Premier League: Acne-ridden Boro look too shy to square up to Stoke

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ANOTHER busy Saturday in the Premier League, Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) picks out his three best bets from the 3pm kick offs.

Stoke v Middlesbrough | Saturday 15:00

Very straight forward this one for me, a Stoke home win looks the NAP of the Premier League Saturday. If the Potters were more fashionable they’d be hitting 4/6-8/11 territory, they’re not so we get 10/11. Decent.

At the heart of this bet is my love for Stoke. They rarely let you down and their form tends to be pretty solid. They beat who they’re supposed to beat and lose to who they should lose to. I heard them getting criticised for this on Match Of The Day 2 on Monday night. How odd!

Stoke have finished 9th in the last three seasons and currently sit 10th in the table. On Saturday they face 17th place Middlesbrough at home and on all known form should beat them.

Stoke have lost 10 league games this season and on eight occasions they’ve been against top half sides. Their record against bottom half sides reads P13 W8 D3 L2 and at home it’s P8 W5 D2 L1. The solitary defeat coming against a Bournemouth side  who excelled against top half outfits in 2016.

So the case for Stoke is a pretty solid one and that case becomes more compelling when you factor in their opponents, Middlesbrough. The Teeside club remind me of the teenager at the school disco who would be too scared to ask the girl he fancied for a dance. That same teenager that had to wait till he was 21 to see a girl naked.

You know the facts but it’s worth reminding you. Middlesbrough have scored just 19 league goals this season, the lowest figure in English football’s top four divisions.

They haven’t scored in the league since January, haven’t scored away from home since December and haven’t scored more than once in a league game since before Christmas.

Back in 1992/93 Middlesbrough crumpled to a painful relegation after a decent start to the season and a quarter of a century on it looks like history is repeating itself.

If we go back to the school disco analogy, it’s acne-ridden virgin Middlesbrough up against bullish lad Stoke. The bullish boy may not pull the school sweetheart but you can be sure he’s proved too irresistible for one of the average Anna’s in attendance.

Watford v Southampton | Saturday 15:00

Watford are one of those sides I rarely spend time thinking about or caring about. Their dalliances in the Premier League over the last 20 years have been forgettable and I’m too young to recall the Taylor/Elton era.

This season has trod a similar path with the Hornets heading for the beach as they sit comfortably in 12th place inspiring a sea of shrugs.

Having said all that, they appeal to me this weekend at the odds. Should they really be as big as 11/4 at home to a team below them in the table? I think not.

Recent results for the Hertfordshire side look mainly par for the course. Draws with sides like West Ham, Middlesbrough and Bournemouth, a home win against travel sick Burnley and a two goal loss at Old Trafford.

The only result that really sticks out is their incredible win at the Emirates at the end of January. Chalked up at 14/1 they produced a stirring display to infuriate the natives.

It’s a standout result though and probably shouldn’t be factored into a game like this. On bare form you’d probably fancy Watford to get a draw at home to Southampton, and I think there’s another reason to be positive about their chances.

It must have been a tough week for the Saints. They played as well as they could have on Sunday in the EFL Cup Final and still came away with a 3-2 defeat.

How they respond from here is crucial. Will it inspire them to kick on and grab a top half finish or could it see their season tail off? The frame of their match this weekend always us to take a chance on the latter option and that’s what I’ll do.

Watford have lost just two of their last 11 home league games and they haven’t lost at home to a bottom half side since they were promoted in 2015. At 888 Sport I can back them at 7/8 with +0.25 start. That means that I’ll make a half profit if the game ends in a draw.

West Brom v Crystal Palace | Saturday 15:00

Yet again Crystal Palace make my Premier League column, and once again I’m taking the opposite action from the previous week. Last week I backed them against Middlesbrough, this week I’ll oppose them against West Brom.

Palace getting something from this game wouldn’t shock me but I’ll stick to a formula that’s worked well this season: back West Brom to win.

Like Stoke, Albion have been great friends to me this season and their form has been uncomplicated to work out. They beat sides below them and lose to sides above them.

Tony Pulis’s side are unbeaten in five matches and haven’t lost to a bottom half side for six months. Their last home loss in that kind of match came 11 months ago.

At The Hawthorns they’ve won seven of their last eight matches and are heading for their best league season since the glory days of 1980/81 when they finished 4th with a side packed with flair.

One last shout about their dominance over bottom half sides. At home this season their figures read P7 W6 D1 L0. The one slip up was a 0-0 draw at home to Middlesbrough very early in the campaign.

Last week I asked whether West Brom should be odds against at home to Bournemouth? This week I ask the same question, should West Brom be odds against at home to Crystal Palace? It was no last week, and it’s no this week.

Last week’s win for Crystal Palace might just jolt them into action. It may not. But with the added ingredient of Pulis performing well against ex-sides and his acrimonious relationship with the London club it’s another reason to get involved.

Best Bets

Stoke v Middlesbrough (Stoke to win 10/11 888 Sport)

Watford v Southampton – Watford +0.25 (7/8 888 Sport)

West Brom v Crystal Palace – West Brom to win (13/11 888 Sport)

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Chris first got interested in betting back in 2000 when he began working in betting shops throughout Scotland. He has remained in the industry ever since, specialising in marketing and PR roles. Outside of betting, his interests are listening to Blur and following Queen Of The South.

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