BOLTON’s relegation from the Championship last term has seen Wanderers join the battle for local bragging rights in League One.
There were four Greater Manchester teams in the third tier last term and it was no surprise to see WIGAN come out on top. After making a slow start, Latics’ new-look squad eventually gelled, storming home to win the League One title and return to the second tier at the first attempt.
The spirit amongst the Wigan side that’s coming into the Championship is a whole lot different to that when they left it. Latics have strengthened their title-winning squad too, but with Newcastle and Aston Villa dwarfing what everyone else is spending in a bid to bounce straight back into the Premier League, boss Gary Caldwell isn’t making any predictions.
“I’m anticipating a very difficult league this season,” he said. “There will be a group of teams who believe they’re pushing for the title with the finances that they’ve got, and there’ll be a large group of teams below that who want to push for the top end of the league.
“Every game will be difficult, but I’m confident that with this group of players we can be a really competitive team and a really hard team to play against in this division.”
Newcastle are Skybet’s title favourites at 2/1, followed by Norwich, Derby and Villa, with Wigan joint-ninth on the list at 33/1. Latics begin their campaign with a trip to Bristol City.
BOLTON’s demise keeps four local sides in League One and plenty of derby clashes. The Trotters begin their first season in the third tier since 1992/93 with a home game against Sheffield United and new boss Phil Parkinson admits he hasn’t completed rebuilding his squad yet due to their transfer embargo.
Defender Lewis Buxton was the latest addition on Friday, signing a one-year deal after the 32-year-old left Rotherham, and who knows, they could repeat Wigan’s feat – taking a while to gel before their class told in the end. But after a turbulent few years at the Macron, most Bolton fans would settle for some stability rather than demanding a promotion push.
Their upcoming derby rivals will relish the chance to get one over the former Premier League club and of them, ROCHDALE are most likely to mount a play-off challenge. They’ve finished in the top 10 the last two seasons and boss Keith Hill looks to have improved his squad yet again.
“We’ve come out of pre-season with relatively few injuries and we’re in good spirits,” he said. “We’re also in good form and really excited about the future. I do believe that we’ve got a good squad and I think they’ll represent the club well this season.”
Dale start the season at home to Peterborough while OLDHAM travel to Millwall. John Sheridan left Latics after keeping them up last term and he’s been replaced by Steve Robinson, who has signed 14 players in less than a month – with more set to follow.
Although they lost all of their pre-season friendlies, Robinson insists his squad will come good, but the bookies don’t agree. Skybet make them favourites to get relegated.
BURY are fancied for the drop too having also had to overhaul their squad. The Shakers had to sell several players to balance the books, including captain Peter Clarke and top scorer Leon Clarke. And Friday’s signing of former Blackburn striker Chris Brown, who hasn’t scored in the last two seasons, was rather underwhelming.
Surely Bury can now forget about their five-year plan to get back in the Championship. Just staying in League One looks a more realistic target, and few Bury supporters would grumble about that. They open at home to relegated Charlton.
League One title odds (Skybet): Sheffield United 5/1; Charlton 9; Millwall 10; MK Dons, Bradford, BOLTON 12; Oxford 14; Scunthorpe, Coventry 16; Northampton, Peterborough 18; Gillingham, Walsall 20; Bristol Rovers 25; AFC Wimbledon 28; Fleetwood, ROCHDALE 33; Swindon, Port Vale, Shrewsbury, Chesterfield, Southend, BURY 50; OLDHAM 66.