Our Championship writer looks to extract maximum value out of week 1 of England's second league.
Amid all the hype that the Premier League generates, it’s easy to forget that one of the most competitive and exciting leagues exists just one tier below England’s top flight, the Football League Championship.
This season opens up with a very interesting clash with the newly relegated Newcastle United travelling to Craven Cottage to take on Fulham on Friday while Sheffield Wednesday host Aston Villa in other big weekend fixture.
Friday 5 August
Fulham 11/4 | Draw 49/20 | Newcastle 19/20
Fulham had a disappointing campaign last season which saw them finish 20th – 11 points clear of relegation. They’ve already lost Moussa Dembele to Celtic and Konstantinos Mitroglou to Benfica while they look as though they may lose Ross McCormack. They’ve had a solid enough pre-season, beating the likes of Crystal Palace, Cork City and Brighton; although you can’t really read too much into these sort of games. Friday’s season opener will provide a stern test of the Londoners’ ability.
Newcastle went through pre-season undefeated and are massive favourites to win this season’s Championship title. They’ve had a solid pre-season campaign and purchased wisely in the transfer market. Matt Ritchie and Grant Hanley the two transfers that jump out at you while Rafa Benitez has done well to keep hold of guys like Jonjo Shelvey and Jack Colback – it remains to be seen whether or not Moussa Sissoko will stay on with the club. Even so, the Toon have too much quality for Fulham – back the Tynesiders at 19/20.
Saturday 6 August
Rotherham 18/10 | Draw 43/20 | Wolves 31/20
Rotherham will start this season on a high following their incredible late charge away from the relegation zone last season. That said, they have lost Neill Warnock who has been replaced by Alan Stubbs. Whether or not the former Bolton and Everton centre-half can keep a team desperately lacking any quality in the division remains to be seen. Their first test will be against a dogged Wolves side at the New York Stadium.
Wolves will be looking for a big title push under new ownership and management. They’ve brought in some quality players so far including Europa Cup winner, Silvio from Atletico Madrid while also securing the services of Helder Costa from Benfica on a season-long loan. Wolves will be keen to get their season off to a winning start, and I believe that they have the talent to do just that – get on at 31/20!
Reading 21/20 | Draw 22/10| Preston 11/4
Reading are another side who begin the 2016/17 campaign under new management. Jaap Stam has seen his very cosmopolitan side do quite well in pre-season defeating the likes of Swindon and Boreham Wood while claiming a good draw against Bournemouth. Fans are probably a bit disappointed to see the back of Hal Robson-Kanu who set the Euro’s alight with that Cryuff turn, although there’s more to a player than a single European Championship strike.
Preston were widely expected to find themselves in the midst of a relegation scrap last season, however, a sensational effort from the players as well as Simon Grayson and Steve Thompson saw them finish comfortably in mid-table. They’ve also had a solid pre-season, winning three and drawing two – including a 1-1 stalemate with the Premier League’s Stoke City. Both teams have scored freely in pre-season while also conceding quite a few. Take both teams to score at 21/20 here – one for the weekend multiples this.
Blackburn 37/20 | Draw 43/20 | Norwich 15/10
It is a bit strange that Blackburn decided to bring in Owen Coyle – especially considering his ties to Bolton and Burnley, but it’s something we’ve come to expect from the club’s owners. They haven’t won a single match on their pre-season schedule and could well find themselves in the midst of a relegation scrap. They sold their best centre-half, Grant Hanley, to Newcastle a week ago and are dealing with a manager who most consider a serial failure merchant. Things don’t look good.
They’ll go head to head this weekend with Norwich City who will be dead keen on bouncing back to the Premier League in one attempt. The Canaries have opted to keep Alex Neill at the helm and have just tied down Alex Tettey to a new contract. Another team that’s had a solid pre-season and should finish in the top six come next year. Norwich to win here at 15/10.
Ipswich 1/1 | Draw 23/10 | Barnsley 11/4
The Tractor Boys were unlucky to miss out on the play-offs last season and will look to challenge near the top again. They’ve released seven players and brought in the likes of Paul Digby from Barnsley and Adam Webster from Portsmouth, both of whom should provide a bit more solidity at the back. A bit of a disappointing pre-season campaign, although I wouldn’t read into that too much.
Barnsley are one of the teams I’m looking forward to seeing the most this season. There’s a great vibe in their camp following their promotion from League One via the play-offs and they will look to announce their arrival with a big scalp. Keep an eye out for Ryan Kent, the young winger was signed from Liverpool on loan and could set the division alight. I like Ipswich, but I wouldn’t put it past Barnsley to cause an upset here. The away side is tipped on the double-chance at 15/20.
Bristol City 14/10 | Draw 22/10| Wigan Athletic 39/20
Bristol City had a solid enough season last time out and will be looking to consolidate their Championship status. They’ve so far managed to hang on to star striker, Jonathan Kodjia while also making Lee Tomlin’s loan move permanent. They’ll look to start this season off better than they did last year. If they manage to hit the ground running, they could definitely challenge for a play-off spot.
In Gary Caldwell, Wigan have one of the best young managers in England. In Will Grigg, they have a viral sensation that took the Euros by storm. They’ve brought in plenty of players in the offseason as well as trimming a lot of their League One squad fat. That said, I’m not sure they’ve really brought in too much quality, Bristol to win at 14/10 looks good.
Derby 1/1 | Draw 23/10| Brighton 11/4
Derby County would have been massively disappointed after missing out on promotion last season. They looked on course to challenge for automatic promotion before disastrous festive-period form saw them stumble. The Rams have the luxury of working under Nigel Pearson this season – easily the best manager in the division behind Benitez. He’s kept the core of the squad the same while shipping out some of their under-performers – a big season is expected.
Brighton and Hove Albion were left heartbroken last season following their final day draw at Middlesbrough and subsequent play-odd defeat at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday. They’ve recruited well and are many pundit’s favourites – myself included – to gain automatic promotion this season. They’ve secured the services of Steve Sidwell on a permanent deal while also bringing in Glenn Murray on loan. The Seagulls’ pre-season results were a bit shoddy, but they’re still a quality side. That said, I can’t separate these two sides, but there should be goals! Take the matchbet (draw) and both teams to score (yes) at 33/10.
Huddersfield 13/10 | Draw 47/20 | Brentford 19/10
Huddersfield are very much the ‘good guys’ of the division, the Hufflepuff if you would. They’ve managed to recruit 12 new players this season including Danny Ward who join Liverpool on a season-long loan. Manager David Wagner has demonstrated his knowledge of the German market by bringing in the likes of Christopher Schindler, Jon Gorenc-Stankovic, Michael Hefele, Chris Lowe and Elias Kachunga all from different Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 sides.
Following a remarkably successful 2015/16 campaign, Dean Smith and his Brentford side will look to kick things off with a bang against the Terriers. There are plenty out there who believe that the Bees could be relegated this season following the departure of Andre Gray who carried the team single-handedly with his goals. Not too sure about this one, but Huddersfield town just edge Brentford on paper – back the home side at 13/10.
Birmingham 27/20 | Draw 43/20 | Cardiff 2/1
City will come into this season knowing that they don’t really have the firepower to compete with the big boys. Their biggest aim this season will be beating Aston Villa home and away as well as finishing above their local rivals on the log – if they grab a play-off place in the process, good on them! They simply don’t have the financial capability to mix it up at the top of the log, although a good start against Cardiff will get them moving in the right direction.
There isn’t really much to say about Cardiff, really. They’ve got a good core of players who have been together for a long time now and have shown that they can work well together. How well they adjust to new manager, Paul Trollope remains to be seen. They haven’t set the world alight in the transfer market and their pre-season form has been pretty poor. On that basis, I’m going to tip the home team to claim the all-important three points here.
Nottingham Forest 1/1 | Draw 9/4 | Burton Albion 11/4
Forest probably had one of the worst seasons in their recent history last time out. The first third of the season looked good – they were cruising near the top of the standings before inexplicably forgetting how to play football. Their promotion hopes quickly faded and were replaced by relegation woes before a bit of solidarity towards the end of the season saw them finish 16th. Forest have been active in the window bringing in a whole host of players from all over the shop. Keep an eye out of Apostolos Vellios – the Greek centre-forward arrived for little over a million Pounds and will be keen to impress.
Burton Albion will do very well to remain in the Championship this season following their unlikely promotion from League One. They’ve been shrewd but effective in the window bringing in the likes of Lloyd Dyer from Leicester as well as Ryan Delany and Lee Williamson. They’ll add a bit of quality to a side that really had no business getting out of League One. Forest all day for me here, expect this to be a long, hard season for Albion – especially away from home.
Sunday 7 August
QPR 11/10 | Draw 9/4 | Leeds 5/2
All the money in the world and rudderless – that’s probably the best way describe QPR over the last few years. This season, however, they look a different prospect altogether. Instead of throwing obscene amounts of money at rubbish players (think Jose Bosingwa), they’ve bolstered and already strong squad with Jordan Cousins from Charlton, Joel Lynch from Huddersfield as well as the tough tackling Ariel Borysiuk from Legia Warsaw in Poland. The R’s are definitely one of this season’s dark horses.
Leeds finally look to have the right sort of manager in place in Gary Monk. The former Swansea man can – and hopefully will – bring a bit of stability to the wobbling Yorkshire Giants. They’ve spent big on Kemar Roofe, an exciting young winger from Oxford, and Swedish centre-forward Marcus Antonsson from Kalmar. Monk will be hoping that the Swede can score the goals that Leeds were so sorely lacking last season. Both of these sides could find themselves mixing it up at the top of the standings this season, although I think that QPR will just be too strong on Saturday. Get on at 11/10.
Sheffield Wednesday 12/10 | Draw 43/20 | Aston Villa 47/20
Wednesday were desperately unlucky not to have gained promotion to the Premier League last season. They're looking to improve on their impeccable home form last season which saw them lose only two games at Hillsborough. Steven Fletcher and Almen Abdi have both joined up in the summer to bolster a squad that already looks like it could hold its own in the Premier League. They’ve also managed to keep hold of Fernando Forestieri who is easily the best player in the division. Automatic promotion is on the cards this season.
Aston Villa fans will want to see their side bounce straight back into the Premier League come the end of this season, although I’m not very confident they’ll do so. They’ve managed to recruit a Europa League winning manager in Roberto di Matteo while also capturing the big-money signings of Tommy Elphick from Bournemouth and Pierluigi Gollini from Verona, both of whom should add some stability in one of the worst back four and goalkeeper partnerships I’ve ever had the misfortune of watching. Back Wednesday here at 12/10.
Written by Jason Dewey for @Hollywoodbets.