Tight Championship title race makes promotion picture tough to call
In recent years, there have been outstanding sides that have topped the Championship. Leicester City held an eight-point lead this time last term, while previous champions Cardiff City were five ahead in 2012/13.
With Bournemouth, Derby County, Watford and Middlesbrough all together on 66 points with 10 games to go, and Norwich City just one behind them, however, it’s bold of anyone to say who will be in the Premier League next season.
Seven wins in eight for Alex Neil are enough to make the in-form Canaries 3/1 co-favourites with Coral alongside Eddie Howe’s Cherries for the Championship crown. Norwich and Bournemouth also head the promotion market at 4/6 apiece.
Although the East Anglia outfit’s recent run has included thrashing relegation fodder Millwall and Blackpool, young Canaries coach Neil made a magnificent dugout debut with a win at Dean Court. He also supplemented that with victories over fellow promotion hopefuls Wolves (still an outside shout at 14/1), Watford (6/5) and faltering rivals Ipswich Town (7/1).
Neil is getting goals from midfield with Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson netting as many between them as Norwich’s leading marksman Cameron Jerome (16 in the league). Those latter pair are two of four players in double figures alongside Lewis Grabban and Gary Hooper.
It’s a similar story for Howe down on the south coast, with Bournemouth battering Fulham 5-1 at Craven Cottage last time out. Cherries top scorer Callum Wilson is supplemented by Brett Pitman (10 in all competitions) and Yann Kermorgant, plus wing wizard Matt Ritchie. Harry Arter and Marc Pugh have a combined tally of 14 from midfield too.
Steve McClaren, meanwhile, has seen his Derby side wobble with only one win in four and, as a result, they are now 10/3 to take the title. Injuries to strikers Darren Bent and Chris Martin have had an impact, though sloppy defending saw the Rams lose a two-goal lead against Birmingham City in stoppage time.
Like Norwich, there’s a best of British feel at Pride Park, with Bent and Martin joined by Tom Ince, Johnny Russell and Jamie Ward (who have all scored six league goals) in attack. This talented forward roster is sufficient to justify County’s odds-on 8/11 price for promotion.
At 11/2 title chances Watford, early season managerial madness has been put behind the Hornets, with striking trio Troy Deeney, Odion Ighalo and Matej Vydra all in double figures.
Middlesbrough are the fourth side level at the top, 4/1 to lift the trophy and 5/6 to make a Premier League return, but have picked up just seven points from the last 18. Punters should not read too much into Aitor Karanka’s men losing a lead at resurgent Nottingham Forest (50/1), though.
Brentford (5/1 promotion prospects) complete the top six, but speculation surrounding who shall succeed manager Mark Warburton next season is leading to inconsistent displays.
There will be twists and turns to come over the next 10 regular season matches that will shape the promotion picture, and beyond that the play-offs are going to be compelling viewing, whoever has to settle for them or sneak in.