FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) analyses the best bets in the Championship promotion scene for 2016/17.
Championship | Promotion
Picking the winner of the ultra-competitive Championship is normally a thankless task, one highlighted by the fact that 21 teams were chalked up at 28/1 or shorter in the outright winner betting last season.
But 2016/17 is different.
Newcastle are understandable market leaders but their 19/10 (Sportingbet) price represents the shortest ante-post odds in Championship history, leaving only six sides at 33/1 or shorter.
Before we pile into the Magpies, it’s worth noting that Manchester City (2001/02) were the last ante-post favourites to take top honours in the second tier with QPR, West Ham and Blackburn all failing to oblige when heavily fancied by the bookies.
Burnley and Hull bounced back at the first attempt last season but the Clarets were only the third relegated side to conclude the campaign as champions in 14 seasons.
However, there is a flip-side for Newcastle supporters – four of the last eight pre-season favourites won promotion and you don’t need me to tell you that the St James’s Park club are gearing up for an immediate Premier League return.
Nevertheless, I’m uninterested in tying my money up on the Toon and will instead look elsewhere to eke out a value punt. We managed to nail Middlesbrough’s promotion in 2015/16 and were inches away from scooping outsiders Brighton so I’m hopeful we can highlight an alternative selection.
Looking back over the past decade, we can see the average price of the league winner was 14/1 and on 11 occasions over the past 16 seasons the champion was available at a double-figure price.
Want more? In three of the previous five seasons the table-toppers were involved in the play-offs the previous yea whilst a healthy 47% of play-off teams managed to reach the top-six again over the most recent six years.
So with Newcastle so dominant in the Outright market, I’m going to head straight to the Promotion betting and pick out three progressive clubs with squads, managers and experience in following those trends to secure a place in the Premier League.
Derby (4/1 888)
A whopping £25m was spent by Derby last season and a third successive campaign of failure for one of the Championship’s most expensively assembled squads left many supporters feeling a little short-changed.
At this point last year we questioned the Rams validity as 6/1 favourites, sighting the inexperience of Paul Clement and the lack of clarity from boardroom level regarding aims and aspirations.
A bulbous squad appeared to suffer from the weight of expectation and although Derby’s late-season rally saw the club reach the play-offs, they never truly convinced in their role as top dogs.
But 2016/17 does have a vastly different feel to it. For starters, new boss Nigel Pearson has course and distance form in winning promotion at this level and the hugely underrated leader looks a perfect fit to galvanise a group that’s flush with brains, brawn and quality.
The club have refused to be overly active in the transfer market and understandably so. The Rams are well-stocked across the board and with Will Hughes, Craig Bryson and George Thorne hoping for injury-free campaigns, County look as competitive as ever.
So should Derby be quoted at odds as big as 13/1 (888) to take the title – twice the price they were at this stage last season? No, is the short answer.
Pearson will not tolerate underperformance and the ex-Leicester leader has one of the league’s strongest spines at this disposal; Chris Martin has hit 52 league goals in three seasons, Jason Shackell Richard Keogh are rocks from centre-half, we’ve already touched on the midfield whilst Tom Ince and Bradley Johnson should be capable of contributing more.
Derby at 4/1 (888) for promotion appeases.
Brighton (4/1 BetBright)
We suggested Brighton were a bet at 8/1 for promotion heading into 2015/16 so the Seagulls’ ascent into major championship-winning contenders wasn’t a huge shock in WLB Towers.
The Seasiders broke second-tier records during their wonderful unbeaten start and Chris Hughton’s admirable stewardship kept the Albion show on the road for the full nine-months bar a wee blip over the Christmas period.
Having accumulated a wondrous 89-point, missing out on automatic promotion by goal difference on the final day, the inevitable agony of an unsuccessful play-off campaign left many Brighton fans reeling. But not Hughton.
The LMA’s Championship Manager of the Year quickly turned focus towards 2016/17 as chairman Tony Bloom’s rewarded the former Newcastle boss with a richly-deserved new four-year contract.
Albion have long been set-up off the field for a bash at the big time but more importantly, the playing-side also appears more than ready for another tilt at promotion.
The club have finished in the top-six in three of the past four seasons and the squad that excelled over the past 12 months has the quality to repeat the feat this time around.
Glenn Murray’s an obvious upgrade on Bobby Zamora, Anthony Knockaert’s here from the off, Baram Kayal and Dale Stephens offer significant steel and class from midfield, David Stockdale’s an expert stopper and young centre-back partnership Lewis Dunk and Connor Goldson should continue to flourish.
Hughton’s troops lost just five fixtures last season, top-scored with 72 goals and picked up a club record second-tier points total – the club boast the tools and armoury to make another significant effort towards the Premier League and are worth backing to succeed at the 4/1 (BetBright) quotes.
Sheffield Wednesday (5/1 888)
It’s been a whirlwind 12 months for Sheffield Wednesday.
New Thai owner Dejphon Chansiri ambitiously set a target of Premier League football by 2017 when taking charge last summer and immediately set about by appointing the Owls’ first non-British boss in their history, Carlos Carvalhal.
The club’s off-season investment far outweighed anything Wednesday fans had seen across their previous 20 years and many pundits (included me) new very little about a bunch of imports and a journeyman coach.
What followed surprised everyone.
The Owls were thrilling to follow as Carvalhal built an exciting, vibrant and confident team that excelled at Hillsborough but were sadly outmuscled in the play-off final at Wembley.
Nobody in or outside of the club could have foreseen such a rapid rise and the feel-good factor around the Yorkshire outfit means Wednesday should again be considered as challengers this time around.
If Carvalhal can add a bit more steel and consistency to away performances, there’s no reason why a repeat campaign shouldn’t be forecast.
Fernando Forestieri has been joined by the permanent addition of Daniel Pudil and the superb capture of Almen Abdi. Gary Hooper stays on; Steven Fletcher is a shrewd signing and so there can be no doubt the club enters this season looking a stronger animal than they entered the last.
It’s difficult to find strong enough evidence to support any side from outside of last season’s top-six this term so keeping Wednesday and their fellow failed play-off pals onside could prove a profitable venture.