FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on the pick of the best bets from the Championship on Tuesday night.
Middlesbrough v Burton | Tuesday 15th August 2017, 19:45
Title favourites Middlesbrough signalled their intention for an immediate return to the Premier League with an impressive summer spending spree but the Teessiders have been slow out of the blocks.
Garry Monk’s men fell to a 1-0 reverse at Wolves in their opener – a game settled by Dani Ayala’s wretched misplaced pass – before bouncing back to overcome Sheffield United 1-0 at The Riverside in Saturday evening’s televised Championship clash.
Boro handed half a dozen players their debut in a rather toothless display against Wolves with familiar issues in front of goal coming back to haunt whilst the relegated outfit could only muster two efforts on-target despite deservedly beating the Blades this weekend.
Interestingly, Monk was in charge of a Leeds team last season that fired in fewer on-target efforts than any second-tier side other than relegated Wigan so it’s certainly not worth punting the mortgage on Middlesbrough to dismantle opposition sides, at least not for the time being.
Where the Teessiders are strong though, is at the back. No bottom-half Premier League club conceded fewer goals than Boro last term whilst Arsenal faced only five fewer shots on-target than Tuesday night’s hosts. Impressive, huh?
Although Dael Fry excelled at the back for the absent Ayala at the weekend, the Spaniard could return here and partner Ben Gibson at centre-half; the pairing have returned W31-D15-L3 when playing together in the Championship.
Elsewhere, Martin Braithwaite is still missing but deputy Patrick Bamford turned in a fine performance against Sheffield United whilst Lewis Baker, signed on loan from Chelsea, came off the bench and could feature from the off.
So we should expect Middlesbrough to be watertight at the back and I’m going to back them to secure a second victory on the spin alongside a clean sheet with the home win ‘to nil’ available to support at 11/8 (BetVictor).
Burton produced a minor miracle to comfortably preserve their Championship status last term but 2017/18 promises to be as tough as a second album.
Albion were timid and profligate in front of goal for large swathes of last season and with star summer signing Liam Boyce suffering a season-ending injury in pre-season, the Staffordshire side were already short in attacking areas.
However, the Brewers arrive with top scorer Jackson Irvine suspended, striker Marvin Sordell rated doubtful, key centre-back Ben Turner banned and left-back Stephen Warnock crocked. Already plodding along with a small squad, Nigel Clough’s resources are being stretched.
Clough admitted Saturday’s chastening 4-1 reverse at Hull – where Irvine was sent off before half-time – could have been more damaging but for an inspired display by goalkeeper Stephen Bywater with Burton put under serious pressure for the entirety of the second half at the KCOM Stadium.
The Brewers boss believes his team's psychological response against Boro will be as important as the way they play but it’s hard to find the faith in the underdogs here considering they’ve been so distantly second best in their opening two encounters.
Burton have managed just two on-target efforts in defeat against Cardiff and Hull, returned W4-D9-L10 on the road last season and picked up a solitary success in games at clubs that finished 17th or above.
I don’t expect the visitors will be given much change here.
Brentford v Bristol City | Tuesday 15th August 2017, 19:45
Brentford went off at odds shorter than 3/4 to beat Nottingham Forest on Saturday so logic surely dictates that we should back the Bees at 11/10 (Bet365) quotes on Tuesday night against Bristol City? I certainly will be.
It’s easy to look at the early league standings and dismiss Dean Smith’s side. But it’s also never a wise idea to make sweeping assessments nor kneejerk reactions during August – last year the three EFL ante-post favourites managed just one victory between them across the first three games and still ended up as champions.
Brentford were the better side in a 1-0 reverse at Sheffield United – bossing possession, the shot count and the expected goals measure – and it was a familiar story on Saturday when the Bees somehow contrived to lose 4-3 at home to Nottingham Forest (when recommended in this column).
Smith’s charges could and should have been three goals up before the interval but a lack of composure in forward areas cost the hosts. With Forest scoring two stunning strikes, a rebound off the post and a wickedly deflected effort, it was a harsh reminder that football can be an unfair and unpredictable sport.
The Brentford boss said, if they continue to play as they have done so far, they will win more games than they lose. And Smith’s also suggested he’ll shake things up with strikers Ollie Watkins and Neal Maupay pushing for starts following impressive weekend cameos.
But with contract rebel Harlee Dean stripped of the captaincy and left on the bench, the Bees appeared a little ragged at the back. Defence has always been the chief concern regarding the capital club’s promotion challenge and it’s for that reason that I’m going to play this a little safer for WLB readers.
Rather than suggest you wonderful people follow me in on the Bees bonanza, I couldn’t put you off backing Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 4/5 (Coral) quotes.
Last term only Fulham and Newcastle scored more than the Londoners and with Bristol City likely to be without wantaway defender Aden Flint and injured left-back Joe Bryan, you’d expect Brentford to get on the scoresheet without too many problems.
The Robins have won just twice in 19 away days in the Championship and been beaten in 11 of their last 16 road trips. Still, Lee Johnson’s troops are collecting plenty of praise for rattling in nine goals from their first three outings across all competitions.
However, City are far from dependable at the back and although they put Barnsley to the sword on the opening day, the Tykes were bedding in a brand new XI. Meanwhile, Plymouth made wholesale changes for their League Cup thrashing by the Robins and on Saturday the guests faced eight efforts on-target to Birmingham.
In fairness, City fired in 25 shots at St Andrews and forced 10 corners too so with Both Teams To Score banking in their first two league fixtures, as well as four of the past six meetings, I’m happy to back the visitors playing their part in what should be an enjoyable and entertaining contest.