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Magpies flying but Fulham are going under the radar

The Cottagers look the value

Fulham players celebrate victory over Newcastle United at Craven Cottage
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Newcastle had a rude introduction to the Sky Bet Championship, losing their first two games, but they have shown their class in the opening half of the season and look well on course for an immediate return to the Premier League.

When Newcastle last played in the second division in the 2009-10 season they amassed 102 points.

They look set for another century of points after banking 49 in 22 games but still haven’t shaken off Brighton, who are only one point behind them in second.

Automatic promotion will be the priority for both teams but Newcastle’s fans will expect them to finish top of the pile and the Toon Army are unlikely to be disappointed.

Advised pre-season at 15-8, the Magpies have shortened to 1-3, while Brighton are in to 3-1 from 16-1.

The most obvious thing that could derail both teams’ title challenge is an injury to their star strikers: Dwight Gayle for Newcastle and Glenn Murray for Brighton.

However, Newcastle are likely to leave nothing to chance and may secure additional firepower in the January transfer window.

Brighton could find it harder to find quality cover for Murray but they can always fall back on a solid defence who have kept 13 clean sheets this term.

The race for the playoff spots is more interesting with several clubs fancying their chances of a top-six finish.

Reading have been in third place for the last month and are doing better than was expected in their first season under Jaap Stam.

However, the Royals may struggle to maintain their knack of winning tight games – nine of their 12 victories have been by a single-goal margin – and they look short enough for promotion.

Huddersfield, the other surprise package in the playoff positions, may have more chance of hanging around at the top end of the table.

Their confidence has returned with three successive wins and their 2-1 victories at Newcastle and Norwich show that they can win any fixture at this level.

Norwich – advised for promotion at 11-4 – have been a major disappointment but are not out of the running.

The Canaries have nine teams above them, including ninth-placed Fulham, who look overpriced 12-1 shots for promotion.

The Cottagers are on a good run, winning four, drawing three and losing one of their last eight games, and are only four points adrift of the top six.

Last season they were too reliant on Moussa Dembele and Ross McCormack, the strikers who were sold to Celtic and Aston Villa in the summer.

Now they look more of a team with Chris Martin leading the line intelligently and Stefan Johansen, Floyd Ayite, Sone Aluko and Tom Cairney providing excellent support.

There is still room for improvement at the back but they have conceded 11 fewer goals than at the same stage of last season and manager Slavisa Jokanovic won promotion with Watford in May 2015.

Fulham are playing exciting, attacking football but seem to have gone under the radar and deserve to be shorter in the promotion betting.

Competition is going to be fierce and three massive clubs expecting to be in the promotion shake-up are Derby, Leeds and Aston Villa.

Derby have rediscovered their attacking identity under Steve McClaren and have climbed from 21st to seventh in the space of eight games, winning seven of them and drawing the other one.

However, the Rams are a striker away from being certainties for a top-six finish and look short enough for promotion given that their chances of a top-two finish are extremely slim.

Leeds may be heading for disappointment despite the great strides they have made under Garry Monk.

They are up to fifth but Monk’s young squad needs bolstering and a successful January transfer window cannot be guaranteed given the uncertainty over the club’s ownership.

Aston Villa look more likely to reach the playoffs as they continue to improve under Steve Bruce.

It took a long time for Villa to shake off the negative vibes after relegation but they are progressing under Bruce, who knows how to get out of the second tier, and they will have their backers for promotion.

Recommendation
Fulham to be promoted
1pt 12-1 Betfred

Competition is going to be fierce and three massive clubs expecting to be in the promotion shake-up are Derby, Leeds and Aston Villa
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