The Championship: Boro and Brum the early picks

Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray
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After picking Reading at [18.0] to win last season's Championship Mike Norman is back to preview this year's renewal, and it's two clubs that did well last term that he thinks look overpriced.

"Put simply then, the reason I fancy Boro is because they look to have a much stronger squad than this time 12 months ago."

Back Middlesbrough @ [23.0] to win Championship
Back Middlesbrough @ [6.0] to be Promoted

This time last year I highlighted two clubs to back (or trade if that's what you prefer to do) in the Championship Winner market. Reading - advised pre-season at [18.0] - went on to win the division, whilst West Ham traded at much lower than their pre-season odds before being promoted via the play-offs.

This season the Championship promises to be one of the most wide open for many years.

Unlike last term, none of the relegated teams from the Premier League stand out as 'good things' to go straight back up, whilst there doesn't seem to be a promoted League One side capable of securing back-to-back promotions like Norwich and Southampton have done in recent seasons.

The Winner market indicates exactly how open this season's Championship is expected to be with marginal favourites Bolton priced at [8.8], yet seventh favourites Nottingham Forest are just over four points higher at [13.0].

But it is two clubs that are available to back at around the [24.0] mark that catch my eye as excellent betting opportunities.

Both Birmingham and Middlesbrough finished in the top seven last season and have done nothing during the summer to suggest that they will be weaker this time around. So quite why the market has 10 clubs more fancied than Brum and Boro is very surprising... so take advantage.

It's no secret that I'm a Middlesbrough fan but I never let this cloud my judgement when it comes to betting; I definitely go with my head and never my heart. Put simply then, the reason I fancy Boro is because they look to have a much stronger squad than this time 12 months ago.

Vastly experienced defender Jonathan Woodgate, hard-working midfielder Grant Leadbitter, and versatile former Middlesbrough player Stuart Parnaby are the three big summer signings made so far by Tony Mowbray, whilst promising attacking midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma will fit perfectly into his manager's preferred style of play. January signing Lukas Jutkiewicz is a proven goalscorer at this level and will also benefit from a full pre-season with his new teammates.

In addition to the new signings, Middlesbrough have a squad with a perfect mix of youth and experience.

Highly-rated Australian Rhys Williams has committed his future to the club, and in Kevin Thomson, Julio Arca, and Scott McDonald they have a trio of players who have played at the top level in either the Scottish or English Premier Leagues.

Middlesbrough's home form was a problem last season with clubs coming to the Riverside Stadium and parking the bus, but away from home they were one of the best outfits in the division. I don't see why the latter should be any different this term, so if this improving team can perform just a tad better on home soil it's impossible to envisage the Teesside club not being in the promotion shake-up.

Birmingham are very similar to Middlesbrough in the sense that they are a recently relegated club from the Premier League, they have a lot of experienced players who have played top flight football in their ranks, and because of the current financial climate, they are starting to promote youngsters to their first team squad - Jack Butland and Nathan Redmond being two good examples.

Lee Clark is an excellent capture in my opinion, a highly promising manager who has his feet firmly grounded and someone who knows the game inside out for one so young.

Brum have a big squad of players and it's a huge benefit that they don't have the distraction of Europa League football this season. They were left trailing in the Championship whilst still competing in that competition last term, but once eliminated, they were one of the best sides in the division and I fully expect them to perform to a similar level this time around.

I'll go through the market leaders in a separate preview, but for now, help yourself to the generous odds available for Middlesbrough and Birmingham, not just to win the division, but in the Promotion market also.

Recommended Bets

Back Middlesbrough @ [23.0] to win Championship
Back Middlesbrough @ [6.0] to be Promoted
Back Birmingham @ [23.0] to win Championship
Back Birmingham @ [6.2] to be Promoted

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