FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) delivered two 5/1 Relegation winners for us last season and shares his thoughts again on the bottom-four markets ahead of the 2020/21 Championship season.
WLB Season Preview 2020/21 | Championship: Relegation
Charlton became only the 10th (17%) League One club to suffer immediate relegation since 2000 last term and with all three promoted clubs surviving in 11 (55%) of 20 Championship campaigns this century, trends-spotters could blindly argue that newcomers Coventry, Rotherham and Wycombe could all consolidate their second-tier place this term.
Coventry’s (6/1 SkyBet) canny recruitment and astute leadership from Mark Robins suggests the Sky Blues should be capable of preserving their place in the Championship after an absence of eight years at this level. But Rotherham (5/2 William Hill), and in particular Wycombe (4/6 Betway) look set for much more onerous campaigns.
Rotherham haven’t spent a calendar year in the same division since 2016 and Paul Warne’s men are desperate to end their yo-yo tag by stabilising in the second-tier. For the first time in forever, the Millers aren’t chalked up as pre-season relegation favourites, although their fate is likely to go down to the wire with a squad still lacking in Championship quality.
Meanwhile, Wycombe face a monumental task if they’re to survive their first-ever season at this level. Second-favourites to suffer League One relegation last term, miracle-worker Gareth Ainsworth guided the group to an unthinkable play-off final success and the Buckinghamshire boys are feeling fervent about the challenge that lies in wait.
Wanderers will give the Championship a gallant go. The functional and attritional approach is bound to cause various Adams Park visitors a degree of distress but this feels like a step too far for a side that operated in the lower reaches of the various data rankings during their extraordinary promotion campaign.
Still, 4/6 quotes in the Relegation market hold little appeal for a nine-month wager, especially so with a divisional rival starting the season on -12 points. So whilst I fully expect Wycombe’s second-tier stay to expire in May, I've picked out three more appealling punts for the 2020/21 renewal.
Sheffield Wednesday (9/4 SkyBet)
It’s strange and surprising not to see Sheffield Wednesday at the top of the Championship’s Relegation market considering the club begin this season on -12 points after an independent panel found the Owls to have breached Profitability and Sustainability rules.
That’s a more damming indictment on the layers expectation of Wycombe of course, but we shan’t complain seeing as the Chairboys’ existence in the second-tier has ensured Wednesday are available at a too-good-to-turn-down 9/4 (SkyBet) for the drop.
With the mythical 50 points barrier almost always guaranteeing survival, Sheff Wed should be look to target a 62-point tally to secure safety in 2020/21. Such a total is attainable – even if the Owls only managed a 56-point showing last time out – but pessimism begins to breed when we delve deeper into the Hillsborough outfits preparations.
For starters, Garry Monk’s men were an abomination in 2020. Sitting as high as third at Christmas, Wednesday posted only four more victories across their remaining 23 games to plummet right down to 16th. Just six points were earned from a possible 36 at Hillsborough, whilst only relegated Hull boasted a worse record from New Year’s Day.
Monk has overseen 40 Championship fixtures with Wednesday, averaging 1.18 points per-game with a 43% loss rate. His combative character isn’t always conducive to a happy working environment, although his experience of a similar situation (a nine-point deficit with Birmingham) should be seen as a positive as the Owls start their survival scrap.
Ultimately though, the squad is weaker on paper compared to last term. Established and integral players such as Steven Fletcher have departed leaving Wednesday light on numbers in attack, with the cash-strapped club reliant upon free transfers and loans to plug the gaps.
Chey Dunkley and Izzy Brown are excellent additions but Monk needs to produce something special if the Owls are to avoid League One football returning to South Yorkshire.
QPR (5/1 Bet365)
Mark Warburton exceeded expectations in his maiden QPR campaign. No Championship club oversaw a higher turnover of playing minutes during the off-season and the R’s were sorely lacking in attacking options as the new campaign drew ever closer. Prospects of anything better than a relegation battle appeared puny with the start line in-sight.
But Warburton’s penchant for working with youngsters paid dividends as the Rangers boss guided the group to a comfortable mid-table finish. He did so playing adventurous, aesthetically-pleasing football, led by the wondrous talent of starlet Ebere Eze and a couple of quality loan additions. Entertainment was almost always guaranteed and rarely did my beloved R’s ever look in danger.
With Eze expectedly sold on and Jordan Hugill’s temporary spell coming to a conclusion, Warburton faces another major challenge of his coaching credentials this term. Bright Osayi-Samuel remains on the books for now and the mercurial lias Chair has been handed the #10 shirt with Lynden Dykes arriving to lead the line with plenty of pressure to seamlessly slip into gear.
Should the offensive trio stay and flourish under Warburton’s attacking approach, survival and safety is likely. However, the slightest regression in the final-third could lead to a concerning drop, with defensive issues continuing to dog progress; alarmingly QPR have shipped 70 goals or more in each of their past three Championship seasons.
Rob Dickie’s capture at centre-back promises plenty and the former Oxford ace is expected to lead a backline that’s far better in possession than the bread and butter of defending their own goal. I’m hopeful a balance can be found and mid-table consolidation is again the aim, although it pains me to point out that 5/1 (Bet365) quotes on the dreaded drop are just too a little too big to turn down at this stage.
Huddersfield (12/1 BetVictor)
Huddersfield were only three points off the ignominy of successive relegations but secured safety thanks to the work of highly-rated manager Danny Cowley. The former Lincoln boss inherited a team with a solitary point from six league games and led the Terriers to 13 victories and 50 points over a 10-month stint before being surprisingly sacked.
Town chairman Phil Hodgkinson explained the decision was down to a difference of opinion about the clubs’ future direction – Cowley had initially turned down the job of coach, but agreed to come to the John Smith’s Stadium as manager, a sign of his hands-on approach despite Town’s continental structure – and disagreements inevitably ensued.
Four days after Cowley’s departure, Huddersfield confirmed the appointment of the Leeds’ assistant coach Carlos Corberan. The highly-regarded Spaniard came to prominence as the Whites’ U23 coach in winning the Professional Development League in 2018/19 and successfully worked alongside Marcelo Bielsa during the club’s title-winning campaign.
The Terriers desire to return to a ‘high energy, high intensity, attacking style' was pivotal in the decision to bring the 37-year-old to the club with Cowley previously opting for pragmatism rather than pretty football in his survival quest. Nevertheless, the change of tact has to be considered a gamble by the Town hierarchy with a squad that doesn’t suit.
Huddersfield have been more badly hit than most Championship clubs by the coronavirus. The Terriers had to pay back part of last season’s parachute payment as the Premier League adjusted to a £330m rebate on its TV contracts, whilst a host of playing contracts were run down amidst the financial and footballing uncertainty.
Incomings have therefore been few and far between and the required rebuild hasn’t materialised. Of course, there’s still standout Championship quality within the ranks – in-demand Karlan Grant, Frazier Campbell, Lewis O’Brien and Harry Toffolo could slot into most second-tier sides but the overall picture probably isn’t quite as appealing as Corberan had hoped.
The West Yorkshire side were beaten 21 times in 2019/20 and it may take time to transition from pragmatism to a far more easy-on-the-eye approach. The squad is lacking in numbers across key areas and a slow start could prove problematic enough to see 12/1 (BetVictor) quotes on a bottom-three finish tumble come Christmas.