FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the Outright Winner and Promotion markets ahead of the 2018/19 Championship season.
WLB Season Preview 2018/19 | Championship: Promotion
Picking the winner of the ultra-competitive Championship is normally a thankless task, one highlighted by the fact that eight teams can be found at odds as short as 12/1 in the Outright Winner market.
It’s a far cry from two years ago when Newcastle were lining up as 19/10 favourites, a price that represented the shortest ante-post odds in Championship history, leaving only six clubs at 33/1 or shorter.
Rafa Benitez’s boys took title honours – only the second ante-post favourite to justify their position this century – and it’s probably fair to say the Toon were far from imperious en-route to clinching top spot.
Aston Villa failed to justify their position at the top of the market 12 months ago, although nine (45%) favourites or co-favourites have gone on to clinch promotion since 2000. Considering four (31%) of the past 13 title winners were Premier League rejects, there’s plenty to suggest jollies Stoke (11/2 Ladbrokes) can book an immediate return to the big time.
The Bet365 funded club have been busy bolstering their squad for a title challenge under Garry Rowett and are the team to beat on paper.
Elsewhere, for various reasons I’m happy to put a pen through Nottingham Forest (10/1 BetVictor) and Leeds (11/1 Ladbrokes) at the odds on offer and there’s plenty still to prove for Darren Moore at West Brom (8/1 BetBright) following a miserable campaign at The Hawthorns.
Middlesbrough (9/1 BetBright)
In a trappy field, I'm happy to invest my faith in Middlesbrough producing a strong promotion challenge under Tony Pulis.
Four (31%) of the past 13 Championship winners were involved in an unsuccessful play-off campaign in the preceding season and Boro appear the best equipped to enhance that record.
Pulis’ troops will be keen to make amends having performed poorly and peculiarly in their two-legged tie with Aston Villa. The Teessiders lacked urgency in attacking areas and were found wanting tactically as they failed to land a single on-target effort at The Riverside in the return leg despite trailing.
There are still grumbles of frustration amongst the fan base but there’s plenty of reasons for punters to remain positive. For starters, Pulis-ball might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it tends to be mightily effective and efficient.
Since pitching up at the north-east club, the capped veteran oversaw a W13-D5-L5 return across his 21 games in charge with three of Boro’s five defeats arriving against promoted trio Wolves, Cardiff and Fulham – a reasonable improvement on Garry Monk’s ill-fated reign.
Set-pieces continue to arouse Pulis and Middlesbrough’s threat from dead-ball situations will be as good as any in the division, particularly following the arrival of Aden Flint to play alongside Daniel Ayala. Defensively too, the Teessiders are unlikely to give too much away.
Of course, Adama Traore’s future could be key to a serious tilt at top honours – there’s an £18m release clause on the Spaniard’s head – and Britt Assombolonga’s long-term fitness hasn’t convinced for quite some time. But Rudy Gestede is available again and few teams towards the top of the market are flawless.
The wily campaigner calling the shots is arguably as good as any in the league, which must be seen as a positive, as Boro bid to get back to the promised land.
Sheffield United (28/1 Bet365)
Sheffield United tabled their best finish for eight years last time out as the Blades made the transition to the second-tier with consummate ease. For large swathes of the season, Chris Wilder’s troops appeared in promotion contention although a season-ending injury to Paul Coutts disrupted progress.
Coutts isn’t too far away from completing his rehabilitation and his return to first-team football will give United an undoubted lift. The Blades played some wonderful football at times last term and the Bramall Lane club should again be expected to challenge towards the top-six of the division.
Youngster David Brooks has been pinched by Bournemouth but otherwise it’s as you were for a Wilder team that’s engineered to work their socks off. With Coutts back in situ from October at the latest, plus Mark Duffy and John Fleck excelling in the middle of the park, United have excellent options as they seek to monopolise the midfield.
Elsewhere, the signings of John Egan and Dean Henderson should bolster an already impressive back six. Outside of the top two, only Derby and Preston faced fewer on-target efforts than United with an abnormal proportion of their 55 goals conceded arriving from long-range.
The Blades may lack the individual headliners of their rivals towards the top of the table but their strength is in the collective. Workhorses Leon Clarke and Billy Sharp weighed in with excellent goal tallies last term and should United reach similar performance levels in 2017/18, they should go close to a top-two finish.
With three paid places for each-way punters, the 28/1 (Bet365) looks well worth an interest.
2018/19 Championship – Middlesbrough to win outright (9/1 each-way BetBright)
2018/19 Championship – Sheffield United to win outright (28/1 each-way Bet365)
Championship 2018/19Football League analyst Mark O'Haire reveals his forecast 1-24 from the 2018/19 Championship.