Championship Promotion Tips: The Final Countdown


WE asked Football League man Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) to try and make sense of the Championship promotion race, as we enter the final furlong. Here's his assessment of the eight runners and riders and his best bets.

Bournemouth (73pts, +42 GD)

  • Outright – 6/4 (William Hill)
  • Promotion – 4/11 (William Hill)
  • Top-Six Finish – 1/66 (SkyBet)
  • Home Form – W11-D6-L3 (4th)
  • Away Form – W10-D4-L5 (1st)
  • Record v Top-Half – W7-D6-L6 (7th)
  • Record v Bottom-Half – W14-D1-L2 (2nd)

Remaining Fixtures:

  • Ipswich (A)
  • Birmingham (H)
  • Brighton (A)
  • Reading (A)
  • Sheff Wed (H)
  • Bolton (H)
  • Charlton (A)

If ever we needed a reminder that Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth were the real deal, it was last weekend. The Cherries ripped into highly-fancied Middlesbrough at will and the 3-0 scoreline didn’t flatter the hosts, who started the season as 25/1 shots, in the slightest.

Callum Wilson illustrated why Premier League clubs have sent scouts flocking to the south coast with an outstanding performance leading the line and there are real similarities between this side and Burnley in 2013/14. Howe’s squad is relatively small but like Sean Dyche, the Cherries boss has remained loyal to his core XI with 10 players making 30 starts or more this season.

The Bournemouth boss has instilled a never-say-die attitude, a hard-working philosophy but also given the team a confidence to play attractive, attacking football. Howe knows his team are at their most dangerous going forward and has given his side a license to out-gun the opposition, wherever possible.

So it’s no surprise to see the Cherries topping the goalscoring charts, averaging 2.10 goals-per-game in the second tier. With a W4-D2-L0 return from their previous six games, a huge goal-difference advantage in their favour and potentially only one remaining fixture against a side with something to play for, it’s hard to envisage the league leaders not finishing the job – they’ve set the pace for over a third of the season so far and deserve favouritism.

Watford (72pts, +32 GD)

  • Outright – 5/1 (Spreadex)
  • Promotion – 4/5 (Ladbrokes)
  • Top-Six Finish – 1/25 (Coral)
  • Home Form – W12-D3-L5 (3rd)
  • Away Form – W10-D3-L6 (3rd)
  • Record v Top-Half – W5-D5-L8 (11th)
  • Record v Bottom-Half – W17-D1-L3 (1st)

Remaining Fixtures:

  • Derby (A)
  • Middlesbrough (H)
  • Millwall (A)
  • Nottm Forest (A)
  • Birmingham (H)
  • Brighton (A)
  • Sheff Wed (H)

A fortnight ago I was asked to join the lads on the WAGU Podcast to discuss the incredible race for promotion. I recommended a bet on Watford to win the league at 7/1; the Hornets went on to win back-to-back games before losing out to Ipswich on home soil last weekend.

That 7/1 has long gone but I still feel obliged to talk Slavisa Jokanovic’s side up, with Spreadex still offering 5/1 on the Herts club topping the table at the end of the season. Watford are the form team – since December they’ve recorded W14-D1-L5 in Championship football and are averaging two goals-per-game this season.

However, their record against the leading lights is of concern. The Hornets have W0-D2-L6 of their eight fixtures against the current top-six and their next two games are against Derby and Middlesbrough. If Jokanovic’s team are to top the table, they simply must collect at least one win from those two matches.

Once those games are out the way, Watford have a kind run-in. Having won 17/22 against bottom-half dwellers and Odion Ighalo, Matej Vydra, and Troy Deeney all firing, the Hornets look overpriced in the both the outright market and also the promotion mix (4/5 Ladbrokes).

Middlesbrough (72pts, +29 GD)

  • Outright – 7/2 (BetVictor)
  • Promotion – 8/13 (BetVictor)
  • Top-Six Finish – 1/41 (Unibet)
  • Home Form – W12-D4-L3 (1st)
  • Away Form – W9-D5-L6 (4th)
  • Record v Top-Half – W8-D5-L6 (4th)
  • Record v Bottom-Half – W13-D4-L3 (3rd)

Remaining Fixtures:

  • Wigan (H)
  • Watford (A)
  • Rotherham (H)
  • Wolves (H)
  • Norwich (A)
  • Fulham (A)
  • Brighton (H)

I don’t know what it is, but I just haven’t taken to Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka is clearly an impressive guy, the youth system continues to flourish on Teeside and with Steve Gibson behind the scenes, you know Boro are in good hands.

But to be honest, I’ve been a little disappointed with the Riverside club. Recent form W4-D1-L4 is of concern for Boro fans, as was their display at Bournemouth on Saturday where the visitors failed to register a single shot-on-target. And it’s that lack of a goal threat that puts me off Karanka’s charges.

In the past 10 years, no Championship club has scored fewer than 80 goals and won promotion and should the Teesiders continue their 1.51 goals-per-game average they’ll finish with 69 goals in total.

Of course, their defensive record comes into play – no side has conceded fewer than 40 goals and not won promotion in that timeframe and only twice in the same period has the best defence not reached the Promised Land.

So which angle do we decide to trust? Well in my opinion, goals win games and I’d have more faith in a Watford or Bournemouth out-gunning Boro in a one-off fixture.

The bookmakers are fans of Boro but there’s no question they face the toughest run-in – at least six of their opponents should be fighting for something – and they’ll need to reverse their road record of W1-L3 in their previous four. I’m happy to leave them alone and look elsewhere.

Norwich (70pts, +33 GD)

  • Outright – 5/1 (Ladbrokes)
  • Promotion – 1/1 (Bet365)
  • Top-Six Finish – 1/16 (Bet365)
  • Home Form – W10-D6-L4 (8th)
  • Away Form – W10-D4-L5 (2nd)
  • Record v Top-Half – W11-D4-L5 (1st)
  • Record v Bottom-Half – W9-D6-L4 (10th)

Remaining Fixtures:

  • Brighton (A)
  • Sheff Wed (H)
  • Bolton (A) Leeds (A)
  • Middlesbrough (H)
  • Rotherham (A)
  • Fulham (H)

Norwich secured only their second win in five on Saturday but they way in which they swatted Nottingham Forest aside at Carrow Road suggests Alex Neil’s side could be about to experience their second wind in the battle for a top two finish.

The Canaries dominated Forest and could easily have put the Tricky Trees to the sword by a bigger margin than 3-1. Naturally, Neil was delighted and the young Scot’s confidence and bullish nature has to be admired. The former Hamilton supremo expressed his desire and expectation for Norwich to be in a top-two position come May.

Man-for-man the Norfolk side boast the best squad in the second tier and a return to the top-flight is certainly within grasp. A home fixture against Middlesbrough is the only remaining game against a promotion challenger but the Canaries still face tough assignments at Brighton, Leeds and Bolton.

With an excellent goal difference and a favourable run-in, I’d want Norwich onside. Their W10-D3-L2 return from under Neil’s tutelage suggests the impressive young boss can get the Canaries over the line in some way or form and Bet365’s even-money offer on Promotion holds plenty of appeal.

Derby (67pts, +26 GD)

  • Outright – 20/1 (Ladbrokes)
  • Promotion – 12/5 (Coral)
  • Top-Six Finish – 1/5 (Unibet)
  • Home Form – W11-D5-L3 (5th)
  • Away Form – W8-D5-L7 (6th)
  • Record v Top-Half – W8-D6-L5 (5th)
  • Record v Bottom-Half – W11-D4-L4 (5th)

Remaining Fixtures:

  • Watford (H)
  • Wigan (A)
  • Brentford (H)
  • Blackpool (H)
  • Huddersfield (A)
  • Millwall (A)
  • Reading (H)

You’ll hear the word momentum a lot in the coming weeks. It’s supposed to signify a side making a serious late tilt at promotion. Well Derby have no momentum right now having suffered four defeats in six and only two wins in 10.

But when your luck’s out, your luck is definitely out. The Rams were excellent in their 2-0 loss at Wolves last Friday and on another day would have secured all three points. They hit the woodwork twice, fired in 19 shots and had a couple of referring decisions go against them before Lee Grant dropped a clanger.

Conceding goals has been Steve McClaren’s team’s Achilles heel in recent weeks, especially away. Derby have leaked at least twice in five of their last six on the road and haven’t won on their travels since January. But I loathe to write the Rams off.

McClaren’s men have been the best second tier side in the past 18 months and should have talisman Chris Martin back to full fitness after the international break. The law of averages suggests they’ll turn their form around sooner rather than later and although top spot now looks elusive, they remain a serious play-off threat.

However, the current prices make little appeal. The bookies are well aware of Derby’s threat and will have laid plenty of pre-season money on the ante-post 8/1 favourites.

Ipswich (67pts, +16 GD)

  • Outright – 66/1 (BetVictor)
  • Promotion – 6/1 (Coral)
  • Top-Six Finish – 8/11 (BetVictor)
  • Home Form – W12-D4-L3 (2nd)
  • Away Form – W7-D6-L7 (8th)
  • Record v Top-Half – W8-D6-L4 (2nd)
  • Record v Bottom-Half – W11-D4-L6 (8th)

Remaining Fixtures:

  • Bournemouth (H)
  • Huddersfield (A)
  • Blackpool (H)
  • Cardiff (H)
  • Wolves (A)
  • Nottm Forest (A)
  • Blackburn (A)

We all love Mick McCarthy, right? He’s my favourite Football League manager and I’d love to see Ipswich side reach the top-flight. Having spent pennies on the squad, Big Mick’s transformed the club from no-where men to contenders.

Town had lost five of their previous seven away before producing a stunning display of tactical acumen and team-work to defeat Watford at Vicarage Road on Saturday and you could just see the belief flooding back into the players and manager’s eyes at the final whistle.

It was a huge three points for the Tractor Boys who’ve lost more games in 2015 (7/15) than any other promotion-chasing candidate. But back-to-back 1-0 wins against Bolton and the Hornets have nestled Ipswich back into a top-six position. And should they hold on to that play-off place they’ll be gritty, unsexy but mighty tough opponents over two legs.

Chris Wood and Luke Varney have been brought in to support Daryl Murphy’s hunt for goals and the romantic in me would love to see the Suffolk side back in the Premier League for the first time since 2002. However, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t more hope than expectation. Again, the prices look about right.

Brentford (66pts, +12 GD)

  • Outright – 100/1 (BetVictor)
  • Promotion – 9/1 (Ladbrokes)
  • Top-Six Finish – 5/4 (Bet365)
  • Home Form – W11-D4-L5 (7th)
  • Away Form – W9-D2-L8 (7th)
  • Record v Top-Half – W7-D3-L9 (8th)
  • Record v Bottom-Half – W13-D3-L4 (4th)

Remaining Fixtures:

  • Fulham (A)
  • Nottm Forest (H)
  • Derby (A)
  • Sheff Wed (A)
  • Bolton (H)
  • Reading (A)
  • Wigan (H)

Oh, Brentford. The news that Mark Warburton would be moving on at the end of the season shocked the football world and I can’t help but feel it’s had a negative effect on the Bees’ promotion push. Starting the season as 50/1 outsiders, the west London side have been a revelation, playing some sparkling football.

But recently, Brentford have been maddeningly inconsistent. Their W5-D2-L5 return from their last 12 is a fine example but their performances have also had a fair degree of Jekyll & Hyde about them. Warburton admitted they were very fortunate to nick a late point at home to Millwall on Saturday while their previous fixture at Griffin Park saw the Bees beaten by Cardiff despite dominating proceedings.

I’m not convinced we’ve seen the end of this Brentford team. Four of their final six matches come against teams at the wrong end of the table and although there are no easy games at the stage of the season, the Bees still boast the athleticism, guile and craft to pick up enough points to finish in a top-six position.

With seven losses from 11 games against teams above them in the table, the play-offs could be where Warburton’s reign at Brentford comes to a close but even the 5/4 on a top-six finish isn’t enough to tempt whilst the clouds of uncertainty hang over the club.

Wolves (65pts, +11 GD)

  • Outright – 150/1 (BetVictor)
  • Promotion – 10/1 (BetVictor)
  • Top-Six Finish – 9/4 (BetVictor)
  • Home Form – W11-D5-L4 (6th)
  • Away Form – W7-D6-L6 (9th)
  • Record v Top-Half – W9-D3-L7 (3rd)
  • Record v Bottom-Half – W9-D8-L3 (9th)

Remaining Fixtures:

  • Nottm Forest (A)
  • Leeds (H)
  • Birmingham (A)
  • Middlesbrough (A)
  • Ipswich (H)
  • Wigan (A)
  • Millwall (H)

Since losing five games on the spin during November and December, Wolves have come charging back into the promotion picture. Their W11-D5-L3 return from the 13th December is title-winning form and with six wins from nine at Molineux, Kenny Jackett’s men look capable of sustaining the pace.

Bar a trip to Middlesbrough, Wolves will be confident they can collect enough points from their remaining seven fixtures to secure a top-six place and a home clash against Ipswich could be key to those aspirations.

Benik Afobe and Nouha Dicko are striking up a deadly partnership in attack while their haul of 17 clean sheets is a joint-divisional best figure alongside Middlesbrough, showing Jackett’s men have a resilience about them at the back.

Sitting just two points off sixth-placed and a negotiable run-in, I’m happy to put a bit of faith in Wolves finishing the season in the play-off positions at 9/4 with BetVictor.


You’ll have seen there are three teams I’m very keen to keep onside at the current prices; Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich. With the Cherries to short to invest in but the biggest danger to top spot, I’m going to enter the Duel Forecast market with BetVictor.

Unlike the Straight Forecast markets, the Duel Forecast allows us to pick two selections to finish in any order in the top-two. In this instance, I’m going to take the 5/1 on both Bournemouth and Watford as well as Bournemouth and Norwich in this market.

It gives us a better chance of landing profit than selecting any of the top sides to win the division outright. For example, if we put £5 on both Dual Forecast selections, we’ll bank £20 profit should Bournemouth finish in the top-two alongside either Watford or Norwich.

And finally, Wolves’ title-winning form since December just can’t be ignored and I’ll take the 9/4 on Kenny Jackett’s men clinching a place in the top-six come May.

Best Bets

Bournemouth/Watford dual forecast (5/1 BetVictor)

Bournemouth/Norwich dual forecast (5/1 BetVictor)

Wolves to finish in the top-six (9/4 BetVictor)

Your View

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About Author

The big cheese at WLB. After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production before setting WeLoveBetting up soon after the 2014 World Cup. With a huge passion for stats, analytics, the EFL and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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