VINCE BLISSETT (@Vince_RFC) takes a look at Friday night’s live Championship encounter between Brighton and Derby.
Brighton v Derby | Friday 19:45 | Sky Sports
A third consecutive Brighton home game is on the box on Friday night as Derby arrive in Sussex.
After a late defeat to Newcastle, a disappointing loss at Nottingham Forest and an uninspiring routine win at Rotherham on Tuesday, the Seagulls can ill afford to drop points.
Of course this isn’t the first time they find themselves right in the mix for promotion at this time of the year. Three of the last four years the Seasiders have found themselves in the play-offs only to lose out at the semi-final stage on each attempt.
You’d have to say the next two games – here against Derby and a trip to Leeds – could well prove pivotal. Anything less than a four-point return and Huddersfield will more than likely be hot on Brighton’s heels.
For me, if the Terriers get within striking distance I would really worry about Chris Hughton’s charges.
Derby are underachieving with such regularity, season-on-season, that they are now pretty much achieving exactly what is expected. If it weren’t for a return of 26 points from a possible 30 to round out 2016 County would be in pretty big trouble right now.
The Rams arrive with just one win in eight and five defeats in six away trips since the turn of the year; failing to score in all five of those losses is hardly the form of an outsider to knick a play-off position.
One of the bright spots for Derby has been their defensive record. Steve McClaren’s men are conceding less than a goal a game – only Brighton and Newcastle have shipped fewer and only Brighton have kept more clean sheets.
It’s at the other end where the Rams have had problems, scoring a paltry 39. With the amount of money spent, the talent and also the depth of the squad – especially in attacking areas – that’s a big surprise. For whatever reason it’s just not working for McClaren.
Bradley Johnson is a doubt ahead of the game whilst Jason Shackell, Craig Forsyth and George Thorne are all missing. Richard Keogh could also still be absent after injury with a late decision on his involvement to be made.
Missing a few key cogs of your defensive unit isn’t ideal when coming up against top scoring sides.
Brighton also have defensive issues with Shane Duffy out for a number of weeks. They’ve brought in ex-Southampton man Vegard Forren in on a free but it’s unlikely he’ll come straight into the team.
The hosts are also lacking a left-back with Liam Rosenior only making a timely return from injury on Tuesday. Jiri Skalak is back to fitness but whether the pair are capable of another game so soon, only time will tell.
Seasiders home dominance
Brighton have beaten everyone currently in the top-eight at the Amex this season with the exception of Newcastle last time out and have conceded just 11 goals at home all campaign.
Derby on the other hand have lost on four of their six trips to the top-eight, drawing twice. Only four of Derby’s 17 away outings have featured Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score has landed in just four fixtures too so it could be that goals are in short supply on the south coast.
With both defences missing key men though I’m going to take a swerve on the goals. Having both played on Tuesday night too tiredness may creep in, opening the game up towards the end.
The betting angle
Instead, I’m going to head to the Half-Time/Full-Time market. Derby have been drawing at the break in 20 of their 36 games this season whilst for Brighton that number is 16 of 36.
Over the last five games Derby fans have been treated to just the one first-half goal, scored by James Chester from a corner for Aston Villa. In the same five-game span Brighton’s games have produced only two first-half goals (a penalty v Newcastle and a counter attack v Reading).
The 0-0 half time score appeals but the price of 7/4 doesn’t and so, as I fancy Brighton to win, I’m going to combine the two and go with the Draw/Brighton available at 4/1 with BetVictor.
Brighton v Derby – Draw/Brighton (4/1 BetVictor)