Preston v Millwall
It is incredibly rare that this market is a possibility to bet on in a game of professional football. I can see how the bookmakers have derived the goals prices for this game, but there are reasons that this over 1.5 goals bet becomes a good proposition.
Let us deal with the obvious first. These teams’ goal records are not the most thrilling. Millwall have kept their opponents under 1xG for 10 consecutive matches now and Preston’s start to the season needs no recapping to anyone who has vaguely followed the Championship.
However, with the line at 1.5 we need only two goals to get over it and there are reasons to back this line. Preston have gone over this line six times in the last eight matches since breaking that ridiculous non goal scoring and non conceding streak at the beginning of the season. Ryan Lowe has got a fully fit forward line to rotate and Emil Riis has found the net for them recently. Indeed, Ched Evans also contributed with two excellent goals against Reading, which should provide him with some more confidence.
Millwall themselves aren’t short of options going forward, though obviously their recent form has more been built on solid defensive work. No goals in either of their most recent Championship games, but one only has to go back three matches to find a run of games going over 2.5. In short, variance is playing a massive part here. In two of the three most recent matches the total xG was around 1.3, which provides a pretty decent chance of a game going over the 1.5 goal line. Those chances will start going in again, hopefully starting this weekend.
Though most Championship sides will be tired from the exertions of the last six weeks or so of playing twice a week, there may well be a sense of relief that a break is literally just 90 minutes away and this may loosen the shackles of the players somewhat.
Luton Town v Rotherham
The departure of Nathan Jones seems certain to have an effect of some kind on Luton. They failed to land much of a blow on Stoke in midweek as it became clear that Jones was going to accept Southampton’s offer.
This has happened to Luton before though. Jones left halfway through Luton’s promotion campaign from League One, and on that occasion Mick Harford filled the breach temporarily and safely guided them through the rest of the season and sealed promotion. Harford has again temporarily come into the fold and no doubt will command the respect of the players, but I find Luton’s price particularly short given the changes that have just occurred.
Part of this price will be as a result of their opponents. Rotherham are bottom of the xPts table for whatever period of time one would wish to slice it, 4, 8 or 12 matches. However, they come into this match off the back of a fantastic 1-0 win away at Sheffield United, they lead Burnley 2-1 away going into stoppage time recently, and general performances seem to suggest that Matt Taylor is beginning to get a handle on how he wants to progress with this side.
Bearing in mind that xG can be slightly misleading when a team goes ahead early in matches, it is also perhaps misleading that Rotherham should be classed as a particularly bad team. Luton are actually 22nd in the most recent xPts table though as well, so regardless, there doesn’t seem to be that much between the two teams’ form in terms of performances. Indeed, with the difficult fixtures that Rotherham have faced, there is room to suggest that they are in better form than their hosts.
Going to Kenilworth Road and emerging with something is never easy, but many have done it. Luton have won 6 out of 10 xG battles at home, but that isn’t an overwhelming statistic. Rotherham will have a gameplan and when the quotes are odds against that they can bring something away with them it is enough to tempt me in under these circumstances.
Bristol City v Watford
There is something ominous about Watford now. The inconsistency of the early Slaven Bilic tenure has dissipated into a more solid and controlled ability to win games using their extra quality. This is my overarching theory for this match too.
Having watched Watford closely in their victory over Reading in midweek the impressive aspect of their play still tends to come from individual moments rather than a comprehensive team performance. Having said that, the team is now solid enough to lay the platform for the key men to strut their stuff. Yaser Asprilla is a young man with a huge future but he isn’t consistent with his impact, Joao Pedro, on the other hand, is playing his best football at the moment. I mentioned last column that he works best off another forward and that was demonstrated to great effect midweek with Keinan Davis back in the side.
One Watford player that does merit special praise as well is Hamza Choudhury. The Leicester loanee is probably the first name on the teamsheet at the moment for The Hornets and he is one of the key players in this match. Bristol City can sometimes be a little light in central midfield, depending on who they decide to play in there. Choudhury will not give the City players any chance to have time on the ball and will be intent on making the game difficult from a physical perspective in that area. If he is able to dominate then that gives Watford a great chance of winning.
There is quite the gap between Watford and Bristol City in the expected points table too. Watford have improved their position recently with a tightening of their defence. However, Bristol City haven’t been able to up their chance creation and when your game plan is usually built upon being able to score goals through Nakhi Wells, Tommy Conway, Antoine Semenyo, and Andreas Weimann then there is a problem there.
Hull v Reading
Reading, though in a really turgid run of results, have been fairly reliable both in their structure and in their performances of late. Hull showed great character in their midweek win at Cardiff, coming from behind in the second half. Though I favour Hull slightly for the win here, the better bet is in the goals market.
Despite being involved in a five-goal thriller at Cardiff I expect Liam Rosenior’s Hull side to be generally more circumspect. They will probably look to, and indeed, be given the opportunity to dominate this game from the perspective of possession of the ball. Reading have a propensity to sit in shape outside their own box and play in a compact style. Indeed, Reading’s possession stats are the lowest in the league.
It is then a question of whether Hull are good enough to break down the Reading defence. Most teams recently have been able to do this, though it took a penalty for Watford in midweek. Hull have only crossed the 1xG barrier once in their last seven matches, so their skill for breaking defences down is questionable.
Reading, until the midweek fixtures, had a remarkable record, especially for a team in poor form, of keeping their opponents’ chances down. As quoted in this column, the streak of matches that they were on in terms of keeping their opponents under 1xG in a match was up to 6. That included away games at Burnley, Swansea, Luton, and Millwall. So there is a degree of confidence that The Royals can go to Hull and keep tight, regardless of result form.
In terms of scoring though, well, that is why results have dried up for the Berskhire side. The team that they fielded against Watford in midweek really lacked goal threat. Lucas Joao is a capable Championship forward, but there is little support from the rest of the team. Too much is asked of Ovie Ejaria (not much of a goalscoring record) and Tom Ince, with the rest of the team in a solid structure. Yakou Meite and Andy Carroll sat on the bench until the 82nd minute on Tuesday, a sign of the managers’ reluctance to lose that solidity perhaps.
Wigan Athletic v Blackpool
News on Thursday morning has left a feeling of disbelief among Wigan Athletic fans and neutrals alike. Just sixteen days after signing a new three-year contract, manager Leam Richardson was relieved of his duties as Latics manager. In the space of just two years under the 42-year-old’s stewardship, Wigan Athletic had been transformed from League One relegation certainties into the defending third tier champions, recording a 41.88% win rate across his 117 matches. A run of six defeats in seven games has been cited as the reason for his dismissal, results that have seen Wigan fall into the Championship’s bottom three. It feels very unfair however to disregard his recent success and judge on him on solely on his Championship performances at a bottom six budget side.
Assistant manager Rob Kelly takes over in a caretaker role, his first jobs at the helm of an EFL side since his interim spells with League Two Barrow. Kelly’s time as the successor to first David Dunn and Michael Jolley were largely successful, but Kelly firmly expressed no interest in permanently taking the managerial role at the Cumbrian outfit.
With Wigan Athletic rocked, this weekend could present a golden opportunity for Blackpool to enter the World Cup break with an important win to their name. The Tangerines sit two places and just two points above Wigan in the table following a run of three consecutive defeats. Derby day’s 4-2 victory at home to Preston North End is beginning to feel like a worryingly distant memory as their defeats to West Bromwich Albion, Luton Town and Middlesbrough saw Blackpool fail to score in any of those matches. Michael Appleton will look to Jerry Yates and Gary Madine, both key parts of his frontline. 9-goal Yates in particular could prove crucial in a wider position and with his impressive overall skillset.
Neither Wigan Athletic nor Blackpool are having a particularly good time of things at the moment, but the better short-term stability of the visitors could benefit them here. With the Latics rocked by the dismissal of their popular manager, Michael Appleton may sense the opportunity to capitalise and lift his side further away from the relegation zone ahead of the winter break.
Cardiff City v Sheffield United
You would struggle to have any strong feelings about Cardiff City’s upward trajectory. Since Mark Hudson took up the interim role of the Bluebirds, Cardiff have won just two of their six home matches, 1-0 victories over Blackburn Rovers and Rotherham United. Their last two games in the Welsh capital have seen them take an early lead against Watford before losing 2-1, and suffer a 3-2 defeat against Hull City following a quickfire Regan Slater double. Only Preston North End have scored fewer goals that Cardiff’s total of 17, with Callum Robinson and Mark Harris the Bluebirds’ two top scorers in the Championship with three goals each.
Visiting the Cardiff City Stadium this Saturday are Sheffield United, who have had a mixed week. Seven days ago, the Blades ran riot at Bramall Lane and defeated league leaders Burnley 5-2 in an entertaining game. The following Tuesday however, a clash with local opponents Rotherham United ended in a hard-fought 1-0 win for the struggling visitors. That result could have taken Sheffield United to the top of the second tier table, but they instead sit third ahead of this weekend. Paul Heckingbottom should take confidence from his side’s record away from home though.
Only Preston North End have collected more points on the road than Sheffield United’s 17, and their total of just eight goals conceded is the best away record in the entire division. In young Senegalese striker Iliman Ndiaye and Scottish forward Oli McBurnie, Sheffield United possess two of the six players jointly-tied at the top of the Championship goalscoring charts. The pair have nine goals each whilst part of the frontline in Heckingbottom’s 3-5-2 formation.
Midweek’s frustration could add further fuel to the fire that is Sheffield United. The East Lancashire pair of Burnley and Blackburn Rovers face off against each other on Sunday, presenting the Blades with a great opportunity to enter the World Cup break inside the automatic promotion places. Up against an inconsistent, largely underwhelming Cardiff City side that have lost their last two in the Welsh capital, Sheffield United’s fine away record could well continue here.
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