The Skybet Championship season begins this weekend and there are some great matches in store in what is one of the most competitive leagues in the world. Unlike the predictable nature of the Premier League’s top four, the Championship is wide open every year, and at least ten or twelve clubs are capable of making a real fist of promotion. It’s the league where anybody can beat anybody on their day, and that’s what makes it so special.
Brighton and Nottingham Forest get things underway when they play in front of the TV cameras tonight, while the rest of the division play their openers over the weekend. We’ve already tipped Brentford as an outsider for the league, and they’re in action at home against Ipswich Town. Another of our tips was Fulham to suffer another relegation after a torrid first season in the Championship last term, and they face a tough opening game away in Wales against Cardiff. These two matches stand out, and we’re backing both home teams to get off to a flying start on Saturday.
Brentford v Ipswich
These two sides were locked together on 78 points at the end of the campaign last season, and both found their way into the play-offs. It was a bitter pill for Ipswich to swallow as they were beaten by fierce local rivals, Norwich, 4-2 on aggregate, and Mick McCarthy’s men must try to over-achieve once again this season. For Brentford is was equally disappointing in the end, as they went down 5-1 on aggregate to Middlesbrough, but ultimately both teams did well to get there in the first place ahead of the likes of Derby.
They start all over again this weekend at Griffin Park, and Brentford look a fair price to get off to the best possible start in front of their own fans.
Brentford – +110 with BetVictor
Ipswich – +280 with Bet365
Draw – +280 with Bet365
Despite the success of reaching the play-offs, Brentford still parted company with manager, Mark Warburton, and appointed Dutch coach, Marinus Dijkhuizen in his place. Brentford owner Matthew Benham made his fortune as a professional gambler using detailed statistics, and he is bringing that approach to Brentford. He has seen considerable success with his previous investment in a football club, with Midtjylland in Denmark, and it promises to be a fascinating season for Bees fans.
They’ve made some astute signings from across Europe, as well as promising young talent like Josh McEachran from Chelsea, and are aiming for a concerted effort at promotion. Captain Jonathan Douglas has left the club – for Saturday’s opponents Ipswich – and it’s a new start under a new coaching regime for the Brentford players.
Ipswich certainly over-performed last season, much of which must surely be down to Mick McCarthy’s experience as a manager, and he’ll be trying to get his squad punching above their weight again this time around. He was handed a boost recently when Championship top scorer, Daryl Murphy, signed a new contract, while a few new faces have been brought into the squad. Promising full-back, Tyrone Mings, has been sold to Bournemouth though, and he’ll be a big loss to the Tractor Boys.
It’s hard to see Ipswich having anything like as good a season as they had last term, but Brentford look well positioned to improve on last year, and they can be backed at better than even odds to get off to a winning start on Saturday afternoon.
Cardiff v Fulham
Things haven’t been particularly rosy at Cardiff since their relegation last season, and the experiment with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager went horribly wrong. Experienced football league manager, Russell Slade, is now at the helm, and his is one of the most highly pressured jobs in the division. There have been quite a few players out of the door over the summer, but only a few coming in, with Sammy Ameobi on a season-long loan from Newcastle the most exciting. However, Cardiff still have some great players around the squad, such as Kenwyne Jones, and they will be aiming for a promotion bid this time around. They rallied to finish 11th last season with 62 points, after a torrid start had blown any real hope of the play-offs. If they can get off to a good start in this campaign, they could spend the season looking up rather than down.
Fulham manager Kit Symons believes that both Fulham and Cardiff ‘can win promotion‘, but that may be wishful thinking on his behalf. Fulham have lost the likes of Bryan Ruiz to Sporting Lisbon, and Greek striker Mitroglou who has gone on loan to Benfica, and that highlights the financial burden of carrying Premier League contracts into the Championship. They have a very young squad and it looks like being a long hard season for the Cottagers.
Cardiff have beaten Fulham on their last two visits to Wales, and you have to go back as far as 1998 for the West-Londeners last victory over the Bluebirds. They’re a decent price to get three points on the board at the first time of asking, and are worth backing to get the win at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Fulham have actually been a little more active in the transfer window than Cardiff, bringing in Tom Cairney from Blackburn, Andy Lonergan from Reading, and Jazz Richards from Swansea. They’ve also signed Ben Pringle, Jamie O’Hara, Luke Garbutt, and Finland international Sakari Mattila. Those players will bring a bit of experience to the young side, but whether it will be enough is another question. Fulham lost more than half of their away games last season – including a 1-0 reverse in Cardiff – and another fruitless trip beckons on Saturday.
Skybet Championship, Saturday 8th August
Brentford – +110 with BetVictor
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