Placing bets on the wildly unpredictable Championship is traditionally a mug’s game, but even so, there are sure to be some astute punters on the verge of a healthy pay out this weekend.
Rated as 16/1 and 25/1 long shots back in August, one of Watford or Bournemouth WILL celebrate an unexpected title triumph on Saturday – and even though I didn’t have a penny on either, I couldn’t be more delighted.
These two sides are going to be fabulous additions to the Premier League.
So, what can we expect from the new boys?
First up, a genuine goal threat. The Hornets have netted 90 so far this season, which is a full 30 more than QPR managed en route to promotion from the Championship a year ago.
The difference with Watford is that they don’t just rely on one hit man, they have three; Troy Deeney (21 goals), Odion Ighalo (20) and Matej Vydra (15), and one by one – occasionally all together – they have terrorized the division.
Nigerian Ighalo is quick and lively, Czech youngster Vydra the brains of the operation, but Deeney is the jewel in the crown.
He could have been a Premier League player last summer (several clubs expressed a serious interest) but having stood by him after serving a 10-month jail sentence for affray in 2012, the reformed 26-year-old wanted to repay Watford for their loyalty, agreeing to stay for at least one more season.
Deeney has a bit of everything.
He’s strong, holds the ball well, plays with intelligence, and also has the speed to run in behind. In front of goal he can be cold and clinical.
The Hornets boast impressive firepower, but so too do Bournemouth. Eddie Howe’s side have scored even more; they are on 95 goals to date.
Leading the way is £3million signing Callum Wilson, with 20 league strikes. The pacy 23-year-old runs the channels brilliantly, and whenever the Cherries have the chance, they slide balls in between defenders for him to chase. Once on the ball he has the skill and technique to net all types of goals. He’ll worry top-flight defenders next season.
Around Wilson there’s no shortage of teammates who will assist and share the load. The talented Yann Kermogant (15), predatory Brett Pitman (13), and outstanding wide man Matt Ritchie (13) have all chipped in with vital efforts in 2014/15, while midfielders Marc Pugh (9) and Harry Arter (8) get forward handily too.
Tactically, both managers will give Premier League rivals plenty to think about.
Watford head coach Slavisa Jokanovic comes across as a serious misery guts on TV, but his laid-back style and detailed approach have been a big hit inside the Vicarage Road dressing room.
His side boasts a lovely blend of British steel and continental flair, and they are comfortable playing in a wide range of formations. Leaving no stone unturned, there will be a carefully constructed game plan for every Watford opponent.
As for Eddie Howe, if there’s a brighter, more rounded young coach in Europe than the 37-year-old Bournemouth boss, I’m yet to find him.
He has taken ownership of the club’s philosophy from top to bottom, and there is no one at the Goldsands Stadium that has a bad word to say about his management.
His brand of football also has Premier League written all over it.
Coaching his players to express themselves and be comfortable on the ball wherever they are on the pitch, the Cherries have developed a free flowing pass and move style that’s a delight to watch.
There are no superstars on the south coast, but when it comes to teamwork and cohesion they are one of the best sides to get promoted from the Championship in years.
Both managers will strengthen this summer of course, and having conceded more goals than all three promoted teams last year, stiffening up their respective defences will be an urgent priority.
Watford are backed by the wealthy Italian Pozzo family, while Russian businessman Maxim Denim will be happy to prop up Howe’s spending. Neither club is exactly short on funds, or ambition.
We’ve read plenty about the fairytale stories that have led to this golden moment for Watford and Bournemouth, but even if neither is a heavyweight in size or stature, from a football perspective neither are there to make up the numbers. They are equally worthy of their place.
Personally, I can’t wait to see these two play in the Premier League, but first they must try and win the Championship title this weekend.
Who would be most deserving champion? At a push, I pick Bournemouth.