Who finishes in the EFL Championship’s top six?, With Gab Sutton

EFL betting tips and odds from our EFL expert Gab Sutton. Gab will scour the upcoming matches in League One, League Two and the Championship. Gab will tell you what games to watch every week, offering tips and advice based on his experience and knowledge from being a lifelong fan of all things EFL.

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EFL Championship Betting Tips and Odds: who finishes in the EFL Championship’s top six?

Leicester could run away with the title in the EFL Championship, while Ipswich and Leeds shape up to race for second, joined potentially by Southampton, who ought to have enough quality to secure a comfortable top-six finish – but who will also make the cut?

EFL pundit Gab Sutton profiles six playoff candidates and assesses the odds…

West Brom – 11/8

Although West Brom have been prime promotion candidates at this level previously, this time around they would be nowhere near the Play-Off equation if they didn’t have Carlos Corberán.

The Spaniard is arguably the best Head Coach in the EFL Championship, or at least on a par with Ipswich’s Kieran McKenna, with the ability to both establish a clear style of play and adapt in adversity.

The 40-year-old is a highly advanced tactician, which has allowed him to conjure up effective systems even during an injury crisis that has ruled out key creator John Swift, plus strikers Josh Maja and Daryl Dike.

The good news for Albion is that all three are showing positive signs in their recovery and could be back shortly to bolster an attack comprising Jed Wallace and Brandon Thomas-Asante, neither of whom has been a central focal point previously in their careers.

Corberán’s tactics have made the Baggies effective in those circumstances, and his man-management has reignited a spark in out-of-form individuals.

He inherited a squad comprising of some who’d been hit by injuries, like winger Grady Diangana, some who’d been considered past their best, like centre-back Kyle Bartley,  some who’d simply been out of form, like his partner Cédric Kipré, and some of whom all those things were true, like Matt Phillips.

A lot of the players had proven themselves in the EFL Championship before, but Corberán’s work got them back brimming with belief.

With arguably the best manager in the league, the biggest question hanging over West Brom is what happens in January, and that’ll be determined by the ownership situation.
It’s a club gravely in need of new owners, and there have been reports of lawyer David Hinchcliffe advising on a potential takeover, and it’s plausible there’s movement before January.
If there aren’t new owners by that point, it’s plausible owner Lai Guochuan will hold off on selling key assets like goalkeeper Alex Palmer and Thomas-Asante in order to increase the likelihood of a sale.
Verdict: so much depends on whether the takeover goes through, and the timing of it, but it’s still plausible Corberán gets Albion into the top six regardless…

Preston North End – 9/2

Ironically, North End’s best form came when they had fewer players available.

Ryan Lowe’s side accrued a stunning 19 points from the first 21 available, without left-siders Robbie Brady and Greg Cunningham, midfielder Ben Whiteman and strikers Ched Evans and Emil Riis.

Once they had more options, they took two points out of the next possible 21: it’s possible the dynamic established at the start of the season was disrupted somewhat, but also that the Lilywhites had got fortunate early on and have more recently found themselves instead on the wrong side of fine margins.

Defensively, North End will be reliable once Andrew Hughes returns from injury to re-establish the solid trio with Jordan Storey and Liam Lindsay, with the team conceding just eight goals in eight games when they’ve started simultaneously, four of which coming in the defeat to West Brom.

Elsewhere, it’s a question of balancing priorities.

Whiteman, for instance, is PNE’s most technical midfielder, but the team can be more open when he plays, rather than two of Ryan Ledson, Ali McCann, and Alan Browne – man-of-the-match in the 3-2 win over Coventry last time out – who are all more tenacious, and perhaps likelier to cover the ground required in a two-man midfield.

Similarly, Liam Millar is supremely gifted, but he often plays with the positional freedom of an inside forward rather than left wing-back, and can be a defensive liability.

Finally, Mads Frokjaer-Jensen is a box of tricks and looks the most enjoyable player to watch in a white shirt at Deepdale since Aiden McGeady left six years ago, but he’s a little languid out of possession.

There’s a series of dilemmas for North End, and they’ve not quite gotten through them to land on a system that allows them to create a steady flow of chances whilst staying defensively responsible.

Verdict: right now, it’s hard to back PNE for the playoffs, even at 9/2 quotes, but that could change if they can find the right blend. Either way, progress is being made for the Lancashire club, who have arguably their best squad since 2005-06.

Sunderland – 23/10

Sunderland have the talent to finish in the top six, with a squad far stronger than the one that achieved the feat last season, when they had no natural centre-forwards and a makeshift defence from January onwards.

Both areas have since been strengthened, although Luke O’Nien is still starting in central defence over recruit Nectarios Triantis, who’s struggled with the pace of the level after joining from Central Coast Mariners in Australia, while none of the four strikers brought in have exactly set the world alight, for different reasons.

Luís Hemir was an exciting acquisition, with Portugal Under-20s pedigree, but was stepping up from Liga Portugal 2 (2nd tier) football with Benfica B and may need time.

Conversely, Mason Burstow has come under more scrutiny because he’s a loan signing rather than a permanent, but the Chelsea striker, too, has struggled with the level, having played only a bit-part role for Charlton in 2021-22.

Elsewhere, Eliezer Mayenda and Nazariy Rusyn signed when they had injuries, although the latter looks the most ready, of the four, to make an impact, after starting in the 3-1 victory over Norwich.

Rusyn is unlikely to be prolific, but he can hassle and harry opposing defenders better than anyone starting up top for Sunderland this season, and he makes early runs in behind for through balls which can open the game up.

As such, the Ukrainian looks a solution to a problem position for Sunderland, who have a core of six to seven players who are top two material.

Anthony Patterson, Trai Hume, Dan Ballard, Dan Neil, Jack Clarke and Jobe Bellingham are all on a par with the quality Ipswich and Leeds possess, as well as arguably Patrick Roberts, if he can add productivity to his ball-carrying brilliance.

If the go-to septet stay fit, Sunderland doesn’t need the other four players in their best XI to be incredible, they just need them to do a job.

Verdict: 23/10 looks great value, for a team that already has so many top-end players in situ, and there’s even rumours of star Amad Diallo returning from Manchester United in January. While Sunderland lack experience, they’re not short of characters: everything went against them last season, and they still got in…

Hull – 33/10

Hull have flirted with the EFL Championship Play-Offs throughout the season so far, despite never winning more than two games in a row.

The Tigers have struggled for consistency, perhaps because every time they’ve threatened a run, they’ve lost a key player to injury, most recently midfielder Regan Slater and wide man Jaden Philogene.

Slater’s industry makes him integral to the Humbersiders, especially alongside languid playmaker Jean Michaël Seri, while Philogene had been in fine form prior to his lay-off.

The recruit from Aston Villa is quick, skilful, and can provide moments of magic to turn tight games in Hull’s favour like he did in October’s 1-0 win over Preston North End – so getting the two back soon is a must.

Nonetheless, Liam Rosenior’s side have an outstanding centre-back in Alfie Jones, who has forged a strong pairing with Sean McLoughlin, which has kept Jacob Greaves – the club’s biggest asset – out of his natural position.

Although, having Greaves at left-back does fit nicely into their in-possession strategy, as Hull builds play with a 3-2-4-1 shape with the 23-year-old tucking into the defence.

Right-back Liam Coyle presses high up on the flank, like Philogene or Scott Twine on the left, albeit from a more advanced starting spot, then two of Twine, Traore and Ozan Tufan in the number 10 positions just ahead of Seri and Slater or Tyler Morton.

Perhaps the reason why they’ve struggled defending down their left, however, is because Rúben Vinagre has been playing in Greaves’ role, which includes being a left centre-back in possession, which can expose his defensive limitations more than it would if he were a left wing-back.

As such, strengthening at left-back could be a January priority for Liam Rosenior, but it would leave Greaves classed as a rotation option, which might have seemed unthinkable two years ago, yet it highlights how far Hull have come under Acun Ilıcalı’s ownership.

The Tigers also boast a strong goalkeeper in Ryan Allsop, who has made 1.9 saves per 90 from inside the penalty area, the joint-eighth most in the Championship, while striker Liam Delap has impressed since joining on loan from Man City, scoring four goals.

If Hull can strengthen in January, and get luckier with injuries, there’s every reason to think they could challenge.

Verdict: it’s too early in Liam Rosenior’s promising career to call him one of the best managers in the league, but he and Hull have advantages over competitors like West Brom including stability, clarity and resources to spend in January. Get Slater and Philogene back soon and that 33/10 might look tasty…

Blackburn – 11/2

Blackburn have kicked their season into life with four wins from their last five league games, a return that’s seen Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side soar from 20th to 10th.

Rovers won 3-1 at Carrow Road last time out, seeing out the last 36 minutes with 10 men, highlighting a team battling for one another.

Their form has broadly coincided with a 4-1-4-1 system, that converts into a 3-2-4-1 in possession.

James Hill and Harry Pickering are the full-backs, but the latter likes to invert into midfield, similar to the job Oleksandr Zinchenko does for Arsenal, while the former tucks into the back three like Ben White.

Pickering partnering up with Sondre Tronstad means the two midfielders ahead of him, often Joe Rankin-Costello and Sammie Szmodics, can push forward and join with the attack.

In Szmodics’ case, it’s about overloading the flank to dovetail with left-sider Arnór Sigurðsson, who likes to cut inside on his right foot, or break ahead of Tyrhys Dolan, a false nine who often drops in to link play.

Rankin-Costello, on the other hand, stays comparatively deep and narrow, focusing on graceful ball-carrying in the channel.

The system’s flexibility can make it highly effective, and Rovers will feel they can make a Play-Off charge with the right January additions.

That may include a centre-forward, despite plenty of existing candidates: Sammie Szmodics and Arnór Sigurðsson are thriving elsewhere in the XI, Semir Telalović and Niall Ennis are yet to start a league game while Harry Leonard is raw and inexperienced – he and Dolan have scored just two goals apiece.

It could be that one of the above six jump out of the pack between now and January to become the ruthless finisher Rovers require, or likelier still, that the club doesn’t have the funds to bring in yet another striker, and Tomasson may have to work with what he has.

Verdict: I wouldn’t predict Blackburn to finish in the top six, but the chances of them finding the required solution up top, or getting enough goals from other areas for that not to damage their Play-Off bid, isn’t the remote long shot our 11/2 quotes suggest. Those keen on an outside punt could do worse…

Middlesbrough – 8/5

Middlesbrough are one of the most creative sides in the league.

The dynamism of Hayden Hackney, the control of Dan Barlaser, the trickery of Isaiah Jones, the guile of Sammy Silvera, the flair of Morgan Rogers, the goal threat of Matt Crooks, the athleticism of Josh Coburn, the movement of Emmanuel Latte Lath, and the selfless energy of Sam Greenwood makes Boro a dangerous side, with the options in reserve to change a game.

Michael Carrick’s side don’t quite have the same match-winners of last season, when Ryan Giles topped the EFL Championship’s assists charts from left-back, Chuba Akpom shocked everyone with 29 goals, and Cameron Archer chipped in with 11 in 23 after joining on loan in January.

They do, though, have more depth, especially with Riley McGree and Marcus Forss still to return from injury, and it could be a net positive for the Teessiders.

On the other hand, Middlesbrough have a, dare we say, flakey side to them: they conceded 13 goals in their first six games, which was down to defensive failings in the basics such as closing down opponents, tracking runners and marking their opponents.

They subsequently solidified with six consecutive league wins, three of which to nil, butthose early-season issues have since reappeared in the 2-0 home loss to Stoke, and 3-3 draw at Plymouth Argyle.

Verdict: when confidence is high, Middlesbrough are one of the best teams in the EFL Championship and they can look unstoppable, but when it drops, they can miss the defensive resilience required to keep the points ticking over. I think they’ll be streaky, and for that reason, I’m not prepared to back them at 8/5 over the bigger prices elsewhere.