Antepost Half Time Report: How Are Our Pre-Season Picks Looking?13 min read
Both the Premier League and the rest of the Football League currently have favourites who are odds on for the title and each is starting to look a little uncompetitive. There are still major battles for promotion and to avoid relegation however and plenty of value for those with good crystal balls.
Manchester City were 11/4 when we opened our book back in May. They shortened to 6/4 by the time the season started but were not overly popular as punters latched on to Manchester United and Liverpool to win the league. The Citizens have looked unstoppable in the first half of the campaign and look on course to set all kinds of Premier League records if they can sustain that pace. They are now for the crown. City have dominated so much that they are now to achieve 100 points or more and to break Chelsea’s goal scoring record of scoring 104 or more. Manchester United head the betting without City at and this could develop into an intriguing market.
As always, the race to avoid relegation incorporates a whole host of clubs and only nine points separate the bottom half. Crystal Palace looked doomed after an awful start but a change of manager has seen a massive improvement and they have moved out of the drop zone. With promoted Huddersfield making a mockery of odds on quotes for an immediate return to the Championship, there are some big clubs looking nervously at the table and it looks like this event will go down to the wire.
We picked out Derby as the team to watch in the Championship before a ball was kicked and although the Rams have not really challenged for the title they are very well placed for a top six assault.
They are to secure a playoff berth at worst and for promotion. However all the teams appear to be playing second fiddle to Wolverhampton Wanderers who have looked the class outfit during the early months. Wolves opened at 16/1 in May and were still 12/1 in August. After winning seventeen matches, they are just to be crowned champions. Many of the big established clubs have failed to fire with Middlesbrough, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday particularly disappointing. Unfancied Cardiff and Bristol City have been Wolves nearest challengers and both will feel very much in the race for promotion at least.
Sunderland have been the biggest name to underachieve and after sacking Simon Grayson, former Wales manager Chris Coleman has been given the task of ensuring survival. There are many with fancy prices about the Black Cats suffering consecutive relegations and our 16/1 proved enticing but they are improving and after a first home win of the season recently, hopes are improving although they remain in the bottom three.
They are from odds on but will have to keep fighting as there are many clubs still closely matched at the bottom. We highlighted Burton at 13/8 as value to face the trapdoor. They have struggled and find themselves just outside the bottom three and three points from the wooden spoon. Albion have shortened to and, with the sections worst goal difference have it all to do to preserve their status.
Shrewsbury have arguably been the team across all four leagues to have shown the biggest improvement. On a small budget, manager Paul Hurst has worked miracles. They led League One for many weeks but have seen big boys Wigan and Blackburn start to put down a major challenge. The Shrews opened at 150-1 for the title and after touching 5/1 can still be backed now at . This is down to Wigan looking the likely winners. After moving four points clear at the summit, the Latics are from 8/1 pre season to go up as champions. Blackburn were our 5/1 favourites back in August but a poor start had fans and backers worried. They have come back strongly as Christmas approaches however and now look the main threat to Wigan and are back in to . The big two Lancashire rivals will take some stopping, although the chasing pack are close enough to keep things interesting.
One of those teams, Peterborough, were our pre-season advice and after starting like a house on fire looked set for a great campaign.
However they have fallen away and are now sixteen points behind Wigan. Our promotion bet is still in with a chance and The Posh are just one point off the playoffs albeit now a much bigger to be playing in the Championship next term. Our other promotion bet were Charlton at 7/4 and they find themselves currently sixth and very much in the mix at .
I must apologise for my poor selection of Bury as likely dark horses and in putting them up for Promotion and Top six. Both bets now look consigned to the bin. The Shakers have never recovered from losing star forward James Vaughan to Sunderland and crucial midfield man and captain Stephen Dawson to a season ending injury.
Last week they also lost another key man in striker Jermaine Beckford to injury for the season. They now find themselves deep in the relegation mire and bottom of the section. I still believe they can avoid the drop but with four demoted it will be a tough ask and they are now just and must strengthen in January to survive I suspect. Luckily our other bottom four selection Rochdale at have struggled and can still be backed at the same price. Dale are actually in the drop zone now having recorded only four League One victories. You can throw a blanket over a host of clubs and this will be another event that should go right to the last day.
League Two is certainly the place to find a couple of our teams who are doing rather well. We suggested Luton at 8-1 as they looked to have the strongest squad. With a large following both on and off the field everything looked in place for the Hatters to take the section. They have certainly not disappointed and have opened a four point lead at the top having found scoring no problem. With an impressive plus 34 goal difference, they have often blown rivals away. Town are now just and hopefully they will continue to move further clear to reward backers. With Town also suggested at 2/1 for promotion it would be hugely disappointing if they were not to be even in the top three and our current quote of indicates we fully expect then to succeed.
Notts County were suggested as a reliable alternative at 10/1 for the title and 5/2 to gain promotion. Both bets are still lively runners with County just behind Luton and and respectively now. Like Luton , County have lost just three times and their ability to prove tough to beat should certainly help their bid to achieve success.
There are many teams still well poised to join the promotion charge. In a section that has proved relatively open it won’t take much to maintain momentum for many. Unfortunately we selected Barnet as a team that may have sneaked under the radar and after winning 4-1 at Swindon earlier in the season the Bees looked set for a top seven place.
However they have collapsed dramatically and are only above the relegation zone on goal difference. Promotion now looks unlikely with survival their major goal. Yeovil were our 7-2 pick for relegation and they are just four points from safety and heavily involved. The Glovers are but will be thankful that just seven points separate the bottom eight teams.
The most open division in England has surely to be the National League. Just ten points separates the top twelve and six points between the current top seven.
There have been a number of leadership changes and this still looks a minefield to select the eventual winner. Macclesfield are the team currently at the summit and last season’s FA trophy runners up have certainly exceeded expectations. After rebuilding a new squad few expected Town to challenge at the summit and they were dismissed as 25/1 outsiders. They are now and looked impressive in beating rivals Wrexham 4-1 at home recently. Truth be told you can probably rightly argue that the closeness of teams indicates the quality is not as high as in previous years but from a betting perspective it means there is certainly value around still.
Tranmere were the short favourites at 7/2 and we selected them, expecting Rovers to dominate. They have a strong squad and it’s very surprising they have tasted defeat seven times. However despite being in ninth, they are still well placed to start making a run and are still proving popular to gain automatic promotion as eventual champions. They have shortened to from 8/1 this weekend alone after none of the eight teams above them managed to win.
Our second selection, Sutton, have proved much more satisfying. Last season’s cup giant killers playing attractive football and they occupy fourth place. We took a strong view on United and went 12-1 when there was 25-1 freely available and so far they have not disappointed. Admittedly they have actually lost seven times and a 1-3 home reverse to Tranmere on Saturday may have exposed their weakness. However twelve victories have seen them stay in the top seven for the majority of the opening half of the campaign and they are our current joint favourites with Dagenham to take the title.
It was interesting that the challenging teams chose to send out weakened teams in the FA Trophy last weekend. Aldershot, Wrexham and Dagenham may be quietly pleased that defeat there means they can fully concentrate on reaching the football league as their only season goal. I expect all three to maintain a challenge but am hopeful Sutton can build on a fine start to land the odds for us.