Intelligent punter's guide to the 2014-15 Championship odds
Some of the biggest clubs in footballing history – Forest, Leeds, Bolton, Wolves – begin their campaign this weekend
It’s the league where anything can happen - and usually does. The new Football League Championship season kicks off at 7.45 pm today, with Blackburn taking on Cardiff at Ewood Park. Can either of them go all the way and win promotion to the Premier League at the end of the season?
Given the highly competitive nature of the Championship - at the end of the 2012/13 season just 14 points separated third-from-bottom Peterborough, who were relegated, from sixth-placed Leicester, who made the play-offs – it can look like a minefield to punters hoping to back promotion winners.
But if we take into account four key factors, we can help push the percentages in our favour.
One: be wary of the bookmaker’s favourite, certainly when it comes to straight ‘win’ bets. No favourite has won the Championship since the 2001-02 season, though four did finish either second or third. That's because the bookies tend to automatically install one of the relegated sides as market leader, and these teams often have their chances over-rated: in the past ten seasons, just six of the 30 sides relegated from the Premier League have finished in the top three in the Championship the following year.
Two: sides just promoted from League One to the Championship should also be approached with caution, unless they have a recent record of playing in the Premier League. Just two newly promoted teams have managed to make the top three at the end of their first season back - Norwich and Southampton – and both were teams that had played in the Premier League in the previous decade. Indeed, the stats show that newly promoted sides are more likely to be relegated than promoted: last year both Doncaster and Yeovil went straight back down again.
Three: pay close attention to teams beaten in the previous year's promotion play-offs. The last three Championship winners - Leicester in 2014, Cardiff in 2013, and Reading in 2012 - had suffered disappointment in the previous year's play-offs.
Four: don't be put off backing established Championship teams each-way at long prices. Last year’s runners-up, Burnley, were available at 80-1 at the start of the season, as were Crystal Palace, who finished third in 2012-13. The third-place slot has been taken by teams priced at 33-1 (twice), 25-1 (twice), 50-1, 80-1 and 100-1 in the past decade.
So… all things considered, it would be wise to include in your portfolio one relegated side (each-way), but not necessarily the market leader, one side beaten in last year's play-offs and one established Championship side, available at long-odds.
Now let’s take a closer look at the 24 teams and their prospects for the new season, listed in alphabetical order:
BIRMINGHAM. Best odds: 80-1. Survived by the skin of their teeth last season, thanks to an injury time goal in their final match, but with the club still short of funds another season of struggle looks to be on the cards.
BLACKBURN. Best odds: 20-1. Finished last season like a steam train: they were undefeated in the last 12 games and only just missed out on the play-offs. They also impressed in their FA Cup clashes with eventual Premier League champions Manchester City. Prolific striker Jordan Rhodes is staying with the club and at their current odds the Rovers look cracking each-way value.
BLACKPOOL. Best odds: 200-1. Top in the early part of last season, they had a disastrous second half of the campaign, which almost saw them relegated. They’ve let 25 players go in the close season and with such a threadbare squad it's not hard to see why they’re red-hot favourites for relegation. The season 2009-10, when they made it to the Premier League under Ian Holloway, was a Tangerine Dream; 2014-15 could well turn into a Tangerine Nightmare.
BOLTON. Best odds: 28-1. The Trotters' predicted promotion challenge last year never materialised and instead they finished a mediocre 14th. They did pick up though in the second half of the campaign and while it's hard to see them joining the promotion hunt given their financial problems, they should fare better this time.
BOURNEMOUTH. Best odds: 25-1. Last season they came tenth, their highest ever league position, and although they’ve sold their top goalscorer, they have added to the squad too and with their excellent young manager Eddie Howe still at the helm, they should go well again. A challenge for automatic promotion will probably be beyond them, but they should be in or around the play-off positions.
BRENTFORD. Best odds: 50-1. Back in the second flight for the first time in 21 years, the Bees finished eight points clear of the third placed team in League One last year and they should do better than in 1992-93 when they were relegated after just one season. Mid-table looks achievable.
BRIGHTON. Best odds: 25-1. The Seagulls have been knocking on the promotion door in recent seasons, but they might go backwards this year: they’ve sold their top scorer and their player of the season and have a new relatively inexperienced manager, Sami Hyppia, at the helm.
CARDIFF Best odds: 8-1. Joint favourites for promotion but the bookies may have overrated their chances: they were very poor in the second half of last season in the Premier League and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who won only three of 18 League games after taking over in January, is still at the helm. Moreover they’ve sold two of their best players, Steven Caulker and Jordan Mutch, to QPR. Yes, they could still figure in the promotion race, but they don’t make much appeal at current odds.
CHARLTON. Best odds: 80-1. A difficult side to weigh up as they’ve had three managers in short succession and a major clear-out of players since finishing 18th last season. Very likely to be in the bottom half of the table, but they’ll probably have enough to keep them out of serious trouble.
DERBY Best odds: 8-1. Having suffered the agony of a play-off defeat to QPR in May, the Rams should again be in contention for promotion. But the long-term injury to midfielder George Thorne, signed from West Brom, is a blow, and their odds don’t look particularly generous in what is a very competitive division.
FULHAM. Best odds: 11-1. Their chances of a quick return to the Premier League will be boosted by the £11m signing of Ross McCormack (above), the top scorer in this division last year when playing for Leeds. With plenty of quality in the squad, it’s hard to see them not getting involved in the promotion race.
HUDDERSFIELD. Best odds: 80-1. The Terriers spent most of last season becalmed in mid-table and it looks like more of the same this year. Too good to worry about relegation, but not quite good enough to make a push for the play-offs.
IPSWICH. Best odds: 25-1. Just fell short of the play-offs last year, but they’ve sold their talented left-back Aaron Creswell to West Ham and it might be hard for them to improve on last season’s placing.
LEEDS. Best odds: 40-1. A team that’s been going backwards since the misguided sacking of manager Simon Grayson in 2012. Only three teams fared worse in the second half of last season, and with star striker Ross McCormack (above) sold to Fulham, there’s a real danger that the one-time giants of English football could be relegated.
MIDDLESBROUGH. Best odds: 14-1. Had a strong second half of the season under new boss Aitor Karanka and that gives cause for real encouragement for the new campaign. While promotion will probably be beyond them, expect to see them in the hunt for a play-off position.
MILLWALL. Best odds: 100-1. Manager Ian Holloway did a great job in keeping the Lions up last season - they were unbeaten in their last eight matches - and having made some interesting signings they could well defy the bookies' predictions about them being relegated and might even surprise a few people.
NORWICH. Best odds: 11-1. Relegated from the Premier League last season, but the Canaries weren’t disgraced (they held Chelsea to a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in their penultimate match) and they should make a bold show in their attempt to return after just one season. Losing Robert Snodgrass is a blow, but new striker Lewis Grabbon should bang in plenty of goals and the squad overall looks good for this level.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST. Best odds: 18-1. Forest faded badly out of the promotion picture in the latter part of last season and new manager Stuart Pearce may have his work cut out to stop the rot, particularly as the board is selling players. They’re seventh favourites for promotion, but in such a competitive league they could easily find themselves looking downwards rather than upwards.
READING. Best odds: 25-1. Narrowly missed out on the play-offs but they’ve sold some key players in the summer. Their chances of being able to mount a promotion push seems to depend on whether a planned takeover by a Thai consortium finally goes through. If manager Nigel Adkins does get some funds to strengthen his squad, they can challenge; if not, mid-table mediocrity is on the cards.
ROTHERHAM. Best odds: 80-1. On the hunt for their third successive promotion, the Millers are certainly the team with momentum. They’re a free-scoring side who should be involved in some exciting games, but while a third successive promotion looks unlikely, they should have enough about them to avoid relegation.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY. Best odds: 50-1. Relegation contenders in the first half of the season, they had a revival under new boss Stuart Gray before spluttering again just before the finish. If a planned takeover goes through Gray is likely to get the funds he needs to strengthen the squad. But without major investment it’s likely to be another anxious season for Owls fans.
WATFORD. Best odds: 16-1. The Hornets appeared to suffer a hangover from their play-off final defeat in the first half of last season but rallied after the replacement of manager Gianfranco Zola with Giuseppe Sannino. With some good signings made in the summer, they look set to launch another promotion bid. Their current odds make an each-way bet tempting.
WIGAN Best odds: 10-1. Did really well under new boss Uwe Rosler in the second-half of the campaign, making it to the play-offs and the FA Cup semi-final when they lost on penalties to eventual winners Arsenal. Highly likely to be challenging, but the sale of Jordi Gomez is a blow and they might be short of firepower to win automatic promotion.
WOLVES. Best odds: 22-1. Won League One doing handstands last year and Wolves fans will be heartened by the fact that the only teams who pulled off back-to-back promotions from League One to the Premier League in the past ten years - Norwich and Southampton - both had recent Premier League pedigree. While that might be too much to ask for, they should at least make their presence felt in the top half of the table.