The Championship might be one of the most unforgiving divisions around for those involved, but for punters there is a reassuring predictability to proceedings. Most would have included Newcastle and Brighton on a list of sides expected to do well last term, while conversely Rotherham and Wigan always looked likely to struggle. And so it proved for all those four outfits.
There’s more money knocking around in English football’s second tier these days, and it is starting to look like a league made of up of the have’s and the have not’s.
Here are some outright betting tips to help set the scene for another rollercoaster campaign:
Middlesbrough are the bookmakers’ favourites for promotion after splashing more than £30 million on new strikers. Britt Assombalonga will score goals if he can stay fit, while Martin Braithwaite and Ashley Fletcher boast pace to burn.
Gary Monk, who nearly took Leeds United to the promised land last season, knows what it takes to perform well at this level, and both Jonny Howson and Cyrus Christie appear to be shrewd signings. Factor in a strong squad he inherited, which includes (at the time of writing) Ben Gibson and Stewart Downing, and the 15/2 about the Boro winning the Championship title looks juicy enough.
Next up are Aston Villa, who on paper have perhaps the strongest squad. There are goals (Jonathan Kodjia, Scott Hogan, Ross McCormack), creativity (Henri Lansbury, Conor Hourihane) and steel (Glen Whelan, Mile Jedinak), while John Terry should have at least one more good season in his ageing legs.
But Steve Bruce pulled up no trees last season in his side’s thirteenth place finish, and it will take quite the turnaround for them to top the pile come April.
Of the rest, Sheffield Wednesday (11/1) improved from sixth to fourth last season, and their attacking options – Jordan Rhodes, Steven Fletcher, Gary Hooper, Fernando Forestieri, Sam Winnall – are the envy of most.
And how about Derby County at a lengthy 14/1? They have a shrewd manager in Gary Rowett, and while key men such as Christie, Tom Ince and Will Hughes have departed, in come the smart pair of Tom Huddlestone and Curtis Davies. If they can turn some of their draws into wins at home from last season (W11 D8 L4) they could go close.
Top Six Finish
Clearly all of the above sides are of relevance to this market, and of the bunch it is perhaps Derby at 15/8 who offer up the best betting value.
Wolves (7/4) have been splashing the cash on players from Portugal, Spain, Germany and Turkey, but as the West Midland outfit found to their cost under Walter Zenga, hiring a foreign manager with no prior experience of this unique division can be disastrous. Will Nuno fare any better? The likely answer is no, and those who frequent the Exchanges are advised to consider a lay bet here.
Fulham are an enterprising young side but one which is too short to back at 11/10 in this market, while Leeds (9/4) relied heavily on the goals of Chris Wood last term and will surely miss Monk’s calming influence.
Maybe Brentford are worth a try at 10/3 then. They’ve hung onto the likes of Jota, Lasse Vibe and Nico Yennaris, so far, and have brought in Neal Maupay, who comes from France with a hefty reputation. If they can tighten up at the back, they could surprise plenty this term.
Rotherham were pretty much relegated by the end of the calendar year last season, and you wonder if the same fate may fall upon Barnsley (2/1) this time around. They won just one of their last fourteen matches during the last campaign having been pillaged during the January transfer window, and with the likes of Marc Roberts, Marley Watkins and Josh Scowen moving on during the summer the Tykes must be worried about their fate.
Burton just about stayed up last term and have since added experienced campaigners at this level to their squad, so the 6/4 available on them to go down is of little interest.
Will Bolton’s eye-catching football in League One make the transition to Championship level? Who knows, but the Trotters have certainly got something about them. Will Buckley and Adam Le Fondre have come in, and so we’re happy enough to swerve them in this market.
Millwall (5/2) will need to turn the New Den into a fortress if they are to avoid an immediate return to League One, and Nottingham Forest (13/2) will want to reinvest the funds from the sale of Assombalonga smartly to avoid being drawn into another relegation dogfight.
Looking for a long shot? How about Sunderland at 14/1. They’ve lost their only goalscorer (Jermain Defoe) and two decent keepers (Jordan Pickford and Vito Mannone), while other decent Championship-level figures such as Jan Kirchoff, Fabio Borini and Seb Larsson have moved on. Media reports suggest all is not well at the Black Cats, and nobody would be surprised if another season of hardship awaited them.
There are some excellent goal grabbers in the Championship, and all of those at the head of the market – Assombalonga, Kodjia, Wood, Rhodes, Hogan – are worth their place.
But for each way punters, how about Brentford’s Lasse Vibe? The Bees outscored four of the top six sides last term, and while the Dane couldn’t get a game at the start of the season due to the presence of Hogan, he bagged nine in twelve at the conclusion of the 2016/17 campaign.