Outright Football Markets: Playing the Long Game? – Part 2 – EFL Focus

Last week, I looked at a few outright markets in the Premier League. Aside from the likely winners, I also checked out the Top 4 and Top 6 battles, not to mention the relegation fight. Today, it is time to look into the three English Football League divisions: The Championship, League 1, and League 2.

Each division contains 24 teams, and they are all exceptionally difficult to predict. Last season, just 10 of the 72 EFL teams won half their games. In League 2, 11th placed Carlisle was just three points away from the playoffs! Choosing winners and losers in leagues where gaining 52% of the available points could be enough for promotion is tricky, to say the least, but I’ll give it a college try!

The Championship

The Championship may be the ‘easiest’ of the three leagues to predict due to the greater resources of the top sides. Remember, sides recently relegated from the Premier League have a major financial advantage; not just because of the money earned while in the top flight, but also the subsequent ‘parachute’ payments.

Leeds United are the outfight favourites at 5.50; mainly based on a strong showing last season. While they finished third, six points behind Sheffield United in second, Leeds were the best team in the Championship in terms of Expected Points. When it came to the playoffs, sixth-placed Derby dumped them out.

However, Leeds must contend with three relegated Premier League sides. Huddersfield was dreadful last season and are more likely to struggle in the Championship than earn promotion. Fulham improved towards the end of the season and may make a bold bid for a playoff spot at least. 

Cardiff is another side that should be challenging as they have kept the experienced Neil Warnock as manager and appear to be one of the strongest sides in the division. The Bluebirds may be the best option at 9.00.

The overall promotion market could yield a decent priced winner or good trading out opportunity at the very least. Remember, you only need your chosen team to finish in the Top 6 to have a clear trading out option if you choose a longer priced team. 

Stoke City has gained attention for making several sensible signings to bolster an already decent squad. The Potters were closer to relegation than the playoffs last season, but the addition of quality players at this level means they could be a reasonable bet for promotion at 4.50.

There is also a Top 6 market in case you don’t want to trade out or else you fear your team missing out in the playoffs. Swansea looks a decent option to finish in the Top 6 at 5.50. They have replaced their manager, Graham Potter, with Steve Cooper, a man with a similar style of play. 

Swansea achieved great things with this continuity in the past and was the joint fourth-best team in the Championship last season in terms of Expected Points and clear fourth in Expected Goal Difference. 

As far as the relegation zone goes, newly promoted Barnsley and Charlton are expected to find life tough in the Championship. However, both sides performed well enough last season to suggest they will do better than expected. The same should go for League 1 champions Luton who finished the campaign with an impressive 94 points. Unfortunately for the Hatters, they have lost several players and could struggle. 

Reading are an attractive proposition at 4.00 because they have struggled in the Championship for the last three seasons. Last season, the Expected Points table had them finishing second bottom!  

Hull City are another vulnerable side and could be worth a look at 5.00 to go down to League 1. A combination of a new manager, the loss of goalkeeper David Marshall, and a likely lack of goals means Hull could endure a long, hard season.

Millwall are also in possible danger and could be another value bet at 5.00. While Millwall was the 12th best side in the Championship according to Expected Points last season, they only finished four points clear of safety. The loss of several experienced players could prove to be their undoing. 

League 1

Sunderland is the clear favourites to win League 1 after notching 85 points last season. Portsmouth fared even better with 88 points but was defeated by Sunderland in the playoffs. The Mackem’s subsequently lost the final to Charlton. However, it is interesting to note that only two of the last 24 League 1 betting favourites has won the league. 

Fatigue did for Portsmouth last season, but they seem value to win the league at 7.00. While a club relegated from the Championship has won 6 of the last 11 League 1 titles, there is nothing to suggest Ipswich or Rotherham can continue this trend. Bolton are 151.00 to win the league which says a lot about the club’s prospects!

Peterborough could also be fighting for the title. The Posh has brought back Darren Ferguson as manager and made several astute signings including that of George Boyd. The Posh missed out on the playoffs by a single point and are likely to push on this season.


Peterborough seems a very good bet for promotion at 4.00. Coventry could be a dark horse at 8.00. They finished eight points outside the playoffs last season, but Expected Goals data placed them as the fifth-best side in the division. 

Certainly, 4.33 for Coventry to finish in the top 6 makes sense. Rotherham will probably have a decent season and could be worth a look at 2.25.

Four sides get relegated from League 1 which is why the prices are not always the best. Bury is an incredible 1.10 to go down. Why? Because they carry a 12-point penalty for entering into an insolvency event. It is apparently the shortest-priced ante-post event on record in English football.

Bury looks absolutely doomed as almost all of its staff and squad is leaving. Previously, the four clubs promoted from League 2 have avoided relegation for the last seven seasons; but this streak is almost certain to end. In fact, Bury may sadly cease to exist by the end of the season. The club’s first game against MK Dons was suspended because Bury failed to show ample evidence of financial viability.

Bolton just about met the FA’s criteria but also have a 12-point deduction to contend with for going into administration. The Trotters also look like a complete mess, and even odds of 1.57 appear to be decent for a side that is struggling to field a team and only just did enough to avoid having their opening day match against Wycombe cancelled. Bolton will try to fill the squad with lots of trialists; an action unlikely to save the club.

Two of the four positions looked nailed on, but there is still room for two more. Rochdale’s awful defence could make them worth a bet at 5.00. They conceded 87 goals, the most in the division, last season, and only survived by four points. Southend is another value bet at 4.33 having survived the drop by goal difference in a season which involved a 15-match winless streak. 

In truth, several sides could go down in a division where 12th placed Gillingham were only 5 points from safety at the end of the last season. 

League 2

This is by far the hardest of the four top English leagues to call, and the odds tell the story. Last season, 79 points were enough for automatic promotion as the MK Dons made it into League 1 despite losing 13 times! Few clubs at this level have money to spend, which makes it a more even playing field. 

Mansfield Town had promotion in their sights before a late-season collapse saw them drop into the playoffs where they were ultimately defeated. With a new manager and experience of challenging, 9.00 seems like reasonable odds. 

There’s a lot of hype surrounding Salford City, but they barely made into the National League playoffs and just about achieved promotion. Winning League 2 seems a bridge too far. Bradford finished rock bottom of League 1 but will be expected to provide a stern test to opponents at a lower level.

Plymouth Argyle could be a value bet at 10.00. They were relegated from League 1 on goal difference and have brought on Ryan Lowe as manager. He worked miracles to get Bury promoted given the mess they are in, and he has brought five of his Bury squad with him. With a better side and circumstances than what he had at Bury, there is every chance that Lowe takes his new side up. 

As far as promotion goes, Newport County is surprisingly long odds at 8.00; given the fact that they lost the playoff final to Tranmere Rovers last season. Despite having one of the lowest budgets in the EPL, Newport is a nightmare to play against at this level and could go one step further this season.

Remember, the seventh-placed team makes the playoffs in League 2, and the third-placed team enjoys automatic promotion. Exeter City could give you a run for your money at 3.75 to finish in the Top 7. Exeter finished just one point off the playoff spots last season with a superior goal difference to Newport County. 

Swindon Town may also be worth a look at 3.00 as they threatened the playoffs last season before tailing off near the end. With a manager firmly settled into his role, the Robins could produce a good season and get out of League 2 at the third time of asking.

At the other end of the table, Sol Campbell might be ‘one of the great minds in football,’ but he has his work cut out to keep Macclesfield Town afloat. To be fair to Campbell, he did a good job in keeping a mess of a club out of relegation by three points last season. 

However, 15 players have left, the club has little money to spend, and with unpaid wages and other off-field distractions, the mood around Macclesfield is bleak. Odds of 4.33 for the Silkmen to go down are very appealing indeed. If Campbell stays and keeps them up again, he will deserve an immense amount of credit.

Cambridge United finished fourth bottom last season and could take the other relegation spot at 7.00. The U’s score very few goals and are relying on a couple of aging journeymen to take them forward. 

There are several other options, and it is worth noting that the favourite to drop into the National League has survived on every occasion except once since the 2011/12 season. I still feel Macclesfield are in big trouble, but a longer priced side may follow them down. In the last seven seasons, one side has been relegated at odds of 11.00+. 

Port Vale score even fewer goals than Cambridge and, while not at double-digit odds, 9.00 seems long for a side that finished fifth from bottom last season. Carlisle United could be a surprise at 15.00 given the mess the club is in. The playing squad is thin, and while the side performed admirably last season, it was against the odds. A sudden drop into the bottom two wouldn’t be such a shock. 

Final Thoughts

There is a LOT to digest in this article, but it is just a fraction of what could be written about three extremely competitive leagues. There are few certainties other than the fact that Bury won’t be playing League 1 football next season, they may not even play football at all, which would be a tragedy.

The likes of Swansea, Peterborough, and Plymouth could be set for good seasons, while supporters of Bury, Bolton, Macclesfield Town, and perhaps Carlisle United could be suffering. However, this IS the EFL, and as punters often lament, almost anything can happen in leagues where winning half your games is a major achievement!

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