League One preview 2010/11
August 6th sees the kick-off the 2010/11 Football League campaign and League One looks set to be tightly contested with a host of teams looking to make it into the Championship.
The third tier of English football returns this weekend with managers, players and fans of all twenty four clubs full of optimism that this season could end in promotion for their team.
The outright favourites for League One are Southampton at 9/4. Noises coming out of St Mary's imply that the Saints fans are pretty confident that the league title will be heading to Hampshire come May.
Alan Pardew's men begin this campaign without the 10 point deduction that destabilised the early stages of last season and are fancied by many to take the league by storm. They almost pulled off a footballing miracle by sneaking a play-off spot last time around but top two is the least they'll be looking for this year.
Key to the success of the south coast club will be the goal scoring exploits of Rickie Lambert. The Liverpudlian has finished the previous two seasons as the division's top scorer and is priced at 9/2 to top the goal scoring charts for a third season in a row.
Alongside Lambert will be the highly talented Lee Bernard and Adam Lallana as well as new signings Ryan Dickson, Danny Butterfield and Frazier Richardson.
If you feel that the 9/4 on offer for the Saints is too short then I'd definitely be taking a look at the Yorkshire giants Sheffield Wednesday. In 107 years of football league action this will only be the eighth time that the Owls have started a campaign outside of the top two divisions.
Under Alan Irvine Wednesday are 5/1 to win the league and 7/4 to get promoted, just as they did in 2005 when a play-off final success saw them depart League 1. However, now they are back.
The Owls are in a similar position to what Southampton were last season with financial instability hovering over the club, threatening to destabilise the club. Unlike Southampton, Wednesday have managed to add Championship experience to their squad in the form of Clinton Morrison, Neil Mellor, Paul Heffernan and Gary Teale while managing to keep hold of the likes of Tommy Spurr and Marcus Tudgay.
Surely the men from the Steel City should be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
The other two clubs relegated from the Championship in May were Plymouth and Peterborough. Plymouth have appointed Peter Reid as manager but have endured a terrible pre-season and look anything but promotion candidates and at 16/1 I doubt there'll be many takers outside of the South West.
Peterborough (11/1) however know how to get out of this league after being promoted in the 2008/09 season as runners up. Despite failing miserably in their bid to consolidate themselves as a Championship club they have managed to keep together the core of the squad that were so successful the season before last.
They have a new manager in Gary Johnson who knows this division like the back of this hand and the likes of Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail Smith (both 12/1 top goal scorer) will be pivotal if the Posh want to create a promotion charge.
Out of the four teams promoted from League Two - Notts County (22/1), Bournemouth (50/1), Rochdale (66/1) and Dagenham and Redbridge (100/1); I can only see County making an impression. They stormed to the League Two title in the final stages of last season but have lost their manager Steve Cotterill. If Lee Hughes (14/1 top scorer) can fire in the goals at this level, as he did with Oldham, then a play-off spot is not unbelievable. I wouldn't think they'll trouble the top two so a punt on promotion at 13/2 would be more advisable.
As for Bournemouth, Rochdale and Dagenham and Redbridge I would be more inclined to look to the relegation market where the three clubs can be backed at 11/4, 5/2 and 2/1 respectively.
Two teams that failed in the play-offs last season were Huddersfield and Charlton.
The Terriers (7/1) have been the most progressive of the two with the signings of Joey Gudjonsson from Burnley and the double acquisition of Ian Bennett and Gary Naysmith from Sheffield United. The only thing that could spoil a potentially very enjoyable season for the fans of Huddersfield could be the constant linking of manager Lee Clarke with roles away from the Galpharm.
If he leaves midway through the campaign it could derail any potential promotion push.
Charlton look considerably weaker this year after losing the midfield pair of Jonjo Shelvey and Nicky Bailey. At 12/1 I still don't believe they offer any value and a play-off position would be terrific for the depleted Addicks.
Other clubs that might have an outside chance of promotion are Swindon, Brighton and MK Dons.
Swindon must keep hold of star striker Charlie Austin if they are to match their heroics of last season but without his strike partner Paynter they are priced at 16/1, and not backed by the bookies.
Brighton can be backed at 14/1 and MK Dons 28/1 but it is Gus Poyet's Seagulls that are drawing more attention. They may have lost Liam Dickenson but Poyet has used his contacts to recruit Radostin Kishishev to the Withdean.
Talking of the footballing amphitheatre that is the Seagulls' home, they must make the Withdean into a fortress if they wish to compete with the likes of Southampton and Wednesday.
One market that could be of interest to fans sniffing out a bit of value is the League One handicap table. Southampton start at scratch and the remaining teams have a plus points handicap to see who will finish this mythical table on top.
One selection that catches my eye could be Tranmere. They are priced at 66/1 to win the division outright but can be backed at 18/1 + 30 points in the handicap. They finished the season really well last year picking up 30 points in the second half of the campaign (same as Leeds) and if they can carry on with such decent form then 18/1 could prove to be very fruitful.
League One can be very difficult to predict, just ask the fans of Leeds, Charlton and Southampton. One thing that is certain though is that after 46 games we'll have seen blood, sweat and plenty of tears.