Never more so than in the Championship, writes Vernon Grant on Friday April 19th.
At the time of writing, with three games to go for all but two of the teams, only five points separates Barnsley (one from bottom) and the team in 14th place, Blackpool.
All season long in this division we have seen that any team can beat any other. Consistency has been a rare visitor to the Championship.
Which two teams that will go down with already relegated Bristol City looks like going to the last matches of the season. On that day the likes of Huddersfield Town (51 points currently) play Barnsley (50 points right now) in a Yorkshire derby which could decide the future of one or both clubs.
Bookies don’t know how to price up the relegation market. How can they? Just when you think you know one team is safe, they are not. At the moment you believe you know which team will be playing League 1 football next August, a barmy result proves you wrong.
A club struggling at the foot of the table goes and beats one near the top.
At VG TIPS I did predicted a midweek home win for Ipswich against Crystal Palace at odds of 9-5.
But I am just one of many punters who have been baffled by some results these past few weeks.
Peterborough looked down months ago. They look anything but now. When they sold striker George Boyd to Hull City I thought that would be them done for. The goals did dry up for a couple of games and then, out of the blue and without Boyd, they began scoring for fun once more. They have been a BTTS (both teams to score) banker most of the season. Until last weekend when Posh fans witnessed that rare event, a 0-0 game at home.
Darren Ferguson has, as manager of Peterborough, always had an advantage over his rivals. When the moment suits he can pick up the phone to his father and see if he has any player twiddling their thumbs at Old Trafford. Someone who can drop down a league and make a difference. But Darren can also fire up players just like his father and you have to say that the recovery from a seemingly impossible position has been a commendable one.
Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones is much more cautious. He has been around the game a long time and he has opted for a more conservative approach to staying up. He has sent out a team with one game plan at away fixtures, the prime objective being to get a point. And a different, more attacking minded side at home which, once ahead, tends to take its foot of the accelerator.
Too often for my liking Jones has been happy to draw games the Owls could win. But, if they stay up, the end will justify the means. I did think of Jones this week when, finally, his former club Cardiff City were promoted to the Premier League. Something Jones was unable to achieve after several attempts. Cardiff fans tell me they have gone up this year because they have been more attacking. They say that, even when driving for promotion, Jones was too cautious.
At Blackpool last midweek, on a pitch resembling the nearby beach, Wednesday fans complained when the Owls took a short corner and held the ball in the corner flag deep into injury time. They wanted the players to go for a winner that would prevent yet another 0-0 draw on this joke of a playing surface. But Jones would not have liked it had his players done that.
Earlier, when playing at Bristol City, he settled for a draw when a win was beckoning. The last manager of Sheffield Wednesday I saw apply such tactics was Jack Charlton. Back in the 1970’s he prevented the club from being relegated to the lowest tier of the Football League for the first time. The don’t lose tactic worked then. I hope it works for Jones and Wednesday.
They may be overpriced at 20-1 to go down. They are away at Peterborough next week, at home to Middlesbrough on the last day and, this Saturday, at home to an Ipswich Town side that now look safe.
Mick McCarthy was available when Sheffield Wednesday chairman Milan Mandaric was, last October, considering sacking Jones. But Mandaric still had former boss Gary Megson on ‘gardening leave’ that was costing the club a not inconsiderable sum. To my knowledge, McCarthy was up for joining Wednesday following his knee jerk sacking by the fools currently running Wolverhampton Wanderers. But Mandaric did not want to have two managers on gardening leave, and a third in the job.
So it was that an Ipswich Town club then staring relegation in the face, called on Big Mick to rescue them. It comes as no surprise to me that he has effectively done that. Though he will send out his Ipswich players at Hillsborough this Saturday with his words of “we haven’t achieved anything yet” ringing in their ears. Ipswich will be happy with a point and delighted if they get all three.
For Sheffield Wednesday this is a must win game.
They are not alone in having just 54 points (three points away from third from bottom Huddersfield).
Burnley have gone under the bookies radar. They are as big as 25-1 to go down. Their remaining games are against champions Cardiff City, fellow relegation candidates Wolves (5-4 to drop) and at home to Ipswich Town on the last day.
Now you could argue Cardiff will not care too much this Saturday (or that they will be hungover from the promotion party last weekend). You might say that Burnley can win at Wolves or that, come the last day of the season, Ipswich will be mathematically safe and won’t be concerned about the outcome of that game.
But I do wonder if Burnley could be relegated. One thing is for sure, if they lose to Cardiff this weekend, the odds of 25-1 against them going down will be a thing of the past.
I will be having a minimum stakes bet on Burnley to go down.
Huddersfield Town are third from bottom and are 13-8 to be relegated. Not a bad price right now.
Huddersfield are at home to Millwall this weekend. The Lions are not mathematically safe themselves but do have games in hand and I cannot see them going down. After that Huddersfield are away to Bristol City and home to Barnsley. That Yorkshire derby on the last day of the season could dictate the immediate future of one or both of those clubs.
I don’t fancy the chances of Wolves staying up. Currently 5-4 to go down, their run in looks tough on paper. Wolves are away to Charlton this Saturday, then home to Burnley and away at Brighton. The better players in the Wolves team really must stand up and be counted. It is time to show the quality they once had.
I fear for Barnsley. They have players returning from injury this weekend but they are going to have to get something from their game away to Nottingham Forest. That’s possible. Forest have lost their last two games and Barnsley are capable of pulling off a surprise result. They have more fight about them than the likes of Huddersfield.
After the Forest match they are at home to Hull (who may well have been promoted by this stage) and then there is that last day game away to Huddersfield. Barnsley currently have one point less than those above them and it is beginning to look grim for the Reds, but the odds on them to go down are too short right now. Wait. If they won at Forest those odds will improve.
This season has been one full of surprises and I will only be surprised if there is not a surprise when it comes to who goes down to League 1.
Peterborough are one of three clubs on 51 points. Their run in looks better than some. This weekend they are away to Derby, then home to Sheffield Wednesday and finally away to a Crystal Palace side who, as of right now, cannot buy a win.
Blackburn have 53 points. Back to back relegations for Rovers is not out of the question. They do have the advantage of a game in hand on the others. But Blackburn are hopeless away from home of late. Their remaining games are away to promotion chasing Watford, away to Millwall, home to Palace & away to Birmingham City. They might not get more than three points from that run in. The bookies have Blackburn as big as 8-1 to go down prior to their visit to Watford.
Derby County are on 55 points. They play three other teams down the bottom. Starting this week with a home game against Peterborough. Then away at Blackpool (also on 55 points) and finally at home to Millwall. Derby are 150-1 to be relegated – but I do not see that happening.
Blackpool, who have the advantage of being more used to their ridiculous pitch than any visiting team, do look to have a tricky run in. They may get a point or three at home to Derby but, either side of that match, they travel away to play Brighton and play off chasing Bolton.
They do have a good goal difference but, nevertheless, Blackpool may be overpriced for relegation at odds currently of 100-1 (yes, you read that correctly) with BetVictor.
Worth a quid or two, surely? If only to see the look on the face of Paul Ince should that happen!
Those are the odds available as of Friday afternoon, April 19th.
It’s squeaky bum time at the foot of all four divisions. But especially so in the Championship.
VG’s most likely to go down with already relegated Bristol City…
Huddersfield at 13-8 (with Boylesports) OR Barnsley – best price is not a value one 4-7 (SkyBet and Paddy Power) along with Wolves at best price 5-4 (with Boylesports)
Potential value outsider bets – Burnley 25-1 (Bet365, BetFred and Coral) and Blackpool at 100-1 (BetVictor).[symple_heading type=”h3″ title=”William Hill are offering new customers a £25 free bet when they sign up” margin_top=”2px;” margin_bottom=”5px” text_align=”left”] Interested? Sign up here. I want a Free £25 bet.
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