The new football season is still the best part of two months away, with the Championship fixture list due to be announced on Wednesday 21st June. That hasn’t stopped bookmakers pricing up early odds about the title race and the battles for promotion and relegation, and we’ve been assessing the markets in search of some good value bets.
Blackburn, Wigan and Rotherham were the three sides to drop out of the second tier last season, and will be replaced by three teams with proven pedigree at this level. Sheffield United, Bolton and Millwall were promoted from League One last term, and each has recent experience at this level. With so many teams at the top end challenging for promotion, and the rest battling to stay up, this promises to be as competitive as any Championship season has ever been.
Those three may find the step up difficult, but all are capable of making a good fist of survival at the very least. That means clubs like Nottingham Forest, QPR, Bristol City, Barnsley, Birmingham and Burton Albion cannot afford to rest on their laurels, but rather can expect a tough season just to consolidate their position.
Tough Times Ahead
The bookmakers have priced up Burton and Barnsley as favourites for the drop – both available at odds of +200 or less. Not far behind are Millwall, Bolton, QPR and Ipswich at odds ranging from +250 to +500 .
Burton Albion will be many people’s pick for a side doomed to drop down a tier again, and it’s true that surviving last season can go down as a minor miracle. Manager Nigel Clough resisted the overtures of Nottingham Forest in January – the club where his late father had such an impact – to stay at Burton Albion and finish the job he had started. That proved to be an inspired decision as he led the tiny club to safety with a game to spare at the end of the season. Second season syndrome can always kick in, but the signs are that Clough is set to stay put and with the right investment in the right areas, there is no reason why Burton can’t make a fight of it again. They are certainly a club on the up, which is more than can be said for some of their opponents.
Barnsley finished the season with 58 points, seven clear of the drop zone. Paul Heckingbottom has overseen a few low-profile ins and outs already in the close season, but one suspects the Tykes will have a hard time again this season. At such short odds though, they don’t represent good value.
Ipswich are another side suffering from lack of investment, and released seven players in May, including former Newcastle striker Leon Best. Manager Mick McCarthy survived a mid-season barren spell in which he appeared to be on the verge of the sack, but he remains with the club. It has to be said that the experienced boss has done a good job over the years for the Suffolk club on limited resources, and while they will find life tough it’s hard to see them being in a season-long relegation battle.
Sheffield United won the League One title by 14 points and should be prepared for this level after sustained investment. Millwall and Bolton are in bigger danger according to the bookmakers, but both are good enough to make their presence felt. Both will also be riding high on the momentum of promotion, and as we have seen in many a season gone by, that positive feeling can go a long way. Plenty of Championship clubs will not be looking forward to trips to the Den and the Macron Stadium.
Bristol City on Borrowed Time?
The Robins were promoted the season before last after winning the League One title, but struggled to 18th position last term. It was not a year for the faint of heart either. A promising start saw them win five of the first eight fixtures, but a poor run saw them win just four of the next 29 games. six wins in the last ten games of the season helped them pull clear of danger and finish three points above the relegation zone, but it was a last-gasp escape.
Moreover, they relied heavily upon the goals of top scorer Tammy Abraham, but the Chelsea loanee has returned to his parent club. Much will depend on new players brought in, but the most recent news coming from the club is that defender Mark Little has been released. Veteran striker and captain Aaron Wilbraham has been offered an extension with ‘additional non-playing responsibilities’ – which probably gives an insight into the club’s finances.
Lee Johnson deserves the plaudits after keeping the club in the division, but he will need to use all of his acumen to navigate them through another difficult year.
Bristol City to be Relegated from the Championship