Wigan cheer; Make it Macheda
Nick Hext brings you his outright preview of the 2014/15 Sky Bet Championship season and backs Wigan for promotion.
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The Sky Bet Championship campaign kicks off with the betting very tight at the top of the outright market.
The leading five contenders - Derby, Cardiff, Fulham, Wigan and Norwich - are all priced up between 8/1 and 11/1.
Wigan are my best bet for promotion despite relegated trio Cardiff, Fulham and Norwich splashing the cash over the summer and Derby attracting admirers after losing last season's play-off final.
- 3pts Wigan to win promotion at 10/3 (BetVictor) - Latics are in good shape to build on a play-off finish last season
- 2pts Brighton to finish in the top six at 3/1 (BetVictor) - Sami Hyypia is the new man in charge and can guide the Seagulls to the top six for the third season in a row
- 1pt e.w. Federico Macheda to be top goalscorer at 40/1 (Coral, 1/4 1,2,3,4) - former Manchester United prospect can build on strong end to last season in the Championship
- 0.5pts e.w. Moussa Dembele to be top goalscorer at 125/1 (BetVictor 1/4 1,2,3,4) - big price for a young striker who can make his mark for Fulham
The Latics reached the play-offs last season before suffering extra-time defeat against QPR in their semi-final clash.
That proved to be the final match of a monumental campaign that also saw Wigan compete in the Europa League and reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup, knocking out eventual Premier League champions Manchester City along the way.
Now boss Uwe Rosler has an improved squad at his disposal after making some decent signings, including Cardiff duo Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor, during a much-needed summer of rest.
The German has lost Jordi Gomez to Sunderland but further reinforcements are set to arrive before the end of the transfer window to boost the midfield and attack.
The three previous winners of the Championship - Leicester, Cardiff and Reading - have all claimed the top prize after missing out in the play-offs the season before, adding further weight to the selection.
Wigan are 10/1 to end the campaign at the summit but I will back them instead in the promotion market at 10/3.
This gives you the security of the DW Stadium outfit also being able to earn a spot in the Premier League by finishing second or winning the play-offs.
Rosler's men are more than capable of providing Wigan cheer at the end of the campaign.
Derby are also worthy contenders at the front of the betting but it will be interesting to see how long the heartbreak of the agonising play-off final defeat to QPR lingers. Boss Steve McClaren, widely lauded for reviving the Rams in mid-season, must also now get things going from the off in what is his first full season in charge.
Brighton, the team Derby beat in their play-off semi-final, have been underestimated.
The Seagulls have reached the play-offs in both of their last two campaigns and I think they are a solid option to finish in the top six again.
There has been a change of manager at the Amex Stadium over the summer with Sami Hyypia replacing Oscar Garcia after just one season in charge for the Spaniard.
It may take a little bit of time for Brighton to adjust but they coped after the departure of Gus Poyet last summer and this is a club that has been making progress on and off the field for a number of years.
Top scorer Leonardo Ulloa has departed for Leicester but the club-record fee received for the striker means more new additions will arrive before the transfer window slams shut on September 1.
Goalkeeper David Stockdale, defender Aaron Hughes and striker Chris O'Grady catch the eye as decent acquisitions and there is a core of players already in place who have impressed in the Championship.
Getting 3/1 for Brighton to finish in the top six is a good investment.
My final two tips for the new Sky Bet Championship season come from the top goalscorer betting.
Both strikers play for clubs relegated from the Premier League last season and my first selection is a man who enjoyed a memorable introduction to the top flight.
New Cardiff forward Federico Macheda netted a debut winner for Manchester United against Aston Villa as a 17-year-old in 2009 but things haven't gone his way since.
Injury hindered his progress at Old Trafford after that goal and he has spent loan spells away from United at Sampdoria, QPR, Stuttgart, Doncaster and Birmingham over the last three seasons.
Macheda's 10 goals during his time at Birmingham in the second half of last term has signalled a renaissance and Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been impressed enough to hand the Italian a three-year contract.
The pair worked together previously during Solskjaer's time at Old Trafford and Macheda has been full of praise for his new manager after being among the goals during pre-season for the Welsh outfit.
Macheda faces competition from the likes of Adam Le Fondre, Javi Guerra and Nicky Maynard for a place in Cardiff's first XI but I expect him to start the season and play a key part in the push for promotion.
The 40/1 with Coral for Macheda in the top goalscorer betting is well worth an each-way interest.
My second top goalscorer tip is a 125/1 prospect from Fulham.
Moussa Dembele has been fantastic for the Cottagers during pre-season, his most memorable outing coming with a hat-trick against MLS side DC United, and will get his chance to shine in the months ahead.
Felix Magath showed his willingness to use Fulham's young prospects during their ultimately unsuccessful scrap for Premier League survival and you can expect the German to stick with his highly-rated hopefuls.
Dembele has been a consistent goalscorer for Fulham's under-18 and under-21 teams during his time at Craven Cottage and can make his mark once again in senior football.
His main problem will be the tough battle for a starting spot in Fulham's attack.
Ross McCormack, Hugo Rodallega, Adam Taggart, Cauley Woodrow and the forgotten Kostas Mitroglou are all currently in Magath's squad but I would expect to see further trims to the Cottagers' ranks before the transfer window is over.
Dembele is by no means a sure-fire thing to score goals throughout the season but I think a small stake at a tasty 125/1 with BetVictor is an interesting shout.