As the EFL’s middle child, League One can find it hard to get attention at times. There’s always scope for a strong team to rise to the top and dominate the division, as Sheffield United did last year, while relegation battles at this level always seem especially gruelling.
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Blackburn (9/2 with Bet365 – bet here) are strong favourites to take the 2017/18 League One title. Tony Mowbray couldn’t save Rovers from relegation but has had a calming, positive impact on a dejected club. Occasionally – and perhaps counter-intuitively – relegation can have a healing effect, and Blackburn are certainly a candidate for promotion. With a new midfield that wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship, including recent signings Bradley Dack and Ben Gladwin, they will hope to dominate the league this year.
Wigan’s squad is arguably as strong. There can’t be many better examples of a player suiting a particular level than the formerly flammable Will Grigg, who lives to score goals in League One. Between him, Omar Bogle and Nick Powell, the Latics should be targeting the 100-goal mark this season.
Bradford are a team going in the right direction. Stuart McCall’s first season back at Valley Parade saw the club remain unbeaten at home for the full campaign, and they will look for a similar foundation to a promotion push this year. Bradford have gone above and beyond to replace the tricky Mark Marshall with an array of diverse attacking options, including Dominic Poleon from AFC Wimbledon and Shay McCartan from Accrington.
Portsmouth (9/1 with Sky Bet – bet here) often struggled to break teams down in League Two despite consistently dominating games, but their opponents in League One will show them less respect and that may end up benefiting them in attack. New manager Kenny Jackett has been the Lord of League One in the past with Millwall and Wolves, and has recruited well with striker Brett Pitman joining from Ipswich.
It’s been remarkable to follow Bury’s recruitment. The board at Gigg Lane has decided it’s time to reach the second tier for the first time in almost two decades, with a completely new (and very strong) starting XI assembled over the summer. The polarising Lee Clark will be charged with getting the best out of the likes of Jermaine Beckford, Chris Maguire and Nicky Ajose. With some alarm about how the club is financing this impressive new squad, could it be make or break for the Shakers?
Elsewhere, we’re surprised that Fleetwood Town are less fancied. Finishing fourth last season, and with perhaps the league’s outstanding manager in Uwe Rosler, they are a very attractive proposition once again. Conor McAleny, who scored 10 goals in 18 League One matches for Oxford last season, is a shrewd addition.
Oldham and Shrewsbury are the bookies’ favourites for relegation, but from our vantage point they both head into the season settled and with experienced managers in John Sheridan and Paul Hurst. There’s no reason why one or both of them couldn’t grind their way into the play-offs. And after that it’s a lottery, right?!
It’s difficult to see how Gillingham’s summer business improves them, especially with Bradley Dack leaving for Blackburn. Following last season’s skin-of-the-teeth survival, it will be tough for the beleaguered Ady Pennock to turn things around.
AFC Wimbledon (4/1 for relegation with Bet Victor – bet here) failed to score in eight of their last nine games in 2016/17 and have lost key men this summer, with Jake Reeves joining Bradford and Tom Elliott moving to Millwall. The way they start the season will be key. Walsall’s low budget means that they have to punch above their weight to survive, and there are doubts among the fan base as to whether manager Jon Whitney is fully equipped for the battle.
The favourites all look like strong options: Danny Graham, Will Grigg and Omar Bogle are all licking their lips, while Brett Pitman is a complete forward who could fire Portsmouth to back-to-back promotions. We reckon Rosler’s fluid Fleetwood will suit the game of Conor McAleny (25/1 with William Hill – bet here), whose 10 goals for Oxford last season came at a rate of one every 129 minutes.
Not The Top 20 Podcast is the largest independent EFL podcast, presented and produced by Ali Maxwell and George Elek. You can subscribe on iTunes, Acast and Podbean or listen on SoundCloud.