Thursday, September 17, 2015

Weighing Up The Championship Promotion Contenders

As appears to be the case every season, the Championship looks set to be one of European football's most open leagues. With promotion into world football's most lucrative division the ultimate target, it seems as though each year brings an even more exciting race than the season before. From those parachute-payment healthy clubs who have dropped out of the top flight, to those small outfits who have overachieved in reaching the Championship, England's second tier could well be one of the most evenly-contested divisions in the world.
Despite an often huge gulf in terms of finances between clubs in the Championship, it's an impossible job trying to predict which three teams will ultimately secure promotion into the Premier League. But while there is a long way yet to go this season, we are getting an idea as to which clubs could be in the best shape to mount a realistic push for top-two spot, as well as which teams could find a way into the top flight through the play-offs. After a somewhat surprising start to the year, the betting odds with the likes of 32Red, UNIBET and other sportsbooks show how open this season could be.
So which clubs look most likely to be challenging for promotion come the final few weeks of this season?
Middlesbrough
?Aside from a 1-0 defeat to Bristol City, it's been a very encouraging start to the season for Middlesbrough. While this is still early days, being just five points from top spot at this point of the year has convinced many that Premier League football could be set to return to Teesside for the first time since 2009. In his second season as manager, AitorKaranka looks to have assembled a squad capable of bouncing back from last year's heartbreaking Play-Off Final defeat. Having been backed in the transfer market by the ever generous Steve Gibson, Boro have options across the park and their Spanish manager has installed a winning mentality at the club. With odds as short as 2/1 with 32Red to top the table this year, it looks as though punters are also buying into what Karanka is doing with this club.
Brighton
After such a tough 2014/15 campaign in which they finished 20th and narrowly avoided relegation, not many expected Brighton to be top of the Championship after six games. Unbeaten in the league with one draw and five wins, Chris Hughton's men have been the team to watch this season. Following a busy summer in terms of player recruitment, this Brighton squad appear to have clicked straight away, for which the manager must take plenty of credit. The former Norwich, Birmingham and Newcastle boss arrived on the south coast at the end of 2014, but has been given time to settle at the club and the results have been extremely positive this year. 
Hull City
Following their relegation from the Premier League last season, there were a host of changes made to this playing staff during the summer. But while plenty of players left the club, only a handful of signings were made by Steve Bruce. Luckily for Hull fans, though, the players that have arrived look to have been clever buys, with the Tigers looking like a very decent bet to make an immediate return to the Premier League this year. With losses to Charlton and Brighton already to their name this season, though, Bruce will know his side's hopes of securing automatic promotion wouldn't be helped with many more defeats between now and Christmas. 
Derby County
Many people's pre-season favourites to win the Championship title this year, Derby's start to the new campaign hasn't gone exactly to plan. Despite spending heavily in the summer, the ambitious Rams currently find themselves in mid-table after a tough opening few weeks of the campaign. In his first managerial role, former Real Madrid assistant Paul Clement has quickly discovered just how tough the Championship is having replaced Steve McClaren in the summer. With the likes of Darren Bent, Tom Ince, Jacob Butterfield and Bradley Johnson in this squad, though, there is more than enough proven talent for Derby fans to still feel confident about their chances of promotion despite their disappointing start to the year.