MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) evaluates the best betting opportunities ahead of the first Championship play-off semi-final first leg between Brentford and Middlesbrough on Friday night.
Brentford v Middlesbrough | Friday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
It’s Mark Warburton’s final stand as Brentford boss. The former city trader is desperate to leave the Bees as a Premier League club and will be hoping his team can sign off from Griffin Park with an important firs leg lead against Middlesbrough on Friday night.
The fact we’re even discussing Brentford as a Championship play-off team deserves huge respect. Operating on one of the league’s smaller budgets, the Londoners have upset the odds to break into the top-six and are now hell bent on revenge for their two regular season losses against Boro.
Warburton described the Bees performance at the Riverside in September as their worst this season and those that remember the January duel at Griffin Park will know Brentford were well deserving of at least a point. That day Warbuton’s men dominated proceedings but were unable to find a breakthrough, succumbing to a Grant Leadbitter penalty.
It’s been a similar story when investigating their results and displays against the leading lights of the second tier. Brentford took 67% of their points against clubs in 14th and below and their W2-D1-L7 record against the top-six will need to be addressed if they’re to negotiate a route to Wembley.
The hosts certainly have players who can hurt this Boro side but whether they can stand up and be counted in the club’s biggest game of their history remains to be seen. It’s only one loss in nine for the Bees but four of those fixtures ended all square and the fact they failed to win 11 of their 23 home outings is another blotch on their copybook going into this tie.
Opponents Middlesbrough rested a raft of big-hitters for their final game of the season against Brighton including top-scorer and PFA Championship Player of the Year Patrick Bamford. And Aitor Karanka’s charges head south with perhaps the biggest point to prove having blown their automatic promotion chances in farcical circumstances at Fulham on the penultimate weekend
. I’ve made it by known that I’m not the Teesiders’ biggest fans and although they top the mini-table against top-eight and top-half Championship rivals, the visitors have been maddeningly inconsistent on the road. Three defeats in four on their travels is of course of concern but Karanka masterminded an impressive 1-0 success at Norwich just three weeks ago, proving they have the potential to compete and conquer away from the Riverside.
Results since Valentine’s Day (W8-D2-L6) have followed that inconsistent theme but if any side can neutralise this all-action, high-tempo aggressive style employed by Brentford, you’d assume it’s Boro. The away side will be happy to sit deep, absorb pressure and play on the break, as they did in January.
With Brentford 7/4 (Bet365) and Middlesbrough (19/10 Coral), there’s little to separate the two sides and I’m happy to swerve the Match Odds and Handicap markets, instead plumping for a goals-based bet again.
The two clubs have contrasting records in the Both Teams To Score and Over 2.5 Goals columns but going on Championship semi-final first leg trends, we’re unlikely to see a goalscoring thriller on Friday night.
Over the past 10 years we’ve seen these fixtures average exactly two goals-per-game with 8/20 (40%) of games recording BTTS winners and 7/20 (35%) profitable for Over 2.5 Goals punters. However, the past six seasons have seen those figures contract further with the average goals-per-game dropping to just 1.16, Both Teams To Score banking in 3/12 (25%) and 2/12 (17%) of Over 2.5 Goals games following suit.
With that in mind, I’ll happily get involved with the even-money offer on ‘No’ in the Both Teams To Score market from William Hill and I’m also keen to take a chance on the 6/5 from Stan James for Both Halves Under 1.5 Goals. As mentioned above, the negative goals bets are in line with the trends in these high-pressurised fixtures and can also be mirrored by Middlesbrough’s results this season; with neither selection odds-on, they’re certainly worth an interest.
Brentford v Middlesbrough – Both Teams To Score – No (1/1 William Hill)
Brentford v Middlesbrough – Both Halves Under 1.5 Goals (6/5 Stan James)
What’s your view on the Championship play-offs? Is Mark on the money expecting a low-scoring clash from Griffin Park?
We’d love to hear your views so let us know in the comments box below.