Despite the upheaval of 13 new players joining the club, Mansfield have been installed as 5/1 favourites to be crowned League Two champions – and with some of the names of their fresh arrivals you can understand why, writes Josh Luckhurst.
Steve Evans’ revamped side boasts plenty of higher-league experience, with goalkeepers Conrad Logan and Bobby Olejnik, defenders David Mirfin and Hayden White, plus midfielders Jacob Mellis, Paul Digby, Paul Anderson and Will Atkinson all plying their trade in the Championship for a sustained period at some point during their careers.
Evans, who earned back-to-back promotions from England’s fourth tier to the Championship while in charge of Rotherham, rejected a move to manage in Qatar and snubbed an offer from relegated Swindon to remain with the Stags, with the minimum expectation set at a play-off berth for the Scot while an automatic promotion place is definitely within range.
However, Mansfield will need to improve on their 12th-placed finish from last season and that is why we are more confident in taking 8/1 for Luton to win the title in our League Two 2017/18 betting tips.
Nathan Jones guided the Hatters to fourth in his first full season as manager after bringing in 12 new players and with the addition of more shrewd signings this summer, the Bedfordshire side could be getting their hands on the fourth-tier crown exactly 50 years after their sole title success in the division.
Danny Hylton led the line for Luton with 21 league goals during the last campaign – the third highest in the division – and he is joined by the arrival of James Collins from Crawley, who scored 20 goals in a side that finished in 19th place. That partnership will no doubt form a deadly strike-force in League Two.
Central midfielder Alan McCormack has dropped down two tiers to sign for the Hatters from Brentford, where he made 12 appearances in all competitions during the previous campaign.
Czech goalkeeper Marek Stech featured in the Europa League with Sparta Prague, with Jack Stacey playing in the League Two play-off final while on loan with Exeter last season, and it is difficult to see Luton not being in contention in May.
The last three League Two champions – Burton, Northampton and Portsmouth – progressively built their squad and Luton look likely to follow the same path in their fourth campaign since winning the Conference Premier title.
The Hatters finished six points clear of fifth-placed Exeter last term, with the second-best defensive record in the table, in addition to recording the least amount of defeats in the league with nine, before falling to a semi-final play-off defeat to Blackpool.
Coventry are co-second favourites at 8/1 and could go well under Mark Robins in his second spell in charge of the club while another team that could improve this season is Notts County, under the stewardship of former Premier League player Kevin Nolan.
The ex-Bolton and Newcastle midfielder has kept on experienced players such as Shola Ameobi and Jon Stead to guide their younger team-mates, as well as completing the signings of Gibraltar international Liam Walker and defender Shaun Brisley, who have the know-how in this division.
Gary Caldwell has been in a similar position to the one he is in at Chesterfield, when he took over at Wigan shortly before their relegation from the Championship in 2015.
The former Scotland international responded with an immediate return to England’s second tier with the Latics but then lost his job following a poor start to last season.
The coup of capturing Chris O’Grady from Brighton shows that Caldwell means business and the Spireites will be in with a shout at the top end of the table come May, so represent good value at 4/1 for promotion.
Fellow relegated club Swindon (5/2) have done their business early under new boss David Flitcroft and will hope to get up and running with a positive start to the season.
National League champions Lincoln could be dark-horses for promotion after manager Danny Cowley completed some impressive signings at this level, with the likes of Billy Knott, Michael Bostwick and Matt Green all moving to Sincil Bank.
However, another team who suffered relegation last season and are likely to bounce straight back up is Port Vale.
They are a 5/1 chance to gain promotion and Michael Brown’s side will expect new arrival Tom Pope to be towards the higher echelons of the goalscoring charts while winger Cristian Montano can cause plenty of problems for visiting defences if he puts his mind to it.
Harry Kewell ventures into first-team management for the first time in his career with Crawley (7/2) and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the fourth tier.
Fellow strugglers from the last campaign are Morecambe (2/1), Cheltenham (7/2) and Newport (7/2) – who produced a ‘great escape’ to avoid relegation – but while they are more than likely to be towards the wrong end of the table once again, they should have enough to keep their head just above the drop zone.
The step up to the Football League for the first time in the club’s history will be interesting for Forest Green after gaining promotion via the play-offs at the third time of asking following successive top-five finishes.
They will need to tighten their defence and hope striker Christian Doidge can continue to find the back of the net but 12/1 to go straight back down is tempting.
Yeovil finished poorly in the second half of last season, winning three matches since the turn of the year and picking up 20 points from a possible 69, and manager Darren Way has struggled to secure quality signings to replace the likes of Alex Lacey, Tom Eaves and Alex Lawless, so at 5/1 to fall, there is some great value there.
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