Once bitten, twice Spireites
Two years ago, Chesterfield were streets ahead of everyone in League Two. Promoted with four games to spare, they didn't pick up the title until the final day, but there was never much doubt they would - they had topped the table virtually uninterrupted from mid-October, putting daylight between themselves and the chasing pack from Christmas onwards.
Now the Spireites are back in the basement after what can only be described as a miserable attempt at League One survival. John Sheridan is still the manager, Tommy Wright is still his right-hand man and the core of the team still remains. Indeed, five players who racked up 36 or more appearances in the B2net Stadium's inaugural season could be in the starting line-up at Wimbledon on the opening day.
So what went wrong last season? It's difficult to say, but Chesterfield proved in their Johnstone's Paint Trophy final success over Swindon that they hadn't become a bad team overnight. However, they failed to replace striker Craig Davies, who bagged 23 goals in the title-winning campaign before his move to Barnsley, and once results turned bad they simply got stuck in a rut.
Now another true marksman has been found. Marc Richards arrives from Port Vale having posted impressive league tallies of 19, 16 and 17 goals in three seasons with a team that has finished 10th, 11th and 12th, so it's not unreasonable to assume he can fill the attacking void and favouritism in the top goalscorer market is probably justified.
Back Chesterfield to win League Two at 12/1
But, ultimately, it's the level of continuity and the track record over course and distance that persuades us to side with the Derbyshire club at 12/1, especially in direct comparison with the claims of their big-spending local rivals Rotherham at paltry odds of 4/1. Chesterfield and Sheridan have been there and done it, Rotherham haven't and neither has their loudmouth boss Steve Evans, contrary to what he might tell you.
The story at the head of the betting is similar to what it was last year. Then, Crawley were expected to wreak havoc, with Evans at the helm and a sizeable budget that triggered a 3/1 quote. The Red Devils were always there or thereabouts, but they never came close to justifying the price.
So what's so different about Rotherham? Well, they're moving into a new stadium and that's bound to give the club a huge lift in stark contrast to life at Don Valley. They've also recruited 11 new faces, most of whom would walk into any other team in the division. But, on reflection, it's not enough - or too much, depending on how you wish to view it.
The Millers will almost certainly be in the mix at the business end of the campaign but Evans' presence alone will make them a prize scalp and we fancy they will get turned over often enough to deny them top spot.
Back Chesterfield to win League Two at 12/1
Meanwhile, Fleetwood also have a touch of the Crawleys about them at 7/1 and though they have also captured the imagination with their summer transfer business, we're concerned the inexperienced Micky Mellon might be diluting his winning formula by trying to integrate so many big names at once.
All of which leaves us in the realm of the also-rans, except we don't see many also-rans around - at least not at this stage - which explains why we're rather perplexed by the sight of two teams occupying nearly a third of the book.
You can make a case for another nine or ten sides to take the title if they get the wind in their sails or iron out the creases before Christmas, so it looks like a market to keep abreast of until long into the autumn. Remember: Swindon started last season at 12/1 but lost six of their first 11 matches and drifted out to 18/1 before we tipped them up with some convinction at 10/1 in December.
As such, we're not inclined to write anyone off at double-digit odds because many negative factors can be smoothed over but we've already provided in-depth analysis on all 24 teams and links to those can be found in the forecasted table at the foot of this preview, which gives you some indication of how we see the division panning out with the information to hand.
Back Aldershot (+24) to win the League Two handicap at 18/1
However, while we're not prepared to sit around and argue with too many outright prices, one team carries the potential to make a mockery of their position in the market and that's why we're tipping Alderhot to win the handicap with a 24-point head start.
The Shots played some magnificent football at times last season, beating five of the top seven at the Recreation Ground, reaching the fifth round of the Carling Cup and winning nine out of 12 league between January and March. Indeed, had it not been for a dismal sequence of seven defeats in nine matches shortly after their televised cup tie against Manchester United, they probably would have bridged a six-point shortfall to make the play-offs.
So we see them adding some consistency their obvious potential. Dean Holdsworth is targeting a top-seven finish and that would almost certainly land a place on the handicap, while an extra four wins would see them sail past the 100-point marker. A penalty shoot-out defeat in the Capital One Cup at Wolves on Saturday was just about the perfect start to this bet. With confidence firmly intact after the trip to Molineux, we now have the reassurance that heads won't be turned until at least January.
Mike Holden's forecast:
11. Port Vale
13. Bristol Rovers
Click on the links above for individual club previews.
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