WINNING promotion or the Championship title is one of the hardest jobs in football, they say. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) aims to find the value in the outright markets ahead of the 2015/16 renewal.
English Championship | Outright Winner
With an estimated £130million windfall waiting for each of the three clubs winning promotion to the Premier League, the incentive to get up into the top-flight is as alluring as ever. Picking the winner of the ultra-competitive Championship is never easy and task in hand is highlighted by the fact that 21 teams can be found at 28/1 or shorter in the betting. Below I’ve tried to pinpoint a few key trends to watch out for when deliberating over an ante-post punt.
Looking back over the past decade, we can see the average price of the league winner was 14/1. Last year’s champions Bournemouth were the biggest winners at 25/1 alongside Reading’s 2005/06 vintage whilst Newcastle (2009/10) West Brom (2007/08) and Sunderland (2006/07) copped at 8/1, the shortest. This term, both Derby and Middlesbrough top the charts at cramped 6/1 odds.
The standout duo share favouritism and it’s worth pointing out that Manchester City in 2001/02 were the last ante-post favourites to take top honours in the second tier with QPR, West Ham and Newcastle all failing to oblige when heavily fancied by the bookies. However, there is a flip-side – four of the last seven pre-season favourites won promotion, so they’re not normally a million miles off.
Derby were 6/1 at this stage last season and were top of the table in February before inexcusable failing to even finish in the top-six. Steve McClaren was sacked and former Chelsea, PSG, and Real Madrid coach Paul Clement handed his first stint in football management. Clement’s credentials are impressive and there’s no doubt he’s a quality coach but so many similar candidates have failed to make the transition to number one previously, there has to be question marks.
Sure, Derby’s squad is bigger and stronger than last year – Tom Ince and Darren Bent have made their loan moves permanent having scored 21 league goals between them from just 29 appearances, Andreas Weimann adds pace and quality to an already bustling midfield and forward line whilst defenders Alex Pearce, Jason Shackell and Chris Baird have been brought in to bolster a disfunctioning defence. But the jury will be out on Clement from the get-go.
The new boss is well aware of the expectation around Pride Park to deliver the goods after two seasons of agonising failure. The club’s in healthy shape, the squad is suitably stocked full of talent but early reports suggest the players are struggling to adapt to his ideas with accusations being banded about that Clement has no clue as to what his best XI is yet. The uncertainty is enough warning to steer clear of the Rams 6/1 (Bet365) quotes and look elsewhere.
Middlesbrough have seen a wave of interest following a headline-grabbing off-season of recruitment. The 11/1 from the beginning of July has long gone and the Teesiders now find themselves chalked up at 6/1 (Bet365) co-favourites. And despite early protestations regarding price and previous favourites’ performance, Boro should be taken very seriously.
It takes a very special team to go the distance in the Championship. A gruelling nine-month slog requires the leading lights to boast plenty of steel, options and genius and I think this time around Aitor Karanka’s charges have what’s needed to realise their promotion dreams. In four of the last seven campaigns the previous year’s play-off finalists have finished in the top-six and twice they’ve topped the division. The Teesiders tick those boxes.
I put the boot into Boro on plenty of occasions last season and although the same issues may haunt their promotion push again in 2015/16, chairman Steve Gibson is doing everything possible to help support Karanka. Defence was their best weapon – they kept clean sheets in 21 Championship fixtures, conceding eight goals fewer than the next best – although they were also the lowest scorers in the top-eight.
Last year’s top marksman and Championship Player of the Season Patrick Bamford is no longer about but their ambition to sign Jordan Rhodes sent a serious message out to title rivals. If the Teesiders can marry that sound backline base with a ruthless streak in front of goal, they’ll take some stopping.
Boro really do mean business. Last season was their best league finish since relegation in 2009, the football was attractive for the most part and homeboy Stewart Downing has returned to bolster an already solid squad.
Downing, by some distance, was the leading English player in the Premier League last season for chances created and along with fellow newcomer Christian Stuani, is too good for Championship level. Stuani scored 15 goals for Espanyol last term and should pose plenty of problems for opposition defences and having finished eight points ahead of Derby (as well as beating them both home and away), Middlesbrough must be considered the best bet to take the title at 6/1.
Looking back over the past 15 seasons, on 10 occasions the eventual winner was chalked up at a double-figure price whilst three of the previous four champions were involved in the play-offs the previous year. A healthy 47% of play-off teams managed to reachi the top-six again over the most recent five years.
I’d expect Brentford to make another serious assault but at 12/1 (Bet365), there’s not enough meat around the bone to entice. Chairman Matthew Benham’s statistical analysis-based vision has brought Marinus Dijkhuizen into the head coach role but with Alex Pritchard’s loan expired, Jonathan Douglas being banished to the youth team and new signing Josh McEachran’s out of action for three months, the Bees may suffer from a sluggish start. I know little about the bulk of the new faces so it would be unfair to suggest punting the Londoners.
Instead, Ipswich are the side I like at 20/1 (Bet365). Mick McCarthy’s men may still be operating on a restrictive budget but the squad looks stronger than last season and should the Suffolk side continue their year-on-year progress under Big Mick, they’ll be there or thereabouts when May rolls around.
Tyrone Mings’ £8m move to Bournemouth included Scottish winger Ryan Fraser and proven goalscorer Brett Pitman arriving in the other direction whilst 17-year-old wideman Ainsley Maitland-Niles has joined on-loan from Arsenal. That’s bloody good business, if you ask me.
I’ve always been a fan of solid, consistent and stable clubs and Ipswich are surely towards the top of that list. Town improved on their previous year’s performance for the fourth successive season in 2014/15 and McCarthy’s now seen the team he’s in charge of improve on their previous year’s performance in eight of his last 11 full seasons at the helm. Now that’s ridiculously good.
Organisation and hard work is the minimum we’ll come to expect from the Tractor Boys but with added pace and dynamism – qualities they lacked last season – they might just have found the X-Factor required to go and pierce the top-two.
Ipswich boasted the best home record in the league and have managed to hold onto Daryl Murphy – scorer of 38% of their league goals. If Mick can improve upon an away record of W4-D7-L9 when excluding relegated teams, Suffolk may be smiling come May.
Finally, I’ve purposely excluded the three relegated clubs from the shake-up. None of them will win the league. It’s happened just twice in 13 seasons (a relegated team bounced back as champions) with the average position of a relegated club standing at eighth across the past 10 seasons.
Taking that 10-year sample, we can see the average price of the three teams to win promotion to the Premier League is a rather hunky 28/1. Obviously Burnley (80/1 in 2013/14) and Crystal Palace (80/1 in 2012/13) have pushed the average up but in each of those 10 campaigns, a team quoted at 20/1 or bigger has won promotion. In fact, 43% of those 30 promoted sides were 20/1 or larger.
Brighton fans might laugh this off but I’m reasonably confident the Seagulls could well be the big-priced side that takes the second tier by storm this year. Albion are 25/1 (Bet365) to top the division but I’ll be having a bit on promotion at 8/1 (Bet365).
It’s 32 years since Brighton were a Premier League club and after a hugely disappointing season, they should return to par, if not better. The Seagulls went dramatically backwards following successive play-off semi-final defeats but – with Chris Hughton having replaced Sami Hyypia as manager in December – survival was ensured despite a seven-match winless streak to end the campaign.
The club’s recruitment has failed a little too often in recent years. January’s capture of Beram Kayal was one of few bright spots and in Tommer Hemed, Albion may have finally found a goalscoring gem. The Israeli striker is hoping to be the missing piece to the Brighton jigsaw; only Sheffield Wednesday (43) scored fewer goals outside the bottom three than Brighton (44) and it’s an area that required serious surgery.
If the Seagulls can keep hold of Lewis Dunk then the centre-half partnership with Gordon Greer remains resolute, allowing the team to build from the back. The league’s best defence has not finished outside the top-eight in the past 10 years and you’d assume Albion will continue to give little away to opposition teams.
The unavoidable departure of Young Player of the Year Joao Teixeira is the only black mark against their off-season. With a new training facility, the club is ‘Premier League ready’ off the pitch and in Hughton they have a manager experienced in Championship promotion to guide a challenge on it. They’re in a more stable and healthier position than 12 months ago and I certainly don’t see another season of toil.
Championship – Middlesbrough to win the league (6/1 each-way Bet365)
Championship – Ipswich to win the league (20/1 each-way Bet365)
Championship – Brighton to win promotion (8/1 Bet365)
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