A week after the 2017/18 EPL fixtures were released, the Championship fixtures were made available to the public, with 24 teams going to post in, arguably, the most competitive domestic League in World football.
What makes the Championship a special League is that you truly never know whom will emerge from it. Every season there is a team that seemingly comes out of nowhere and makes it to the Premier League promised land. Last season, Huddersfield Town gained promotion via the playoffs – a team that had widely been expected to struggle to avoid relegation. Before that, the likes of unfashionable Bournemouth, Cardiff, Burnley and Reading have all dropped jaws by clambering out of the Championship to spend varying amounts of time mixing it with the hierarchy of English football.
Last season, Newcastle United and Brighton gained automatic promotion and will join Huddersfield at the top table. Replacing them after suffering the ignominy of relegation were Hull City, Sunderland and Middlesbrough – the latter amongst the favourites to gain promotion. At the other end, Sheffield United, Bolton Wanderers and Millwall joined the Championship from Division 1 – all expected to have decent campaigns, but maybe not challenging for honours come next May.
The opening round of fixtures threw up a nice range of games – with Premiership old boys Sunderland hosting Derby County in the first game of the season, whilst bookies favourites Aston Villa host another Premiership reject in Hull City, which looks to be the game of the weekend. Elsewhere Middlesbrough travel to Wolverhampton Wanderers, whilst losing play off finalists Sheffield Wednesday travel to Preston North End.
There will be a range of tasty local derbies through the Championship season – Aston Villa will once again meet bitter rivals Birmingham City, the East Midlands battle between Derby County and Nottingham Forest will again be a hot blooded affair, the Steel City will again see its two teams clash, as Sheffield Wednesday will face Sheffield United, and Leeds United will continue their rivalries with just about every other team in the Division – with the whole nation holding their breath when they face Millwall again home and away.
Aston Villa have been installed as the bookies favourites to win the Championship, with 15/2 being the generally accepted price for their chances. Middlesbrough, Fulham and Norwich closely follow and are within a few points of the jollies, with Derby, Hull, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds and Sunderland a host of teams that are all around the 12 to 14/1 range. The outsiders of the league are Burton Albion, who continue to defy the odds by remaining at such a lofty level, with Barnsley, Millwall, Bolton and Ipswich all also very long odds to take top spot and therefore, by conversion, expected to prop up the League.
As Newcastle proved last season, cash can talk in the Championship, and there’s no doubt that Aston Villa continue to have the deepest pockets as they look to bring more strength to their already very talented squad. They should take all the beating this time around, having finished strongly last season and become more acclimatised to the blood and thunder of this Division. Look for them to take a grip of the Division early and be able to maintain their lead across the season.
Elsewhere, we like the look of the 14/1 available on Derby County to finally realise the potential they have after several seasons of coming close, but falling short. Manager Gary Rowett is shaping his squad nicely as the Rams look to bring some consistency to their results, without having as much pressure as has been on them in recent seasons.
But, the truth is, that, trying to pick a winner of the Championship is akin to picking the winner of the Grand National. Front runners fall away, teams come from the back finishing with a wet sail – but whomever does eventually prevail will have fully earned and deserved it.