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Monday, 19 November, 2018

Hefty outlay could pay dividends for Middlesbrough

Mark Langdon looks back at the EFL season and ahead to 2018-19

Wolves won the Sky Bet Championship at odds of 13-1
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Sky Bet Championship

Success stories
Look no further than runaway champions Wolves, who finished with 99 points and were the class act of the Championship, but it's worth remembering they were only sixth favourites at 13-1 ante-post.

It quickly became clear that new manager Nuno, aided by a couple of Portuguese gems in Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota, were stronger than those odds suggested and they were favourites following three straight wins against MiddlesbroughDerby and Hull.

Cardiff, the first team to beat Wanderers, were even more of a surprise as they upset promotion odds of 9-1 to nab the second automatic spot. Fast-finishing Fulham, 3-1 for promotion, lost only one league game after Christmas and deservedly went up via the playoffs.

Flops
Sunderland, 16-1 shots for relegation, went down in shambolic fashion but there were other disappointments with 11-1 Sheffield Wednesday finishing in the bottom half, as did Daniel Farke's Norwich at 12-1. 

Looking beyond the table
Wednesday were absolutely ravaged by injuries and won six of their last nine matches as influential players returned, while Bristol City's run to the League Cup semi-finals may have contributed to them running out of steam.


Sky Bet Championship final standings


Brentford are a highly-rated side who were never able to fully recover from a slow start of one victory in 11, while Ipswich's 12th-place finish does not reflect how regularly they performed poorly on key data performance indicators.

Best bets for next season
The relegated teams dominate the market and Stoke make more appeal than West Brom or Swansea. The appointment of Gary Rowett at the bet365 Stadium looks solid, although as is the case with all demoted teams it usually takes time for the shape of the squad to settle down as the stars attempt to leave.

Respected Midlands-based journalist John Percy of the Telegraph wrote that Aston Villa face the prospect of a "financial nightmare" to avoid breaking Financial Fair Play rules, so be wary of them for now but Middlesbrough look a safer each-way play.

Boro, double the odds they started last season, are still carrying a squad which was put together at great expense and Tony Pulis, much like Neil Warnock did at Cardiff, can grind it out at this level.

Brentford also have to enter the equation. A pretty passing side with a smart transfer policy, they should not be far off the promotion mix.

Sky Bet League One

Success stories
The three relegated teams all returned to the Championship at the first attempt with 8-1 Wigan beating 9-2 Blackburn to the title, but Rotherham was more of an upset as they overcame promotion odds of 8-1 to come through the playoffs.

Rotherham's Wembley win was heartbreak for the real surprise package of the season Shrewsbury, 13-8 favourites for relegation and 150-1 for the title, who scooped the each-way money. It was so near yet so far for Paul Hurst, whose team also lost the Football League Trophy final to Lincoln.

Flops
Milton Keynes Dons had been fifth in the title betting but went down at odds of 16-1, while also on the relegation list were ambitious recruiters Northampton and Bury at 6-1 having been nibbled at for promotion over the summer.

Portsmouth and Bradford rarely looked like justifying their status as third and fourth favourites.

Looking beyond the table
Rochdale stayed up on the final day of the season but were always rated much better than relegation candidates.

Dale were favourites over Easter to beat a Shrewsbury side who were top of the table at the time. They were distracted by a run to the FA Cup fifth round and had a packed schedule due to a poor pitch which was finally sorted in time for their televised tie with Tottenham which went to a replay.


Sky Bet League One final standings


Plymouth were never rated that highly despite finishing seventh, while match odds suggested that AFC Wimbledon were seen as superior to a number of the other teams in relegation trouble.

Best bets for next season
Rochdale will be the ones for the handicap. A young team with the potential to improve should be strengthened by the cash windfall from their cup replay at Wembley, but this market revolves around Sunderland and whether new manager Jack Ross can engineer a swift return to the Championship.

Ross did a superb job at St Mirren and Sunderland will hope his arrival, combined with a takeover, can get them back on track.

They are a huge club at this level and it does not appear to be a division with much depth, although that is reflected in the odds.

Second favourites Barnsley are managerless but could be the value bet against the Black Cats if they get their next appointment right.

However, for now this is a heat that's best left alone.

Sky Bet League Two

Success stories
With a reported budget that was joint-lowest in the Football League and fuelled by trips to McDonald's during their winning run, Accrington defied logic and odds of 33-1 to win the title.

It was a beautiful football story with a fabulous ending, unless you were one of the many who had steamed into Luton. The 7-1 pokes were long odds-on at one stage only to be nabbed by an Accy side who landed 17 victories in 20 outings between December 30 and April 21.

Wycombe, 30-1, completed the automatic promotion places and Coventry landed for their promotion backers by winning the playoffs at 11-5.

Flops
Chesterfield were relegated at odds of 20-1 and Barnet followed them on the last day at 9-1, while ante-post title favourites Mansfield missed out on the playoffs after being derailed by the departure of manager Steve Evans. He had said he was off to take a job outside the UK but ended up much nearer his home at Peterborough a couple of days later.

Looking beyond the table
Luton were the best side in the division as a goal difference of plus 48 suggests and on shot data Notts County (fifth) and Exeter (fourth) were seen as fortunate to finish so high up the standings.


Sky Bet League Two final standings


Of the bottom-half teams, Cheltenham could be better than 17th and 21st-placed Forest Green improved for some heavy January investment.

Best bets for next season
This is fascinating. It looks as though relegated neighbours Milton Keynes Dons and Northampton will have a go - the Cobblers have already signed striker Andy Williams from Doncaster while Dons owner Pete Winkelman said: "We will have one of the biggest budgets next season."  

Both have question marks over their managers - MK Dons still need one and Northampton's Dean Austin is a rookie - but Lincoln are in a  much better spot with their boss Danny Cowley.

Lincoln have done nothing but improve under Cowley, reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals, topping the National League, winning the Football League Trophy and making the League Two playoffs in the last two seasons.

The Imps got hung up on reaching Wembley for the first time in their history but they can concentrate on the league next season. A decent budget, fortress home form at Sincil Bank and the influence of Cowley makes for a nice mix.


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The three relegated teams all returned to the Championship at the first attempt
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