Cardiff vs Stoke | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 19:00 | Sky Sports
They say never to go against your club, so here we go.
Turn the clock back to 8th December when these two sides met at the bet365 Stadium – Stoke 1-2 Cardiff.
It might not ring bells, but this is the game where the wheels fell off Stoke’s season.
Tyrese Campbell went off with a season-ending injury with the Potters leading 1-0, then Sam Vokes had a penalty saved, before two poorly defended crosses saw Cardiff take the three points.
That’s when the downhill slump started. Since then, it’s just four wins in the 19. In that time, it’s 20 points and 17 goals scored. And, those four wins have been against sides who currently sit in 14th, 16th, 23rd and 24th.
The away record in this stretch since the reverse fixture is pretty dismal: P10, W0, D6, L4 – the first three finished 0-0, while the Potters have failed to score in five of those.
Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Boro summed up the season. The Potters were dominant for the first 25 minutes without taking a chance, before being punished by Boro when they had their first sight of the Stoke goal, and it led to another capitulation.
Some would say there is pressure on Michael O’Neill. He’s done a great job to take Stoke away from danger, but the last few months haven’t been good enough – points-wise or performance.
While some of the data looks positive, there’s too much reliance on Nick Powell creating something with Steven Fletcher scoring – that’s something that’s not happened all too often on the road.
There’s likely to be a reaction from Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Boro, granted, but you’d expect one from Cardiff after falling to a 2-1 home loss against Watford.
It was the Bluebirds’ first defeat under Mick McCarthy after Adam Masina’s stoppage-time free-kick managed to beat Dillion Phillips.
Before that, they were unbeaten in 11 (W7, D4), and had won three on the spin at home, all quite comfortably as well – a 3-1 win and two 4-0 victories.
All the data would say this should be a close game and while I expect that to be the case, Stoke’s performance levels haven’t been getting the results.
I’m one of those that believe that Jon Obi Mikel and Joe Allen are unable to play together, yet O’Neill continues to do so. And, if that’s the case here, Stoke could get outdone in the middle of the park.
On Saturday, it was a case of Neil Warnock tweaking the system after 20 minutes, which worked wonders and some have said he schooled O’Neill tactically. That’s the worry here, Mick McCarthy could do similar, and his squad could outgun the visitors.
I’m surprised to see the hosts at around the 5/4 and 6/5 mark. Those prices look worth taking with a side still in the hunt for the play-offs facing a side out of form, with less to play for.
Peterborough vs Portsmouth | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 19:00
Kenny Jackett’s tenure as Portsmouth boss came to an end on Sunday as he left Fratton Park following Saturday’s EFL Trophy defeat to League 2 Salford.
Pompey have endured a rotten recent run that’s seen just one win and one draw in their last eight in all comps. And, it’s seen them slip out of the play-off spots.
Tonight’s opponents Peterborough are in one of the pole positions for an automatic promotion place. That’d despite them losing their last two, including here to league leaders Hull on Saturday.
Darren Ferguson’s side have only lost twice at London Road this season, winning 12 of 16 league games, and, in recent weeks, having played on that pitch is something that could equate to ‘home advantage’.
With both sides fighting for promotion, things could get quite tasty. So, I’ve found a nice angle into the cards market at 10/11.
It’s Portsmouth 20+ booking points on Sky Bet. This bet has landed in 11 of 15 Pompey away games – two of the teams it didn’t happen against are at the wrong end of the table.
Overall, Pompey rank fourth for tackles (16 per game) and sit fifth for fouls (14.3 per game), so that shows they like to put themselves about. While they’ve collected 54 yellows and one red from all of that.
Both John Marquis and Ronan Curtis rank in the top 10 for fouls committed in League 1, while in opposition, Peterborough’s Siriki Dembélé and Nathan Thompson are both in the top five for fouls drawn.
With Peterborough being the most fouled side in the league, it’s no surprise to see that 21 of their 33 opponents so far have received 20+ booking points against them.
Referee James Oldham is a quieter official in terms of cards. But in more recent games, he’s tended to show them. Maybe the season has ramped up a bit at the business end forcing him into his pocket.
He’s shown 70 yellows and three reds in 26 outings, which is quite low at 2.69 yellows per game. But nine of his last 12 have seen at least three cards.
His one game in charge of Portsmouth saw them pick up 20 booking points against Crewe, so form in the book. While his only Posh game saw the visitors, Shrewsbury, pick up 55 booking points, including a red card for Josh Vela.
There’s enough on the line to make you think the challenges could fly in, so 10/11 for 20+ Pompey booking points has enough going for it against the most fouled side.
Salford vs Colchester | Tuesday 16th March 2021, 19:00
The team with the best home record in League 2 faces the side with the worst away record. When I started writing this, the hosts were 4/5 but have since shortened into 4/6.
That might be because of a few heavy heads following Saturday’s EFL Trophy win over League 1 Portsmouth. It was a much-deserved win, which came on penalties and I’m sure they celebrated.
But Richie Wellens won’t let his side get distracted by that success given they’re still in the mix for a play-off berth. They have six points to make up on Morecambe, who currently occupy that final spot, but they do have two games in hand.
Here at the Peninsula, the Ammies have won eight and drawn nine of their 17 games – pretty impressive not to have lost. And, they’ve only conceded 12 goals, so are strong at the back.
While the hosts don’t concede many, Colchester haven’t been frequent scorers. Saturday’s goalless away draw at fellow strugglers Grimsby was their eighth consecutive away road trip where they’ve failed to score.
Some rough maths makes that 742 minutes since their last away goal – over 12 hours – and they’ll find it tricky to break down this stubborn Salford defence. In all, it’s just 10 away goals in 18 games.
The hosts rank fifth for expected goals at 1.51xG per game compared to Colchester, who sit 21st in that metric, at 1.07xG per game. While at the other end of the pitch, Colchester rank second for the worst expected goals against (1.61xGA) with Salford middle of the road at 1.35xGA.
Shamal George in the Colchester could be in for a busy evening with Salford ranking second for shots on target (151). They have the best shots on target percentage in the league at 39%, Colchester’s is down at 32.5% for contrast.
As the league table currently stands, six of Salford’s eight home wins have come against teams 13th or below. So, they beat who they should beat, and Colchester (20th) fall into that bracket. Plus, they have Grimsby and Stevenage to come, so they look worthy of following for a late charge into those play-off spots.
And those six wins have also been to nil. The two teams they’ve beaten but conceded against were Morecambe (7th) and Cambridge (2nd). That highlights how it’s a case of getting the job done.
You surely have to play this with a straight bat; something the England batsman didn’t do in that recent Test series.
With Colchester rarely troubling the score of late, the angle has to be Salford to win and under 4 goals at 23/20 on Bet365.
It was initially Salford and under 5 goals at EVS, but with them shortening all day yesterday, then this will be the play. It still looks like a strong bet given the respective home and away records of these sides.