lincoln already have a solid baseline to work from. Their defence was one of the tightest in the division in restricting chances to the opposition last season and this was backed up by their actual goals conceded stats too - they shipped little over a goal a game on average during the course of the season.
What perhaps held Lincoln back was their goalscoring record - they were the sixth highest scorers in the division, which, although respectable in itself, suggested a shortfall of goals was preventing them kicking on and becoming genuine top three contenders.
With this is mind, Cowley must have been delighted to land John Akinde this summer. The experienced forward smashed in 32 goals in 46 appearances for National League Barnet in 2014/15, 24 in 48 appearances for the Bees in League Two in 2015/16 and then 26 in 48 in the same division in 2016/17. Last year he could only muster seven for his relegated side, but with his goalscoring pedigree there was no way Akinde would be plying his trade at non-league level this term and, in a fully functioning side, he could be set for another productive season.
Cowley spoke after Lincoln's recent friendly vs Blackburn (which they lost 1-0) that he isn't going to rush players in for the sake of it and will wait patiently to spend the club's money bringing in the right faces. He spoke of his desire to bring in a player to link midfield to attack and, today, he secured Bradford's Shay McCartan, a Northern Ireland international, on a season-long loan, to fill that particular void.
Things haven't clicked for McCartan at Valley Parade following his £200k move from Accrington last summer, but a change of scenery could be just what he needs. Bradford signed him on a three-year-deal and feel he harbors untapped potential. Back in League Two, in which he scored 11 times after Christmas during the 2016/17 campaign, he could feasibly rediscover his swagger. Scoring a 20-yard dipping volley and running the show on his debut this evening (albeit in a friendly vs Boston) is a good start!
Another shrewd capture appears to be Michael O'Connor from Notts County. He links up with his former Rotherham team-mate Lee Frecklington and I get the impression the experienced pairing could run games from central midfield - just as they did for Steve Evans' Rotherham teams in the past.
The summer captures don't stop there. Young centre-back Scott Wharton has returned to the club on loan, rewarding Cowley's patience as he's a target he'd been chasing ever since the play-off defeat in May, and left-back Harry Toffolo, despite not featuring for Championship Millwall from January, has gained higher-level experience in loan spells at Scunthorpe and Doncaster previously.
Cowley has mentioned he'd also like to bring in a left-winger before the season starts, but there is still a well-balanced looked to this Lincoln side about it all the same.
The general consensus among the Imps fans is that a top three finish should be the bare minimum target for this season and I concur. I've backed them to win the league and finish top three, with my biggest bet on them on the 9/4 for promotion.