The 5 Football League storylines you need to follow in 2017

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While Newcastle United’s unstoppable assault on the Championship title has surprised absolutely nobody, the Magpies’ predictable success has been the exception in a season full of surprise promotion challengers and surprise goalscoring sensations.

So, with everything still up for grabs, here are the five Football League narratives set to grip fans from Brighton to Bury in 2017…

Can Championship nearly-men end the hurt?

It’s been a case of so near, yet so far for Brighton & Hove Albion and Derby County in recent times, with both clubs making the play-offs in two of the last three seasons, only to fall agonisingly short of promotion.

The Seagulls were pipped to automatic promotion on goal difference last season, while the Rams were edged out 3-2 on aggregate in their semi-final against Hull City.

With Brighton currently in second place and eight points above nearest challengers Reading, our traders reckon they’ll finally reach the Premier League, with 1/6 for Chris Hughton’s men to come up.

As for Derby, they started the season slowly, but are now on the cusp of the play-offs following Steve McClaren’s return to the club – a revival which has seen their odds of making the step up cut to 3/1.

Will second-tier’s new managers spend wisely?

The managerial merry-go-round has already seen eight new managers arrive in the Championship since the campaign began, with a ninth gaffer expected imminently at Rotherham United.

That means we’re likely to see the cash splashed in January, with a number of managers desperate to put their own stamp onto the squads they’ve inherited mid-season.

Will Neil Warnock bring in tried-and-tested defensive stalwarts to boost Cardiff City’s defence? Can Ian Holloway mine the lower leagues for more gems at Queens Park Rangers? And are Gianfranco Zola’s links with clubs like Chelsea and West Ham United going to see talented loan arrivals at St Andrew’s? Watch this space…

Race for supremacy between League One foes

There’s no need to recount the history between these two, but suffice to say that both sets of Dons will be desperate to pip the other in the league standings as they share a division for the first time.

AFC Wimbledon are currently eight points above MK Dons, but having won the last meeting of the pair 1-0 earlier this month, Robbie Neilson’s men will surely have received a boost to their confidence.

Right now, it looks like the Kingsmeadow club will edge it in the league standings, but don’t count out MK Dons yet – especially in light of their impressive Emirates FA Cup victory over Charlton Athletic.

Can midfield maestro outscore League One strikers?

Even after an incredible goal glut to begin the campaign, Scunthorpe United midfielder Josh Morris was still 18/1 to finish as League One’s top scorer this season. But as he leads the pack going into the New Year, can the now 9/2 shot pick up this most unlikely of personal accolades?

Having scored 11 goals in the first 80 games of his career, the 25-year-old has now netted 14 times already in the league this season. But after a sudden dry spell, will one of the other challengers capitalise?

The on-song Billy Sharp (13/8) has joined Morris on 14 goals after a brace at the Ricoh Arena on Thursday, while Bristol Rovers’ Matt Taylor has netted 13 and looks well priced for the accolade at 6/1.

Battle to beat League Two drop intensifies

While the division’s top three have some real breathing space in their bid for promotion, at the other end, it’s a far tighter and more gripping battle – with a host of relegation-threatened sides desperate to avoid dropping out of the Football League.

Just six points separate the bottom seven in the division, and with Newport County having won three of their last seven league games, that gap could get even smaller in the coming weeks.

Things so often go down to the wire at this level – just ask Wycombe Wanderers who turned around a three-point swing on Bristol Rovers to dramatically survive on the final day in 2013-14. Expect it to be every bit as tight this time around.

And you can keep up to date with all the latest EFL reaction, opinion and transfer talk at news.ladbrokes.com/football.

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

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.