Such is the competitive nature of the second tier that almost every team in the Championship starts the season with hopes of being promoted to the Premier League. Some have spent more than others and therefore their thoughts veer more towards expectation than hope but the recent promotions of Huddersfield and Cardiff show that clubs operating on relatively small budgets can earn a place in the top flight.
At this stage of the season some of those hopes and expectations have turned to desperation while a select few clubs are broadly happy with the way that their campaign has turned out so far. With time running out we thought now would be a good time to have a look through the runners and riders in the Championship promotion race and see if there’s any value lurking in the betting.
|Position||Team||Points||Goal Diff||Winner o/r Odds||Promotion Odds||Top 6 Odds|
Top Two Have It All to Lose
It’s difficult to imagine looking at the Championship table now but Daniel Farke was in danger of losing his job as the Norwich manager during the very early stages of the season. The Canaries won just one and lost three of their opening six matches leaving their hopes of promotion appearing forlorn to say the least.
Farke was coming under pressure with even former Norwich players questioning his suitability for the role whilst some fans were unhappy that his possession-based style of football was not producing either entertainment or results. They argued that in the hurly burly of the Championship such football just wouldn’t work. How things have changed.
Norwich’s results have been good enough to see them take top spot in the Championship and they are winning a lot of praise for their eye catching style of play. Manchester City are the only team aside from the Canaries in England’s top four divisions with more than 70 league goals this season. There is room for improvement in the Norwich defence but their attacking quality is more than enough to see them retain a top two spot for the rest of the season which is why they are a general price of 1/5 to be promoted (either automatically or via the play-offs).
|Norwich City Remaining Home Games||Norwich City Remaining Away Games|
|Swansea City (8/3/19)||Rotherham United (16/3/19)|
|Hull City (13/3/19)||Middlesbrough (30/3/19)|
|Queens Park Rangers (6/4/19)||Wigan Athletic (14/4/19)|
|Reading (10/4/19)||Stoke City (22/4/19)|
|Sheffield Wednesday (19/4/19)||Aston Villa (5/5/19)|
|Blackburn Rovers (27/4/19)|
Second placed Leeds are also odds-on for promotion at a best price of 4/11. Marcelo Bielsa’s men are two points off top spot and will be gunning for Norwich for the rest of the season but winning the title is only a “nice to have” compared to securing one of those all-important top two places.
Like Norwich, Leeds have played some incredibly good football during the season. They were at their very best during the recent 4-0 win over West Brom with fans revelling in Bielsa’s high intensity style which has taken them to the cusp of the Premier League. Leeds have had a few dodgy periods over recent months but have only lost consecutive league matches once all season. They also have the strongest home record in the division which they should be able to utilise to hold off the chasing pack.
Many pundits questioned Leeds’ stamina, with the charge that Bielsa teams often fade as the season progresses. They made a mockery of that suggestion last time out when thrashing WBA and running their opponents off the park. A few more performances like that and Leeds will be premier League bound for sure.
|Leeds United Remaining Home Games||Leeds United Remaining Away Games|
|Sheffield United (16/3/19)||Bristol City (9/3/19)|
|Millwall (30/3/19)||Reading (12/3/19)|
|Sheffield Wednesday (13/4/19)||Birmingham City (6/4/19)|
|Wigan Athletic (19/4/19)||Preston North End (9/4/19)|
|Aston Villa (27/4/19)||Brentford (22/4/19)|
|Ipswich Town (5/5/19)|
Blades the Only Automatic Threat
Sheffield United had almost 60% of possession and 10 corners but just seven shots in the recent Steel City derby. Wednesday are an improved team defensively since the appointment of Steve Bruce but the Blades fans were disappointed not to make the most of the derby, instead leaving Hillsborough with just one point to show for their efforts. That result meant they stayed outside the automatic promotion places and put Leeds’ fate back in their own hands.
Chris Wilder is full of confidence though and his belief and an incredible work ethic is rubbing off on his players, so there is no chance of anybody at the club easing off and settling for a playoff position. They are only two points off Leeds and still have to visit Elland Road. That will be a tough game but if they win they will become favourites to go up at the West Yorkshire side’s expense.
Sheffield United’s rise from League One to the fringes of the Premier League is an excellent story which has rightly won Wilder a massive amount of praise. He’ll deflect that praise to his players, particularly his strikers who have been wonderful this season. The veteran Billy Sharp, a former Leeds player, leads the scoring charts with 22 goals from 28 starts and four substitute appearances but even a few more goals may not be enough for the Blades to claim an automatic playoff place. The bookmakers have them as odds-on to win promotion but given they’ll likely have to rely on the unpredictable playoffs that doesn’t exactly look like value.
|Sheffield United Remaining Home Games||Sheffield United Remaining Away Games|
|Rotherham United (9/3/19)||Leeds United (16/3/19)|
|Brentford (12/3/19)||Preston North End (6/4/19)|
|Bristol City (30/3/19)||Birmingham City (10/4/19)|
|Millwall (13/4/19)||Hull City (22/4/19)|
|Nottingham Forest (19/4/19)||Stoke City (5/5/19)|
|Ipswich Town (27/4/19)|
Baggies and Boro Looking Good for the Playoffs
It’s fair to say that West Brom and Middlesbrough have gone about their business in very different ways this season. The Baggies have gone on the attack under Darren Moore and are the second top scorers in the Championship with 67 goals from 35 matches. In contrast, Boro have very much built from the back. Tony Pulis’ side have the best defensive unit in the league by some distance but the cost of that solidity is that they’ve scored fewer goals than all but seven other Championship sides. Conceding 24 goals from 34 games at the time of writing is an amazing feat but they have scored at least 21 goals fewer than all the sides above them.
It remains to be seen whether either style is able to achieve the goal for the season and take West Brom or Middlesbrough back into the Premier League. There is no question that the Hawthorns faithful would much prefer to go down trying to play entertaining football than be served up with more of the stuff that was so unpalatable to them during Pulis’ spell with West Brom.
|West Brom Remaining Home Games||West Brom Remaining Away Games|
|Ipswich Town (9/3/19)||Brentford (16/3/19)|
|Swansea City (13/3/19)||Millwall (6/4/19)|
|Birmingham City (29/3/19)||Bristol City (9/4/19)|
|Preston North End (13/4/19)||Reading (22/4/19)|
|Hull City (19/4/19)||Derby County (5/5/19)|
|Rotherham United (27/4/19)|
Whatever the merits of attacking versus conservative football it’s clear that both West Brom (2/1 to be promoted) and Middlesbrough (3/1 to be promoted) will have to rely on the playoffs to win promotion as there is no real chance they’ll bridge the gap with the top two. They should at least feel comfortable inside the top six as there is a relatively decent gap between them and the teams still fighting for the playoffs.
|Middlesbrough Remaining Home Games||Middlesbrough Remaining Away Games|
|Brentford (9/3/19)||Aston Villa (16/3/19)|
|Preston North End (13/3/19)||Swansea City (6/4/19)|
|Norwich City (30/3/19)||Bolton Wanderers (9/4/19)|
|Bristol City (2/4/19)||Nottingham Forest (22/4/19)|
|Hull City (13/4/19)||Rotherham United (5/5/19)|
|Stoke City (19/4/19)|
Lampard’s Position is On the Line
Frank Lampard always knew that he would learn a massive amount during his first season in first team management. He carefully considered a number of offers before signing a contract with Derby but there is a real chance that contract will be terminated come the end of the season.
The Derby board have spent a lot of money on transfer fees and wages during the last few years and expect a return on their investment in the form of Premier League football. There’s an understanding at the club that Lampard is still learning the ropes but by the same token they cannot afford to back a manager they believe does not have the tools to secure promotion.
Derby are currently outside of the playoff places and were on course for four defeats in a row before Mason Bennett’s outrageous goal sparked a comeback against Wigan. Lampard must use the momentum generated by that win to kick on. County have become experts in the post-Christmas collapse over the last five seasons or so, managing to snatch defeat in the promotion race from the jaws of victory time and again. They cannot afford to do so this term and need to battle their way back into the top six.
That will be anything but easy with Bristol City, Birmingham, Nottingham Forest, Hull and maybe even the teams locked on 48 points – Aston Villa, Preston and Sheffield Wednesday – in with a chance of claiming the one remaining playoff position.
|Derby County Remaining Home Games||Derby County Remaining Away Games|
|Sheffield Wednesday (9/3/19)||Brentford (6/4/19)|
|Stoke City (13/3/19)||Blackburn Rovers (9/4/19)|
|Rotherham United (30/3/19)||Birmingham City (19/4/19)|
|Bolton Wanderers (13/4/19)||Bristol City (27/4/19)|
|Queens Park Rangers (22/4/19)||Swansea City (1/5/19)|
|West Bromwich Albion (5/5/19)|
Robins Best Placed But Can an Outsider Burst Out of the Pack?
Lee Johnson has a reputation as an incredibly hands-on manager. He talks to everybody involved with Bristol City including the fans to assess what they feel is going well and what areas for improvement they see. That has helped his bond with the Ashton Gate crowd no end but as with any set of fans it’s results that matter most and thankfully they have no problems in that regard.
Despite earning just one point from their last three matches, Bristol City have managed to cling onto sixth place. The big question is whether they’ll manage to stay there for the remainder of the season. The bookies have Johnson’s men at a general price of 5/4 for a top six finish which reflects the feeling that they are far from rock solid. Those having a bet on this market should consider one of the outsiders, especially with Bristol City having an incredibly tough run-in featuring games against Leeds, Sheffield United, Boro, West Brom, Villa, Derby and Hull.
|Bristol City Remaining Home Games||Bristol City Remaining Away Games|
|Leeds United (9/3/19)||Sheffield United (30/3/19)|
|Ipswich Town (12/3/19)||Middlesbrough (2/4/19)|
|West Bromwich Albion (9/4/19)||Aston Villa (13/4/19)|
|Reading (19/4/19)||Sheffield Wednesday (22/4/19)|
|Derby County (27/4/19)||Millwall (30/4/19)|
|Hull City (5/5/19)|
Some fancy Brentford to make a late charge for the playoffs as they can be backed at 12/1 for the top six despite the fact they are languishing in 15th place. That makes the 55/1 that some bookmakers are quoting on Sheffield Wednesday who are 13th look an amazing price.
Wednesday did little under Jos Luhukay in the first half of the season to suggest they were genuine promotion contenders. They made steps forward almost instantly after Luhukay’s sacking and have improved further since Steve Bruce took over the reins. Bruce knows exactly what it takes to get a team up from the Championship and while most Wednesday fans will be looking forward to an assault on the playoffs next season there’s a slim chance it will happen faster than that.
Bruce has to take his team to Elland Road and Carrow Road in consecutive matches which looks daunting on paper but he’ll tell his players that they can prove themselves in those early April matches. Away from those games and Sheffield Wednesday have a combination of winnable matches against teams in the bottom half and six pointers against others in the playoff shake up. That suggests things can change quickly and that those 55/1 odds are worth a small play.
|Sheffield Wednesday Remaining Home Games||Sheffield Wednesday Remaining Away Games|
|Blackburn Rovers (16/3/19)||Derby County (9/3/19)|
|Aston Villa (6/4/19)||Bolton Wanderers (12/3/19)|
|Nottingham Forest (9/4/19)||Stoke City (30/3/19)|
|Bristol City (22/4/19)||Leeds United (13/4/19)|
|Queens Park Rangers (5/5/19)||Norwich City (19/4/19)|
|Preston North End (27/4/19)|