FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Wednesday night's EFL action.
Bristol City v Hull | Wednesday 24th October 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Last season’s two tussles between Bristol City and Hull produced 15 goals but I’m not expecting a repeat on Wednesday night where the Robins appear value 10/11 (BlackType) favourites to seal a second consecutive victory.
Niclas Eliasson's late goal gave City their first win in six on Saturday as they toppled Brentford at Griffin Park. The Bees had been the better team before losing Chris Mepham to a red card on the hour mark with rookie Bristol City goalkeeper Max O'Leary pulling off a string of fine saves.
Head coach Lee Johnson remained philosophical post-match, reiterating that there’s still plenty to work on before the Robins can be considered a serious top-six proposition. He’s not wrong but having won the Expected Goals count in four of their past five Championship outings, City were due a victory.
The hosts seem likely to miss Nathan Baker in midweek after the defender suffered a head injury in the capital, although the imminent return of Thomas Kalas could soften that blow. Should Kalas miss out, Lloyd Kelly is expected to sit over into centre-half with Jay Dasilva starting on the left side.
It’s a minor cause for Bristol City backers’ concern. However, I’m happy having the hosts onside at almost even-money; the Robins boast a 46% win ratio at Ashton Gate since the start of 2016/17 and have returned W16-D4-L3 when welcoming bottom-half teams in that same sample.
What’s more, City are posting positive performance data figures across all the major data metrics, including an excellent 57% shots in the box ratio return, as well as generating a 57% Expected Goals ratio from their first 13 games.
Visitors Hull are only off the foot of the Championship table by virtue of alphabetical order and the Tigers – an ante-post recommendation for relegation in this parish – are looking every inch a struggling side this season.
Nigel Adkins’ men were denied a vital victory by a last-gasp Preston equaliser at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday to extend their winless streak to six. The Humbersiders’ only triumphs this term have come against lowly Ipswich and Rotherham, whilst their 11-goal tally is the second-worst in the division.
Adkins urged his side to “keep going” in the aftermath of the weekend’s stalemate after seeing his team hit the woodwork three times through Kamil Grosicki, Chris Martin and Jarrod Bowen, whilst Preston goalkeeper Chris Maxwell pulled off a string of saves.
Even so, the Tigers only claimed Expected Goals supremacy by 2.12 – 1.83 and, although improvements have been made since a recent switch to a three-man defensive shape, the visitors are lacking the confidence and quality in key areas to match Bristol City on Wednesday night.
Young midfielder Dan Batty should be fit despite limping out of Saturday’s match in stoppage-time, and captain Markus Henriksen is expected to recover from his own minor injury. However, key playmaker Evandro remains sidelined as Hull bid to end their recent four-match losing streak on their travels.
Indeed, only Reading (21) have lost more Championship games than the Tigers (18) since Adkins was appointed and the guests’ road record in that time reads an uninspiring W4-D4-L11. This term they’re posting a 38% Expected Goals ratio in away encounters and therefore, I’m happy to oppose them here.
Preston v Brentford | Wednesday 24th October 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
As we’ve already discovered above, Preston were a touch fortunate to pick up a point from a crunch clash at fellow strugglers Hull on Saturday. Lilywhites boss Alex Neil said he wasn’t impressed with his team’s display and admitted they “rode their luck” on Humberside before Louis Moult’s late leveller.
Hull hit the woodwork three times and forced goalkeeper Chris Maxwell into a number of smart stops. Even so, North End enjoyed opportunities of their own during the opening half hour, and pressed hard in the latter stages before their stoppage-time equaliser, only losing out on Expected Goals count 1.83 – 2.12.
The result moved Preston out of the bottom three on goal difference and sees the Lancashire club unbeaten in three (W1-D2-L0) having previously returned W1-D2-L7 in their opening 10 outings. It’s small steps in the right direction for a side that have been playing better than their results suggest.
Despite pocketing only two league victories in 2018/19, Neil’s troops have actually won the xG count on six occasions, boast a 52% xG from open play ratio, and rank 14th in terms of shots in the box ratio. Wednesday night’s hosts are also inside the top-half for both shot ratio, and shots on-target ratio.
Goals certainly haven’t been an issue for PNE with only five Championship sides registering more than their 19-goal tally. The Lilywhites have struck at least twice in five of their six Deepdale dates, and with Callum Robinson close to a first-team return following a weekend illness, they’ll provide plenty of threat.
Nevertheless, Preston have come unstuck defensively all too often. Neil’s outfit are conceding an average of 1.34 xG per-game but have actually managed to ship an average of 1.92 goals per-game – a significant 0.58 difference. And so it’s clear where improvements are required from the home side.
Saying that, there are green shoots from North End. Their last four fixtures have seen the Lilywhites enjoy 8.46 – 5.89 Expected Goals supremacy against the likes of Hull, Wigan, Aston Villa and West Brom, whilst also winning the shot count 60-42.
With that in mind, I’m happy to side with them on Wednesday against Brentford at a nice price. Preston are as big as 2/1 to win this encounter but I prefer to keep the draw onside and support the PNE double chance and Both Teams To Score at a bulbous 7/5 (Betfair).
The hosts have only lost 8/29 (28%) of Deepdale matches under Neil, whilst Brentford have bagged only 9/29 (31%) away triumphs since the start of last season. Collectively, the two clubs are averaging 3.04 goals per-game in 2018/19 with 16/26 (62%) of combined Both Teams To Score winners.
Brentford head north having suffered their first home reverse since March in Thomas Frank's first match as head coach since Dean Smith’s departure. The Bees failed to make their chances count in a 1-0 defeat to Bristol City with Neal Maupay wasting a glorious opportunity and Ollie Watkins hitting a post.
The red card to key defender Chris Mepham turned the tide against the Londoners before they eventually succumbed to a late sucker-punch, extending Brentford’s winless streak to six. Frank was adamant his team would have picked up maximum points had they had 11 players on the field for 90 minutes.
The Bees have now won just four of their 13 Championship games, putting the visitors three points shy of the play-off places. Although netting in 11 of those encounters, scoring more than once in six of them, the West Londoners are running into the same old issues that have held them back over the past two campaigns.
Brentford are too profligate in the final-third and prone to making errors in defensive areas. Still winless on their travels, the Bees have rarely convinced on the road and with Mepham banned and Julian Jeanvier injured, Yoann Barbet could be forced to fill in at centre-back, which may present problems.
I’ve little doubt the guests are strong enough to mount a major promotion challenge, and their performance data numbers prove their worth as one of the Championship’s strongest suits. But there’s enough doubt heading into this Deepdale contest to oppose the Bees in what could be an enjoyable showdown.
Bristol City v Hull – Bristol City to win (10/11 BlackType)
Preston v Brentford – Preston double chance and Both Teams To Score (7/5 Betfair)