EFL League 2 Countdown: Mansfield Town the team to beat

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The 2016-2017 EFL League 2 went right down to the wire, and after a hive of summer activity, we’re all set to go again in what promises to be one of the most unpredictable seasons yet.

Here, we guide you through the runners and riders for the 2017-2018 season…

Champions: Mansfield Town (5/1)

They’re favourites and they’re favourites for a reason.

The Stags finished 12th last term but look well placed to go significantly better this time around.

In Steve Evans they have a no-nonsense manager who has twice led teams out of this league. If you want promotion, he’s your man.

Recruitment has also been positive with the exciting Lee Angol the most impressive signing. The 22-year-old netted six goals in 13 games for Lincoln City last season and has the potential to be one of the leading scores in the division if provided with a consistent supply line.

Elsewhere, goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik will give consistency and Omari Sterling-James has flair on the wing. Fellow signings Will Atkinson and Zander Diamond are experienced performers in this league.

In short, it’s hard to see past the Midlands club going up as champions.

Automatic promotion: Luton Town (6/4) and Lincoln City (7/2)

With Portsmouth, Doncaster Rovers and Plymouth Argyle all gone from the division, the door is wide open for a number of potential challengers.

But we like the look of Luton Town and Lincoln City.

Nathan Jones’s Hatters narrowly missed out in an enthralling 5-6 play-off defeat to Blackpool last season and will go again this term.

Cameron McGeehan represents the only real loss for the Bedfordshire outfit, but that has been offset by the signing of Andrew Shinnie on loan from Birmingham City. Isaac Vassell and James Collins are a potent front line and will cause problems for any side in the division.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot to be said for the winning mentality that has been instilled at Lincoln City.

The Imps enjoyed a stellar campaign last time around, becoming the first non-league side to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup since 1914, and more importantly, gaining promotion from the National League.

Four clubs in the past 10 years have managed the double bounce from National League to League One – and we fancy Lincoln to repeat the feat.

The majority of the promotion winning squad has been retained.

And importantly it has been added to.

Exciting winger Jordan Maguire-Drew from Brighton & Hove Albion tops the incoming list, while Billy Knott, Ollie Palmer and Matt Green are all excellent additions.

To make the play-offs:

In a league of so many equal teams the play-offs are a difficult one to call. Perhaps the best bet are Colchester United (4/1 to make the play-offs). They may have lost Chris Porter, but if young French striker Mikael Mandron can realise his potential in Essex, the U’s could be on to a winner. A relatively large squad for this level gives manager John McGreal an advantage, and if they can improve on a poor away record, we think the 4s on offer is a more than tempting price.

Even with their record of no top six finish in any league for 48 years, Coventry City (11/4) should have enough about them to make the play-offs. With nine through the door at the Ricoh Arena, including 24-year-old Marc McNulty, the Sky Blues look a safe bet.

Under the guidance of Shaun Derry, Cambridge United (7/2) have been gradually improving. There have been no catastrophic departures from the Abbey Stadium, while 29-year-old Gary Deegan comes in to solidify the midfield. A tight defence is supplemented by an enigmatic midfield and a striking duo in Adam McGurk and Jabo Ibehre that are proven at League 2 level.

Our final play-off tip are Forest Green Rovers (4/1). The National League promotion winners have gained notoriety for their environmentally friendly approach to football, but they’re slowly gaining traction on the pitch as well. The form of last season’s top scorer Christian Doidge will be crucial if FGR are to mount a play-off push.

Relegation:

Only rarely do the favourites for relegation drop through the trap door, so maybe best to avoid Morecambe (11/5).

The second favourites, though, are not always so lucky. This season the dubious honour falls to Crawley Town (10/3) who now have ex-Liverpool star Harry Kewell as manager. Recruitment has been mediocre at best and although James Collins represents the only major departure, the Red Devils could be in trouble. The one bright spot for the Sussex side is the retention of Dean Cox who is one of the best wingers in the league.

If you’re looking for a bit of value, Cheltenham Town (7/1) look markedly overpriced for the drop. The Robins struggled in their first season back in League 2 last time around and their summer transfer activity promises little improvement. Kevin Dawson and Nigel Atangana could marginally improve the Whaddon Road side, but not to the extent whereby they’ll be free from relegation trouble.

Our traders make another of last season’s relegation battlers Newport County (7/1) a tasty proposition to suffer the ignominy of relegation. Manager Mike Flynn pulled off the great escape with the Exiles last term, but even Houdini had his limits. The Welsh club have a forward line that has scored 10 goals in 84 games combined, which doesn’t inspire confidence.

Top Scorer:

There are plenty of options open in this market but we really like the look of Lee Angol (10/1). The ex-Tottenham Hotspur youngster has been in scintillating form over the past year and a half, and at Mansfield, the 6ft 1in ace will not be short of opportunities.

Otherwise Matty Godden (12/1) netted 20 goals in 38 games last season and looks excellent value to repeat the feat at 12s.

Click here for all the latest EFL League 2 odds.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing

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