Lancs for the memories
Every now and again, a team drops down into the Championship that really shouldn't be there. They say no team is ever too good to go down but those who take the setback in their stride and hold it together during the close season tend to be too good at the next level. With that thought in mind, take some of the 7/1 on Bolton to win the title.
Let's have it straight: the Trotters were poor last term but an unlikely series of events also conspired to make life extremely difficult. They lost key players to long-term injuries before the campaign even began, and the fixture list in the first six weeks was just as gruesome as they tried to readjust. In short, they started the season on the back foot and that's where they stayed, continuously for the next nine months.
But if you look at their results against the rest of the bottom six, you perhaps get some indication of how they will perform at this level. Wanderers won seven of those ten matches, virtually every one of which had been built-up as a high-pressure six-pointer. When it came to the crunch against like-minded opposition, Bolton delivered.
Now a quick look through their squad list for the coming campaign should be enough to convince anyone that Wanderers are the team to beat. There might not be many Premier League clubs banging down the door to relieve the Reebok of its most valuable assets, but that leaves Owen Coyle with enviable strength in depth.
Back Bolton to win the Championship at 7/1
The names of Chris Eagles, Darren Pratley, Marvin Sordell, Keith Andrews, Sam Ricketts, Matt Mills, David Wheater, Tyrone Mears and Andy Lonergan read like a who's who of Championship seasons past. But now most of them bring Premier League experience to the table, and we still haven't mentioned half-a-dozen players who would walk into most other teams in the division.
All of which means it's down to Coyle to find the right blend and deliver what's expected. Naturally, there are those questioning whether the tee-total Glaswegian is quite the managerial star he was originally portrayed to be but his end-of-season surge with Burnley three years ago demonstrated his ability to generate some momentum on the strength of a happy dressing room dynamic.
Meanwhile, one man who we shouldn't doubt for a moment on both of those counts is Ian Holloway and we're backing Blackpool to build on their dazzling attempt to bounce back from relegation last term, starting from a much stronger base this time around. As formidable as Bolton look, we're not going to stand by and allow the bookies to get away with a disrespectful 18/1 quote about the Tangerines.
Back Blackpool to win the Championship at 18/1
Holloway is a magician and his ability to pull rabbits from hats with his hands tied behind his back has matured to such an extent that he belongs in the Premier League now. Based on the evidence of the past three years, he clearly has the measure of this division and it will be interesting to see how much Karl Oyston is prepared to loosen the purse strings because we reckon the barmy Bristolian will deliver in proportion to his appeal for a show of ambition.
There's still some degree of uncertainty over personnel at Bloomfield Road but it's nothing compared to the high player turnover that Holloway had to oversee last summer and we reckon the Seasiders have enough to kick-on from a much more favourable position once the season has settled down come the end of October. If they're already in the top six by that stage, they could take some stopping.
We would back the 18/1 each-way but third position is neither use nor ornament in terms of their promotion aspirations. Instead, the 11/2 on Blackpool to win promotion pays an extra point and represents much better value, especially in light of Holloway's fearless approach towards play-off matches should the Tangerines finish up elsewhere in the top six.
Back Blackpool to win promotion at 11/2
Meanwhile, we've found a tidy way to cover our entire ante-post portfolio for this division because we don't fancy Hull in the slightest and you can get even money about Blackpool (-2.5) to finish above Hull on a season handicap match bet.
The Tigers were a solid proposition under Nigel Pearson 12 months ago, and the defensive discipline he instilled served Nick Barmby well for a few months following Pearson's departure to Leicester in November. But soon enough, all sense of creativity was lost and now the team needs a new identity altogether after local legend Barmby was unceremoniously dumped by the club in the summer.
His replacement Steve Bruce knows all about unceremonious exits, of course - they generally don't come any more unceremonious than to chants of "You fat Geordie bastard, get out of our club!" - and he now has a job on his hands to mend a reputation that was slaughtered in his final days at Sunderland.
Back Blackpool (-2.5) to finish above Hull at evens
It would be wrong to dismiss the Tigers purely on the grounds that Bruce is the manager because the 51-year-old wouldn't have worked almost continuously for the past 14 years without any redeeming features. Nonetheless, his steadfast refusal to embrace modern techniques leaves him standing still in a fast-evolving environment. And it's here at Hull, a club now owned by inexperienced local businessmen in a hurry to recapture the Premier League dream, where Bruce's shortcomings could be revealed sooner than they have been in the past.
You can get 10/1 about the Tigers to be relegated and that's not a bad price either, although it's a field that contains many likely contenders and Hull do still have some individual quality in their ranks. Instead, you might find a bit more mileage in Charlton to be relegated at 13/2 where Chris Powell is frustrated by his inability to strengthen a squad that's short on Championship experience amid ongoing uncertainty at boardroom level.
Promoted sides generally have a good record for staying in the division but we see similarities between this Addicks team and Peterborough in their first attempt at survival three years ago. Everything went swimmingly for Powell in his first full season at the helm, but we were left with the lasting impression that momentum played a big part and it will be interesting to see how the Londoners regroup during those periods of adversity that will undoubtedly present themselves this term.
Back Charlton to be relegated at 13/2
Mike Holden's forecast:
6. Sheff Wed
14. Nott'm Forest
16. Bristol City
20. Crystal Palace
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