Best Bets of 2018: Stoke and Huddersfield look set for the drop

Kev Hatchard fancies Huddersfield to be relegated in 2018
Kev Hatchard fancies Huddersfield to be relegated in 2018
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A collection of Betting.Betfair's finest have clubbed together to provide their best bets for the New Year...

"Stoke possess the league's worst defence and goal difference and can't be looking forward to the final five month's of the campaign with two-thirds of their remaining fixtures coming against clubs currently above them in the standings, including trips to Old Trafford, Anfield and the Emirates."

Kevin Hatchard - Huddersfield Town to be relegated at 7/2 (Betfair Sportsbook)

I have a lot of time for Huddersfield Town boss David Wagner, and I know how highly regarded the former Borussia Dortmund youth coach still is in Germany. He has done a terrific job in taking the Yorkshire club into the top flight, and subsequently keeping them out of the dropzone. However, I fear the Terriers may find the second half of the Premier League season very tough indeed.

They have some incredibly difficult away games to come, with trips to Chelsea, Spurs and the two Manchester clubs still on the fixture list. Their next few home matches may decide their fate, as they take on the likes of West Ham, Bournemouth, Swansea and Crystal Palace. If they were to lose a few of those, they'd be dragged right back into the mix.

Huddersfield have a good team but not a deep squad, and if injuries start to bite, they may not have enough cover to cope. I think it'll be tight, and the odds of 7/2 look generous.

Mark O'Haire - Stoke to be relegated at 7/2 (Betfair Sportsbook)

Mark Hughes may have alleviated pressure on his role as Stoke City manager by claiming four points from a possible six against West Brom and Huddersfield of late but odds of 7/2 (an implied 22% chance) for the Potters to suffer Premier League relegation appear too big to ignore.

Stoke possess the league's worst defence and goal difference and can't be looking forward to the final five month's of the campaign with two-thirds of their remaining fixtures coming against clubs currently above them in the standings, including trips to Old Trafford, Anfield and the Emirates.

The Potters currently rank 19th in terms of Expected Goals from open-play ratio and are lacking the required firepower to level out their sieve-like defence. Xherdan Shaqiri has been carrying the Stoke attack and Hughes has been unconvincing in his attempts to switch system and formation in search of a winning formula.

The squad is in need of a major overhaul, lacking inspiration and energy, and even a busy January transfer window is unlikely to stem the bleeding at the bet365 Stadium.

Elsewhere, Amiens should be backed for the drop from France's top-flight. The Ligue 1 newcomers have enjoyed back-to-back promotions in recent seasons and appear safe in mid-
table entering the winter break. However, the Unicorns results haven't matches their performances.

Sitting only two points above the relegation zone, Amiens have scored five of their paltry 16 goals from outside the box and no top-tier team has fired in fewer attempts at goal or shots on-target. The debutants still have to travel to six of the top eight clubs before the campaign's conclusion and star player Gael Kakuta is now subject to intense transfer speculation.

Tony Keenan - Back Stradivarius at [9.0] for the Ascot Gold Cup

There's an obvious temptation to tip up something for Cheltenham after the Christmas racing but many of the ante-post markets like the Gold Cup, Champion Chase and Stayers Hurdle were thrown into chaos by events over the past few days. I actually did have a small bet on Apple's Jade for the last-named contest as her recent Leopardstown run proved her stamina for three miles and hopefully Michael O'Leary can be pressured into running her against the geldings. In general I wouldn't hold out much hope of that but recent events with the unions suggested he may have more give in him than previously!

A more sensible suggestion - at least around intent to run in the race - is Stradivarius for the Ascot Gold Cup at [9.0]. He put up some notably good efforts on the clock in staying races in 2017, his victory in the Goodwood Cup and third in the St Leger standing out, and was a little unlucky on British Champions Day when the ground went against him and he was held up further back than ideal off a moderate gallop. There isn't much between him and the current favourite Order Of St George on that evidence and he has more scope to improve while he is also better suited by the fast ground that tends to prevail at the Royal Meeting.

Niall O'Reilly - Back Willoughby Court at 10/1 for the JLT Novices' Chase

I was more encouraged than most by Willoughby Court's run in the Dipper Novices Chase on New Year's Day where I thought he was a decent third to Yanworth trying to give the winner 5lbs. He jumped really well up until a bad mistake four out yet still kept on well after that on ground which wouldn't have been ideal. It's also worth noting that his stable has not been in it's usual flying form with only one winner from their last 24 runners prior to his run.

In my opinion some firms overreacted pushing him to 10/1 for the JLT where he is a confirmed runner. When you look at it, Yanworth is now 8/1 favourite with most firms despite the fact he could end up in the RSA, which could be the right race and given how he jumps, I wouldn't really fancy him at all on decent ground over the JLT trip anyway.

Third favourite is Death Duty who you couldn't fancy on the back of his Leopardstown fall while fourth favourite Finians Oscar hasn't looked a natural chaser so far this season.

Willoughby Court already has excellent festival form to his name after his defeat of Neon Wolf in last year's Neptune and he hasn't done anything this season to suggest he can't improve on that over fences. He represents excellent each-way value for me at 10/1 for the JLT.

Dan Weston - Back Novak Djokovic to be ranked higher than Andy Murray at 4/7 (Betfair Sportsbook)

Both players have been out with injury for much of the last season, and Djokovic has seen his rank drop to 12, with Murray down at 16. However, the more encouraging noises are certainly coming from the Djokovic camp, with his pre-season activity looking much more advanced based on posts on social media.

A post shared by Novak Djokovic (@djokernole) on

It genuinely wouldn't be a surprise if Murray never regained close to his previous best level, while Djokovic has a much bigger chance, and of course, the Serb was a considerably better player at his peak anyway. The 4/7 on Djokovic being ranked higher looks worth taking.

Dan Weston - Back Madison Keys to be the top ranked American (without Serena Williams) at 10/3 (Betfair Sportsbook)

Realistically, her competition for this honour will be Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe and Venus Williams, and there are cases to be made against every one of this trio.

Stephens will be defending winners points from her random US Open title - her record subsequently was horrific (six defeats in a row) - while Vandeweghe performed superbly in her favoured quick conditions last season, and will be hard-pushed to back up those efforts. Finally, Venus will turn 38 years of age this year and only played 13 main tour events last year, plus the season ending tour finals.

Conversely, the 19th ranked Keys has plenty of tournaments to boost her ranking - she played just one match post US Open, and missed the entire Australian swing (including the Australian Open) last season - and plenty of improvement potential from an ability perspective, so has a ton of upside in a market where she probably only needs to be ranked around the top ten to bank us a winner.

Steve Rawlings - Back Brandon Grace to win the US Open at 45/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)

Current form is a huge factor in golf so making long term predictions is perilous but I've had a good look at all four major championships in 2018 and there's one bet I particularly like. The second major of the year is the US Open at Shinnecock Hills, New York, in June and it's a venue that looks sure to suit South Africa's Brandan Grace.

Shinnecock is a very tough exposed links style course. Scoring has been historically high and fabulous links golf exponents have prospered. On the last occasion the US Open was staged at Shinnecock, in 2004, only two men broke par - the winner, Retief Goosen, and the runner-up, Phil Mickelson. Corey Pavin won here in 1995, with a level par total, and Raymond Floyd was the only man to break par when he won here in 1986.

I like Grace for a number of reasons. He became the first player to shoot 62 in a major at the Open Championship in July at the Birkdale Links, he's won the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, he lost a playoff to Mickelson at the Castle Stuart Golf Links in the 2013 Scottish Open in 2013 and like fellow South African, and just like Goosen, the last man to win at Shinnecock, Grace is a winner at the Fancourt Links course in his homeland, so he has a fabulous links golf pedigree.

He also has a very good US Open record and he has a significant birthday just days before the US Open. He turns 30 just a couple of weeks before the event kicks off and there have been numerous examples of players winning big events after milestone birthdays. The 45/1 with the Sportsbook is more than fair.

Paul Krishnamurty - Back the Democrats to win a majority in the House of Representatives at [1.59]

The last major US election produced an earthquake and the reaction looks set to produce a wave election. The mid-term elections are notoriously difficult for any sitting president. In the past century, only FDR, George W Bush (in the aftermath of 9/11) and Bill Clinton in his second term managed to avoid defeat. The fundamental difference here is that, whereas they were all popular at the time, Donald Trump has the worst approval ratings in history.

Like the special elections in which Democrats have recently thrived, the mid-terms are invariably driven by enthusiasm, or anger towards the government, from the opposition. Nobody drives that anger more than Trump. Whereas liberals have historically been unreliable voters, they have recently been markedly outshooting the polls. Generic polls consistently recording them double-digits ahead - 18% in one recent CNN survey - are surely bad news for the Republicans.

The electoral maths required to land this odds-on bet are definitely workable. The Democrats need to win 25 seats to win a majority in the House of Representatives. That represents less than a third of the seats they lost during the Obama era - when Republicans were the angry ones.

Frank Monkhouse - Back Callum Smith to win the World Boxing Super Series at [3.40]

All the talk amongst fight fans going into the New Year concerns the winner of the upcoming World Boxing Super Series match between George Groves and Chris Eubank Jnr. We're set for a thrilling contest, no doubt, and I have the latter pencilled in as the victor of that - if there's enough value in the fight betting - but there's plenty more to get excited about in the competition outright prices, and here's why...

Undefeated scouser Callum Smith goes as a [3.40] second favourite behind Eubank, and he shouldn't be.

The 6ft 3inch powerhouse, boasting a 74% KO average, faces what, on paper, appears to be a simpler task against Juergen Braehmer, and if he does the business there, as he's expected to, the Englishman will pick off what's left of the winner of Groves / Junior. I'd be happy to back him vs either man. A long way to go, but I, and many in the industry, believe he should be competition favourite. Grab the value and enjoy the boxing.

Mark Kirwan - Back the New Orleans Saints to win the Super Bowl at [12.5]

The 52nd Superbowl takes place in Minneapolis this February. While the New England Patriots at [3.45] remain strong favourites to claim their sixth championship of the Brady-Belichick era, a case can be made for several teams in the chasing pack. The Minnesota Vikings can become the first team ever to play a Superbowl in their home stadium, and at [6.2], they represent the likeliest challenger according to the market, but my own preference is for the New Orleans Saints at [12.5].

A post shared by New Orleans Saints (@saints) on

The Saints played Minnesota close in the opening week of the season and have improved significantly since then, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Two rookies have been crucial to their rise. Defensive back Marshon Lattimore has been a literal game-changer for the Saints, making them a lot tougher to score on, while running back Alvin Kamara saw off competition from Adrian Peterson earlier in the season and has allowed New Orleans to reshape their identity as a more run-focused offence. The NFC South has been very competitive this year, the Saints look set to top that, and significant injuries to the top-seed Eagles and other contenders in NFC could open a path for them to the arctic-cold showpiece.

Looking ahead to the summer and next season, the Jimmy Garappolo / Kyle Shanahan combination in San Francisco in 2018 looks very exciting right now, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, if they can snag a solid quarterback in free agency or the draft, will have high expectations and be worth a look when the market for 2018 opens.

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