Middlesbrough v Stoke
We’re not officially at the halfway point of the Championship season and this match very much begins the rather hectic Christmas schedule for all clubs in the EFL. Our Friday night viewing comes from the Riverside Stadium and a bottom of the table encounter between Middlesbrough and Stoke City, which would have been surprising to say prior to the campaign beginning.
Middlesbrough certainly harboured aspirations for a much more positive season than the one they’re currently enduring thus far. However, Chairman Steve Gibson possibly did acknowledge that this could happen considering he did appoint a rookie coach in Jonathan Woodgate to the helm. In his defence, he has had a horrendous injury record to deal with.
Those issues are slowly beginning to improve, but they’re still missing some important players like Darren Randolph, George Friend and Britt Assombalonga. Suspensions are playing their part as well, and key midfielder Paddy McNair was dismissed in Saturday’s loss at Swansea City, along with Marcus Browne, who himself had only just returned from injury.
Boro have at least won their last two home games, which is why Stoke won’t be treating this lightly at all. Whilst they’ve certainly improved under the guidance of Michael O’Neill, there is still plenty of room for improvement. The Reading draw last Saturday was a boring contest to say the least, but four points from their last two is a step back in the right direction.
The fact of the matter is that Stoke do remain in the relegation zone and have been for a little while now. Even the remotest talk of a promotion push has all but disappeared and the campaign is now purely focused on avoiding relegation. O’Neill did win his first away game at Barnsley but has followed that up with two road losses at Hull and Cardiff, although both by a one-goal margin.
These are two outfits that aren’t at their most confident, and why would they be with them sitting unexpectedly towards or within the relegation zone. Scoring goals is a problem for Middlesbrough, even more so with Assombalonga out of the frame. They only have nine home goals all season, but conceded only ten. With so many men out, Boro are likely to steer more towards an organised shape, and a Stoke side that have lacked creativity may struggle to break them down. This has the makings of a tactical battle, and Under 2.5 Goals has to be the play.
Asian Total Goals Betting Recommendation: Under 2.50 goals at 1.880
Luton v Swansea
The Saturday Championship card is always an intriguing proposition from a betting proposition and I’d like to start off this round of fixtures by focusing on this clash between Luton Town and Swansea City. Although Swansea won at the weekend, neither team are in great form, with Luton especially struggling to adapt to life at this level.
Without a doubt Luton’s biggest issue is their away record so they will be most glad to be back on home soil on Saturday. Kenilworth Road remains a tough place to go for most opponents considering it has an old-school feel about it compared to the more modern stadia. Luton look to use this to their advantage, and they have won consecutive home fixtures against Wigan and Charlton.
Whilst it is four losses at home for Luton, three of those came against promotion hopefuls West Brom, Leeds and Nottingham Forest, whilst Hull was the other and are capable of beating anyone on their day. Games do tend to be quite open for Luton in terms of being end-to-end as that often brings the best out of them offensively. However, they’ve only bettered the average of four other Championship clubs for shots on goal per game.
As mentioned, Swansea resumed winning ways last weekend following a six-match winless streak, but I’m not prepared to say the Swans have quite turned the corner following a win over Middlesbrough, who ended the match with nine men. Swansea have lost only one away match all season, which came in emphatic fashion to league leaders West Brom on their most recent trip.
Whilst Swansea have been hard to beat on the road, they no longer have that proud unbeaten record to protect, which had been the only away record in the EFL that was without loss. Steve Cooper has been chopping and changing his team recently and is still to determine his best eleven, similar to that of his opposite number Graeme Jones. Therefore, anything can happen in this game!
I do however believe there is some value in getting Luton on side. Any home underdog in the Championship should be considered, and although man-for-man Swansea are a stronger team, Luton are perhaps over-priced at home on the basis of their recent form, which contains mostly away defeats. I’ll therefore happy to take Luton +0.25, especially as they’ve only been convincingly beaten once at home in the league (3-0 versus Hull) and have been competitive in the rest. Swansea still have questions to answer, and Luton know the importance of their home record.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Luton +0.25 at 1.850
Millwall v Barnsley
Millwall against Barnsley has been a regular fixture over the years, either in the Championship or League One. They return to the same field on Saturday once more looking to get one over the other, and both enter this following wins. Millwall won away at Derby, whilst Barnsley edged QPR in a 5-3 thriller.
Life under Gary Rowett has been most pleasant for everyone with a Millwall persuasion so far. Whilst it was a bit of a surprise to see Neil Harris step down, and some fans weren’t over the moon at Rowett taking over, things seem to have worked out for all parties, with Harris now in the hot seat at Cardiff and doing a decent job of things, too.
The Lions are now seven unbeaten and have lost just one of ten matches under the stewardship of Championship managerial veteran Rowett. He has proved versatile tactically, as he has tended to field a new 3-4-3 formation to curb their long-standing away issues, and it has worked. At home they have been, and continue to be, very tough to defeat at The Den, but they’ll be eager to avoid complacency against a Barnsley side battling relegation.
Rowett will be wary of talk from some quarters tipping Millwall for a play-off spot, and he’ll be keen to avoid the new manager bounce effect from dropping off. Barnsley have a new manager themselves in Gerhard Struber, who now has two wins from his six games at the helm, both coming at home. That elusive first away win is now the key, and if they can score another five goals then there’s every chance that’ll come!
Perhaps the difference between Struber and Rowett is that the Austrian hasn’t quite found a way of playing away from home. They’ll give any team a game at Oakwell but playing this style away have often left them exposed and ultimately punished. The Tykes have the worst away record in the division, and are one of just three teams yet to win on the road in the second-tier. That’ll need to change if they’re to steadily move up the table, and despite two recent wins they’ll still bottom of the standings.
I back Millwall to get the win on Saturday and I’ll happily back them at -0.5, and the price isn’t as low as I expected it to be, especially taking into account their recent form and Barnsley’s away day hoodoos. Whilst Barnsley scored five over QPR, they still conceded three, and this Millwall side are scoring goals but do make their opponents work terrifically hard to break down their organised shape.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Millwall -0.50 at 1.870
Предварительный просмотр: @JamesOR1.
Entering the thick Christmas period in the EFL, who will be getting their campaign on a great note? Go put your Middlesbrough v Stoke, Luton v Swansea, and Millwall v Barnsley punts to test, visit VOdds trading platform!