Last season Newcastle performed the trick of an immediate return to the Premier League after being relegated to the Championship 12 months earlier. However, Hull and Sunderland are struggling to bounce straight back into the top flight this time but Middlesbrough could emulate the Geordies. Fulham have been tipped to win the title but Aston Villa look false favourites to top the division in May.
Bookmakers took a bit of a hiding last season in the outright markets for the English leagues. Chelsea were the favourites to win the Premier League from the autumn and the favourites obliged in the other three divisions. Newcastle were heavily backed to win the Championship and came in after some freak results on the final day. Villa are the market leaders this time but that assessment seems to have exaggerated the influence of John Terry who has been lured to the club.
It is debatable whether Villa should be the favourites and Boro have invested with ambition and the objective of keeping their stay at the second level for just one season. Wolves have recruited some talent from Portugal but two men never made a team and that project could go pear shaped. Fulham have players who could perform at a higher level and are the selection to win the Championship.
The manager of Aston Villa is Steve Bruce who knows more than most the value of a leader. He has managed to persuade Terry to drop down a division and the ex-Chelsea will contribute on and off the field. Villa have been on a downward curve for a number of years and mental weakness cost them points last season. They are a big city club with a Premier League infrastructure but that doesn’t guarantee anything.
Terry will provide leadership and he is still fit and capable of performing well at this level. However, the squad does not look fit for the purpose of getting back into the Premier League. Villa rely on a limited number of options up front and some injuries in that area could leave them struggling for goals. Terry might do the business at one end but a lack of goals could cost Villa dear and the playoffs are the realistic goal.
In Gary Monk Middlesbrough have a manager with experience in the division. They are the team of the relegated trio who have spent some money and invested in the squad. Boro scored just 20 goals in 38 league matches last season but have made some fine signings over the summer to address that issue. The chairman Steve Gibson offers stability because he has had that role since 1994 and led the club into the Premier League three times during his era. Boro can return to the Premier League.
Winning the Championship gives clubs no more or less in terms of status from finishing second. The top two clubs gain automatic promotion and avoid the nightmare scenario of missing out from the playoffs. Its third to sixth that should be avoided but Middlesbrough and Fulham can avoid that scrap. If Boro do enough to finish second by a process of elimination Fulham are fancied to be the champions.
Fulham finished sixth last season, 14 points adrift of Newcastle. The ante post favourites have only won the Championship last season and in the first year of its inception for the 2001-02 season. Fulham are the third favourites this time at about 8/1 but the average price of the champions over the last ten years is 12/1. Only thee title winners began the season at single figure odds but Fulham can be the fourth.
Only Newcastle won more points than Fulham in the second half of last season. They were impressive over the last few months of the season and have for the most part kept the squad in tact. If they can continue in the same form and make a fast start the odds of 8/1 will soon disappear. They have momentum from the back end of last season when they collected 40 points from 19 games. Overall Fulham were the joint top scorers with Newcastle and tat augurs well for a successful campaign.
Sunderland and Hull will suffer from a shortage of funds and even in the second tier money talks. Fulham have the support in the stands and off the pitch and that combination can get the job done in the context of winning the Championship.