While all the focus of the first weekend of the Football League season revolves around the Championship, fans of League Two teams will be delighted to see the back of the summer break!
England’s third tier rarely fails to disappoint in terms of drama and tension and this season’s title race looks to be no different. Here, editor Chris Bryant puts the contenders under the microscope.
Odds for the title: 5/2
Odds for promotion: 13/20
The emergence of Crawley Town completely altered the landscape in the Conference last season. Following a spending spree which was unprecedented in the realms of non-league football, the Sussex club stormed into the Football League as champions and had a memorable FA Cup run, only brought to an end narrowly by Manchester United in the fifth round.
They now find themselves in the strange position of being 5/2 favourites to secure back-to-back title-winning promotions, having splashed the cash again this summer on Wes Thomas, Jamie Day, Tyrone Barnett, Everton youngster Hope Akpan and Reading’s Scott Davies. However, the jewel in their crown could be big front man John Akinde, who was brought in from Bristol City and certainly has the pace, strength and finishing ability to score a hatful of goals at this level.
Crawley appear to be in safe hands with their passionate boss Steve Evans, but it remains to be seen how his side will cope with the level of expectation being placed upon them. I reckon ‘the Manchester City of the Football League’ will be firmly in the title mix come the second half of the season.
Odds for the title: 8/1
Odds for promotion: 2/1
After a disastrous relegation from League One last season, a brave new dawn is emerging at Swindon, led by the unlikely figure of former West Ham hero Paolo di Canio.
There will certainly be a more continental flavour on display at the Country Ground this term, with Di Canio bringing in Italians Alberto Comazzi, Mattia Lanzano, Alessandro Cibocchi and Raffaele de Vita among a raft of new signings. The Robins will be looking to another new arrival, German-born Namibian international Oliver Risser, to drive them on from midfield after being handed the captain’s armband.
It remains to be seen whether the acquisitions will be good enough to compensate for the loss of players such as Jonathan Douglas, David Prutton, Scott Cuthbert, Elliot Benyon, Michael Rose, Lucas Dale and Alan Sheehan. And there must be a question mark over Di Canio, who still has everything to prove as a manager, regardless of his sublime abilities as a player. No doubt we will be treated to glimpses of his famous temper over the course of a Swindon season which promises to be a rollercoaster ride, but one in which the title may just elude them.
Odds for the title: 9/1
Odds for promotion: 9/4
Another of the teams relegated from League One last season. New boss Paul Buckle has overseen a huge squad overhaul during the summer in the quest to get the Pirates straight back up to the third tier of English football.
Rovers certainly look to have plenty of goals in them, with the likes of veteran Scott McGleish, former Shrewsbury target man Matt Harrold and hotshot Chris Zebroski – who Buckle has brought with him from Torquay – among the new arrivals. With three automatic promotion spots up for grabs, Rovers fans will be hoping that their side do not have to go through the tension of a play-off campaign.
The main obstacle to Buckle‘s hopes of a successful debut campaign is surely getting his charges to gel quickly and hit the ground running. But if he can achieve this goal, Rovers must be worth an outside punt for the League Two title at tempting odds of 9/1.
Odds for the title: 12/1
Odds for promotion: 11/4
The heady days when Oxford were in the top flight and thumping QPR in the 1986 League Cup final must seem like a lifetime ago to U’s fans, but there is a feeling of cautious optimism currently washing over the Kassam Stadium. After stabilising impressively last season following promotion from the Conference, young boss Chris Wilder will be looking to boost his growing reputation with a tilt at the upper echelons this term.
The 43-year-old has recruited wisely over the summer, bringing in a number of players from higher leagues. The most eye-catching signings include former Chelsea defender Michael Duberry, Tony Capaldi (from Morecambe), Andrew Whing (from Leyton Orient), Deane Smalley (from Oldham) and Peter Leven (from MK Dons).
With their passionate home support roaring them on, Oxford are a solid punt to secure promotion back to League One for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
Odds for the title: 12/1
Odds for promotion: 11/4
Shrewsbury were left on the canvas after being bundled out of the play-offs in disappointing fashion last term, having come within a point of securing one of the prized top three places.
The sense of gloom among their fans will not have been lifted substantially by their activity in the transfer market this summer, with only Joe Jacobson, Reuben Hazell, Marvin Morgan and Matt Richards arriving at the Greenhous Stadium.
However, with wily boss Graham Turner still at the helm, the Shrews should provide tough opposition for any team in the division and it would be no surprise to see them in and around the promotion places in the latter stages of the campaign.
With that in mind, odds of 11/4 on Shrewsbury to secure a glorious return to League One may prove tempting for some football betting fans.
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