Promotion dark horses in the Championship

Promotion dark horses in the Championship

Last year it was Norwich, the year before it was Cardiff, then the year before that it was Huddersfield… there is often at least one Championship team who bridges the budgetary gulf to win promotion against the odds.

Who will that team be this year?

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) discusses the candidates and takes a look into the odds with Betfair.

Swansea City

steve cooper

Why they can go up

Steve Cooper has built on the tactical template the Graham Potter left, with superbly co-ordinated passing and movement, making them arguably the most spatially aware team in the Championship.

Matt Grimes dictates play very well at the base of the midfield with Jay Fulton pushing on in a more dynamic role, while the attacking quartet interchanges with delightful fluency.

Borja Baston, left out in the cold for much of his time in South Wales, has been a revelation up top.

Why they might not

Surprisingly, their Expected Goals Ratio is at 43.24%, ranking them 16th in the Championship on shot data.

They needed to rely on strong goalkeeping performances from Newcastle loanee Freddie Woodman to preserve a 0-0 draw at Derby, then secure a 1-0 win at Leeds.

The Swans showed in the 1-0 home loss to Nottingham Forest that, even when they control possession, they can allow opponents clear cut chances – especially when they counter-attack well.

Verdict and odds

Look potentially strong enough for the top six.

Betfair odds for promotion = 3/1

Preston North End

preston manager

Why they can go up

North End have been progressing gradually every season for the last six years, so they are on an upward trajectory.

Their recruitment is excellent, too, with centre-back Patrick Bauer bringing some much-needed nous to a youthful defence and in Ben Pearson, the Lilywhites possess arguably the Championship’s strongest ball-winner.

Alex Neil’s side pose a huge threat from set pieces, with five goals scored from free-kicks and corners already this season.

They also possess the third-best shot data in the Championship, with an Expected Goals Ratio of 61.36%.

Why they might not

PNE have only scored eight goals in open play, which is the joint-11th fewest – one fewer than the return a Reading side supposedly in crisis.

They are short of a complete striker, too.

Tom Barkhuizen is direct but raw, Jayden Stockley is better from the bench than starting while the likes of Louis Moult and Sean Maguire have had fitness issues.

Could regret not landing a return for Jordan Hugill in the summer, because he would have significantly improved their first XI.

Verdict and odds

May miss out on promotion.

Betfair odds for promotion = 13/2

Bristol City

lee johnson

Why they can go up

Like North End, Bristol City have progressed and evolved continually for the last half-decade.

Lee Johnson first imposed his basic principles in terms of playing out from the back, then in his second full season he developed the team’s pressing, then last season made the team more adaptable with the capacity to play long at the right moments.

The Robins seem to be acquiring something new to their game every season.

This year, there is a toughness about them to pick up a 2-1 win at Stoke or a 1-1 draw at Brentford when perhaps not playing their best football – without the likes of Tomas Kalas and Adam Nagy through injury – so with the team nine games unbeaten, we could be getting very close to the complete package.

Why they might not

Three players who started the last game – Taylor Moore, Tommy Rowe and Antoine Semenyo – were playing below the Championship last season.

They are having to make the jump to not just hold their own at this level, which they are of course more than capable of doing, but perform consistently against a new standard of opposition, which is a tall order.

City could do with a direct left wing-back to rotate with the right-footed Rowe, who is more of a technical option.

Verdict and odds

Definite contenders.

Betfair odds for promotion = 13/2

Charlton Athletic

Charlton Athletic Lee Bowyer Derby County

Why they can go up

There is a siege mentality about this Charlton team with characteristics that could be likened to 2013-14 and 2015-16 promotion-winning Burnley sides.

The Addicks show a determination to throw themselves in front of every shot that comes their way, with centre-back Tom Lockyer enjoying an outstanding start to the campaign, following his arrival from Bristol Rovers.

They possess smatterings of talent, too, in midfielder Conor Gallagher, who has displayed supreme quality since joining on loan from Chelsea.

Why they might not

Charlton rank 15th in Championship shot data, with an Expected Goals Ratio (xGR) of 44.30%.

Their dogged defensive work has been very important in the first two months of the season, but it would be difficult for them to use the same template every week and expect to remain competitive.

Charlton can only block so many shots before opposing teams start finding the quality to make their pressure pay, so it is reasonable to expect a decline in results.

Verdict and odds

They’ve had a great start towards 50 points but are unlikely to be serious promotion contenders.

Betfair promotion odds = 25/1