QPR v Wigan Athletic
There has been so much drama around QPR and Mick Beale this week but there can be no doubt that the decision of Beale to reject Wolves’ overtures will have given everyone at Loftus Road a huge boost. In the midst of the rumours The Rs strolled to an impressive and routine home win against Cardiff.
That win, and the performance that went with it, meant that QPR have now won six out of seven of their home xG battles. Result have been good too with only one home defeat and four victories with increasingly impressive performances and style beginning to shine through. Beale’s body of work with Steven Gerrard means that we know quite clearly how he likes his teams to set up, but he has shown greater flexibility as the #1, adapting to the players that he has at his disposal, and the opponents that he is facing.
Leam Richardson’s Wigan have begun to struggle somewhat of late. Four defeats in the last five and the one win against Blackburn was also a far from impressive performance. Wednesday’s defeat to Middlesbrough really flashed up some concerns for The Latics in that the one thing that one could count on with Richardson’s side was their capacity to remain organised and defensively fairly solid, but they gave up 3.27xG in that one match, including five big chances. Middlesbrough only converted two of those chances so, in essence, that 1-4 scoreline was more flattering to Wigan than Boro. Boro themselves, before that match, were bereft of confidence and had been struggling to create chances.
If there is one attacking lineup in The Championship at the moment that feels capable of exploiting a porous defence then QPR’s Lyndon Dykes, Chris Willock and, Ilias Chair would be a fair call. The Australian-Scotsman Dykes has found his scoring boots recently to add to his mobile target man style and with Chair pulling the strings for him and the supremely talented Willock there are definitely goals in this match for The Super Hoops.
Millwall v West Brom
It is really interesting to see these teams being priced exactly the same for this match. This would imply that on a neutral ground that West Brom would be fairly strong favourites. The evidence for the bookmakers’ stance here may come in the season-long data that has West Brom as 4th in the table for expected points, in addition to the pre-season ratings that would rated West Brom higher than Millwall.
However, I believe that there are good arguments to have Millwall much closer to, if not ahead, of West Brom, the most obvious of which is their respective points hauls in the current season. Even the aforementioned expected points has Millwall in 6th place so far, only around 3xPts behind The Baggies. If we were to break the sample size down to the most recent four matches though then Millwall are the most in-form team in the division in expected points and expected goals supremacy, whereas WBA are languishing in mid-table.
Recently Gary Rowett has been able to solve the problems that were afflicting Millwall in early season of conceding too many chances. At this stage they are averaging around 0.53xG against, whilst more than doubling that number in their own chance creation statistics. On Wednesday night The Lions completely overwhelmed Watford with their physicality and intensity. If they begin the match here with the same ferocity then they should be favourites to get a positive result. They have six out of eight of their xG battles at home as well, which adds further evidence to their case.
West Brom are still yet to appoint a successor to Steve Bruce. Whilst Richard Beale won his first away game in charge last week it is not an ideal situation to be going through this intense set of fixtures with a temporary and inexperienced man in charge. The team continues to suffer from the lack of a genuine goalscorer and against a defence like Millwall’s there is little to suggest that Thomas-Asante or Karlan Grant would get much joy with their physical style.
Stoke City v Coventry City
A clash here between two sides that I feel are generally demonstrating some green shoots of recovery in their seasons, but also failing to be consistent at the same time.
Stoke are still conceding more chances, or perhaps better chances, than they are creating on average. The good news for The Potters is that Coventry are still struggling in their own attacking play. Outside of Viktor Gyokeres, The Sky Blues are finding that their route to goal is difficult to come by. They had to rely on a late penalty against Sheffield United in midweek and without that chance Coventry would’ve again generated less than 0.5xG with no big chances.
From Coventry’s perspective, as a result of their difficult start to the season with having no home stadium to use until this month, through no fault of the football team, Mark Robins has been intent of steadying the ship and steering them out of troubled waters by keeping tight and organised especially whilst the mercurial Callum O’Hare has been unavailable. By way of evidence, Coventry’s last five matches can be read in binary, 1-0, 0-0, 0-1, 1-0, 1-0, with an average xG of 0.68 and xG against of 0.73 per match.
When I last discussed Stoke in this column I expressed concern for their forward options. Since then, both Liam Delap and Tyrese Campbell have found the target and 3-1 and 2-0 victories against Sheff Utd and Preston respectively seemed to imply that there had been improvement. However, against Rotherham in midweek their finishing was poor. Despite having a faintly ridiculous 29 shots, 12 on target, and 2.23xG, those shots only translated into 0.65xGOT. Just to briefly explain, this means that when the shots make it to the goalkeeper you would usually expect the keeper to save those shots.
Stoke may prefer to think of the Rotherham game as a continuation of a trend in which they have outshot their opponents in the last three matches. However, with Coventry usually a fairly solid defensive side, especially in a deep block, it could be a tough game to create clear cut chances again for Stoke. This is why I like the Under 2.5 goals bet in this one.
Sunderland v Burnley
Sunderland were unlucky in midweek at Ewood Park with the officiating but the bigger problem for The Black Cats was the continuing absence of a central threat. Between the boxes Sunderland are a very good Championship side. The players are technically capable for the level, they have a good level of desire, and they are tactically flexible and physically fit. This makes the fact that they are missing Ross Stewart and Ellis Simms at the same time all the more galling for Tony Mowbray and the Sunderland fans.
Preparing to welcome probably the best team in the league in Burnley is, therefore, a real challenge. However, there are reasons to believe that The Black Cats can restrict Burnley at the Stadium of Light. Firstly, Sunderland have a good record in limiting opponents’ chances, only twice at the Stadium of Light have teams generated more than 0.7 xG this season. Combine this with the fact that Burnley have also failed to cross the 1xG barrier in their last three away matches and perhaps The Clarets might not be a sure thing to score in the North East.
On the other side of the coin, Burnley’s defence has been excellent recently. Kompany is adopting the possession dominating style of his playing career at Manchester City but is also practising the same sort of defensive structure of pressing when the ball is there to be won back but using a double pivot in midfield, plus at least three other players blocking that central area when possession has been lost to prevent effective counter attacking. The defence is therefore keeping their opponents at arm’s length and not allowing those big chances in key areas of their box. They have not allowed over 1xG against in six matches consecutively.
Both Teams To Score – No was a tempting market for this match, as you can imagine with the explanation above. However, a 1-1 draw seemed like one of the more likely scorelines in this match, especially as that has been the final score in five of Burnley’s last eight matches. So Under 2.5 goals is the recommended selection.
Middlesbrough v Huddersfield Town
The longer Middlesbrough wait to confirm Chris Wilder’s successor, the more work Boro will find themselves needing to do. Much-loved caretaker Leo Percovich has been able to oversee two wins in his four games so far, including a recent 4-1 victory away at Wigan Athletic during midweek. The 3-4-2-1 saw goals for wing-back Isaiah Jones, attacking midfielders Duncan Watmore and Hayden Hackney, and striker Chuka Akpom, demonstrating the ability within the Middlesbrough squad that made them strong top six contenders during the pre-season prediction period. Jack Steffen featured in goal behind a back three of Darragh Lenihan, Dael Fry and Tommy Smith, with Ryan Giles a dynamic left-wing-back whilst Matt Crooks and Jonny Howson sat deeper in midfield. The starting eleven, and indeed the additional names on the bench, certainly show Boro to look a much better group on paper than their 20th place position currently reflects. The new boss, whoever it ends up being, will have a lot of talent to work with.
Percovich is looking for a third win as caretaker this weekend and will fancy his chances against Huddersfield Town. Now bottom of the league, and now sat below a Coventry City side that have played two games fewer than them, the Terriers look like they could be rooted there for a while. Mmark Fotheringham’s appointment is failing to have the desired effect, collecting just four points from five league games and recording just one win over fellow strugglers Hull City. Huddersfield’s season total of just a single point on the road is the lowest of any team in the Championship, conceding at least once in every match away from their John Smith’s Stadium. It is a sad decline for a side that came within 90 minutes of the Premier League at the end of last season, and rumours around a bust-up between Fotheringham and captain Jonathan Hogg do not give the sense that things will improve anytime soon.
Middlesbrough’s recent victory at Wigan Athletic helped to take the North Yorkshire side out of the relegation zone. There is a long way to go still for Boro to get back up at the top end of the table, and only time will tell whether their future appointment can lead them to that desired target. In the immediate future however, they are at home to the worst performing team in the second tier, and have to take confidence in that.
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