Morecambe v Cheltenham
League Two
Saturday, 15:00

The opening weekend of an EFL season isn't so much a matter of quality, more fitness and preparation. The main question we should be asking ourselves when looking down the coupon isn't necessarily which team is better in the overall scheme of things, but which team is ready right now.

Cheltenham are a good example of a team that don't seem ready. They were thumped 5-1 at home by Peterborough last weekend, although the result of that friendly is largely irrelevant. Of greater significance is the fact that Gary Johnson played the same 11 players for the full 90 minutes, and not through choice. By his own admission, some of them were lagging at the end.

On the available evidence, it's fair to say the Robins haven't had the kind of pre-season you'd like after finishing the previous campaign fourth from bottom, just four points above the drop zone. The squad is threadbare and Johnson was decidedly prickly when questioned about his progress of incoming transfers ahead of this weekend's trip to Morecambe.

So the Shrimps look a tasty price to take full advantage on home soil at 2.88, not only because they finished above Cheltenham last season but also because they can be a formidable proposition at this time of year. Indeed, there's arguably no better manager in the country at getting results from a standing start than Jim Bentley.

His August record after six seasons is 17 wins from 28 matches - a win ratio of 61% - and the Lancashire minnows were chunky odds-against prices in every instance. It's no coincidence, Bentley is renowned for getting his transfer business done early and "making hay while the sun shines". He fully appreciates how scarce points can be for a club like Morecambe during the dark winter months.

Oldham v Oxford
League One
Saturday, 15:00

Meanwhile, it's been all-change at Oxford over the summer where the departure of Michael Appleton triggered an exodus of key players. Liam Sercombe was already on his way out and he was soon followed by Chey Dunkley and Joe Skarz before Chris Maguire and John Lundstram dropped even bigger bombshells in late July.

It leaves new boss Pep Clotet with plenty of work to do and it could take a while to mould several new faces into a cohesive outfit. The highly-rated Catalan coach has declared himself happy with the condition of his squad ahead of the trip to Oldham but five successive pre-season games against Championship opposition is in no way similar to the challenge that awaits at Boundary Park.

The Latics head into the new season without the sensational Connor Ripley in goal but they do benefit from remarkable continuity in every other department. No fewer than 18 players returned on the first day of pre-season and John Sheridan has subjected them to a variety of opponents, presenting all manner of different problems to solve.

It culminated with a harrowing experience against La Liga newcomers Girona in midweek when - much to Sheridan's apparent amusement - they effectively chased shadows for 45 minutes and went in 2-0 down at the break. However, they eventually got to grips with the task and acquitted themselves much better in the second period, losing the game 2-1.

It was a run-out that should stand them in good stead here and the home win looks decent value at 2.88. Since Sheridan returned for a third spell with the club last January, Oldham have taken 25 points from 12 home matches (seven wins), a sample that included visits from five of last season's top six and a 2-1 victory over Oxford in March.

Nottingham Forest v Millwall
Friday, 19:45

Finally, stick a point on Millwall to announce their arrival in the Championship with victory at Nottingham Forest on Friday night. It's essentially a game between one team starting afresh, under pressure to play expansive football in front an expectant home crowd, against an away side that are well-drilled, dogged and tenacious, the core of which has been together for the past two seasons.

Neil Harris - who had a forgettable spell at the City Ground in an otherwise memorable playing career - makes no bones about what Millwall will be about this season, insisting they will relish the opportunity to play the role of underdog every week, and this appears to be the ideal fixture in which to set the tone for the next ten months. Back the away win at 3.95.

Forest are starting under new ownership, of course, with Greek shipping magnate Evangelos Marinakis making a favourable early impression on the fans after the chaotic Fawaz Al Hasawi era. So optimism abounds but with that positivity comes a potential anxiety regarding the performance and a team that needed to win their final game of last season to avoid the drop might not be totally ready to embrace the idea that a play-off push could be on the agenda this time around.

Recommended Bets

1pt Millwall to beat Nottingham Forest at 3.95
1pt Oldham to beat Oxford at 2.86
1pt Morecambe to beat Cheltenham at 2.88

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