Football League: Sky Bet verdict
Check out the top tips and opinions from the Sky Bet traders for the new Football League season.
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The new Sky Bet Football League season gets under way on Friday night as Cardiff take on Blackburn in the Championship.
We've got the verdict from Sky Bet traders Marcus Berry, Stuart Dallimore and Jamie Munro on all three divisions as the Football League sponsors prepare for another memorable campaign.
Fans who bet with Sky Bet will earn a token for every pound they spend, putting them in with a chance of winning the £250,000 Transfer Fund for their club in a draw in December 2014.
Marcus Berry: All three clubs have question marks this season, especially with regards to the managers in charge as none of them have experience of the Sky Bet Championship. With regards to the teams I would favour Norwich who despite losing Robert Snodgrass, who was a key player, still have enough quality to go straight back up as they have kept the majority of the squad from last season. Fulham have seen a high turnover of players come in and out and although they could be in the running for promotion it may take time for the team and the manager to adjust to the Championship. Cardiff look like they will be an entertaining side to watch this season with some good quality in attack but with weaknesses at the back. If Cardiff don’t make any key defensive signings between now and the end of the season I think they will concede a few goals which may hinder their chances of promotion.
Stuart Dallimore: I think the Championship looks very competitive this season. There are clear threats from teams that were in the division last season, particularly Wigan. If they can show some of the form they did towards the back end of the season, you have to think the lack of Europa League and a full season under Uwe Rosler will see a big improvement from them. Middlesbrough looked as though they were lacking goals last season and have added a couple of striking options to their squad, so they could be up there. Derby also showed what they were capable of last season. I’d expect at least one of the three relegated teams to be up there come the end of the season though and if I had to put my neck on the line I’d probably say Norwich will be the one. Lewis Grabban seems a very good signing and they’ve kept some of their squad together who should be able to perform very well in this league. If they keep hold of the likes of Nathan Redmond, Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington they should create plenty of chances for what looks a decent bunch of strikers.
Jamie Munro: Despite the huge parachute payments that relegated Premier League teams receive, history suggests that bouncing straight back up is no easy task; in the past five seasons only four teams have managed it, and that includes ‘big fish in a small pond’ teams Newcastle and West Ham. Therefore I would suggest that only one of the three teams will make it back up this year and if I had to back one then it would probably be Norwich at the biggest price of the three. They’ve managed to keep the core of the squad together and have strengthened up front. Cardiff are looking good too but I would rather be on Norwich at the bigger price.
Marcus Berry: If we are looking for some value in the outsiders then I would be looking at Brentford. They have a very shrewd and ambitious owner in Matthew Benham and some very high quality management staff for this level. Mark Warburton is someone who is highly respected in the football world and he plays high attention to all parts of a player’s development which is supported by a very technical backroom staff set up. They have made some very good signings and it would be no surprise for me if they took people by surprise. They have had a very good pre-season so the early signs are good and the manager has also indicated there could be more signings.
Stuart Dallimore: Bournemouth have been pretty friendless in the betting but I think they could be worth chancing at 25/1. They may have lost Grabban but Callum Wilson is someone I was a huge fan of last season at Coventry and should be capable of making the step up to the Championship. They weren’t far off the play-offs last term and definitely improved as the season went on.
Jamie Munro: Personally I really like the look of newly-promoted Brentford. In the last few years they’ve built themselves world-class training facilities, a new ground and, most importantly, an exciting young team. They were obviously excellent in League 1 last season and have signed extremely well, bringing in some of the best young players from the lower leagues in Scott Hogan, Andre Gray and Moses Odubajo, as well as more experienced players such as Marcos Tebar, who made 25 La Liga appearances last season. They remind me a lot of Southampton in the way that they’re set up and we all know what their journey from League 1 was like. Brentford look like a team on the up and I wouldn’t mind backing them at 10/1 to achieve back-to-back promotions to the Premier League just like the Saints did.
Marcus Berry: At first glance I think Lewis Grabban could be a bit of value, last season he scored 22 goals in 44 appearances for Bournemouth and with Norwich being a better side who should be near the top at the end of the season I would expect that record to improve. From the outsiders I like the look of Lars Veldwijk for Nottingham Forest and also Callum Wilson who has the potential to step up with Bournemouth so both look like interesting each way shouts.
Stuart Dallimore: Jordan Rhodes has consistently scored goals for a while now. Blackburn look a lot more stable than they have in recent years and Gary Bowyer seems to know what he's doing. I’d expect Rhodes to continue to be the prolific star of their team it's hard to look beyond him for top scorer.
Jamie Munro: This may sound obvious given the prices but it’s really tough to look past Jordan Rhodes in the Championship. He’s scored 51 goals in his first two seasons in the league and he only seems to be getting better. He’s just signed a new contract too so you don’t have to worry about him being snapped up by a Premier League club if he’s top of the charts in January which is often a problem when backing Championship top scorers. If I were looking for someone at a bigger price then I’d consider an each-way go at 33/1 on Callum Wilson who has signed for Bournemouth from Coventry. The young striker was a revelation in League 1 last season with his electrifying pace and clinical finishing. He looks like the perfect replacement for the departed Lewis Grabban who placed in this market playing for an attacking Cherries side last time out.
Marcus Berry: I think Blackpool will have a very tough time this season if they can’t address all the on and off field problems but I don’t think it will be as bad as people are thinking. They have made some good signings and if they can stay away from injuries I still expect them to be competitive in the bottom half of the table. They have a competitive first 11 if they can sign a goalkeeper before the start of the season and will add to that as the season goes on. There is talk that Leeds have money to spend but with the types of players they have been linked with this looks debateable and they have also lost top scorer Ross McCormack. They have an interesting chairman, an unproven manager and a weak squad and for that reason I will predict a difficult season for them which might end up in a relegation battle if they are not careful.
Stuart Dallimore: It’s always going to be difficult for teams to perform with the sort of uncertainty behind the scenes that these two have had during pre-season. Dave Hockaday is up there with the stranger managerial appointments of recent times and Blackpool don’t even have a team yet! It’s going to take something special for Blackpool to not be struggling at the bottom as even if they do get a squad together it will have been done hastily. Leeds on the other hand have brought a couple of players in but you have to worry about the manager and they’re yet to properly replace Ross McCormack. I think there are definitely worse teams than them though and they should have enough fight to give survival a good crack.
Jamie Munro: Blackpool’s price obviously stands out in this market, it’s not very often that a side only a few years out of the Premier League are odds-on to go down but it’s probably justified. They’re struggling to get a squad together after a mass exodus at the end of last season and they have been mostly fielding trialists in pre-season. I wouldn’t be surprised though to see them start terribly and then get it together as the season goes on and the new squad begins to gel. If they get off to a bad start and the relegation price shortens further then I’ll be tempted to bet on them to stay up. Jose Riga is a decent manager and he kept a poor Charlton side up last season despite them being rock bottom when he joined. We have a lot of Leeds fans in the office and they’re all despairing at the state of the club at the moment. There seems to be a lot of pessimism around the club at the moment and we’re seeing a lot of request for markets for them not to win a game and for how long the manager will last. They’ve lost their best player in Ross McCormack and don’t look like replacing him so they will need the massive fanbase to get behind them because it could be a tough season ahead.
Marcus Berry: Sheffield United had a great finish to last season and probably do deserve to be one of the favourites for the division but I am not sure they will have it as easy as the market is predicting. For me the main worry would be the lack of a top quality goal scorer with no player reaching double figures last season and at the time of writing no signings made to improve this. For that reason I would not be backing them to win the league at the current prices.
Stuart Dallimore: Sheffield United were absolutely awful at the beginning of last season and only picked up five points from their opening 11 games. They finished the season though with some of the best form in the country so it’s very difficult to discount them. The Blades have brought in some decent payers too. Although Tranmere went down last season James Wallace would have been one of the players you would have taken from their squad.
Jamie Munro: For the latter part of last season, the Blades were the best team in the league outside of Brentford and Wolves and if it wasn’t for a horror start and a draining cup run I think they could have been up there. I don’t think the teams relegated from the Championship are as strong as the teams that have left in the other direction and Sheffield United are probably the ‘biggest’ team in the league this time out in terms of fanbase and history. By this reasoning it makes sense that they’re around the top of the betting but I don’t think they’re significantly better than the rest of the league so I personally wouldn’t be backing them at the 5/1 available. I’d rather bet on a team like Peterborough at over twice the price, who have a good history in this league and have a strong team that underperformed last season and should mount a stronger challenge this time out.
Marcus Berry: If I am honest I would not be backing either side and would look for an alternative option in Sky Bet League 2. Luton are recently promoted and have lost Andre Gray, who scored a large percentage of the goals for them last season, so I am surprised that they are near the top of the market. With regards to Portsmouth they do seem to be in a better financial position now and will always have a strong support which will help them but despite a good finish last season I still have my doubts whether they can perform over the whole season. I would strongly favour Portsmouth over Luton.
Stuart Dallimore: There are probably four or five teams that are up near the top of the market that are very hard to split. In cases like this you have to respect the money that you lay but Portsmouth were gambled in a similar fashion last season and proved to be a huge flop. Personally I couldn’t back Portsmouth or Luton with any confidence. I don’t think Portsmouth’s squad is much better than last season and it looks a huge gamble if based on club stability alone. Luton have sold their star striker from the previous season and again I would struggle to back them with any confidence. The two teams I really like the look of are Burton and Shrewsbury. Burton have finished in the play-offs in the past two seasons and look strong again this year, they seem to have been treated quite harshly in the outright betting despite the top sides being much weaker than in previous seasons. Shrewsbury are a bit more of a gamble as the turnover of their squad has been huge. The players they have brought in though look to be perfect for the league, but you’re taking a risk on whether they gel or not.
Jamie Munro: Teams that come up from the Conference as winners usually do well in League 2; of the last three Conference winners, two of them are now in League 1 which shows how important momentum can be. Luton were still set up like a Football League team when down in the Conference and so should adapt well, having romped their way to the title last season. My only worry would be that they’ve lost 30 goals in the departed Andre Gray, and they could miss his firepower. Portsmouth have finally got their finances in order and after playing manager roulette a few times last season they finally found somebody who could start winning them some games in Andy Awford. They were so bad for much of last season though that I personally couldn’t bring myself to back them as league favourites this time.
Marcus Berry: I have mentioned them above but I would be taking on Sheffield United in Sky Bet League 1, they may yet sign a proven goal scorer but until that point I think they are too short and it’s hard to see where the goals will come from.
Stuart Dallimore: I can’t convince myself that Portsmouth are much better than they were last season. I believe they’ll be the most disappointing of the favourites.
Jamie Munro: As I just stated, I’m not touching League 2 favourites Pompey with a bargepole. It’s such a tight league that’s tough to predict so I would be looking for a bigger priced team to win that one. York at 16/1 perhaps?
Marcus Berry: I think that Brentford offer the value at 13/5 in the Sky Bet Championship Group E winner 14/15 book which involves Leeds, Huddersfield, Birmingham and the Bees.
Stuart Dallimore: Burton are 13/8 to win Sky Bet League 2 Group B (to be best placed ahead of Stevenage, Southend and Plymouth). I think this looks an excellent bet as they are much stronger than the other three teams in my opinion.
Jamie Munro: I was a big fan of the job Steve McClaren did at Derby last season; they were excellent throughout and were desperately unlucky not to be promoted. They seem to have a good team spirit so I’m expecting them to recover from their Wembley loss well to start the season strongly. They’ve got a relatively easy start to the campaign against Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton and you can back them in our Derby County Specials to get 9 points from 9 to start the new campaign at 9/2.
Marcus Berry: This may surprise a lot of people and I would wait until nearer the time as I expect them to maybe go slightly bigger but I think Blackpool will be value on the Asian Handicap against Nottingham Forest come matchday. They are currently +1.5 and I think they will be more competitive than people expect, especially with Nottingham Forest having a few injuries in pre-season.
Stuart Dallimore: I think both Bury and Stevenage look decent bets for their opening games and a double on those two should get the season off to a decent start.
Jamie Munro: Personally I like the look of Norwich to win away at Wolves live on Sky Sports on Sunday at around the 2/1 mark. The Canaries have been rampant in pre-season; they won 5-1 against a strong Nice side (from the French top division) who incidentally managed a draw against Barcelona in their following game and so you would expect Norwich to start the season full of confidence. I see their starting XI being stronger than the Wolves team currently and so even when taking home advantage into account I don’t think Wolves should be as short as the 13/10 quoted.
Marcus Berry: Brentford to be the top promoted side ahead of Wolves and Rotherham in the Sky Bet Championship.
Stuart Dallimore: I can’t see Shrewsbury finishing outside the top seven but it’s a long time to have your money locked away on an odds-on shot! If you’d prefer something at a bigger price; I think Northampton could struggle again and they look to be a more than fair price to get relegated.
Jamie Munro: In the both of the last couple of seasons there’s been a Championship team that’s considered to be ‘relegation fodder’ that has ended up surprising everyone to get promoted. Burnley were third favourites for the drop this time last year and Crystal Palace were a big surprise the previous season too. Their then manager, Ian Holloway, has an incredible record of taking unfancied teams to the play-offs with three appearances in the last five years and he’ll be looking to repeat his party trick with Millwall this time around. Promotion is a big ask but I might have a speculative punt on Ollie to work his magic again and guide Millwall into the top six this season at 10/1.