League One preview: Sheffield United could banish some demons


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The Independent Football

If there's one team Sheffield United aren't going to take for granted this season, it's Oldham. The Blades had three weeks fewer than most clubs in League One to prepare for the new campaign but theirs was the longest summer, reflecting on where it all went wrong in the race for automatic promotion last term.

You can never say for sure how things might have turned out in the event of one minor alteration, but high on the list of regrets will be their failure to close out a 2-0 lead against the Latics at Bramall Lane last March. Even when Matthew Lowton was sent off, United appeared to be in no danger but Paul Dickov's men fought back to win 3-2 and land odds of 6/1.

And it's easy to see value in the 4/6 about the Blades exacting revenge this weekend because they were 1/2 for the last meeting, yet, in broad terms, we're not convinced the difference between the two sides has shifted all that much. United should be gunning for automatic promotion again and Oldham will spend most of the campaign treading water in the bottom half.

The mood around the red and white half of the Steel City remains one of healthy uncertainty. It's not just Oldham that provoke unease, nobody is taking anything for granted, yet the quality is there to repeat the efforts of last term and another 90-point haul would probably take the title this time around.

Some will argue that performances have been unconvincing so far but an 11-match unbeaten start is impressive way of coming to terms with a play-off hangover. It's a sample littered with draws but the last two matches have provided Danny Wilson with real encouragement, the Blades showing great character to snatch maximum points from tough trips to Hartlepool and Leyton Orient.

Oldham will head over the Pennines with confidence but that's to their detriment because we consider it to be misplaced. The Latics have posted impressive wins over Crewe and Preston in their last two outings, and Dickov has been gushing in his praise of the players, but there's a danger that might temper their competitive edge.

All things considered, the Blades should be too strong and we expect their class to shine through.

Meanwhile, Bury come up against their former boss Richie Barker at Crawley but Kevin Blackwell's presence will ensure the nicities towards the popular Yorkshireman end as soon as the players emerge from the visiting dressing room. Take some of the 9/2 about the away win at Broadfield Stadium.

The reasoning behind this bet should fairly self-explanatory from our feature on Blackwell earlier this week. The former Leeds and Sheffield United boss read the riot act to his players after their 1-0 home defeat to Swindon last weekend and a reaction should be expected.

The contrast in styles between Barker and Blackwell is huge, the former being much more composed and level-headed in the realm of man-management, but his prior knowledge of the Bury players' strengths and weaknesses might count for little if Blackwell's cold-shoulder tactic does the trick. Intensity might be the decisive factor.

The Red Devils have made a solid start but we think their reputation as a well-to-do club goes before them and some opposing teams are giving them a bit more respect than they perhaps deserve. As such, they are a team to be taken on at big prices and this fixture fits the bill nicely.

Finally, Tranmere have exceeded all expectations so far but Gary Johnson makes some interesting points about the nature of such early-season randomness in the build-up to this match and we think his Yeovil side are well-placed to restore some sense of natural order at Prenton Park on Saturday.

Ronnie Moore's men wrote the headlines with victory in their top-of-the-table clash at Notts County last Saturday but it could be the prelude to an after-the-Lord-Mayor's-show display against the Glovers and, in that scenario, familiarity might well breed contempt.

Yeovil have been at this level for the past six seasons, so they know Tranmere better than most, and they won't easily be kidded into thinking that the current table represents how it will look at the end of the season. In that context, odds of nearly 5/1 about the away win have some appeal. The Somerset club won five and drawn two of the last eight meetings with the boys from Birkenhead.

Betting advice...

3pts Sheff Utd to beat Oldham at 4/6 (Bet Victor)
Improving Blades will be duly switched on and look a solid bet to pick up maximum points.

1pt Bury to beat Crawley at 9/2 (Sky Bet)
Rock-bottom Shakers can stun their former boss in order to please his replacement.

1pt Yeovil to beat Tranmere at 19/4 (Stan James)
Rovers are overachieving and Glovers can restore some sense of order to the league table.

For more betting advice, visit Best of the Bets by clicking here.