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02/05/2008 No.18
rendspotting Football/Rugby
Dan Roebuck
Friday May 02, 2008
The Championship lead may have changed hands 19 times between five clubs this season but the bookmakers have only seen support for two teams. "Despite all the changes at the top, punters were rarely swayed away from the big two of West Bromwich and Watford," said Paddy Power's spokesman Darren Haines. "For all their form, backers never seemed convinced of the longevity of Bristol City, Stoke or the early leaders, Coventry."

It is, of course, West Bromwich Albion who enter the final weekend of the campaign at the top, with the layers offering only 1-2 (general) that the Baggies will finish as champions. Their draw with Southampton on Monday effectively earned promotion and as long as they match Stoke City's result on Sunday they will win the title. Ladbrokes quote Tony Mowbray's side at 8-11 to be relegated next season while William Hill offer 11-10 that they stay up. Tony Pulis' team are 7-4 (Betfred) to pip West Bromwich to the title but must better their result to do so. Stoke need only to draw to earn automatic promotion with Boylesports offering 1-16 that they do so.

The play-off picture is far less clear, with five teams still chasing the final two places. To confuse calculations even further, two of those sides play against clubs threatened with relegation, with another taking on a team in the hunt for automatic promotion.

Hull are 9-4 (Coral) to be promoted, either automatically or via the play-offs, with Crystal Palace 3-1 (Coral), Bristol City 7-2 (general), Watford 4-1 (general), Wolves 7-1 (Coral), Ipswich 16-1 (general) and Sheffield United 25-1 (Stan James). Paddy Power have also priced up who will win the play-offs, with Stoke priced up at 40-1, which could obviously be a massive price if they miss out on a top-two place.

On form, the team under the biggest threat of missing out on a top-six place is Watford. Aidy Boothroyd's team, who have spent 99 days on top of the league this season and traded as short as 11-10 with Paddy Power in November, have managed just one win in their last 13 fixtures. The four teams immediately below Watford could all overtake them. It could take as little as Crystal Palace drawing with Burnley and Wolves defeating Plymouth coupled with a Hornets loss at Blackpool to deny them a play-off place. Even a draw on the Lancashire coast might see Watford miss out.

With little liquidity in Betfair's "Championship top-six finish" market (the advice would have been to lay Watford), the best way to side against Boothroyd's team is to sell them on Sporting Index's Championship outright index. Here, the winner is awarded 60 points, second 40, third 30, fourth 20, fifth 10, sixth 5 and every other finishing position zero. Watford are given a quote of 6-8, so even if they do finish sixth you make a profit if you sell.

Palace (4-9, general) and Wolves (4-7, Totesport and VC Bet) are odds-on to win their matches but Watford are 6-4 (Bet365 and Coral) to take three points at Blackpool, a team that have suffered just four home league losses this season. Fixed-odds punters can back Watford at 7-4 with Ladbrokes to finish outside the top six.

At the other end of the table, Southampton are 6-5 (Blue Square) favourites to join Scunthorpe and Colchester in League One next term. Leicester are 6-4 (general), Sheffield Wednesday 13-2 (Bet365), Blackpool 25-1 (Paddy Power) and Coventry also 25-1 (general).

Southampton are likely to have to better Leicester's result to stay up and both have tough games - Leicester are at Stoke while Southampton, crucially at home, play Sheffield United. The layers make the Saints 7-5 (Ladbrokes and Totesport) favourites to win while the Foxes are 7-2 (general) outsiders to be successful at Stoke. By that logic, Ian Holloway's team are the value punt to go down.

A tight game is predicted in Ipswich's match with Hull. However, should Stoke be leading Leicester, it is conceivable Hull could take it easy against a side needing a win to have a chance of a play-off place. If games elsewhere are not going Ipswich's way the opposite could occur. Either way, the 11-10 being offered (Stan James) that there will be more goals in the second half than the first seems a fair bet.

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