Nottm Forest v Leeds: Tight tussle anticipated at the City Ground

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CHAMPIONSHIP specialist James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) takes a look at New Year's Day's match-up between Nottingham Forest and table-toppers Leeds at the City Ground.

Nottingham Forest v Leeds | Tuesday 1st January 2019, 15:00 | Sky Sports

This is certainly one of the more intriguing New Years’ Day contests in the Sky Bet Championship. An out of sorts Nottingham Forest welcome league leaders Leeds United to the City Ground, who suffered a shock home loss to Hull City last time out.

There is plenty of off the field drama surrounding Nottingham Forest too, with the future of manager Aitor Karanka seemingly up in the air at this moment in time. He should be in charge for this game, but defeat will present many more talking points in the local Nottingham press.

As for Leeds, whilst the loss to Hull caught everybody by surprise, they had won seven in a row prior to that, so they aren’t quite a crisis point just yet! Nevertheless, Marcelo Bielsa says that he expects Tuesday’s game to be their hardest of the season so far.

Forest have had a bad run of form at quite an inappropriate moment in the season. At a time when a few results in quick succession can easily lift a side up the table, a few negatives results can soon spiral into a patch of results which is hard to stop. Losing becomes a habit just like winning, and Forest need something to fall their way. Perhaps what is most concerned is that in those five games they haven’t won, they failed to score in four of those.

However, there are still many reasons to expect this clash to be particularly tactical. Separating the two teams is unlikely to be too straightforward. Leeds may be favourites on the 1×2 column, which has to be expected based on league table positioning, they have won only once in their last six visits to the City Ground, which did come last season.

Leeds have only lost four times in the league this season. Bielsa is backing his players to react in a positive manner, something they’ve done when responding to the previous three defeats, but securing two wins and a draw in the process. Forest might be in a bad place right now, but they are never easily beaten.

The goals market is one area that we will have to look toward on Tuesday. There is one quite obvious call which has to be the way we play this. We can get a cheeky little price of 11/12 (188Bet) on the Under 2.5 Goals market.

Leeds have the second-best defensive record in the league, with only Middlesbrough conceding fewer. Also, only Middlesbrough and Leeds have conceded more than Karanka’s Nottingham Forest side too. Leeds have netted seven more goals and achieved 15 more points than their New Years’ Day opposition, so game management perhaps gives them a slight edge.

Games at the City Ground this season have often be very tight affairs. 8/12 have failed to beat the 2.5 goal line, with matches here averaging only 1.90 this season. That means only games at the Riverside Stadium have witnessed fewer Championship goals so far.

Focusing on the season as a whole, including home and away form, Leeds see an average of 2.60 goals, and Nottingham Forest exactly 2.50. A good percentage call is therefore made on Under 2.5, especially as nine of the last ten head-to-head contained two goals or less as well.

With goals unlikely to be in big supply on day one of 2019, there is therefore another angle we can approach this match.

The Draw Half Time Score is available at 6/5 (Bet365). Some numbers do back this up. 12/25 of Forest’s games so far has seen them drawing after 45 minutes of action, whilst it is 14/25 for Leeds. Those Forest numbers may not look towards a majority, but no team in the Championship has drew more games than Karanka’s side this season.

Forest have only been leading in 4/12 home games at the interval, whilst for Leeds it reads 2/12 of their away clashes. This proves that they tend to take time before really settling into games. Leeds will perhaps be feeling the tiredness more than Forest, given the difference in squad size at present. Bielsa therefore may look for his team to try and manage the game.

Also, neither side tend to be big scorers in the first half of action. In fact, Forest score 66% and Leeds 69% of their goals in the second period of games this season.

Finally, one other cheeky little play is for Nottingham Forest in the First Team Booking market. You clearly won’t get rich at odds of 17/20 (William Hill), but it could be a play for those of you who like the bet builder tool.

The reason being is that Nottingham Forest actually have the worst disciplinary record of all teams in the Championship so far. Was however is quite ironic is that on the foul count, Leeds have committed 156 compared to Forest’s 119. Yet there are 22 points of difference on the fairplay table. Forest have 17 more single yellow cards to their name.

The booking route is one avenue I like to explore from time-to-time and as there are no specific player to be booked markets available (at the time of writing), then I’ll throw up this selection for a little bit of interest.

Best Bets

Nottingham Forest v Leeds United – Under 2.5 Goals (11/12 188Bet)

Nottingham Forest v Leeds United – Half Time Draw (6/5 Bet365)

Nottingham Forest v Leeds United – First Team Booking: Nottingham Forest (17/20 William Hill)

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