We’re fast approaching the midway point in the Championship season, and it’s a good time to take stock of the league table and place some season-long bets with the benefit of 20 games worth of information.
Like most people we were happy to take short odds on Newcastle winning the league and earning promotion at the first time of asking, but the race to join them back in the Premier League is remarkably open. Brighton are in the box seat at the moment, five points clear of 3rd placed Reading in second place, and Chris Hughton’s men arguably deserve to bet there after the misfortune that befell them last season.
Beyond the top two, Reading, Huddersfield, Derby and Leeds make up the top six. That means the likes of Norwich, Aston Villa, and Sheffield Wednesday aren’t even in the play off positions at present, so it’s going to be a very competitive race from here to the end of the season. However, it’s two formerly great clubs that catch the eye among the various betting markets, and both represent a spot of value.
Derby County have been missing from the Premier League for a long time, but sustained investment has seen them go close over the last two seasons. The return of Steve McClaren as manager has galvanised the players, and six straight wins have propelled the Rams up to 5th position. Meanwhile, Leeds are another giant of a club, which was competing in the Champions League not so long ago. Garry Monk cut his managerial teeth at his beloved Swansea, and his reputation is beginning to grow due to the work he’s doing at Elland Road. Leeds are in 6th position at the moment, and have something to hold on to as they aim to stay in the promotion mix for the rest of the season.
Derby On The Up
They may be 10 points behind Derby in 2nd place, but there are 26 Championship games to play and the gap could be bridged over the course of that many matches. Regardless, this bet also allows for promotion via the play offs, and the Rams are currently odds-on for a top six finish.
To put Derby’s odds into context, Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday are available at +300 , while Aston Villa are as short as +400 . Those teams may all be within four points of Derby at this stage, but it’s a Villa side which struggles to win on the road, a Norwich side that has lost six of it’s last seven and could be on the verge of a managerial change, and a Wednesday side that by comparison to Derby are lacking in quality.
Those who follow the English second tier will remember that Derby were desperately unlucky to lose the play off final to QPR, with Bobby Zamora scoring a late, late winner at Wembley. The following year the Rams were a standing dish for promotion after McClaren led them to a seemingly unassailable lead. However, such was his success that Newcastle came in to poach the former England boss, and although not confirmed until late in the season, it was clear that the club and the players knew much earlier. Derby’s form nosedived to such a degree in the second half of the season that they didn’t even finish in the top six.
All was not necessarily forgiven when McClaren first walked back through the door, but it most certainly will be if he can bring Premier League football back to Pride Park. Six wins in six have included victories over rivals Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday, as well as a 3-0 win over deadly local rivals Nottingham Forest. The Rams look great value to put the disappointment of the last two seasons behind them and earn a place at next season’s top table.
A Sleeping Giant Awakes in Leeds?
Once again that price looks on the high side considering Norwich, Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Reading and even Huddersfield are all shorter at the odds to make the top six.
Huddersfield immediately strike one as a team to lay in this particular market – an early season blitz putting them in a false position on the ladder. Just three wins in the last ten is not the sort of form that will keep the Terriers in the top half, let alone the top six. Issues for Norwich and Villa have been discussed, but equally, it would be no surprise to see both teams line up in the play offs. Sheffield Wednesday appeared in last year’s play off final, and are expected to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. The Owls are a best price of +120 though, despite being a point behind Leeds on the Championship ladder. Reading are having a great time of things under former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam, but a question remains over whether they can maintain the form for the rest of the season.
The same accusation could be levelled at Leeds, but at the prices, the Whites are worthy of support. The FA have recently banned Leeds owner Massimo Cellino from all football-related activities for 18 months – a decision that no doubt was welcomed by long-suffering fans. For Monk and the players such politics must be left to one side, and the talented young manager has his team playing a stylish brand of football.
Derby to be Promoted
Leeds to Make the Play Offs