Does any league in Europe produce drama quite as consistently as the Championship?
If any further proof was needed of what a crazy league England’s second tier really is, you need look no further than what happened to Leicester City and Watford – whose play-off clash you can bet on by clicking here – on the last day of the season.
Starting the day two points outside the play-offs and needing to overhaul two teams in order to finish in the top six, it seemed highly probable that Leicester’s season would end on Saturday.
However, a last-minute win in a topsy-turvy game with Midlands rivals and fellow play-off hopefuls Nottingham Forest, coupled with Bolton’s failure to win at home to Blackpool, let the Foxes sneak into sixth place against all the odds, no doubt keeping Nigel Pearson in a job.
But if that was dramatic, the scenes at Watford were even more incredible.
A better result at home to Leeds United than Hull City managed against champions Cardiff City would have seen the Hornets promoted automatically.
But even though Steve Bruce’s men could only draw with the Welsh side, ten-man Watford spectacularly blew their chance, losing 2-1 in a game where they ending up using third-choice goalkeeper Jack Bonham after a pre-match injury to first choice Manuel Almunia and a nasty injury to number two Jonathan Bond, which had delayed the game by 15 minutes.
And despite knowing Hull’s game had finished and that a goal would therefore win promotion, Watford somehow contrived to concede a last-minute goal on a chastening day, leaving Gianfranco Zola’s men to fight it out in the play-offs if they are to return to the top flight for the first time since 2007, where Leicester themselves have not been since 2004 under Micky Adams.
The two meet in tonight’s first leg at the King Power Stadium in somewhat stuttering form, but at the prices the preference has to be for Watford, who seem rather big at 5/2 to take a lead back to Vicarage Road next week.
The draw is 12/5, with Leicester at even money, and that is a bet that can’t seriously be tempting many people.
As hinted at above, were it not for the unlikely sequence of results last weekend Pearson would probably be out of work by now, such has been the woeful run of form Leicester have been on.
Pre-season favourites for promotion, City have won just three of their last 17 Championship matches to go from top-two competitors to fortunate play-off contenders.
Eight of those games have been lost, while Leicester have won just two of their last nine games at the King Power, losing five, the last of which came against – you guessed it – Watford.
And the Hornets’ 2-1 win a fortnight ago is not only indicative of the gulf in class that exists between the two – Watford won four more games and accrued nine more points – but is typical of Zola’s team, who have been magnificent on the road this term.
No side won more points on their travels in the regular season than Watford, whose 12 wins and 41 goals were the best tallies in the Championship.
The Hornets were just as good against the division’s better sides, winning more points in matches against teams in the top half of the table than any other side.
Watford won 12 of the 22 games against the teams that finished in top 12, including seven of their 11 away trips to those teams, hitting 22 goals in those matches.
This is contrast to Leicester, who won five and lost four at home to the best teams in the division to post a decidedly average record.
And given all this, I see no reason why Watford should be as big as 5/2 to win at Leicester, just as they did two weeks ago.
The Hornets are devastating on the break, love playing away from home and can make hay at a Leicester team that, despite sneaking into the top six, is woefully out of form.