Sky Bet sponsors English League One and it may regret offering generous odds about Walsall finishing higher on the ladder than midlands rival Coventry in England’s third division.
Walsall was one of English League One’s surprise packages last term, finishing one point behind second-placed Burton before losing to promoted Barnsley in the semi-finals of the play-offs. Walsall ended up 15 points ahead of Coventry at the end of the 46-round regular season, including accruing 10 more points than the Sky Blues in the second half of the competition in spite of the Saddlers experiencing a dip in form during Sean O’Driscoll’s short spell at their helm.
Jon Whitney was Walsall’s interim manager for the final bit of last term and Saddlers owner Jeff Bonser has decided to put the team’s former physiotherapist in charge full time. Whitney played nearly 200 games for Huddersfield, Hull, Lincoln and Hull before joining Walsall in 2003 and, while he started out as the Saddlers physio, he progressed to assistant manager in 2011 and manager in 2016. Whitney’s enthusiasm is the stuff of legend and Walsall’s board has given him sufficient funds to rebuild the Saddlers side.
Walsall could not retain the services of top goal scorer Tom Bradshaw and midfield creator Romaine Sawyers following its English League One promotion near miss, while another major loss was Jason Demetriou. However, many of the players who have left Walsall during the close season refused what were fair offers based on their ability levels, several dropping into English League Two because other teams paid over the odds for them. Whitney has used the loan market to recruit George Dobson, Josh Ginnelly and Jason McCarthy from English Premier League sides – all three of them are likely to start for Walsall – and he has signed a lively trio of midfielders in Florent Cuvelier, Franck Moussa and Erhun Oztumer. And, in a remarkable development, Whitney and Bonser used their extensive Cypriot connections to acquire Cyprus striker Andreas Makris in a record transfer for the Saddlers.
One does not expect Walsall to go one or two better than its English League One third-place finish of last term but the Saddlers ought to be in the mix for the play-offs because they have recruited wisely given their relatively small budget. Cuvelier and Oztumer, the latter nicknamed the Turkish Messi, have the skill to be English League One’s most dynamic midfield duo and the odds that Walsall will take a punt on former Aston Villa star Isaiah Osbourne before the Saddlers entertain Wimbledon on Saturday.
Coventry boss Tony Mowbray is copping flak left, right and centre from Sky Blues supporters after sanctioning the sale of several of his team’s best performers from last season, most notably John Fleck and Romain Vincelot. Fleck has linked up with Sheffield United and Vincelot has joined Bradford, while Adam Armstrong has returned to Newcastle after an English League One season in which he scored 20 goals. One thinks that a mid-table English League One finish is the best for which Coventry can hope and one would not be at all surprised if the Sky Blues ended up below halfway.
Sky Bet cannot split Walsall and Coventry in its English League One match bet with -110 available about the Saddlers coming out on top. One’s opinion is that the tournament sponsor is reading too much in the former’s losses – Bradshaw and Sawyers will do fine in the English Championship for Barnsley and Brentford respectively – and too little into the new faces at the Saddlers. Also, one think that Sky Bet is placing too much faith in Coventry, a club that is not getting back into the English Premier League any time soon. Coventry’s glory days are history.
Walsall to finish above Coventry
League One Season 2016/17 Match Bet