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Championship Tips 2015/16

RECOMMENDED BETSMARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
Middlesbrough (ew)Championship – Outright Winner6/1Sky Bet
MiddlesbroughChampionship – To Be Promoted21/10Paddy Power
MK Dons (ew)Championship – Outright Winners66/1Bet365, Coral
Wolverhampton WanderersChampionship – Top 6 Finish2/1Coral
Daryl Murphy (ew)Championship – Top Goalscorer16/1Coral
Benik Afobe (ew)Championship – Top Goalscorer12/1Coral
Bolton WanderersChampionship – To Be Relegated5/1Bet365
QPRChampionship – To Be Relegated12/1Bet365, Sky Bet
Hull CityChampionship – To Be Relegated33/1Bet365

Derby County and Middlesbrough are vying for favouritism for the Championship this season, with both now available at odds of 6/1 (generally).

Last season’s relegated Premier League sides – Hull (10/1), Burnley (14/1) and QPR (16/1) are next in the betting, along with Brentford (12/1), but it is worth noting that none of the last five winners of this division had been relegated a year earlier.

Indeed, only 2 clubs have achieved that feat in the 11 seasons since the inception of the ‘Championship’ in 2004/05. Newcastle were the last to do so in 2009/10, plus Sunderland (2006/07). Before them, in the First Division, it was Man City (2001/02)!

Also, less teams than you might think have bounced straight back to the top tier following relegation. Norwich managed this feat (via the play-offs) last season, but neither Cardiff City (11th) or Fulham (17th) even got close and if you look back at the 29 seasons of the second tier (since the play-offs were introduced in 1986/87), of the 90 clubs relegated from the top tier, only 19 returned the following season (21%).

It is always worth looking beyond the favourites in this division – Bournemouth were available at odds of 25/1 pre-season last year and the season before Burnley were runners-up at 80/1, while Watford were 100/1 shots before finishing 3rd in 2005/06.

Derby County

DCFCThe Rams, who lost out to QPR in the play-off final two seasons ago and then finished in 8th (a point outside the play-offs) last season, were available at odds as big as 12/1 back in June, but a concentrated gamble has seen their price cut in half. However, they were also joint favourites to take this division last season at best odds of 8/1 (along with Cardiff City who finished 11th), but a poor second half of the season saw them pick up just 9 wins in their final 23 games.

Paul Clement takes over from Steve McClaren and his first task is to shore up a defence which was leaking goals at the end of the season (just two clean sheets in their last 13 league games). He has set to work by signing up two centre-backs in Alex Pearce and Jason Shackell – who returns to Pride Park for a reported £3 million.

At the other end of the pitch, Andreas Weimann arrives to join former Aston Villa team-mate Darren Bent, plus Tom Ince – both of whom have signed permanently having scored 21 league goals between them in just 29 appearances while on loan last season. The £4.75 million paid to Championship rivals Hull for Ince makes their ambition to return to the top flight for the first time since 2007/08 abundantly clear.

Middlesbrough

MFCMiddlesbrough finished 4th in the table last season, before losing the play-off final to Norwich and we recommended backing them at odds of 8/1 just a couple of weeks ago in our weekly betting news review. Now the best odds you can get on Boro winning the Championship are 6/1, but that price still seems fair given league sponsors Sky Bet are now offering 4 places for all each-way bets.

Manager Aitor Karanka was Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid and Boro have benefited from that relationship by re-signing defender Tomas Kalas on loan. They have also boosted an already competitive strike force with the addition of Cristian Stuani (scorer of 15 goals for Espanyol in La Liga last season), while the return to the North East of Stewart Downing looks to be inspired – as recently as last November Downing earned an England recall and the local lad is sure to thrive at this level.

It is also relevant that the Championship winners for the last three seasons had all been defeated in the previous year‘s play-offs and despite the loss of Chelsea loanee – and last season’s Championship Player of the Season – Patrick Bamford, they are clear contenders for the title and look a great bet at the stand-out odds of 21/10 offered by Paddy Power for them to get promoted.

Hull City

HCFCHull are the team that has seen least support since the betting on the Championship began. Originally put up as the 6/1 market leaders, they are now available at 10/1 generally. Steve Bruce remains manager despite taking them back down last term and stabilty is the key this season, given their owners appear to be considering their futures at the KC Stadium.

Sam Clucas has been signed for £1.3 million from Chesterfield, as well as dead ball specialist Ryan Taylor from Newcastle and Isaac Hayden from Arsenal on loan. But there have been inevitable departures following relegation, including James Chester to West Brom, Robbie Brady to Norwich and notably Tom Ince to Championship rivals Derby – a deal not sanctioned by Bruce: ‘I certainly wouldn’t have sold Tom and I did all I could to keep him. We shouldn’t be selling our top young players when trying to put together a team to challenge for an immediate return to the Premier League. I saw Tom as an integral part of my plans. But Derby met the buy-out clause and then it was the choice of others to let him leave.’

With off-field issues, including the owners anger at the rejected name change to Hull Tigers and strained relations between the fans and chairman Assem Allam, cracks appearing to show at the club and we much prefer Bet365‘s odds of their relegation (33/1) than promotion (10/3). As a forewarning, you only need to look at Wolves who were relegated from the Premier League in 2012/13 and then immediately down to League 1 the following season (before returning to the Championship), while Wigan Athletic are now in League 1 just two seasons after winning the 2013 FA Cup.

Brentford

BFCThe Bees have a 20,000 stadium in the offing and it’s their hope the first competitive game at the new venue will be a Premier League encounter next year, having gone quite close last season (finishing 5th and losing in the play-off semi-finals to Boro).

They have lost a couple of decent players from last season (Spurs loanee Alex Pritchard has gone) but they have been active in the summer, with no less than eight new players arriving at Griffin Park including Danish International centre-back Andreas Bjelland for a club-record fee of £2.1m. Josh McEachran also arrives from Chelsea, but will miss 3 months after breaking his foot.

Wolverhampton Wanderers

WWFCWolves finished just outside the play-offs last season (on goal difference), but finished the season strongly, winning nine of their last 15 matches and they look sure to be in the running for at least a play-off spot this time. We suggest backing them for a top 6 finish at a best price of 2/1 with Coral, rather than the best odds of 18/1 (Ladbrokes) for them to win the league.

Kenny Jackett has bought some good players including tough-tackling Conor Coady for £2m from Huddersfield and along with strikers Nouha Dicko and Benik Afobe they can push on this season. Former Arsenal youngster Afobe arrived at Molineux in January for around £2m and scored 13 goals in 20 starts.

MK Dons

MKDFCWe mentioned earlier backing long-shots in this league and here is ours. There’s a strong recent trend of teams who have been promoted from League One with something to spare being instantly competitive in the Championship and both Bristol City and MK Dons will be confident of following suit having claimed the top two positions last season.

Over the last eight years Leicester, Norwich, Southampton, Wolves and Brentford are examples of teams who have gained more than 90 points in the third tier and then made a big impression on the Championship the next year. Norwich and Southampton secured back-to-back promotions, Leicester and Brentford reached the play-off while Wolves finished seventh. Bristol City came up as champions but the Dons look to have more options in their squad and are available at the much bigger price of 66/1 with both Bet365 and Coral (as short as 28/1 elsewhere).

The Dons came up with 91 points, conceded less than a goal a game and scored 101, ending the campaign with an unbeaten run of 10 matches, winning nine of them and scoring 32 times. The loan signing of promising striker Sam Gallagher from Southampton is a significant move and should make up for the loss of Dele Alli to Tottenham, with the Dons having plenty of players who are capable of adapting to the higher level with ease.

Top Goalscorer

Last season the Championship’s top scorer was Daryl Murphy, whose 27 goals for Ipswich was six more than anyone else. The Irishman, who has been linked with a £5m move to both Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, certainly looks a reasonable each-way bet at 16/1 with Coral to top score again (1/4 odds, 4 places).

Jordan Rhodes scored 21 times last season for Blackburn and is 12/1 with Sky Bet this time around, but at the same price with Coral we prefer the chances of the aforementioned Benik Afobe in his first full season at Wolves.

The youngster scored twice against Manchester United for MK Dons in the League Cup last year and scored in 8 of Wolves’ last 12 league games of the season – a ratio which, if maintained, would deliver around 30 goals in a full season at Molineux.

Relegation

Bookmakers have Rotherham (7/4), Charlton (3/1) and Huddersfield (4/1) as their favourites for the drop – particularly harsh on Charlton considering they finished 12th last season, 19 points from the drop zone (in fact we consider The Addicks a fair bet at 18/1 with Sky Bet with +24 points on the handicap betting this season).

It is obviously worth considering teams for relegation that only just avoided the drop the previous season – the teams that finished in 19th and 20th in 2013/14, Millwall and Blackpool, both went down last season to continue this trend:

Barnsley (21st in 2012/13) went down in 2013/14, Peterborough and Bristol City (18th and 20th in 2011/12) were both demoted in 2012/13, while Coventry and Doncaster (18th and 21st in 2010/11) were both relegated in 2011/12.

That doesn’t bode well for Bolton (18th last season), Reading (19th), Brighton (20th) and Rotherham (21st), especially as only three of the last 21 teams promoted to the Championship have been relegated the following season. It is certainly reasonable to expect at least one of the aforementioned sides to be demoted and we think that Neil Lennon’s Bolton (5/1 Bet365) could struggle most after selling some key players in the summer and having only won five of their last 23 league games last season.

QPR were relegated from the Premier League with just 30 points (only 7 collected away from home) and departed with a whimper in a 6-0 defeat to Man City. Off the field problems are brewing too, with the club announcing huge losses in March and facing a heavy fine or even points deductions and transfer embargoes under the Football League’s Financial Fair Play rules. Given the potential for meltdown at Loftus Road, we like odds of 12/1 for the drop with both Bet365 and Sky Bet.

As previously mentioned, we also like the 33/1 with Bet365 on Hull continuing their descent (only 20/1 with Ladbrokes and Coral). Of course, they should be fine, but it just looks too big a price with the number of good players that have left the KC Stadium and given that the owners are also considering jumping ship. Remember, last season Wigan were also 33/1 to go down and finished second from bottom.

RECOMMENDED BETSMARKETODDSBOOKMAKERS
Middlesbrough (ew)Championship – Outright Winner6/1Sky Bet
MiddlesbroughChampionship – To Be Promoted21/10Paddy Power
MK Dons (ew)Championship – Outright Winners66/1Bet365, Coral
Wolverhampton WanderersChampionship – Top 6 Finish2/1Coral
Daryl Murphy (ew)Championship – Top Goalscorer16/1Coral
Benik Afobe (ew)Championship – Top Goalscorer12/1Coral
Bolton WanderersChampionship – To Be Relegated5/1Bet365
QPRChampionship – To Be Relegated12/1Bet365, Sky Bet
Hull CityChampionship – To Be Relegated33/1Bet365