AFTER a magnificent Tuesday treble in the Football League, Mark O’Haire looks for more winners in Thursday night’s live Championship action.
Birmingham v Hull | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
A relegated club has bounced straight back to the Premier League in six of the past new Championship campaigns and Hull’s 2016 form is putting the Tigers right back in the shake-up as we approach the final quarter of the season.
Steve Bruce’s boys were 10/1 shots to take top honours this term and a seventh success in 10 would take the Humbersiders two points clear at the second-tier summit on Thursday night. Those nine previous league fixtures have returned W6-D2-L1, as well as seven clean sheets from eight.
Successive 0-0 draws when welcoming promotion rivals Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday to the KC Stadium has slowed progress in recent weeks but the Tigers showed their teeth on both occasions, out-shooting their opponents 28-11 and also convincingly winning the shots-on-target count 10-3.
Bruce was understandably frustrated by Hull’s failure to seal maximum points and although their 2015/16 results on the road have been nothing special (W8-D3-L6), the travellers have managed to pick up wins in four of their last five games as guests.
The Humbersiders have suffered a solitary reverse in 12 (W8-D3-L1) across all competitions this calendar year, even avoiding defeat at Arsenal in the FA Cup, with the side built upon strong defensive foundations.
Scottish stopper Allan McGregor has kept a league-high 18 clean sheets in Hull’s 33 fixtures with the Tigers conceding just 18 goals. And a partnership of a fit and in-form Curtis Davies alongside Michael Dawson at centre-half is as good as any bottom-half Premier League outfit.
So no longer are Hull a soft touch on their travels. They’re not a resolute, dogged and efficient side that puts substance before style. The visitors have learnt to be patience and clinical and each of their last five goals on the road have come after the half-time oranges when they’ve begun to open.
Hull have not scored a first-half goal away from the KC Stadium in the Championship since Ahmed Elmohamady opened the scoring in a 2-0 win at MK Dons at the end of October. And so with Birmingham as stubborn and solid as their visitors, it’s angle that’s worth exploring this midweek.
The 0-0 half-time correct score can be backed at 6/4 with Coral and stands out from the crowd in what’s likely to be an attritional encounter. Only five of Birmingham’s 16 St Andrews matches have been goalless at the interval but seven of the Tigers’ last eight have been, as have each of their last six away.
You’d expect the title-contending visitors to be pushed hard by Blues. Gary Rowett’s built and uncompromising side that refuses to buckle easily. Saturday’s deserved 2-0 defeat at QPR made it one win in five for the Midlanders but I still wouldn’t want to oppose them here, especially with Hull trading at odds as short as even-money.
Brum are regularly underrated by the layers due to their below-par performance data – Brum are averaging 1.58 points-per-game during Rowett’s tenure (W28-D19-L18) but they’re averaging a league-low 45% of possession and only seven clubs are firing in fewer shots-on-target this term than Birmingham’s average of 4.06 per-game.
Again, just eight sides have enjoyed a lesser share of the total shots-on-target in matches compared to Blues’ figure of 47.69% and you’d have to say, no manager across the country is squeezing more out of so little as Rowett at St Andrew’s.
As we enter March, the second city club are sitting eighth and just four points off the top-six, with a game in hand. It’s been a remarkable turnaround, all driven by the former Burton boss. Don’t forget, when Rowett took charge, Brum had just been annihilated 8-0 at home by Bournemouth and sat second from bottom.
His success is based around meticulous planning and preparation, figuring out the opposition weaknesses and then working hard on the training ground to convey and implement his ideas ahead of game day.
There’s a school of thought that suggests Blues are a better side on the road than in front of their home supporters but Brum have W17-D7-L8 at St Andrew’s under Rowett – a 53% win ratio which would equate to odds of under 9/10 without considering the opposition. Strong stuff.
And their backline performances aren’t far off Hull’s, either. Rowett’s troops have kept their sheets clean in five of their last seven, as well as 13 overall. Tomasz Kuszczak’s conceded just 32 goals in 33 matches this term – only six sides can boast better defensive records.
So there’s plenty of reason to keep Birmingham onside and although 16/5 (Bet365) quotes look too big, I’ll leave the market alone considering they’ve only W1-D3-L4 when taking on top-six teams this term, admittedly only two have taken place at St Andrew’s.
All the trends point towards a low-scoring contest. Birmingham have failed to net on 12 occasions this season, including six from 16 as hosts. And collectively these two have recorded 46/66 (70%) of winning Under 2.5 Goals bets – 24/33 (73%) when viewing just their home/away records.
With sub 4/9 odds available, you won’t get rich opposing Total Goals. So instead, take Both Teams To Score ‘No’ at 8/11 with Betfair – it’s a selection that’s proven profitable in 44/66 (67%) from the two clubs’ records as well as 21/33 (64%) when drilling into their home/away returns. According to the stats, this bet should be closer to 4/7, making 8/11 cracking value.
Birmingham v Hull – 0-0 half-time correct score (6/4 Coral)
Birmingham v Hull – Both Teams To Score ‘No’ (8/11 Betfair)
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