2017/18: What To Expect In The Sky Bet Championship

A year ago I wrote that over the last decade only three of the clubs that won the Championship had been relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season: despite Newcastle’s triumph at the end of last season, that remains true.

The starting point this season is whether Hull, Middlesbrough or Sunderland can become the third consecutive ex-Premier League club to win the Sky Bet Championship.

Judging from the changes in the odds since the start of last month, Middlesbrough look the most likely of the new arrivals to do so. At the start of July Boro were second favourites for promotion behind Aston Villa, but the Teeside club are now joint favourites to win promotion and clear favourites to win the title: poaching Garry Monk from Leeds United and Britt Assombalonga from Nottingham Forest seems to have given them an edge over the Midlands outfit in the minds of the ante post punters and to some extent I’d agree with them. I’m far from sure about either Hull City or Sunderland: although the former club have recent experience in the Championship, Leonid Slutsky is a risk appointment. Simon Grayson is a safe pair of hands and should be able to stabilise the Mackem ship, but that’s about it.

A more likely destination for the title will be one of the clubs that finished in the top half of the competition but more likely than not failed in the playoffs. Sheffield Wednesday have been consistent over the past couple of seasons but need to improve in order to win the title and last season much was made of the fact that Fulham, Huddersfield and Reading all finished below sixteenth place at the end of 2015/16 but still reached the playoffs. In 2017/18 it’ll be interesting to see if Fulham and Reading are able to sustain the form that stood them in good stead: it should not be forgotten that only nine clubs conceded more goals than the Royals last season, which is nowhere near good enough for a team with Premier League aspirations.

Automatic promotion and the playoffs

Six of the last ten runners up in the Championship had played at least one season in the competition beforehand and all but one of those clubs (Watford) finished in the top half at the end of the previous season. This is where Aston Villa, Leeds United and Norwich City come into consideration although there are question marks about all of them; if you want further details, see the individual previews. It’s been five seasons since a team that was either relegated from the Premier League or promoted from League One has finished in second place at this level and with apologies to those clubs that fit that description, I don’t see any of them finishing second in 2017/18.

The playoffs are another matter entirely. With the benefit of hindsight, Huddersfield’s rise from nineteeth place to playoff winners should probably not have come as a surprise: half of the last ten successful finalists had finished in the bottom half of the table at the end of the previous season, even though the only team to finish lower than 19th was Hull who finished 21st in 2006/07. If that trend continues, Cardiff City and possibly Wolves could be worth watching. The playoffs may also be the best case scenario for Hull.

Relegation

Just over half of the 30 teams that were relegated over the last decade had finished in the bottom half of the Championship at the end of the previous season. It’s the clubs that finished in 17th place or below that are those in the biggest danger of the drop: Burton Albion, Nottingham Forest and QPR look the most likely – the Brewers being pre-season favourites – but both Ipswich Town and Birmingham City regressed significantly last season and the latter were the only team to score less than a goal per game that wasn’t relegated.

However, this is also where newly promoted clubs are also significantly represented, but surprisingly it’s the teams that have been promoted automatically that seem to have struggled, with two League One champions (Doncaster Rovers and Wigan Athletic) and one runner up (MK Dons) making immediate returns to the third tier in the last five seasons. The playoff winners have normally been fine, but it’s worth noting that the the Millwall team that lost to Barnsley in the 2016 League One playoff final performed at a better level than the team that beat Bradford City in May and the Lions – along with Bolton Wanderers – are currently the same price to go down as Rotherham United were last season.

Predictions

I got none of these right last season, so don’t expect miracles this time round. So for what it’s worth:

Fulham will win promotion

There will be at least three teams worse than Bristol City

Daenerys Targaryan will marry Jon Snow

Ian Holloway will not be manager of QPR on Christmas Day

2017/18 Preview Part I

Welcome to the first part of the previews for the 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship season. Over the next four weeks we’ll be publishing club by club previews, finishing with the traditional ‘What to expect’ post on the first weekend of August.

All prices for promotion and relegation were taken from Oddschecker.com on July 1st and in all likelihood won’t be correct when you read these posts. They’re always interesting to refer back to though: they formed the basis of the Market Reports I introduced last season and were really quite interesting in their own right.

Aston Villa

Manager: Steve Bruce (October 2016), second season in the Championship
Last 10: 5-2-3
Promotion: 15/8F, Relegation: 50/1

Villa haven’t played consecutive seasons in the second tier of English football since the early 1970s and to be honest the transition from bad Premier League team to average Championship side was one of the non-stories of last season. Villa only lost three times at home in 2016/17 but only scored 14 goals in away games and to be brutally honest, when you spend £15 million on a striker you’d expect him to score more than five goals away from Villa Park. This season: you’d expect a Steve Bruce side containing John Terry to win a lot of games 1-0 and Villa might flirt with the playoffs, but unless they stop being a damp squib on the road another mid table season is highly likely.

Fun fact: Villa won both games against just three clubs last season. Two of them – Wigan and Rotherham – were relegated. The other: QPR.

Barnsley

Manager: Paul Heckingbottom (June 2016), second season in the Championship.
Last 10: 1-5-4
Promotion 33/1, relegation 15/8

Momentum is a funny thing: although last season was their best performance at this level since the turn of the century (at the end of January the Tykes were seventh), then they’ve not won at Oakwell since the start of 2017 and conceded more goals at home last season than any other club other than Rotherham. Barnsley may have over achieved last season and could find themselves struggling in 17/18: their away record was far better – they recorded the most victories of the non-playoff sides –  but if their away success evaporates and they can’t win at Oakwell the bookies think they could be in trouble.

Fun fact: last season Barnsley failed to beat any of the sides that finished in the top six.

Birmingham City

Manager: Harry Redknapp (April 2017), seventh season in the Championship
Last 10: 2-4-4
Promotion: 6/1, relegation: 11/1

Where do you start? The new owners made a stupid decision to fire Gary Rowett before Christmas and replace him with Gianfranco Zola; if Bristol City had scored in the last game of the season this preview would have been appearing on Buzzin’ League One Football rather than on this blog. It’s not hard to see what the problem was: the Blues kept only kept eight home clean sheets last season and conceded more than twice in five games at St. Andrew’s in 2016/17. If Harry Redknapp can sort that out then a mid table place isn’t out of the question but although the price for promotion is ridiculous, the odds for relegation might not be.

Fun fact: the only other team to beat Fulham twice last season was Brighton.

Bolton Wanderers

Manager: Phil Parkinson (June 2016), promoted as League One runners up
Last 10: 6-2-2 (League One)
Promotion: 33/1, Relegation: 9/4

Back following one season in League One following a gradual but obvious decline from 2013 onwards, it’s entirely possible that Wanderers may be more prepared for the Championship than Sheffield United. The big question mark is over Phil Parkinson, who hasn’t exactly got the best managerial record at this level. Gut instinct is that they’ll be better than they were when they last played at this level – they can’t be any worse – but that might have to mean spending the entire season in the bottom half of the table.

Fun fact: last time Bolton were promoted from the third tier as runners up, it only took them two seasons to reach the Premier League.

Brentford

Manager: Dean Smith (November 2015), fourth season in the Championship
Last 10: 5-2-3
Promotion: 7/1, Relegation: 10/1

Apart from a brief appearance in the playoffs at the end of September, The Bees buzzed around mid table for most of the latter half last season and I’d be hard pressed to tell you what – if anything – I wrote about them. Two things to notice though: this is their best run in the second tier since the end of World War II and only Fulham and Newcastle scored more away goals last season. They might be dark horses for the playoffs this year, but Bees fans might have to settle for another season of mid table consistency.

Fun fact: Brentford lost all of their away games at the teams that were relegated at the end of last season.

Bristol City

Manager: Lee Johnson (February 2016), Third season in the Championship
Last 10: 6-1-3
Promotion: 12/1, Relegation: 9/2

The final day home defeat against Birmingham aside, the Robins had an impressive end to 2016/17, but if they can’t replace Tammy Abraham’s goals and their occasionally irresponsible and often disastrous defending doesn’t improve, they’ll be struggling again this season. The summer activity in the transfer market indicates that Johnson has understood both areas need improvement and although the core of the squad now has more experience at this level, mid-table is the best case scenario and even that may be beyond them.

Fun fact: only lost once at Ashton Gate against teams that eventually finished in the bottom half of the table.