THERE’S a mouth-watering clash from the Championship tonight as second-placed Norwich entertain fourth-placed Middlesbrough. Football League man Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the betting.
Norwich City v Middlesbrough | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
Hurry! Quick! Get your freak on! There’s been an industry move to back Norwich City tonight and we just can’t miss out. The Canaries opened at 5/4 with selected firms but the weight of money coming in to back Alex Neil’s side means the Championship’s form team have been trimmed to even-money in places. Paddy Power are still offering 21/20 and that’s the bet to be had here.
Yes, I’m pretty much penning this preview in reverse formation as (in my eyes) there’s an urgency to get on that Norwich price. I’d hesitate to back the East Anglian side at odds-on quotes but I certainly wouldn’t at odds-against. So are you joining me?
The Canaries are managed by arguably the hottest new name in English football. Neil was almost unheard of on these shores but those in Scotland were raving about the young tactician for the best part of 18 months. So what made him so special? What made Norwich take a gamble on a 33-year-old guy whose only experience of the top job was barely two seasons in charge of Hamilton Academicals?
Well how’s this for an impact… appointed player-manager at New Douglas Park at 31, Neil led the Accies to the Scottish Premiership in his first season, to the top of the table for at least a month in the autumn and the best start for a promoted club in the top tier for decades. Throw in a first away win at Celtic for 76 years and when departing for the Carrow Road gig, Neil left Hamilton in third (they’re now seventh).
His amazing season didn’t end there, though. Since taking the reigns at Norwich, Neil has guided the club to a stunning return of W14-D3-L2 – no wonder my esteemed colleague Chris Graham has fallen for this impressive young Scot. Based on results this calendar year, the Canaries would be top of the pile with 45 points; tonight’s opponents would be third but a full seven points back.
Five wins on the spin have kept the hosts in serious contention for automatic promotion and Neil himself has said anything less will be a failure. With 12 wins from their last 15 outings in the Championship, eight victories from their previous 11 at Carrow Road and wins by two goals or more in three of their five clashes against fellow top-six clubs on home soil, you can see why I’m getting a little starry-eyed about the 21/20 proposition on Friday night.
The hosts welcome back Bradley Johnson from suspension and have a fearsome forward-line to call upon. Lewis Grabban, Cameron Jerome, Nathan Redmond and Gary Hooper are just a few of the names capable of changing games and it’s no surprise to learn that the Yellow Army are the second-top scorers at home, have netted at least twice in eight of their last 11 at Carrow Road as well as 12 of their previous 15 anywhere.
Enough of the Norwich love, what about Middlesbrough’s credentials? I’ve said numerous times this season that their lack of killer instinct and attacking approach could prove costly for Aitor Karanka’s side. Defensively sound with 19 clean sheets to their name, Boro have been undone on the road of late and barely laid a glove on some of the second tier’s most impressive sides.
In front of the live TV cameras, the Teesiders failed to muster a shot on target in a 3-0 loss at Bournemouth and were just as dire at Watford. Their impressive home form has been the catalyst to their charge of late and defeats in five of their last seven away from the Riverside will be most concerning for travelling supporters.
Boro have netted just 22 goals on the road – that’s fewer than all of the sides in the top 11 of the table. And with Daniel Ayala doubtful and Jonathan Woodgate out, Middlesbrough may find it difficult to rely on their normally solid backline against a home side brimming with confidence and firepower.
So yes, I’m getting on the Norwich bus at 21/20 thanks to Paddy Power but for those feeling a little freaky on Friday night, 888 Sport’s 19/10 on the Canaries -1 in the Asian Handicap market should also appeal.
Taking this bet means we’ll get our cash back should the hosts win by just one goal but if Neil’s men come out on top by two or more, we’ll have ourselves a winner.
As already mentioned, three of Norwich’s five duels against top-six teams at Carrow Road have seen the Canaries win by two goals or more. In fact, nine of the 11 home victories secured by the East Anglian side this season have beaten the -1 Asian Handicap line whilst the visitors have been beaten by a margin of two goals or more in five of their last nine trips to top-six rivals.
Norwich City v Middlesbrough – Norwich City to win (21/20 Paddy Power)
Norwich City v Middlesbrough – Norwich City -1 Asian Handicap (19/10 888 Sport)
Is Mark wrong to assume Norwich are cut and dried on Friday night? Could Middlesbrough upset the odds?
We’d love to hear your view so let us know in the comments box below.