And so we march onwards down the English league system. Most British bookmakers will be employing traders with some very good knowledge of these markets, so don’t expect any huge value. There is always something given to the big name sides who find themselves down the leagues though, so if you know of a more ‘provincial’ club who have invested wisely you may get a good price on them.
English Championship – Outright Winner
As the top five/six/seven teams pull further clear of the rest in the Premier League and purse strings are tightened at all levels below that, we are seeing a levelling out of ability. The top half of the Championship could probably all have as good a stab at staying in the Premier League as any of the bottom six Premier League teams do. This makes it quite difficult to pick a winner with any huge degree of confidence, but does mean there could be some good prices to have a flutter at.
The bookies have their shortest priced six as the three relegated clubs of Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves joined by three big names with varying degrees of investment, Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Leicester. This is perfectly understandable, as most people will simply see one of these names and throw it in an accumulator thinking they must have a chance due to their size and history. I would rule out Leicester and Forest straight away. Whilst both certainly have backers with money, they have appointed managers who don’t inspire any confidence from me. I think Nigel Pearson and Sean O’Driscoll have their qualities, but I don’t see either manager as necessarily leading a promotion charge. I also like to see a natural goalscorer in any side I back for this and I don’t think either side currently possesses one.
Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves have question marks over their managers. Owen Coyle has presided over Bolton slowly sliding backwards in his tenure. He obviously is well liked within the game as he rarely seems to get much stick in the press and is able to borrow some very good players on loan. If he can get Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee playing as they were when they return from injury, then Bolton should be best placed to return to the top flight. He also has the likes of Chris Eagles, Keith Andrews, Mark Davies and Kevin Davies who should all thrive at this level. Blackburn have been on a huge recruitment drive over the summer which will be considered slightly hit and miss. Anyone who has paid attention to Blackburn will not be surprised by this as there has been a lack of clear leadership since Venky’s bought the club. Danny Murphy looks a good signing, but Nuno Gomes’ best years were around a decade ago. As for Wolves, they have appointed Stale Solbakken as manager who did very well in his native Denmark before not doing so well in Germany. His Copenhagen sides were hard working and had physical forwards and if he can initiate a similar style at Wolves he should do well. Again though, I would want to see how they start before diving in.
Leeds should be involved with Neil Warnock in charge, as there is seemingly few better at getting a side into the play-off mix in the Championship. However the squad is now without captain Robert Snodgrass after his move to Norwich. The loss of their most influential player will hurt them, but Warnock should make them a lot tougher to beat. Keep an eye on the players coming in before the transfer window shuts. If Warnock can be clever with his signings then they could well challenge.
Looking at the rest, Brighton and Blackpool appeal to me. Brighton came up last season and consolidated their position in the Championship whilst playing some good football. If they can get ex-Spain international Vicente fit more regularly then they could certainly have a say. Blackpool again re-shuffled the squad under manager Ian Holloway and were rewarded with an appearance in the play-offs. Much will depend on how much more can be coaxed out of Kevin Phillips and whether last season’s star performer Matty Phillips stays at the club. I’d be tempted to gamble on both being around, then Blackpool’s price becomes quite a good looking trading opportunity.
Back Bolton at 8.5 with ToteSport.
Back Blackpool TO TRADE at 19.0 with SkyBet.
English League One – Outright Winner
An interesting couple of divisions now, as whilst I certainly keep an eye on what is going on in both they aren’t an huge area of expertise for me. There are a few fallen names in this division now with Sheffield United, Portsmouth and Coventry all involved. With Portsmouth’s myriad of financial issues though, no-one is expecting a challenge to come from Fratton Park. You also have clubs on the rise like Crawley, Swindon and MK Dons all expected to make a bid for promotion too so it should be an interesting season ahead.
Sheffield United naturally lead the betting. They are really more suited to at least Championship football in terms of set-up and support, but find themselves as beaten play-off contenders last season. The loss of striker Ched Evans was a huge blow to them after being sentenced to three years in prison. He had been responsible for around half their goals and they noticeably dropped off in performance after his removal. With him not really being properly replaced I’d struggle to see them as favourites for the title, although I’m sure they will rarely be outside the top six.
Second up is MK Dons who have been tipped as contenders ever since the appointment of manager Karl Robinson. The youngest manager in the league when appointed, he has shown he can get plenty out of a limited budget and players like Alan Smith who are keen to play for him shows his reputation is burgeoning within the game. With numerous contenders this season they could easily be the side that steps up to lead. Then we have relegated Coventry who had struggled to maintain their Championship place for a couple of years and finally went down last season. They have brought numerous players in over the summer and like a few other sides, I would want to observe their start before deciding whether they’re a good bet or not.
Swindon and Crawley both came up from League Two and were immediately installed as contenders. Crawley sold their star strikers during the season last time and also lost their manager, but clung on for promotion in the end. I think they’re not to be backed this time as they may well find this is a natural level for them without more significant investment in the playing squad. Swindon have been on the up and up since appointing Paolo Di Canio as manager. It was certainly a gamble to give the notoriously hot-headed player the reigns, but the players have responded to him and those that haven’t have been quickly shipped out. He has them playing good attacking football and I think they’re a real back for this.
Back MK Dons at 9.0 with Coral.
Back Swindon at 11.0 with ToteSport.
English League Two – Outright Winner
Heading the market here are Rotherham and newly promoted Fleetwood. Rotherham are clearly highly fancied at odds of around 4.5. I would always be wary of prices that short in such a large division where injuries and losses of form happen regularly. The other issue comes with the fact that if they are setting the division alight then clubs in higher divisions will look to take the best players in January. I see all of these as the reason not to take Rotherham at that price. They’ll surely trade higher at some point so I’d sit tight and wait for better odds if you’re desperate to back them. Fleetwood looked very good last season in the Blue Square and have mostly kept that team together so far. There was even talk of Joey Barton joining on loan, showing off their resources once again. They could well figure similarly to Crawley last term with the benefit of a good side who are in winning form. They look far more attractive than Rotherham to me.
Outside of those two I think Southend should have a good season under Paul Sturrock. He’s got a good record at smaller clubs and had them playing some good football last season. I’d expect them to push on from last season and in a tight league that could be enough to see them out in front. As a longer price I would probably take York City. They’ve only been promoted this season, but they’vebeen a force in the Blue Square for a long time. They too have kept the bulk of their promotion winning side together and should still have the good feeling amongst the squad that could get them off to a good start. I certainly think they’ll be around the top half so they seem a good price.
Back Fleetwood at 7.0 with StanJames.
Back Southend at 19.0 with Ladbrokes.
Back York City Each Way at 34.0 with ToteSport.