League One 2017/18: The 5 Big Title Contenders

By timgarrett IN League One,Match Preview - 19:00 Aug 3rd 2017
 

Just 75 days ago League One drew to a dramatic close at Wembley as a late Steve Morison strike sent Millwall into ecstasy and Bradford into despair, and we’re ready do it all over again.

England’s third tier gets underway this Saturday, with 24 teams dreaming of success once more. There are plenty of new faces, and here we take a look at the ones the bookies think stand the best change of ending their campaign in glory:
 

Blackburn (15/8 to be promoted with Bet365)

For many fans from the Premier League era, it’s hard to believe that Blackburn are set to compete in England’s third tier this season. It has been a remarkable fall from grace, and one which fans will be eager to see reversed with promotion this time out.

Manager Tony Mowbray did an excellent job in testing circumstances at the end of last season, and he has continued his good work with a strong summer of recruitment. Bradley Dack looks a top signing from Gillingham, and the likes of Ben Gladwin and Dominic Samuel will also add quality to a side containing players with experience at a higher level.

Still, with such difficulty still plaguing the club behind the scenes, it’s difficult to see their standing as pre-season favourites being anything other than slightly optimistic.
 

Wigan (15/8 to be promoted with Bet365)

Wigan are another side for whom the Premier League is anything but a distant memory, and they start the season as 2nd favourites for promotion with Bet365.

They won this division back in 2016, thanks in no small part to the goal scoring exploits of the now immortal Will Grigg (he will forever be ‘on fire’ in the minds of football fans around the world). Their step up the Championship level was a tricky one, but they should have more than enough quality to compete strongly for the title again back in League One.

Movement in the transfer market thus far has been shrewd if relatively minimal, but manager Paul Cook has promised further movement before the window slams shut.
 

Portsmouth (15/8 to be promoted with Bet365)

Portsmouth were crowned League Two champions last season despite not topping the table until the final afternoon of the season. It was a heartbreaking scenario for eventual runners-up Exeter, but one that should give Pompey real momentum going into this campaign.

The club is now backed by American billionaire Michael Eisner, although lavish funds are yet to be thrown in the direction of the transfer kitty. Brett Pitman’s arrival from Ipswich is the standout move thus far, and he should thrive at this level.

There is definitely the potential here to be contenders, although size and vocal nature of their fan base should be taken into account when looking at the odds. Weight of money repeatedly placed poor Portsmouth sides as pre-season favourites in League Two, and the price of 3/1 does suggest a similar scenario occurring this time around.
 

MK Dons (15/8 to be promoted with Bet365)

English football’s pantomime villains found it tough last season, ultimately finishing in a disappointing 12th, but under young manager Robbie Neilson they will have aspirations of a much stronger campaign this time out.

Movement in the transfer market thus far has certainly been interesting, with the signing of Ousseynou Cissé from France’s Ligue 2 being particularly eye-catching. The majority of the Dons’ other 9 signings are under 23 years old, meaning that the side is guaranteed to have a youthful exuberance about it this term.

With so much inexperience on and off the field, MK Dons look like a bit of a wildcard pick at 7/2 for promotion, but if it all comes together for them then a glorious end to the season isn’t out of the realms of possibility.
 

Bradford (15/8 to be promoted with Bet365)

Bradford suffered play-off heartbreak for a second season running last term, and manager Stuart McCall will have to demonstrate all of his motivational qualities to inspire a successful third crack at promotion this time round.

The club has managed to keep the core of the side that has performed so consistently in League One over the last two seasons, although the loss of the outstanding James Meredith will be felt on and off the field. The addition of Jake Reeves from AFC Wimbledon looks like a very smart one indeed.

Overall, this is a Bradford side that may not be the strongest in the division, but nobody would be surprised if they did indeed manage to make it third time lucky next May.

And finally…

In a league as varied and exciting as this, it’s impossible to whittle the contenders down to five without missing sides who deserve an honorable mention. The likes of Oxford United, Scunthorpe United, Fleetwood Town and Charlton Athletic are amongst those with to go all the way in what promises to be yet another thrilling campaign.

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