Hooray, the football season is back! Premier League fans will have to wait a further few weeks before the big fish begin their campaigns but for Football League aficionados, the time is now…
The three divisions below the top tier in English football are known for their unpredictability; literally anyone can beat anyone on their day and if anything, this theory is heightened on the opening weekend of a new season.
I’ll be picking out my best bet from each division (where possible) every weekend throughout the season and hopefully bring you a few winners.
Wigan’s eight-year stay in the Premier League finally came to a close last season and after the FA Cup holders saw manager Roberto Martinez take flight for Everton, big-mouth chairman Dave Whelan decided the next best man for the hot-seat at the DW was umm… Owen Coyle.
Now I’m not Owen Coyle’s biggest fan and I’ll save him the insults and petty jibes (for now). But he’s a much bigger job on his hands than I think he perhaps realises. Like Martinez at Everton, Coyle will have spent the summer doing his best to transform the Latics’ style and tactics. No easy feat when you’re trying to adjust to Championship football.
What’s more, Barnsley arrive with renewed vigour, zest and optimism after the appointment of David Flitcroft. The Tykes Won 12 Drew 7 and Lost 6 of his 25 games in charge to preserve their Championship status and there’s a buoyant mood around Oakwell as the club look to establish themselves in the second tier.
One thing that grabbed me when searching for my best bet in the Championship was Barnsley’s ability to keep a first-half clean sheet. During their final 12 league games, the Tykes leaked a first-half goal in just two matches. That’s 10 first-half clean sheets in their final 12 fixtures – impressive.
Delving a little deeper and on the opening day of last season, only four Championship clubs managed to score a first-half goal away from home. If you marry the two statistics together, have doubts over Coyle’s ability to get Wigan firing from the starting gun and believe in Barnsley’s 2013-14 progressive hopes, then the 3/4 (1.75) on Barnsley keeping a clean sheet in the first-half should appeal.
Peterborough suffered a heartbreaking finale to their Championship season. A goal in stoppage-time was enough to send Posh down to the third tier; a galling outcome after the team had battled back bravely from losing 14 of their opening 18 fixtures to put themselves in a strong position for survival.
Dwight Gayle has moved on and while Darren Ferguson’s side are still searching for a replacement, the East Anglia side are still in a better condition than Saturday’s opponents Swindon. Kevin McDonald left the club just over a fortnight ago after taking the management reigns less than five months previous and the Robins have seen fans favourite Simon Ferry and club captain Alan McCormack just two of a number of players to move on during the summer.
The Swindon board seem more interested in cost-cutting and rebuilding the club off the field rather than on-the-pitch success. And that’s been reflected in their transfer business as the Wiltshire club fill their squad with loaned Spurs youngsters.
I expect Posh to be in the top six at the end of the season whilst I would be surprised not to see Swindon struggling to preserve their League One status come the end of April. Seven of Swindon’s eight away defeats came against clubs in 14th and above, with the squad thiner, weaker and lacking a clear direction, the odds-against quotes on a home win look too good to turn down.
What is going on at Southend? Answers on a postcard please. The club dispensed of Paul Sturrock’s services on the week he was due to lead the Shrimpers out at Wembley and replaced him with that twerp Phil Brown. The Phil Brown that was so desperate for a return to management he was applying for all and every available job on the globe! The Phil Brown that picked up just six points in eight games in charge.
The financial situation is dire at Roots Hall. Southend’s best players have departed in the summer and the outlook seems bleak. Very bleak. Yet the bookmakers have the Shrimpers priced up on past performances and that allows us to squeeze out a slice of value on the opening day of League Two football.
Visitors Plymouth looked on course for a third relegation in four seasons before John Sheridan took charge in the first week of January. A run of eight wins and four draws from his 19 games at the helm was enough to guide the Pilgrims away from the drop-zone.
I expect Argyle to kick-on this campaign and you just know they’ll be well-drilled, hard to break down and very difficult to beat under Sheridan. Therefore, the 5/6 (1.83) on Plymouth in the double chance market looks just too good to be true. You’ll profit should the visitors avoid defeat.
Still not convinced? In nine home games against teams in 16th and below last season, Southend won just one. That means this bet would have paid out in eight of their nine home games against struggling League Two teams.