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Sunday, 18 November, 2018

Wednesday could make it third time lucky next season

Championship should be weaker with doubts over relegated trio

Newcastle won the Sky Bet Championship on the final day of the season
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Sky Bet Championship
Success stories
Newcastle won the title on the final day to the delight of those who forced their ante-post price down from 5-1 to 15-8, but second-placed Brighton were the moral winners having eased off once promotion was secured.

That will be scant consolation for anyone who backed Albion at 16-1 in the summer with Chris Hughton's side trading at 1-40 before collecting only one point from their last three matches.

Playoff finalists Huddersfield and Reading were both 12-1 for promotion ante-post and can be proud of their efforts.

The teams who were second to fifth in the ante-post betting - Norwich (10-1), Aston Villa (11-1), Derby (12-1) and Wolves (14-1) - failed to trouble the top six and all changed their managers during the season.

At one stage Wolves, who had been the subject of a major market move for the title following a takeover, nearly went down. Instead it was left to 8-1 relegation shots Wigan to join 9-2 Blackburn and 9-4 Rotherham in dropping out of the second tier. 

Looking beyond the final table
Reading and Huddersfield both massively overachieved with the third-placed Royals conceding the third-most shots on goal in the division and Huddersfield finishing fifth with a negative goal difference. 

On the plus side Fulham were rated even higher than their league position of sixth suggests. They were a fabulous side to watch, beat Newcastle home and away and also stuffed Reading and Huddersfield 5-0 at Craven Cottage.

A young Brentford team put in a number of eye-catching performances in 2017 and could improve next season.

Best bets for next season
There's no Newcastle lurking in the pack of relegated clubs this time and with so much uncertainty regarding Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Hull it could be worth looking elsewhere for a punt.

Fulham would appear to be the obvious starting point but key players such as Tom Cairney may depart, while Villa don't make huge appeal at the prices.

Norwich could be anything under Daniel Farke, who was in charge of Borussia Dortmund's reserves last season in the fourth tier of German football. They conceded only 25 goals - ten fewer than any other side in the Regionalliga.

However, a safer bet could be Sheffield Wednesday.

The Owls have missed out on promotion in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons but the continuity of Carlos Carvalhal remaining at Hillsborough means Wednesday should hit the ground running next term.

They have spent a lot of money and that level of investment combined with a settled environment could be key.

Sam Hutchinson is gutted after missing a penalty for Sheffield Wednesday in the playoff semi-finals

League One
Success stories
Sheffield United won it in the style of good things with the 6-1 shots claiming 100 points, 14 more than second-placed Bolton. Wanderers had an uncomfortable summer with reports of cash problems which saw them go off at 15-1 but even the winter departure of Zach Clough was not enough to derail Phil Parkinson's side.

Early leaders Scunthorpe scooped the each-way money but they were beaten in the playoff semi-finals by Millwall, who overcome Bradford to return to the Championship.

Only United started shorter than 11-1 pokes Charlton but the Addicks won just two of their opening 11 matches and finished in the bottom half as the Valley remained an unhappy ship due to the fans hating their controversial owners.

MK Dons never looked like justifying their place as joint-fourth favourites either, while Coventry, 12-1 for relegation, were the surprise outfit to suffer demotion.

Looking beyond the final table
Oxford missed out on the top six but they were distracted by a couple of cup runs. They finished the season with the most shots on target and their shots-on-target ratio (match share of efforts on goal) was second only to runaway champions Sheffield United.

Southend were unlucky to just miss out on the playoffs but their off-season has got off to a shambolic start with star striker Nile Ranger jailed for eight months. With Ranger in the side Southend won 12, drew four and lost four of their 20 matches; without him starting Southend won ten, drew nine and lost 13 times.

Only goal difference stopped Fleetwood from finishing third but their attacking output was not overly impressive and, while Bradford were unbeaten at Valley Parade, they won only once more at home than relegated Port Vale. 

Best bets for next season
This looks the most simple of the three puzzles to solve - back Blackburn to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt.

Rovers were poorly managed by Owen Coyle earlier in the season but lost only three of their last 15 encounters under Tony Mowbray, who says he will be given the tools to deliver promotion.

There does not appear to be a huge amount of depth to the division and Oxford look the each-way alternative as they are potentially a progressive side under Michael Appleton.

Relegated Wigan are on the verge of taking manager Paul Cook from promoted Portsmouth but how that impacts on both clubs is difficult to judge at this stage and Bradford need to find a way to turn some of their many draws into victories.

Non-league scoring sensation Ricky Miller may push Peterborough higher up the table and they make more appeal at the prices than the likes of Charlton and MK Dons, while it will be interesting to see if there is support for outsiders Bury.

The Shakers have signed Jermaine Beckford to partner James Vaughan in attack which is a tasty front two at this level.

Sheffield United were easy winners of League One

League Two
Success stories
Portsmouth completed the ante-post treble for favourite backers despite not leading the table until the final day, when they took advantage of slips for Doncaster and Plymouth to bring home the bacon for their backers at 9-2.

Doncaster, second favourites ante-post at 9-1, traded at 1-50 for the title before a sloppy finish and 16-1 Plymouth also went odds-on only to be caught on the line by a Pompey side who were the best in the division and deservedly crowned champions.

Blackpool beat Exeter in the playoff final and had been 6-1 for promotion in the summer.

Look no further than Leyton Orient - fourth favourites for the title at 11-1 and 50-1 to be relegated. The east London outfit finished bottom thanks to their incompetent owners. Hartlepool followed them down at odds of 10-1.

Looking beyond the final table
Only bad luck seemed to stop Mansfield from making the top seven under Steve Evans and two others who performed really well were beaten playoff finalists Exeter and 13th-placed Accrington.

Exeter were bottom in November due to a horrendous injury list and Accy were often the better side in matches only to be left cursing misfortune early in the season, but they finished brilliantly.

Stevenage looked set for the playoffs until an untimely injury to star striker Matt Godden and Barnet, who had three different managerial set-ups, were arguably better than 15th suggests.

Best bets for next season
It's easy to see why Mansfield are market leaders after being busy in the transfer market, bringing in players of the calibre of centre-back David Mirfin from Scunthorpe.

However, it has not escaped the attention of bookmakers so the Stags are reluctantly overlooked, as are relegated duo Swindon and Coventry. They are big clubs at this level but need plenty of work.

Newly-promoted Lincoln have to be respected after reaching the FA Cup quarter-finals as a non-league club and keep an eye on Kevin Nolan's Notts County as well as underrated Accrington.

Portsmouth completed a treble for ante-post Football League favourites

But Luton set a decent standard. The Hatters were beaten in the playoffs but finished fourth, six points clear of the rest and it may well have been a high-quality division in 2016-17.

Top scorer Danny Hylton has pledged his future to the club and the hugely talented Cameron McGheehan will return from a broken leg, presuming big clubs don't come calling. And if they do the likely seven-figure sum can be put to good use by Nathan Jones. 

It will be interesting to see if there is support for League One outsiders Bury
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