Birmingham v Middlesbrough: Boro may edge Friday fixture

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CHAMPIONSHIP specialist James O'Rourke (@JamesOR1) shares his thoughts on Friday night's fixture between Birmingham and Middlesbrough.

Birmingham v Middlesbrough | Friday 4th October 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports

Friday night presents us with Birmingham versus Middlesbrough for our televisual needs, with this Championship affair featuring two clubs out of form and in need of a positive outcome going into the international break.

Birmingham find themselves on a three-game losing run. That includes the last two, which was both away from home. Perhaps more interesting was that all three losses came by a one-goal margin, suggesting that these were tight games that they only just failed to get on the right side of. Pep Clotet will hope those find margin improvements will come sooner rather than later.

Middlesbrough are also winless in three, but two ended in defeat. That includes the 4-1 home loss to Sheffield Wednesday, where a first-half collapse cost them any chance in the game. For all that this was a very bad day at the office, it was a rare heavy setback for the Teesside club. Still, only two wins from 10 is not the start Jonathan Woodgate would have targeted.

Blues must ‘knock the door’

The one area which I think Clotet will be most uneasy about is that they aren’t really creating a great day game-by-game. An average of 10 shots on goal may seem like a lot, but the reality is that this is one of the lowest figures in the Championship. When you consider that in three of those games they scored two goals, it means they’ve failed to score in four games, all of which ended in defeat.

Clearly there is a big reliance of Lukas Jutkiewicz as their main striker to get the goals. He has three to his name so far, but you could argue that they aren’t getting the best out of him playing in the way they are. Clotet has clearly wanted to implement a new style of play, but they are slowly going back to type by playing a 4-4-2 in recent weeks. This may lead to an improvement in terms of goal count from Jutkiewicz, but it’ll take time.

He thrives on balls into the box, and if they keep going down that route then chances are he’ll bag a few more goals, which lead to better results for the Blues. Only an average of three shots on goal hitting the target is another area of concern. They’re having to rely on essentially scoring one of those three to stand a chance. It would be OK if they were defensively stable, but it is just one clean sheet in their last six.

Boro not without hope

A lot has been made of Boro’s start to the start. On one hand you look at the point count, which isn’t so great, but this is Woodgate’s first management job and it was taking over from Tony Pulis, who is very diligent in how he sets up his sides. Woodgate hasn’t ripped that up necessarily, but he has looked to stamp his own authority on proceedings. It’ll take time.

We have certainly seen in flashes what can be produced. If we roll back to the opening day when drawing away at Luton, many were encouraged by what they were doing in attack. However, looking back, Luton are one of very few in this league however play as openly as that, so it probably flattered Middlesbrough to a degree.

Nevertheless, they may not be free-scoring, but they aren’t so bad at the back. That may seem a strange thing to say when they only conceding four inside 45-minutes versus Sheff Wed.

However, they’ve conceded 14 league goals so far, and seven of those came within two ranks. The other was that 3-3 opening day draw at Luton. Seven goals conceded within the other seven isn’t bad at all. Both times they’ve kept a clean sheet, they won 1-0. A clean sheet will always give them a chance.

With that being the case, it could be argued Birmingham are the perfect opponent for them to try and achieve a 1-0 win. Birmingham aren’t creating a great deal, as the numbers suggest. Birmingham don’t necessarily concede many chances on goal however, but the fact they do concede proves that they aren’t so strong under pressure.

Woodgate changed his forward line in midweek by handing opportunities to Marcus Browne and Marcus Tavernier, dropping Ashley Fletcher and Marvin Johnson. This fresh approach could be the way forward, whilst Britt Assombalonga certainly needs a goal, but he is getting into the right areas.

The betting angles

I do like these Friday night Championship tussles and I am prepared to throw out three selections for us to focus on to try and gather some profit.

The first of which is Middlesbrough 0 Asian Handicap, which is priced at 23/20 (Bet365). I just think this game could be played to suit them quite well, assuming they don’t have a defensive collapse.

Both teams are out of form, and the onus will be on Birmingham as the home side to try and take the game to the opponents. The crowd will almost urge them forward, but the numbers prove they aren’t so comfortable doing this. Boro have been involved in mostly tight games this season, especially on the road.

With that being the case, I think the Half Time Draw is also a good play at 21/20 (Sport Nation). Six of Birmingham’s 10 games has seen them level at the interval, whilst it is a 50% success rate is league matches involving Middlesbrough. Three of Birmingham’s four home encounters saw a HT stalemate, so this could be a bit of a slow burner, even more so with both not so potent in front of goal at the moment, and also in poor form.

The final play targets the corner count and I like the look of Middlesbrough Over 5.5 Corners at 5/4 (Sky Bet). This is more of a speculative play but they’re actually one of the highest corners-winning teams in the league.

Something I noticed was that they’ve racked up several corners in their away games. Eleven at Luton, 10 at Bristol City and eight at Cardiff, all stronger or roughly the same level as Birmingham. Boro can apply pressure and I think they can count attack to good effect when getting the opportunity.

Best Bets

Birmingham v Middlesbrough – Middlesbrough 0 Asian Handicap (23/20 Bet365)

Birmingham v Middlesbrough – Half Time Draw (21/20 Sport Nation)

Birmingham v Middlesbrough – Middlesbrough Over 5.5 Corners (5/4 SkyBet)

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