Sheffield United v Birmingham | Wednesday 19th September 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Having a recommended a pre-season play on Sheffield United, I have to admit I was slightly alarmed at their slow start to the new campaign. The Blades were beaten in back-to-back games by Swansea and Middlesbrough but boss Chris Wilder refused to panic and has since guided the group into the top-six.
A four-match winning run before the international break included a thrilling 4-1 thrashing of Aston Villa at Bramall Lane to bring United into the upper echelons of the Championship, and while Saturday’s 1-0 reverse at Bristol City put an end to such a streak, there’s value in backing the hosts to bounce back here.
In truth, there was little to choose between the two teams at Ashton Gate last weekend. The Robins opted to match the Blades’ wing-back system and an encounter shorn of outstanding goalscoring opportunities played out before Marley Watkins’ strike nine minutes from time put paid to United’s fortunes.
Post-match Wilder said, “It's the worst feeling in the world when you play well and lose, as we did. But we failed to make the most of the periods when we were on top.” United fashioned a few presentable chances in a decent first-half before wilting after the interval, and the Blades boss will demand an improvement.
The influential John Fleck is likely to miss out again so John Lundstram could start once again in the centre of midfield, and even without the Scottish schemer, I feel the hosts are decent value at 10/11 (Bet365) to pick up maximum points.
Sheffield United have won 14/26 (56%) Bramall Lane outings since promotion and last term their record against bottom-half teams here read W7-D3-L2. Indeed, exclude the top-seven and the Blades have claimed top honours in five of their past seven unbeaten home fixtures, including both contests this term.
In contrast, Birmingham have W3-D5-L18 on their travels since the start of last season – a 69% loss rate. Since Garry Monk arrived at St Andrew’s, the Blues have been beaten in six of their eight away days and that rotten road return looks like extending if the visitors don’t find their shooting boots soon.
Once again, Birmingham failed to pick up a deserved three points at home when their eye-catching performance against West Brom on Friday night only earned the Second City club a share of the spoils. Monk’s men have now drawn their last three outings, as well as five of their seven across the campaign as a whole.
Profligate finishing and a lack of consistent invention has cost the Blues dearly. The guests are joint-lowest goalscorers (5) thus far and are one of only two teams still searching for their first victory. And that seven-game winless run represents their worst start since 1978/89.
City have had L-L double results in seven of nine recent trips to the top-six and have lost 11 of 14 winless away days to top-half sides since the start of last season. Their 38% Expected Goals from open play ratio ranks as the fifth worst in the division and so I’m happy to oppose the Blues here.
Nottingham Forest v Sheffield Wednesday | Wednesday 19th September 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Sheffield Wednesday manager Jos Luhukay piled praise on his team after watching the Owls fight back from a two-goal deficit to earn a 2-2 draw away at Stoke on Saturday. But hard reality is, the Potters could and should have been out of sight long before Barry Bannan’s 82nd minute leveller.
Battered for half an hour and two goals down, the Wednesday skipper created the Owls first for Marcelo Matias before dispatching a devastating free-kick in the dying embers of the encounter. The Scotsman’s performance even had opposition boss Gary Rowett purring as he praised the “little magician”.
Luhukay required Bannan’s genius as his organised and resolute outfit struggled in the final-third. Wednesday have now scored at least twice in their last four games (W3-D1-L0) but they barely created anything of note in Staffordshire and have been toiling in all the major performance data metrics this term.
The Owls rank rock-bottom in shots on-target ratio, shots in the box ratio, Expected Goals ratio and xG from open play ratio, while sitting third-bottom in the shot ratio table. It’s an impressive effort but unlikely to be sustainable and so with star man Fernando Forestieri suspended, I’m happy to oppose them here.
Head-to-head fans may run to the hills knowing that Wednesday have won each of their last seven against Nottingham Forest, including the last four league meetings at the City Ground by an aggregate score of 10-1. However, this will be the first showdown between the two current bosses at their current clubs.
Much has changed since the two Championship giants last locked horns, particularly around Forest. The Tricky Trees spent large sums of cash to bulk out of a squad that’s capable of a promotion challenge and the early signs suggest Aitor Karanka’s still working out his preferred approach.
The Spaniard has tinkered a little too often for my liking during the opening stanza of the season as he looks for the right, winning blend. Defensively, Forest haven’t been as watertight as we’d expect from a Karanka side, while the high draw bias (W1-D5-L1) has seen the hosts sink into the bottom-half.
Supporters and owners will have expected better from the Reds and so, whilst I want to be against Wednesday, I’m not yet willing to invest in the hosts just yet. So instead, I’m getting involved in Bet365’s Bet Builder by backing Forest double chance and Under 4 Goals at 7/10 quotes.
Under Karanka, the Tricky Trees have delivered 23/27 (85%) successful Under 3.5 Goals selections and collectively these two have followed suit in 21/26 (81%) of their combined home and away games under their current bosses. Meanwhile, the Double Chance selection would have won in 18/26 (69%) of the same sample.