For some the summer break is all too short but for those who are champing at the bit for a return of the Football League the wait is finally over.
Fans of the Premier League have another week to wait but fans of Championship, League One and League Two teams it’s all systems go as this weekend marks the start of the 2017/18 season. And for those who fancy a bet on who will be at the top and bottom of the tables in May now is the time to put your money on before some odd early results skew the odds.
Middlesbrough, armed with a squad that failed miserably in the Premier League but which has been bolstered by some expensive summer signings – particularly in the striking department with the additions of Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Jonathan Kodjia – are the bookies’ favourites, and with good reason. At 6/1 to win it, with 888sport, they are fairly priced; unlike Aston Villa who at 7/1 appear to have hypnotised the bookies with John Terry syndrome. Villa will undoubtedly be better than last season but the loss of Kodjia will hit them hard in the goal scoring department. Fulham at 8/1 look better value.
Even better value can be found in the ‘top six finish’ market with over half of the teams in the division in with a genuine chance of getting in the playoff places. For those looking for an outsider, Reading at 9/4 with BetFred look a good bet considering they were in last season’s playoffs; Sheffield Utd too (7/2) have all the credentials for a push from League One champions to Championship contenders.
At the opposite end of the table, poor old Burton again find themselves labelled by the bookies as the division’s over-achievers and 7/5 with 188Bet looks harsh. They’re a gritty, determined, well-drilled team and don’t be surprised if the consolidate their Championship status. Interestingly, Ipswich Town – about to embark on their 16th consecutive season in the Championship – have whetted the bookies’ appetite with regard to a relegation fight, and given their ongoing struggles both on and off the pitch 11/4 for them to go down is not the worst bet in the world. QPR too are threatening to be a big club who find themselves in the mix at the wrong end of the table.
Blackburn are the division’s big fish and but for a catastrophe of a massive scale should be there or thereabouts come next May. Tony Mowbray took over in the new year and his point-per-game ratio would have good enough for safety if he’d been in situ earlier. The club’s owners, Venky’s, have invested in a way they failed to in the Championship and all things point to a good season. At 4/1 with BetFred there are worse bets out there but the value looks to be with a resurgent Portsmouth at 9/1, who tick all the boxes for a fast-track from League Two to Championship. Bradford and Wigan also figure highly in the betting for the title and neither can be ignored.
In terms of the race for the top six, Charlton and Oxford both offer a tantalising potential return at 5/1, and Peterborough at 11/2 should not be disregarded either.
The race to beat the drop to League Two is a really tough one to call although the bookies seem certain that Oldham will be in that unhealthy mix; as short as evens in some books. Much will depend on how they address their lack of goals between now and the close of the transfer window. Plymouth at 4/1 are arguably the value bet for the punters, although it’s a long shot and if there were a market for mid-table that would be equally attractive.
In the heart of the boondocks – where many argue the heart and soul of football lies – the Steve Evans factor has propelled Mansfield to the forefront of the bookies’ thoughts. While only finishing 12th last season, this summer has seen a massive turnover in the playing department with 13 new signings; many of whom are considered accomplished players at higher levels. As a result they are going to be strong – no question – and at 5/1 to win the title they’ll appeal to many. Closely following them in the book for champions are Luton – who will indeed be pushing them close – but the real story is around third and fourth in the betting.
Lincoln City, off the back of last season’s promotion and FA Cup exploits will naturally expect the glare of publicity on them and have a good young management team and squad; the big question being will they be able to utilise the momentum from last season in a positive way. At 12/1 with Betfred they’re worthy of a modest wager. Coventry – the current epitome of a fallen giant – will be looking to bounce back from a torrid spell on and off the pitch and in Mark Robins have a manager capable of steadying the ship and some. At 10/1 they too are outsiders but still worthy of consideration.
The race for the top six, those mentioned above aside, brings the likes of Cambridge, Notts County and Chesterfield into play; the former in particular looking a good bet at 4/1 under the stewardship of Shaun Derry. But all three offer reasonable value to the punter.
As ever the battle to stay in the Football League will be tense, nervy and riddled with danger. The bookies have it down as a four-horse race between Morecambe, Crawley, Yeovil and Newport County but it would be no surprise if Cheltenham – after a summer that’s seen many changes – were to get dragged into the relegation mire. They’ll rely heavily on the experience of manager Gary Johnson to steer them through what could be some fairly choppy League Two waters this season. For the punter, at 7/1 to be relegated they may be a little tempting for all the wrong reasons.
Fulham @ 8/1 to win the Championship (888sport)
Ipswich @ 11/4 to get relegated from the Championship (888sport)
Peterborough @ 11/2 to make the League One playoffs (Betfred)
Lincoln City @ 12/1 to win League Two (Betfred)