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Monday, 10 December, 2018

Return of key players should help Charlton's promotion push

Karlan Ahearne-Grant of Charlton celebrates with Josh Magennis
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Blackburn and Wigan were widely regarded as the powerhouses of Sky Bet League One at the start of the campaign and the north-west giants are halfway towards completing their bounce-back, just one season after dropping out of the Championship.

Cussed Shrewsbury are proving hard to budge having been the surprise package of the first half of the season – in the summer the Shrews were favourites for relegation at 13-8.

But Wigan have never looked like anything other than automatic promotion candidates and they will go into Christmas on top of the pile, while Blackburn have found their feet and are flying - they have won their last six league games.

Blessed with decent budgets, pedigree in the squads, money to spend in January and competent managers, Wigan and Blackburn are the two to catch in 2018.

You don’t often get outstanding sides in League One. This is a section where reputations count for little and surprise results aren’t unusual. Any show of consistency is noteworthy, therefore, so with the Latics on a run of one loss in 12 and Rovers unbeaten in two months – and given the stature of both clubs – they will take some budging.

Three go up, of course, and with bookmakers refusing to see beyond Paul Cook’s and Tony Mowbray’s sides, there are some fair prices about some other fairly decent outfits to be mulled over.

The case for Bradford and Scunthorpe staying the pace is stronger than it is for, say, Shrewsbury, who have suffered three defeats in the last six after their unlikely impressive starts. The Shrews haven’t vacated the scene, and may well stick around, as Scunthorpe did last season, but interestingly they have yet to play away at any of the other members of the top six.

Charlton might be the better option to win promotion.

The Addicks were fancied at the start of last season after signing off 2016-17 fairly well under Karl Robinson. They duly kicked off this term in good shape after a bright summer spending spree and got as high as second spot.

They are currently sixth after picking up one point from four tough fixtures which have coincided with injuries to influential pair Ricky Holmes and Ahmed Kashi. The Algerian has been badly missed and his return will be important.

Injuries have been a real headache for Robinson but centre-back Jason Pearce is back now and others are set to follow. If Holmes, arguably the best winger in League One, can rediscover his touch the Addicks can become huge players in any shake-up.

They look unlikely to lose key players in the window, which is certainly something focusing the minds of Bradford (Charlie Wyke), Peterborough (Jack Marriott), Scunthorpe (Hakeem Adelakun) and Portsmouth (Matt Clarke). Mid-season departures can badly disrupt clubs where quality might not be that thick on the ground.

But with Wigan and Blackburn dominating the layers’ thinking and an open feel to the rest of the division, it would be no great surprise to see a team such as Oxford finishing in the top six.

They’re in that tier of hopefuls alongside the likes of Rotherham, SouthendPompey and Posh, who know they have the beating of anyone but just need to find some consistency.

Oxford’s scalps over the last couple of years include the likes of Birmingham, Swansea and Newcastle in cups, so they know they can punch above their weight.

They finished four points out of the playoffs in eighth last season and under impressive gaffer Pep Clotet are already a point better off than they were at this stage 12 months ago.

Charlton to be promoted
1pt 5-1 Hills
Oxford top-six finish
1pt 9-1 Sky Bet

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They duly kicked off this term in good shape after a bright summer spending spree and had got as high as second spot
E.W. Terms
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