At the top:
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Newcastle had already won the Sky Bet Championship.
However, only three of the last ten clubs that have won the Championship over the last decade had been teams that were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the previous season. Last season Burnley became the first club that had been relegated to win the Championship since Newcastle United in 2010, which makes you wonder if any of the relegate clubs will win the title this season. Indeed, only ten of the 30 teams promoted from the Championship over the last decade were those that had been relegated at the end of the previous season.
So if we’re assuming that it’s an established Championship team that will win the title, who are the favourites? It’s fair to say that any of the clubs that finished in the top seven last season are in with a shout as only two of the last ten champions finished outside that position and went on to win the title.
In that case, if Brighton, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday can put potential playoff hangovers behind them, they should be amongst the front runners. A word of caution about Wednesday here: they were one of the most improved sides last season, but were a surprise nonetheless. It’s a slightly different tale with Brighton, who had clearly returned to being the side they were a couple of seasons ago.
Automatic promotion is a similar story. The last time a club relegated from the Premier League finished in second place was WBA in 2010. Four of the last five runners up have played at least one season in the Championship before promotion and any of the teams that finished in the top half of the competition should have a fair shout.
The playoffs have been the most reliable route for relegated teams to return to the Premier League, but as always there’s a catch. Four of the last five finals have been won by teams that had been relegated from the Premier League, but it’s the teams that have earned at least 31 points before demotion that have been successful. Aston Villa‘s awful campaign in 2015/16 implies that they won’t be at Wembley in May. Here’s the fun part for anyone who follows a team that finished in the bottom half of the table though: six of the last ten playoff winners had finished in thirteenth place or lower.
Market movers: as you’d expect, there’s been a lot of money for Newcastle, who have been clear favourites to win promotion. However, the change of both ownership and management at Wolves has seen them cut to 6/1 to go up. I think that’s a ‘wait and see’ decision, purely because we have no idea what sort of impact Walter Zenga will have. It’s also worth remembering what happened when Kenny Jackett left Millwall a few seasons ago.
At the bottom:
Over the last decade it’s normally been the clubs that have finished lower than 15th or have been promoted from League One that have usually been relegated, although it’s fair to point out that in half of the last ten seasons all of the newcomers from the third tier have avoided relegation.
Having written that, I find it difficult to argue with the bookies about the favourites for the drop. By and large, League 1 was wide open last season and I’ve already argued that elsewhere that Wigan won the title because so many other teams managed to blow their chances at crucial points. I don’t expect the Latics to struggle, but Barnsley and Burton will. The Tykes put together a run of form at exactly the right time, but in the eight seasons before they were relegated from the Championship they finished no better than 17th: they also had a worse record last season than Yeovil did when they were promoted.
Burton have to be admired for their record since joining the Football League, but the Championship is both unforgiving and a huge step up in class. The big advantage Burton have is that Nigel Clough knows the territory whereas Paul Heckingbottom doesn’t.
That being said, there are a number of teams that have declined over the past few seasons to the point where they’re prime candidates for relegation. Blackburn, Fulham and Nottingham Forest all fit that description and the Cottagers look particularly vulnerable following Ross McCormack’s departure for Aston Villa earlier this week. Blackburn and Forest were two thirds of the trio that averaged one goal per game or less last season but weren’t relegated. It’s interesting to note that Preston‘s odds for relegation have shortened since the start of last month: the Lillywhites complete the goal shy trio, even though they conceded the same amount of goals as Sheffield Wednesday did in 2015/16.
Talking of which, the average number of goals per game in the Championship last season was 2.42, the first time that the average had dropped below 2.5 since the 2008/09.
- Derby to win promotion. Rather like the Cardiff sides of few years ago, The Rams have been agonisingly close to a return to the Premier League. Nigel Pearson may have had a rather inglorious end to his career at Leicester, but he did almost all of the groundwork there and will want to remind his doubters of that.
- Barnsley to be relegated. Once again, the similarities between last season’s Tykes and the Yeovil team that won the League One playoffs in 2013 are remarkable: both clubs were in the bottom third of the table in September – Barnsley were bottom of League One at the end of November 2015 – before putting together remarkable runs of form to win promotion. However, Yeovil were in the bottom three of the Championship by mid-September and eventually finished seven points from safety.
- At least one semi finalist from the Championship in both the League Cup and the FA Cup this season, although it’s about time a second tier team won the FA Cup again.
Finally this week, here are the televised games this weekend, starting tonight. The times in the brackets are the actual kick off times: there’s usually half an hour of waffle before the game starts and – as usual – they’ve missed the game of the week, which is Derby v Brighton.
Friday 5th August: Fulham v Newcastle (7:45pm, Sky Sports 1)
Sunday 7th August: QPR v Leeds (noon, Sky Sports 1), Sheffield Wednesday v Aston Villa (4:30pm, Sky Sports 1)
I’ll be back next weekend.