The race for the Premier League gets underway in a month’s time, but who will earn promotion from the unpredictable Championship next May?
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The second tier is frequently described as the most competitive league in Europe with plenty of evenly-matched teams vying for promotion, either automatically or via the end-of-season play-offs. Managers regularly say it is the hardest division to get out of and, with Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton joining the Championship ranks next season, there are several teams in contention to go up come next May.
Betfred make wealthy Leicester City the 7/4 favourites in the promotion market but the Foxes were also highly-fancied to go up last term only for that prediction to fall flat on its face when they failed to even make the play-offs after finishing a disappointing ninth.
In Nigel Pearson they have a manager highly respected in the Championship and have strengthened with the astute capture of Ritchie de Laet from Manchester United. Add in the experience of Neil Danns and Ritchie Wellens, plus the goalscoring threat of Jermaine Beckford and you do have a side capable of beating anyone in the league.
Predictably, Bolton (5/2 to go up) and Wolves (11/4) are next in the betting to be promoted following their relegation from the Premier League in May. Both have considerable talent in their squads to cope well in the Championship – although there could be departures from the Reebok and Molineux in the coming weeks.
Wolves are hoping to keep hold of key men Kevin Doyle, Matt Jarvis and Steven Fletcher amid interest from top-flight clubs and, if they do, they are good value to secure a fast return to the big time and even worth backing at 9/1 in the outright winner market.
Bolton are back at this level for the first time in 11 years and will fancy their chances of at least making the play-offs with Owen Coyle desperate to restore his reputation in the new season. They, too, have players who could leave but expect them to be in the running when it matters come the end of the campaign.
Lancashire rivals Blackburn’s summer purchases to date have caught the eye with Danny Murphy making the move along with Newcastle striker Leon Best and veteran former Portugal international Nuno Gomes. The latter may be a high-profile risk at 36 but the other two represent solid signings from Steve Kean and could be just the players to help quell the discontent at Ewood Park and inspire a promotion bid (9/2).
Other lively outsiders for promotion include Watford (8/1), under new Italian ownership and expected to have Gianfranco Zola at the helm, while traditional big clubs like Leeds (9/2), Cardiff (7/2), Nottingham Forest (5/1) and Birmingham (11/2) will be in the mix if they strengthen well and make good use of their plentiful home support.
Of the rest, promoted Charlton (13/2), Sheffield Wednesday (7/1) and Huddersfield (12/1) will look to stay up first and foremost although the Addicks could launch a shock back-to-back promotion bid, in the manner of Norwich and Southampton, under the guidance of Chris Powell if they keep their young squad intact.
It is certainly a tight division that again is hard to predict and, when looking a the promotion market, you can make a case for around three-quarters of the clubs to go on and secure a place in the Premier League come next May.
Bolton, Leicester and Wolves, then, are the early tips to battle for the title while we see Blackburn and Watford running them close. After that, provided financial restrictions are lifted and takeovers completed, Nottingham Forest and Birmingham also have good promotion claims while Charlton are dark horses.