The fourth tier of English football can often devolve into the kind of scrap you’d expect from a league with so much riding on it.
Promotion, and remember four teams go up, can set you on the path for bigger and better things: the Championship is then just one consistent season away.
Get relegated from League Two and, well, it can take some time to return from the brink; just ask Tranmere Rovers fans, who 18 years ago witnessed their side play at Wembley in the League Cup final. They were relegated to the Conference in 2015, and have only just found their way back up to the full-time ranks.
There are differing styles in the division, and you are as likely to see progressive passing football these days as you are route one merchants, dilapidated stadiums and undercooked meat pies at half time.
With the 2018/19 campaign in mind then, where does the value in the League Two outright betting lie?
There are some relatively big players in League Two this season, with the MK Dons being the bookmakers’ favourites for the title after their surprise demotion to the fourth tier.
To be fair, everything is in place for an instant return. They have a canny manager in Paul Tisdale, who knows this division like the back of his hand and almost guided Exeter to an unlikely promotion last term.
They have recruited well too, with the likes of Mathieu Baudry coming in and Tisdale pinching Jordan Moore-Taylor, Ryan Harley and Robbie Simpson from his former club. They already have some excellent talents too in Chuks Aneke and Kieran Agard, and so the Dons are fair value at 6/1 to claim the League Two crown.
Notts County are also 6/1 under Kevin Nolan’s stewardship, but this is a side who must attempt to rebound from play-off heartbreak and do so without Jorge Grant and Shola Ameobi, who netted 21 times between them last season. That price is simply too short.
Mansfield are the money-bags team of the division but they did not progress under Steve Evans last term and David Flitcroft is yet to prove a successful replacement. The Stags have recruited well this summer with Craig Davies, Tyler Walker and Otis Khan coming in, but a run of two wins in thirteen to end the 2017/18 campaign does little to appeal.
The other side well worthy of a mention in the League Two Winner market is Lincoln City, who look well placed to take the next step in their progressive journey under the guidance of the Cowley brothers.
They are 7/1 to win the whole thing – fair enough, but we’re happy enough to double-down by backing the Imps at a mouth-watering 2/1 to get promoted by any means.
Only three teams conceded fewer goals than them last season, and they have enhanced their attacking options in the summer with the signing of John Akinde, a veritable League Two goal machine, and Bruno Andrade, who makes the step up after a phenomenal campaign with Conference outfit Boreham Wood.
Firepower and defensive solidity….it’s a heady mix.
All of the usual suspects are quoted in the promotion market, but we really have no idea how relegated Bury and Northampton will fare; it’s no always easy to bounce back at the first time of asking.
So keep your powder dry….other than backing Lincoln, of course.
Top/Bottom Half Finish
The beauty of top/bottom half finish betting is that you can get an excellent run for your money for much of the campaign, and so we can take some chances at meaty prices.
For a top half finish, how about Harry Kewell’s Crawley Town? The Aussie didn’t blow anyone away last term, but his summer recruitment – Filipe Morais, George Francomb, Romain Vincelot and Dominic Poleon – has been excellent. They were five points off a top-half finish last season, and given their improvement odds of 9/5 to make the leap are generous to say the least.
As for the bottom half, could we see a regression from Swindon Town? They finished in the top-12 by virtue of six points last term; six points no doubt won for them by top scorer Luke Norris, who has since joined Colchester. Key defenders Ben Purkiss and Matt Preston have also let, so the 13/8 about them finishing in the bottom half of the table looks fair game.
With only two teams going down, and a number of candidates for that pair of places, it is perhaps best to punt with caution here.
Even so, you wonder how long Morecambe can continue to ward off the footballing Grim Reaper.
The Shrimps continue to face financial difficulties, and last season they avoided the drop on goal difference alone. They were just six points off the drop in 2016/17 too, and so sooner or later Morecambe will perish unless they can find a way to improve their squad.
Jim Bentley is the master of the Houdini act, but this season could be a step too far for even him. At 5/2, the Shrimps could get eaten up by their rivals.
The top four in last season’s top goalscorer race in the division – Marc McNulty, Billy Kee, Mo Eisa and Danny Hylton – now all find themselves playing at a higher level, so clearly there is a void here for punters to exploit.
Notts County scored liberally last season, and so new man Kristian Dennis – who notched 17 for a poor Chesterfield outfield – is worth a look.
And of course Akinde, who scored 56 times in 121 League Two appearances for Barnet, is a worthy favourite at 8/1.
There’s a touch of each way value in Craig Davies, who scored 11 times in League One last term, but for our money the pick is Kieran Agard at 14/1.
If he can stay fit, Agard will be fed by a supporting cast of Aneke, Peter Pawlett and Osman Sow, amongst others, and MK Dons are expected to be there or thereabouts this term.