Once again, it was a season to forget for Newcastle United fans as they slipped through the trapdoor and into the Championship for the second time in seven seasons. The employment of Steve McClaren last summer appeared a doomed appointment from the start, and it was only under his successor Rafa Benitez that the Magpies enjoyed a change of fortunes. It was, alas, a case of too little, too late to preserve their Premier League status.
The good news for Geordies is that they have retained Benitez in the dug-out and a number of key players too; cashing in on those who were either too good for the Championship or too big for their boots.
With the resources in place for an immediate return to the top flight, can anybody stop Newcastle from winning the Championship this season?
Thus far, Benitez has been rather smart in the transfer window, cashing in on the likes of Andros Townsend and Gigi Wijnaldum and bringing in the kind of player that will surely thrive in this division: Matt Ritchie scored 11 goals and assisted 13 more in Bournemouth’s Championship-winning season of 2014/15, Dwight Gayle has been Crystal Palace’s top goalscorer in each of the last three seasons and Grant Hanley is a proven defender of note at this level. And with Moussa Sissoko expected to leave soon for in excess of £20 million, the Spaniard will surely strengthen his squad yet further this summer.
Don’t forget the players that he will have at his disposal that remain at the club despite relegation, too. At the time of writing Tim Krul, the outstanding shot stopper, is still a Magpie, as are the likes of Vurnon Anita, Jack Colback, Jonjo Shelvey, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Ayoze Perez, to name but a few. If they can keep that bunch together – and they remain motivated for the task in hand – then clearly Newcastle’s squad of players is far stronger than any other in the league. Their price of 7/4 with bet365 to win the title is the shortest of any of English football’s top divisions….they are odds-on to secure promotion by any means at 4/6 with Coral.
So the question remains: can anybody stop the Toon army?
Championship Betting Tips
The first port of call when analysing Championship promotion hopefuls are the three teams that were relegated from the Premier League in the season prior. Newcastle are one, with Aston Villa and Norwich being the others.
The chaos that unfolded at Villa Park in 2015/16 was rather unsavoury, and it was a shame to see one of the bastions of top-flight football in this country fall by the wayside. Roberto Di Matteo was a shrewd and popular appointment as manager, but many punters will be wondering how lasting the damage caused last season will prove to be in the psychology of the players. A campaign of consolidation is likely.
It should be a far more positive season for Norwich however, who at the time of writing had largely kept their squad of last season together. You may remember that Alex Neil secured promotion from the Championship in 2014/15 in the unlikeliest of circumstances, and that experience bodes well. If they can keep player departures to a minimum in the coming weeks then their price of 11/4 with BetVictor to secure an instant return to the Premier League looks great value.
It will be interesting to see how last season’s play-off heartbreak affects Brighton’s chances of a repeat performance. They could, and perhaps should, have secured automatic promotion given their blistering start to the campaign, so Chris Hughton will need to rally his troops once again. The signing of Glenn Murray is smart and Steve Sidwell has turned his loan move to the Seagulls into a permanent stay. The future of Anthony Knockaert – linked with all and sundry this summer – will be crucial in determining their finishing position.
Derby have been perennial Championship promotion hopefuls in recent times, but have struggled to get over the line at the business end of the season. The appointment of Nigel Pearson, a serial-promotion winner in his career and a man with a point to prove, could bring about an end to that run. The Rams have obvious class amongst their ranks in the likes of Tom Ince, Jeff Hendrick and Andreas Weimann, and Pearson’s added discipline and nous at this level will prove invaluable. A top six finish (6/5 Betfred) surely awaits.
The final word must go to Wolves, who after significant investment from a Chinese consortium have come in from 100/1 to 12/1 (William Hill) in the Championship winner market. But having sacked the savvy Kenny Jackett in favour of a ‘big name’ in Walter Zenga, and with none of this supposed fortune invested in new players as yet, the Midland outfit still have the look of a huge outsider for the title.
Newcastle to win The Championship (7/4 with bet365)
Norwich to get promoted (11/4 with BetVictor)
Derby to finish in the top six (6/5 with Betfred)