Leagues One and Two will be overshadowed by the start of the Premier League this weekend, but both divisions are highly competitive and there is usually plenty of value to be found on the coupons. The bookmakers often concentrate on the big leagues because that’s where the weight of money goes, but that means there are sometimes great bets to be had in the lower reaches.
We’ve already made our season predictions for both divisions, and we’re backing one of our tips – Shrewsbury – to come up trumps in League One on opening day. The other game that catches the eye involves an Oxford side that have strengthened well over the summer after a good season last year, as they take on relegated Crawley in League Two.
Shrewsbury v Millwall
Shrewsbury invested heavily last season, and ultimately it paid off with promotion to League One. They signed quality players to help them out of League Two, and those players will be chomping at the bit to get a chance to display their talents in League One. It may be fair to say the opposite of Millwall players, who won’t be looking forward to trips to places like New Meadow, after competing in the Championship last term.
Although there were two divisions separating the sides last season they’ve met in the middle, and in truth, there is little difference in quality between the two teams. Shrewsbury will be fired up to take advantage of any Millwall hangover, and they look a very tempting price in front of their own fans.
Millwall were on a downward spiral for the majority of last season and former player, Neil Harris, is the man tasked with turning around their fortunes and earning promotion at the first time of asking. This is an unforgiving division though, and it will be tough for the rookie boss to steer a limited squad to the top of the table. Recent signings include another former player, Steve Morrison, with the striker set to embark on his third spell as a Millwall player, but the squad does look a little thin on the ground.
Shrewsbury had the best home record in the whole of League Two last year, winning 17 of their 23 matches, and losing just twice. This is a step up in terms of class, but they will be looking to make New Meadow a fortress once again as they attempt to stay in the division first and foremost, and push for promotion if things go well. Millwall lost more than half of their away games last season, and only won on the road four times.
The Shrews are a very good price to beat Millwall and continue their momentum after promotion last year, and they are well worth a speculative punt.
Oxford v Crawley
Oxford are another side whose chances we’re quite sweet on in League Two, and they’re among the favourites to win the title. Crawley were only relegated from League One last term, but it’s been an awful summer for the Surrey side, with fifteen players leaving the club. New manager Mark Yates has had to bring in several loan players to make up the numbers, with business still being conducted this week, and they’ll struggle to put out a coherent team.
Oxford manager Michael Appleton revealed earlier this week that the club had reduced the size of the pitch at the Kassam Stadium, in an attempt to help the players. The ‘Wembley-sized’ pitch has been offered up as a contributory factor in Oxford’s dire home form last season, which cost them a much better finish in the table. The U’s won just 7 of 23 games at home last term, and Appleton has said that psychologically the players know there are now no excuses; while also suggesting it will aid their style of play, as it will help them win the ball back quickly and maintain the momentum at home.
In stark contrast to Crawley, Oxford have a big squad of players and genuine competition for places. Incoming striker Ryan Taylor, who signed from Portsmouth, said that he had been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the squad in training, and is excited by what they might achieve this year.
Oxford’s home form may be a concern, but its clear that they’ve thought long and hard about how to change it, and there will be extra motivation to get the first win under the belt on Saturday. To ease that concern is Crawley’s away record for last term, when they were the worst traveling team in the whole of League One. They lost 14 of 23 games on the road last season, winning just four times, and Oxford should have little to fear from a side that is being thrown together at the last minute.
The U’s are determined to have a real stab at promotion this season, and they are one of the stand out bets of the weekend at just short of even odds. Crawley were our tip for a shock relegation before the season starts, and nothing in the news since has changed the mind. Mark Yates looks to have a tough job on his hands just maintaining their position in the football league, and this is probably one of the worst opening fixtures they could have asked for.
Skybet League One, Saturday 8th August, 3pm
Skybet League Two, Saturday 8th August, 3pm
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