Aston Villa blew the battle to be promoted to the Premiership wide open when they beat table-toppers Wolves in the West Midlands derby on Sunday. Promotion to the top flight is worth a massive £170.
<p>Aston Villa blew the battle to be promoted to the Premiership wide open when they beat table-toppers Wolves in the West Midlands derby on Sunday. Promotion to the top flight is worth a massive £170 million to the clubs that pull it off, so the fight is fierce in the Championship. Wolves’ Chinese owners invest huge sums in the summer in a bid to reach the Promised Land, and they looked to be running away with the title a month ago. But they have now won just one game in five and that has allowed their rivals back into the race.</p><p>Two teams go up automatically, and a third is promoted via the playoffs. Right now Wolves are still in the driving seat, with 76 points, but Cardiff are now hot on their heels. Neil Warnock’s men have won six games on the bounce and they are now just three points behind Wolves, so they could usurp them soon. There are still 10 games to go in the season, and Aston Villa’s win moved them up to 69 points, four behind Cardiff and seven behind Wolves.</p><p>The Villans are also in an exceptional form: they have racked up more points than any other team in the division in 2018 and have now won three in a row. Their victory over Wolves was a crushing psychological blow as they ran out 4-1 winners, in the end, thanks to goals from Albert Adomah, James Chester, new boy Lewis Grabban and Birkir Bjarnason. That should spark a great deal of confidence among Villa, and could lead to dejection for a misfiring Wolves team.</p><p>Meanwhile, Fulham – who have beaten both Wolves and Villa in the past month – are just a point behind Aston Villa, albeit having played one more game, and they too are in fine form. Out of nowhere, we have a really intense and exciting battle heating up in the second tier of English football.</p><p>Wolves remain the 2/9 favourites to win the Championship with Unibet and 888 Sport, but the 7/1 that Sky Bet and Bet Victor are offering on Cardiff may tempt some punters. In the past five games, Cardiff have cut Wolves’ lead at the top of the table from 13 points to just three, and the Bluebirds have greater momentum, so they could soon overhaul Wolves. To be fair, the teams will not care too much whether they finish first or second, as long as they achieve automatic promotion, because the real prize is reaching the Premiership and the huge riches that await there.</p><p>Given Wolves’ seven-point lead over third-placed Aston Villa, they are still in a strong position and they are just 1/25 with Ladbrokes and Coral to be promoted. Cardiff are an attractive 2/3 with Sky Bet, but the 6/5 that Sky Bet is offering on Aston Villa looks really enticing. They are strong at the back, with former England captain John Terry marshalling the defence with aplomb alongside Chester. Up front, Grabban has been a revelation since joining on loan and he cannot stop scoring, while Adomah is also dangerous.</p><p>They have hit form at the perfect time of the season and they will be surging with confidence after thrashing the league leaders last time out. Villa were pre-season favourites for promotion and this is a big club with a strong fan base and a decent budget, plus the invaluable presence of Terry in the dressing room. Manager Steve Bruce is an expert at getting teams promoted to the Premiership, and everything is looking rosy for Aston Villa at present. The 6/5 on them being promoted also covers you for them winning the playoffs, so it looks like a really interesting bet.</p>