League 2 : Oxford United ( written July29th)
United are another team. like Fleetwood Town, that we have kept an eye on through their time in the Conference, we won money on them in their promotion year (2010) and the fact that it took a club as big as Oxford three years to get back into the Football League, proves how tough the "fifth" tier is. United were a massive club at that level, still getting 8,000 crowds on a regular basis and taking 1,000 + fans to away games, where home teams were struggling to get two thirds of that number. The potential at United is huge and the town could support a Championship level team, the stadium too, but they would have to finish the fourth stand at the Kassam Stadium first.
I have been patently waiting and feel this will be their big year, they have finished 12th, 9th, 9th since returning to League 2 and look poised to improve upon that. They have flirted with the playoff places in each of those campaigns, only five points short on their "debut", four adrift in 2011-12 and again last season, it will take only minimal improvement to break into the top seven and as we discussed in the Fleetwood Town preview, the division looks overall, a little weaker this time round.
Last year they were cursed with injuries for much of the early campaign and could not build on a hugely promising start after winning their first three matches. They actually won more games than promoted Bradford City, but drew very few and clearly needed to show a little more "steel" at times, especially on the road and be prepared to grind out a point from matches they are not able to win. They have kept faith with coach Chris Wilder, who at various times has been eyed up by clubs at a higher level and he has been busy over the Summer, he cleared out a lot of "deadwood" and some others who had not been doing a job for the U's and used the money this released, to strengthen in key areas. Bringing in experienced left back Tom Newey who played 45 games at League 1 level for Scunthorpe United last season and who has played 250 matches in L2, midfielders Danny Rose and Asa Hall, young Welsh U21 defender Jonathan Meades who never quite made the breakthrough in a strong Bournemouth side, talented utility player David Hunt, who has twice played in L2 promotion sides and veteran striker Dave Kitson, who has scored 70 goals at Championship/Premier League level. With Kitson and James Constable ( who scored 14 goals in all comps last season, despite not being fully fit until October), they have a potent looking duo up front and if Kitson comes with the right attitude, he could score a lot of goals this season, he has talked the talk so far and said that he turned down offers from two Championship clubs to join United.
Last to join was centre back Johnny Mullins who played 30 games in Rotherham's promotion winning side last season, he actually spent two months on loan at Oxford last Autumn, making eight starts and scoring twice and Wilder was desperate to sign him, but it never happened, however, after a Summer of pursuit, CW got his man. Mullins said last week : "This is definitely a club geared up for promotion and I want to get back in League One."There are a lot of players here who can play in different positions. there is a togetherness and that is key."You look at the structure, the squad is very strong and I believe we will be up there.“Having fought so hard to get Rotherham up last season, I wasn’t planning on playing in League Two again.“However, I believe that this time next year Oxford will be a League One side anyway and I’m looking forward hugely to helping make that happen and then moving onwards and upwards with the club from there.”
He is seen as the final piece of the jigsaw by the coaching staff at the Kassam and it is hard/impossible not to see United competing for at the very least, a top 7 finish.
Mullins, Hunt, Newey and Meades, Jake Wright, Michael Raynes and Andy Whing (200 games at a higher level) give them a really solid look and certainly no longer the soft underbelly they showed at times and they will not be losing 19 games or conceding 61 goals this time round, of that I am fairly certain.
In midfield, the talented Alfie Potter, Sean Rigg (24 yo yet 200 + league starts) and Scott Davies ( in the Crawley Town promotion side) give them a solid look with the two new boys, providing competition for places and talented youngster Callum O'Dowda who started against both Birmingham City and Coventry in pre season and really impressed, might be the "joker" in the pack, despite only being 18yo. Up front, Deane Smalley will want to improve on the five goals he scored last season and put pressure on the other two strikers.
Meades was stretchered off on Saturday, not sure what the extent of that injury is, there was also a trialist from Fulham in that game and at least one more signing is expected this week, despite the "final piece" comment from staff. There is not a huge amount of money around at Oxford, but they found the funds to sign Kitson and if they get off to a good start, the crowds will flood in and the board will fund additions, if necessary and a League 1 push looks likely. To give you some idea of their potential, United sold 2,000 tickets for their away opener at Portsmouth weeks ago and then an additional 500, if allowed, they would have taken 3,000 + supporters to the match, where, with Pompey selling 10,000 + season tickets a circa 17,000 crowd is expected .
I cannot see United falling short this time round, they probably only need to improve 4-5 points and look much stronger and the division weaker, in terms of support, only Portsmouth are bigger and Plymouth Argyle and Bristol Rovers on a par.
The bet I like is 2.625-2.75 for a top 7 finish, which I would have to take for 3 units, which is my maximum bet..... there is actually 3.20 on offer in one place, which is HUGE,but obviously will not last long or be available for any kind of money.
If these odds are not available to you, there is 5.0-6.0 for promotion, which also appeals, but I much prefer the "safer" bet given we have the Fleetwood position.