Championship ante post 2017/18
- Middlesbrough outright 13/2 EW (Sky Bet 4 places)
- Middlesbrough to be promoted 2/1 (William Hill)
- Middlesbrough to be top Yorkshire team 9/4 (Sky Bet)
- Bolton to be relegated 7/4 (William Hill)
As ever, the Championship seems a fiercely tough division to crack but I am keen to take on the ante post favourites, Aston Villa, who finished 13th last season, despite spending big, and have given Steve Bruce plenty of work to do in pre-season.
John Terry has signed for one last pay cheque and along with another aging centre-half, Christopher Samba, Villa look a poor ante post price around 7/1 in my opinion.
Defensively, Villa had the sixth best record in the league last year and it was a poor scoring record (21st best in the division) which held them back. It is hard to see how their summer recruits can obviously improve their attacking output, however.
The likes of Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Derby are other sides who were solid at the back but just lacked that bit of an attacking edge to be considered for the title.
Fulham and Reading, while strong offensively, need to tighten up slightly at the back but, with all, I can't see enough in their summer recruitment to think they can suddenly become leading title contenders.
Although Middlesbrough were dire offensively in the Premier League - they were the only team in the division with an 'expected goals' figure less than '1' in the Experimental 3-6-1 Premier League scatter, Garry Monk, with parachute payments to assist him, has been given a decent war chest in an attempt to secure an immediate return to the top flight.
Relegated sides are naturally entitled to improve in a weaker division anyway, while Britt Assombalonga has joined for 15m, having netted 14 times in 33 appearances for a struggling Forest side last year, and Denmark international Martin Braithwaite is an exciting recruit, having netted 12 times in Ligue 1 for Toulouse last season.
Ashley Fletcher has dropped a division to beef up the attack further, while Johnny Howson is an excellent addition to their midfield from Norwich and brings with him a wealth of Championship (and Premier League) experience.
Although they suffered a 1-0 loss at Wolves on the opening day of the season, Boro finished that game much stronger than they started and Braithwaite missed a couple of strong opportunities which could have readily been converted on another day.
The layers eased Boro back out in the betting after that loss, but the season is not won or lost on one game, going to big-spending Wolves on the opening day was never going to be easy opener, and Monk's men now face three very winnable games to get their season up and running - hosting newly promoted Sheff Utd before coming up against Burton and Forest - two sides expected to be in the bottom half of the table this season.
I've backed them outright at 13/2 EW (Sky, enhanced place terms), for promotion at 2/1 (William Hill) and in the 'top Yorkshire team' market at 9/4 against Leeds, Sheff Wed, Hull, Sheff Utd, Sunderland and Barnsley - as a saver to cover the other two bets.
At the bottom of the table, I expect Bolton will struggle this season and the Trotters appear obvious relegation contenders.
Phil Parkinson's side seemed to benefit from scoring many late goals in their League One promotion campaign, which took a while to kick into action, last season and Parkinson's direct approach may not necessarily bring out the best in loan recruit Josh Cullen - who ran the show for Bradford in League One last season - nor be the most effective way to survive in this higher division.
Parkinson often sets his sides up to be tough to break down - and Bolton were no exception last year - but the trade off is their limited attacking returns.
Managing to increase attacking output (Bolton were only eighth highest in terms of 'expected' goals in League One last season) in a higher division is going to prove incredibly difficult for Parkinson, especially when he has been working under a transfer embargo and the club were faced with yet another winding up order from HMRC last month.
Parkinson has used the loan market to bring in Adam Armstrong from Newcastle and West Ham pair Reece Burke and Josh Cullen, but while ownership issues rumble in the background it is a less-than-ideal situation for all concerned when it comes to making proper signings and establishing long-term plans.
7/4 (William Hill) for them to drop looks very fair from a division where you perhaps need more to your game than a route one game plan.