FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the Championship relegation market ahead of the 2017/18 Championship season.
WLB Season Preview 2017/18 | Championship: Relegation
Burton were written off as relegation fodder this time last year with bookmakers chalking the Brewers up as odds-on certainties to suffer immediate demotion in their debut Championship campaign.
But one of the smallest clubs to ever appear in the second-tier were never in serious peril as Nigel Clough guided his group to relative safety thanks to a wonderful mix of defensive resilience, organisation, superb signings and a great team spirit.
Despite their heady achievement, Albion have once again been priced-up as the league’s most likely side to suffer relegation this time around but quotes around the 6/4 mark appear desperately unfair.
Although both Bolton (23/10 Unibet) and Millwall (11/4 Black Type) are well-fancied to struggle, only seven promoted League One clubs have suffered immediate relegation in 12 years and, although Wigan bucked that trend in 2016/17, I’d expect the Trotters and Lions to remain competitive.
We nailed Rotherham and Blackburn’s relegations last term and came very close to adding Nottingham Forest for a full house.
For 2017/18, I reckon there’s a trio of clubs that have been a little overrated in the Relegation market and are well worth getting involved with at bulbous quotes.
QPR (4/1 BetVictor)
The worst defence in the Championship has finished rock-bottom in nine of the past 12 campaigns and suffered relegation on 11 occasions. At the time of writing, my beloved Queens Park Rangers could be a candidate to take the unwanted crown in 2017/18.
A tightening of the purse strings has frustrated manager Ian Holloway in the transfer market with no new blood arriving at the back. Only four sides shipped more goals in the second-tier last time whilst goalkeeper Alex Smithies swept the Player of the Season awards, which is always quite telling.
As well as Smithies, there’s an overreliance on Grant Hall at the back. With the former Spurs defender in the side, QPR returned W13-D7-L14, without Hall Rangers recorded just W2-D1-L9. He’ll miss the start of the season.
Consistent and combative central midfielder Josh Scowen is a welcome arrival at Loftus Road and there were encouraging signs after January when Holloway brought in beanpole Matt Smith, silky Luke Freeman and young prospect Ryan Manning to the first XI.
There have been positive moves off the pitch too; the club have worked hard to build a solid infrastructure with a respected scouting system back in place but supporters are understandably concerned following the frustration of last season.
The mood around W12 remains negative following a deeply disappointing end to 2016/17 (W1-D0-L7) where Holloway insisted on making widespread changes to his team, game-by-game. Should the side find consistency, there’s enough to keep our heads above water.
But we’re in this for the punting game and QPR are a decent bet for relegation at the 4/1 odds on offer from BetVictor.
Bristol City (8/1 BetVictor)
There was a feeling of relief around Ashton Gate when 2016/17 concluded. Bristol City finished three points above the relegation zone but a disastrous run of results between October and April very nearly spelt disaster.
The Robins made an encouraging start to the campaign and did finish with a flourish but a club record eight-game losing streak amidst a run of W1-D0-L11 caused widespread consternation whilst Lee Johnson’s men collected only five triumphs in a 25-match spell between October and April.
The loan of 23-goal top scorer Tammy Abraham has expired and in fairness, City have splashed the cash for a replacement. A club record £5.3m was splurged on Senegalese striker Famara Diedhiou from Angers and understandably comparisons have been made to Jonathan Kodjia.
Bobby Reid’s performed superbly up front during pre-season but the success of Bristol City’s campaign surely resides on Diedhiou finding his feet (and the back of the net). Similar question marks could be placed over Eros Pisano’s ability to slot into Championship football at right-back following his arrival from Verona.
Elsewhere, ever-present centre-half Aden Flint looks certain to leave Ashton Gate before the window closes whilst fans weren’t too pleased to see Lee Tomlin sold to M4 rivals Cardiff due to the playmaker ‘not fitting the culture of the club’.
So having claimed the League One title in style back in 2015/16, City have tabled 17th and 18th-placed finishes with many supporters growing frustrated on the back of limited on-field progress. It’s a crunch campaign for Johnson and although the Robins should be OK, odds of 8/1 for the drop appear too big to ignore.
Hull (18/1 Black Type)
Since 1987 only two sides have suffered back-to-back relegations from the top-tier of English football – Swindon (1995) and Wolves (2013).
With ginormous Premier League parachute payments now at their disposal, you’d presume that bouncing back to the top-flight is easier than it ever has been. With eight sides returning to the Premier League at the first time of asking over the past 11 campaigns, the stats certainly suggest so.
However, in seven of the most recent 10 editions of the Championship, a relegated club has finished 11th or below. Aston Villa, QPR and Fulham have all flopped in the past three campaigns whilst the average finishing position of relegated sides in that 10-year sample is eighth. Not bad, but not game-changing.
So why not have a speculative play on Hull to suffer a second demotion? Or at least get involved with the 13/8 (Betfred) on the Tigers finishing in the bottom-half…
Why, I hear you cry? Well, without going all Paul Merson and Phil Thompson on you, the appointment of Leonid Slutsky has to be considered a calculated risk.
We’ve all heard how and why he was forced to retire from the game and I wouldn’t dare fault his coaching credentials – leading CSKA Moscow into the Champions League and being given the national team gig deserves huge respect despite their flop at Euro 2012.
He’s also fluent in English having spent time in the country under Chelsea’s watch. But then, this is his first taste of football, of coaching and of management outside of his homeland and he’s hardly entering a strong and stable (thanks Theresa) club in the Championship.
Hull were playing with one hand tied behind their back at the beginning of last season having allowed Steve Bruce to leave. Poor Mike Phelan was almost set-up to fall and although Marco Silva revitalised the squad, offering much-needed optimism along with seven new faces, the Tigers always seemed doomed.
Anger and protests were directed at the Allam ownership with supporters deciding to stay away. It’s a theme that’ll run into 2017/18 with plenty of fans deeply disgruntled by City’s decision not to offer concessional ticket prices for children, students or OAPs.
Promotion remains the aim but the squad is looking extremely threadbare. Up until last week, only three defenders were left on Hull’s books – only one of which, Michael Dawson, was a central defender by trade. Michael Hector’s arrival on-loan has at least soothed that particular crisis, for now.
As well as Hector, Slutsky has used his Chelsea links to bring in full-back Ola Aina and Czech defender Ondřej Mazuc joins from Sparta Prague whilst Frazier Campbell’s return provides Abel Hernandez with support in attacking areas. But there's still no left-back in the squad and wingers are in desperately short supply.
Still, the squad looks eight or nine players short on challenging for top-six positions and have lost solid and experienced Championship players such as Curtis Davies, Tom Huddlestone, Harry Maguire and Ahmed Elmohamady.
Hull are laughably short at 10/1 for the title in places and whilst I’d relish seeing Slutsky succeed, there’s more than enough evidence to believe this could be at best a transitional season for the Tigers.
The 18/1 (Black Type) on relegation is speculative, sure, but do you believe there’s more than just a 5% chance on City dropping to League One? I certainly do and so will be getting involved accordingly.
Championship – QPR to be relegated (4/1 BetVictor)
Championship – Bristol City to be relegated (8/1 BetVictor)
Championship – Hull to be relegated (18/1 Black Type)
Championship – Hull to finish in the bottom-half (13/8 Betfred)
Hosted by Ali Maxwell (@TheMakeleleRole) and George Elek (@GeorgeElek), the NTT20 podcast is an essential listen for EFL fans so get downloading and listening.