FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Wednesday night's Championship action.
Millwall v Birmingham | Wednesday 28thNovember 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Millwall boss Neil Harris admitted his team, “didn't look Millwall-like at The Den” on Saturday as they were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw with fellow strugglers Bolton. Chasing a fourth successive home success, the Lions were thankful for substitute Jiri Skalak’s late leveller rescued a share of the spoils.
Harris reckoned his team were “5% off” their acceptable performance levels and appreciated the stalemate was a “point gained” in their quest for Championship survival. Indeed, Millwall were second-best in the opening 45 minutes, and kept in the contest thanks to stand-in stopper Jordan Archer.
The Lions improved after the break and applied plenty of pressure before Skalak drilled in the equaliser eight minutes from time. However, the contest saw the capital club’s attacking options limited further by a hamstring injury picked up by Tom Elliott after the half-hour mark, ruling him out of this midweek match.
With Tom Bradshaw and Steve Morison already absent, Gregory is now Millwall’s only fit and established frontman available on Wednesday as the Lions’ striker headache is threatening to turn into a full-blown migraine for Harris. The hosts will probably need to adapt their approach for the visit of Birmingham.
The Lions make no apologies about their directness, and it’s hard to see how the lack of fit targetmen cannot force a major change in tactics. Neither Gregory nor potential forward Aiden O’Brien are renowned for their aerial strength and the squad is now looking light on game-changers in the final-third.
Millwall boast a great record at The Den, winning exactly half of their 32 fixtures (W16-D10-L6) here since returning to the Championship. But the club have been plagued by poor defensive performances in 2018/19, recording only two clean sheets and conceding at least twice in 10 of their 18 encounters.
That should encourage a Birmingham outfit that arrive off the back of a disappointing defeat in the Second City derby. It could have been oh so different, mind, with Lukas Jutkiewicz heading Garry Monk’s men ahead before Che Adams wasted a glorious chance of a second when hitting the post from close range.
The visitors have now shipped 10 goals in their past three games and Monk says it was a lack of ‘toughness' that proved costly at Villa Park.
City are looking to rediscover the resilience that inspired an 11-game unbeaten run prior to their recent downturn, and have lost just four league games this term I’m happy to have them onside here against the Millwall side lacking in offensive firepower.
Birmingham will welcome Gary Gardner back into the fold having missed the last two matches. His partnership with Michael Kieftenbeld in the middle of the park was the foundation stone around which Blues’ run of consistent performances was based. Meanwhile, Jacques Maghoma and Jota are in contention for a return.
The two teams have recorded a solitary clean sheet each in their last 10 Championship outings and so it’s difficult to see this fixture finishing goalless. But with Millwall’s issues in attack, and Birmingham’s W4-D5-L1 record against teams in eighth and below, I want the Blues onside.
Therefore, I’m dipping into Bet365’s Bet Builder to back Birmingham double chance and Over 0 Goals at 20/21. We’re basically backing Blues to avoid defeat by any scoreline other than 0-0, which feels very fair.
Wigan v Blackburn | Wednesday 28thNovember 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Wigan were made to pay the price for spurning a series of openings as they were held to a 0-0 draw by battling Reading at the DW Stadium on Saturday. The Latics created the better opportunities but could not find a winner as they put an end to their four-game losing streak.
Reece James and Josh Windass were the guiltiest parties in front of goal, whilst Joe Garner score his effort cleared off the line following a late goalmouth scramble. The Royals rarely threatened Athletic, although Paul Cook’s charges were far from dominant in front of their home supporters.
Cook and visiting boss Paul Clement agreed the two teams largely cancelled each other out with the Wigan boss saying, “After suffering four defeats in this league, it’s always nice to stop the rot. Our fans were begging for players to go forwards in the last few minutes, but when you’re on a bad run, confidence is key, and we had to stop that rot today.”
It’s a far cry from the confident Cook we’ve come to expect. The Liverpudlian is a stickler to his preferred 4-2-3-1 but in recent months has curbed his attack-minded instincts and I’m not convinced it’s been for the better. Athletic now set-up in a 4-4-1-1 system with Windass playing behind Nick Powell on Saturday.
Supporters were left dissatisfied by their Wigan’s openness in midfield again on the weekend. Reading consistently bypassed the Latics middle line and were only foiled by a poor final pass, or a lack of incision from decent positions. Cook must now decide whether to persist with Sam Morsy and Darron Gibson here.
Meanwhile, with Antonee Robinson crocked, Kal Naismith filled in at left-back with aplomb, although in attack Powell was forced off after an hour mark and is now rated a major doubt. Will Grigg is available again and may step into the XI should Powell be ruled out of contention, as is expected.
So there are various selection conundrums for Cook to ponder but arguably his most important decision remains around the Wigan approach. Following promotion, the Latics were attacking with abandon and impressing in possession, however such excitement has been sapped since September.
Having beaten Rotherham 1-0 before the September international break, Wigan have since scored just seven goals in 12 games, generating an average Expected Goals figure of only 0.87 per-game. The high-pressing, high-tempo style has been replaced with a more defensive approach with the long ball prevalent.
The hosts have W3-D2-L7 in that 12-game streak and Cook must find the balance to ensure Wigan aren’t dragged into the relegation dogfight. The Latics come into this Lancashire derby only four points above the bottom-three and I’m not confident they’re capable of beating Blackburn in their current guise.
Rovers were forced to apologise to their supporters following their 4-1 thumping at local rivals Preston at the weekend. Behind after only two minutes, Tony Mowbray’s men never looked like finding parity and Ewood Park boss put the boot into his team’s uncharacteristic defending and individual errors post-match.
In a warped way, that chastening loss could spark a reaction from Rovers as they make the short journey to Wigan on Wednesday. Blackburn have lost just three times on their travels and four of 18 fixtures this season; they’ve not actually lost back-to-back league matches since April 2017.
Team news is also largely positive. Mowbray favourite Elliott Bennett is suspended but a recall for forward ace Danny Graham looks likely, whilst Corry Evans is set to return to the fold after missing Saturday’s loss. His inclusion will bolster Blackburn’s backline that’s starting to appear recognised again.
Injuries have made selecting a first-choice defence difficult for Rovers; Ryan Nyambe, Darragh Lenihan, Charlie Mulgrew and Derrick Williams – mainstays in defence under Mowbray – started together for only the second time this season at the weekend and will no doubt be better for the run-out at Deepdale.
So I’m following the same formula as above for this meeting, backing the away side to avoid defeat in a game featuring at least one goal – we support Blackburn double chance and Over 0 Goals at 4/5 (Bet365) with Bet365’s Bet Builder and that holds plenty of appeal, for me.
The guests have scored in all bar three of their matches since promotion, including eight of their nine away days. They’re averaging over 0.85 Expected Goals from open play per-game and should have the ability to at least avoid defeat against a Wigan outfit that’s posting a 40% xG from open play ratio.