Totesport give us their views on the teams most likely to win promotion to the Premier League…
The Championship reached its halfway point on Boxing Day with Southampton leading the race after starting where they left off in League One last term. Pre-season favourites West Ham occupy the second automatic spot, while Middlesbrough are the surprise package so far.
Looking ahead to the next 23 fixtures it will be a difficult task to determine which clubs will stay the distance. However, we will endeavour to look at who could be on their way to the promised land of the Premier League by next May.
Southampton have done fantastically well, particularly at St Mary’s where they have collected 34 points from a possible 36 to date and that is where their automatic promotion (6/4 Championship Outright) aspirations will lie.
There was a hint that Nigel Adkins’ men could be on the slide in recent weeks as their 100 per cent home record went following a 2-2 draw with Blackpool, while they lost 1-0 away to struggling Doncaster.
But they got back on track on Boxing Day with a home victory against Crystal Palace and lead the table by three points from West Ham and Middlesbrough.
The Saints’ away form needs some improvement, but as long as they keep performing on home soil and with the prospect of January investment on the cards, they should have enough to make it back-to-back promotions.
Sam Allardyce’s West Ham were the pre-season promotion favourites and have just about lived up to that billing in the first half of the season (6/4 Outright Winners).
Ironically it is the Londoners’ away form – seven wins and just two defeats from 12 games – which has played a big part in their haul of 44 points.
The Hammers’ have been rocked by a recent injury crisis as Matt Taylor, Sam Baldock, Winston Reid, Abdoulaye Faye and Guy Demel are all currently sidelined with various problems.
However, if they can turn Upton Park into a fortress in the New Year, Big Sam’s squad is oozing with Premier League players and is still a good bet to lift the title.
Tony Mowbray has had a massive impact at the Riverside Stadium, having turned last season’s relegation candidates Middlesbrough into potential promotion material (8/1 Outright).
The Teesside-born tactician has even worked on a restricted budget, having slashed the wage bill last summer, but is still managing to work wonders with a squad that is short on numbers.
Boro are currently the form team of the Championship having won their last four successive games and not only sit level on points with second-placed West Ham, but are eight points clear of Blackpool – who sit outside the final play-off spot.
Boro are hard to beat, but have only just started to grind out home wins after drawing too many matches at the Riverside earlier in the campaign. That could be a crucial trait to have acquired as the season progresses, but January could potentially upset the apple-cart.
Skipper Matthew Bates could be sold to avoid him leaving on a Bosman free transfer next summer, while the influential Rhys Williams is bound to attract some of the Premier League vultures.
If Mowbray can keep the duo on board and possibly add to his attacking options where Boro are still short on numbers, then many will be backing him to get the club back into the big time.
Elsewhere, Cardiff (14/1 Outright) have remained a consistent side in the Championship despite the summer upheaval with Malky Mackay replacing Dave Jones and look good for at least a play-off place, while Hull have not been too badly affected by Nigel Pearson’s departure back to Leicester as Nicky Barmby has been pulling results and performances out of the bag.
Reading have shaken off the hangover from last season’s play-off final heart-break to surge up the table and into the play-off places in recent weeks, so are also worthy of consideration.
Blackpool and Leeds remain on the fringes but are lacking consistency at the moment, while Leicester under new boss Pearson have the resources to bring in new faces next month and are only five points off a play-off spot.
Dark horses to make a surge are Ipswich Town (66/1 Outright). Paul Jewell was potentially 45 minutes away from the sack, with his side trailing Barnsley 2-0 at Oakwell earlier this month. However, the Tractor boys’, who boast an impressive squad packed with experience, stormed back after half time to win 5-3 and have since defeated Derby and drawn at Leicester.
Ipswich are currently 19th and nine points off the top-six but with 23 more games to play, they could well motor up the table between now and the season finale on April 28.
Totesport Championship odds:
|West Ham United