The Championship is well-known as one of the toughest leagues, in which anyone can beat anyone on their day. Teams that have fallen from the Premier League have often struggled to earn promotion at the first time of asking, and the second tier of English football can claim many a scalp over the years. Big clubs like Nottingham Forest, Derby, Sheffield Wednesday, and Leeds are all still plying their trade in the old ‘second division’ several years after losing Premier League status, and that goes to show that once you’re down there it’s very hard to get back up.
Another two ‘sleeping giants’ are Wolverhampton and Bolton Wanderers, who have both been Premier League clubs in the not-too-distant past. In fact, they were relegated together in 2012, but it was Wolves who were hit hardest, suffering a consecutive relegation to League One the following year. They bounced back to the Championship at the first time of asking though, and along with Neil Lennon’s Bolton, could be lively contenders for a play-off place this time around.
Bolton – +1200 with Bet365
An awful start to the season looked to have blown Bolton’s chances of promotion for another year, and Dougie Freedman left by mutual consent before the end of October. In hindsight, Bolton may be glad that he did, because it meant they were able to appoint an experienced manager in Neil Lennon, and he has overseen a real upturn in fortunes. The 2-1 loss to Huddersfield at the weekend brought a run of 8 without defeat to an end, and the Trotters have risen up to 15th in the table. They’re still some way off the play-offs and have a gap of 11 points to make up, so they definitely fall into the ‘longshot’ category. However, we have seen many a time in the past that one team usually makes a late surge for the top six, and the Lancashire club look to have the momentum with them at the moment. There are still 22 games to play in the league, and a massive 66 points to be gained, so it’s still all to play for.
Neil Lennon appears to have brought the feelgood factor back to the club, and he made a couple of shrewd recent acquisitions in Eidur Gudjohnson and Emile Heskey. The two have had glittering careers, and even though both are at the age of 36, they showed they still have something to offer when combining for Heskey’s goal in the 2-1 win over Blackburn on Boxing Day. Lennon has also gone public with his desire to add to the squad in January, saying that with the right transfers his side can make a good fist of challenging for the play-offs.
Wolves – +333 with BetVictor
After the dreaded drop to League One, Wolves made light of the back-to-back relegations to come back up at the first time of asking last season. They’ve acquitted themselves well on their return to the Championship and currently sit in 8th place, three points behind Brentford in 6th. After a very impressive start to the league campaign, they suffered a poor run of results in November which saw them lose five on the spin. They’ve turned the corner since then though, and have won three of the last four matches, culminating in the weekend win over play-off rivals Brentford. Former Millwall boss, Kenny Jackett has quietly gone about his business at Molinuex, and insists that promotion is still a realistic aim for his team. It’s hard to disagree with him when they’re within touching distance of the top six, and they have as good a chance as any of the clubs in the top ten.
Middlesborough, Ipswich, Watford and Norwich are all odds-on to finish in the top six, and bearing in mind their relative positions, Wolves look a good value bet at a price of +333
The Other Contenders
I’ve already tipped Norwich to win the Championship at a decent +1000 and although they are slightly off the pace in 7th place, they’re still just 11 points off the top. They have one of the strongest squads in the division, and a lot will change between now and the end of the season in May. They look to be a good thing for a top six finish at least, and it would be a surprise if the Norfolk club weren’t involved at the business end of the season.
Bournemouth and Derby also both look particularly strong, and should claim two of the top six places between them. Bournemouth are flying at the top of the table, and after heavy investment, could be set to make their first appearance in the Premier League next season. Derby were unlucky not to go up via the play-offs last time around, and Steve McClaren will be aiming to avoid that route by claiming automatic promotion this time. However, both are heavily odds-on for a top six finish, and can’t be backed at this stage.
Of the others currently occupying the top six positions, Middlesborough, Ipswich, Watford and Brentford can all be opposed for one reason or another. Ipswich are 2nd at the moment after a brilliant run of form which has seen them win 7 of the last 10 games. They could be punching above their weight a little however, and there’s a long way to go for them to hold their position. The same can be said of Middlesborough who are also enjoying a fine season and currently sit in 3rd place with 43 points. Both teams are quoted at odds-on for a top six finish, and that looks plenty short enough for two teams who are a few bad results away from being sucked back into the pack.
Watford and Brentford look to be the two teams everyone will be aiming to knock off their perch, as they sit in 5th and 6th on 41 and 40 points respectively. Brentford, like Wolves, have made a great start to the season since promotion last year, and it would be a meteoric rise for the London side to reach the Premier League. Watford are also a side that might be punching above their weight, and they’ve now lost five in the last ten games. They will need to be consistent to stay where they are and quotes of around evens for both sides look far from attractive.
To finish in the top six in the Championship
Bolton – +1200 with Bet365
Wolves – +333 with BetVictor
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