FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from Wednesday's coupon.
Ipswich v Cardiff | Wednesday 21st February 2018, 19:45
Few teams defy the trends quite like Ipswich Town and few managers have the ability to consolidate clubs quite like Mick McCarthy. Derided by many, the stout Yorkshireman should be in high-demand when he leaves his post Suffolk, as expected, this summer.
You have to pick your betting battles wisely against Mick’s men but circumstances could be in our favour this midweek as the Tractor Boys aim to get back on the wagon after the emotional rollercoaster and energy-sapping East Anglian derby on Sunday.
Ipswich were denied a first success over their bitter neighbours in nine years and the fallout in the aftermath – led primarily by McCarthy’s antics – have accelerated calls for the boss to leave. Stuck in the second-tier for 16 years, supporters are craving a fresh approach.
Back to Wednesday and Town are bound to be a little leggy after the work put in at Carrow Road. The Tractor Boys performed with aplomb in the opening 45 minutes but were on the back foot for the majority of the second period before late drama ensured at both ends.
McCarthy abandoned his usual 4-2-3-1 system to match-up Norwich’s 3-5-2 formation. The Ipswich head left creative players like Berant Celina, David McGoldrick and Mustapha Carayol on the bench in a bid to stiffen up his team and the plan worked well. Expect more flair from his midweek XI.
Nevertheless, this is an Ipswich team that play to the tightest of the margins. They buck the data trend through sheer commitment and organisation but repeating Sunday’s exploits against a promotion-chaser in front of a demotivated crowd could prove their downfall.
Only Burton and Bolton have a worse attacking record, according to Expected Goals, whilst only Burton have fired in fewer attempts at goal. No team concedes more shots and only Bolton have faced more on-target efforts leaving the Suffolk side easily amongst the worst teams in the league, according to the numbers.
What’s more, Town have achieved the majority of their best work when taking on the lesser lights. Indeed, Ipswich have earned 27 (60%) of their 45-point tally against the bottom-eight (W8-D3-L0), compared to just nine points (20%) accrued when playing the top-half (W3-D0-L11) – that includes seven losses from eight against sides occupying the play-off positions on Monday.
In contrast, Cardiff continue to impress. Neil Warnock’s charges deservedly beat Middlesbrough on Saturday – reducing Boro to only six attempts at goal with just one landing on-target – to move into the Championship’s automatic promotion places. It means City have now W4-D2-L0 since New Year’s Day.
The Bluebirds bagged the only goal of the game via Sean Morrison from a set-piece, the 14th occasion Cardiff have notched from a dead-ball situation, but that’s an unfair reflection on their qualities. The capital club comfortably rank second in the division in terms of Expected Goals for/against.
Recently, Cardiff have generated 1.92 Expected Goals on average from their past six outings and Warnock now has options at his disposal following a busy transfer window. Make no mistake, the Welsh club are serious contenders for the top-two.
I don’t expect Cardiff to lose this encounter but I’d want the draw onside. With that in mind, plus forecasting a low-scoring contest, I’m happy to take the even-money available at 188BET on Cardiff double chance and Under 2.5 Goals.
Ipswich have delivered Under 2.5 Goals in nine of their past 12 when welcoming top-six teams, as well as 12 of their past 15 Championship contests. Cardiff have followed suit in seven of their most recent 11 games as guests.
Bristol City v Fulham | Wednesday 21st February 2018, 19:45
Bristol City threw away a lead for the second game running as Leeds came from 2-0 down to draw on Sunday. The Robins, who drew 3-3 after leading Sunderland 3-0 last week, netted twice in the first 16 minutes at Elland Road and were seemingly in sole control after an hour.
But towards the end of the weekend’s encounter, were hanging on and fortunate to avoid a dramatic late defeat as Pierre-Michel Lasogga headed against the crossbar in the dying embers of the contest.
Having shouldered the blame against Sunderland, manager Lee Johnson refused to criticise his side’s efforts at Elland Road, believing there were still positives to take. However, City have slipped having now won just two Championship matches since mid-December (W2-D4-L4).
Defensively, Bristol City have certainly regressed of late. Wednesday’s hosts have leaked 14 goals in their past eight fixtures whilst conceding an average of 1.82 Expected Goals per-game in their most recent five. Having failed to shutout any of their top-half visitors to Ashton Gate, I don’t expect that record to improve here.
The hosts have lost five of their previous eight when welcoming top-six sides and have only succeeded in three of nine (W3-D2-L4) when hosting clubs in 13th or above thus far so an in-form Fulham outfit should be well capable of escaping with at least a point on Wednesday.
The Cottagers have motored into fifth position on the back of a 15-game spell where they’ve collected 35 points from a possible 45 (W11-D2-L2). More recently, Slavisa Jokanovic’s troops have sealed eight triumphs in 10, scoring at least twice in eight of those games.
Defensively too, Fulham have tightened up. The capital club have allowed an average of just 0.84 Expected Goals against in that 10-match streak as they feature prominently amongst the league’s elite for facing few shots on-target.
The visitors have taken top honours in six of their last eight at top-six rivals and have already won half of their eight away days at top-half teams this term. So all things considering, the 4/6 (BetVictor) on the Cottagers with a +0.25 start from BetVictor here looks too enticing to turn down.