Middlesbrough vs Bristol City | Tuesday 23rd February 2021, 19:00 | Sky Sports
It’s consecutive wins for Middlesbrough, who have strengthened their claims for a play-off push in the final 15 games of the season.
Saturday’s impressive 2-0 win came at the expense of fifth-placed Reading, while the teams in fourth and sixth also slipped up giving Boro something to aim at.
Neil Warnock has tweaked his system in recent games to a back five, and that’s seen an upturn in form with the players looking more confident.
Even with Dael Fry returning to the starting eleven on Saturday, Warnock stuck with the system and it reaping the rewards with a second clean sheet of 2021. It allows Paddy McNair to step out from the back and Darnell Fisher thrives playing as a wing-back.
It also allows Duncan Watmore to play as a secondary striker, getting him in more central areas, boosting his contribution. Plus, the return of Ashley Fletcher has been huge. He’s got two in two, and Warnock hopes he can help the Teessiders mount a strong challenge.
Bristol City look set to appoint Nigel Pearson until the end of the season to turn around their fortunes.
On Saturday, they fell to their seventh straight defeat in all competitions. And it was more of a question when Barnsley broke the deadlock rather than if.
The Tykes outshot The Robins 15-1, had more efforts on target (5-1) and the expected goals highlighted how dominant the visitors were by racking up 2.28xG compared to Bristol City’s measly 0.02xG.
Bristol City has the second-worst expected goals in the Championship (28.2xG) – only Sheffield Wednesday’s is worse – and that’s part of the reason they’re sliding down the table and getting embroiled in a relegation battle.
If you look at recent games for Bristol City, then they’re struggling in the offensive third. What’s surprising is they’ve won games with 0.90xG and 0.75xG this season – against Preston and Huddersfield, both at home.
But their xG across their last eight games is worrying. Only once has it gone over 1xG – 1.30xG in a 3-2 defeat at Brentford. In the seven other games, it’s been below 0.5xG with figures likes 0.15xG away to Derby, 0.08xG away at Norwich, 0.29 home against Cardiff and 0.23xG home to Reading.
Cardiff and Reading managed to brush Bristol City aside and they’re in and around the play-off spots, just like Boro.
And when you look at the Robins’ away form, it’s as concerning. They’ve lost their last seven on the road in the league, meaning it’s hard to look past a home win here. In nine of their away defeats this season, seven have seen under five goals.
Boro did have a wobble, but key players are coming back to fitness, plus the talked about system change means taking the hosts to win a low-scoring affair.
Warnock’s charges have won eight times at the Riverside, with all of them seeing under five goals, so the 10/11 on a home win and under 4.5 goals with Sky Bet looks like one of the strongest plays of the night.
Wycombe vs Reading | Tuesday 23rd February 2021, 19:45 | Sky Sports
A game that has meaning at both ends of the table sees Reading take the near 17-mile trip (as the crow flies) to Adams Park to face Wycombe.
Ahead of this Bucks-Berks derby, Reading boss Veljko Paunović has rallied his troops after falling to defeat against Middlesbrough, meaning it’s just one win in five for the Royals.
He said: “It will be a war out there – we are ready for that. We know what’s coming, and we have to have our warriors ready for battle.” Fighting talk!
And even though this will be behind closed doors, I’m hoping things are a bit spicy on the pitch.
This could be a tight game but despite their league positions. Wycombe might count themselves somewhat unfortunate to be bottom on some of their performances.
They play to their strengths but haven’t been ruthless in front of goal. On the expected goals, they’ve created 30xG but have scored just 22 goals showing that profligacy, which is unlike tonight’s visitors.
Reading are outperforming their expected goals and have been very clinical. In the early weeks of the season, I said it was unsustainable, and there are signs of them slowing. They’ve scored 44 goals from just an expected goals output of 39.1xG.
So, I’m not expecting the goals to flow, but the cards could. It’s a bit of a derby and both sides are fighting for points to suit their ambitions. The fact Paunović has spoken about it being a war shows how he’ll want his players to battle.
But when Reading are involved, their opponents tend to pick up the cards. So far, teams playing the Royals have picked up 71 yellows and nine reds, so I’m hoping that trend can continue.
In 13 away games, their hosts have picked up 20+ booking points in 11 of those, while it’s happened 25 times in all games. That’s 80% throughout of the season and 85% in away games.
Gareth Ainsworth’s men rank third for fouls per game at 13.9, while Reading are the most fouled team in the league (15.2 times per game).
Wycombe will have a job keeping rising star Michael Olise, the lively Ovie Ejaria and the free-scoring Lucas João quiet, so the resorting to tactical fouls could be seen as a way to go.
They have picked up 20+ booking points in eight of their 15 home games, including sides in and around the top 10 like Swansea, Brentford, Stoke, Cardiff and Middlesbrough.
Dean Whitestone will be in the middle, but he’s not the best for cards. He’s shown 40 yellows and two reds in 22 games.
But his only game involving Reading this season saw them run out 3-0 winners against Coventry, with the Sky Blues picking up 45 booking points after Kyle McFadzean saw red.
At 5/6, Wycombe 20+ booking points looks like a play. I’m hoping there is a derby feel to it so we can have a bit of needle.
Wimbledon vs Gillingham | Tuesday 23rd February 2021, 18:30
Gillingham may be in 15th place, but they’re closer to the play-offs (seven points) than they are the relegation zone (15 points).
Steve Evans’ side picked up a 2-0 home win over Bristol Rovers on Saturday when three half-time changes and a tweak to the system saw them take control of the game in the second half.
And there’s been an upturn in form at the Priestfield club with four wins and two draws in their last eight games. The two games they did lose were against the top-two sides.
That can’t be said about AFC Wimbledon’s form – they’ve won twice in the league since the start of December – and that’s why they’re bang in trouble.
They occupy the final relegation spot, and there are several sides around them, so they’ve still got a fighting chance of survival, but they need to defend better.
The Dons have only played eight league games in 2021, but they’ve conceded 20 goals in those – 2.5 per game.
And it’s that porous defence that Gillingham could target here, especially with John Akinde leading the line so well.
The 31-year-old has three goals in his last two and even missed a penalty on Saturday, which would have meant he’d have bagged a hat-trick.
Afterwards, he spoke about how well he linked up with Vadaine Oliver, so if they lead the line, the visitors have to be fancied to take three points. While Akinde picked out Oliver, manager Evans praised Kyle Dempsey.
The gaffer spoke about how dangerous Dempsey is when given time on the ball, and he could play the system they finished so strongly with at the weekend, which saw the midfielder flourish and grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
You can get 11/8 on over 1.5 Gillingham goals. And I think that looks like a big price.
In 13 of their last 17 league games, the Dons have conceded two-plus goals, which shows how shoddy they’ve been at the back. So, it’s also no surprise to see them have the fifth-worst defensive record in the league.
The Plough Lane club have only kept four clean sheets in their 27 league games – only Burton and Swindon have kept fewer.
Interestingly, Gillingham averages a higher goal per game ratio in away games than they do at home (1.19 at home v 1.46 away), so that’s something to keep in mind here.
The Gills have put two past stronger sides than the Dons and better defences in recent weeks. That includes play-off chasing Crewe (14th), Sunderland (6th) and Charlton (9th).
It’s a small sample based on the upturn in form, but it’s a bet that’s won in five of their last seven with those two games against the top two. While it did land in the reverse fixture that Gillingham won 2-1.
With Gillingham averaging 1.28xG per away game and the Dons having a 1.44xGA (expected goals against) at home, then it should see the visitors create some good chances.
So, with the Dons having conceded 2+ in eight of 11 home games (23 goals in total), then the visitors can continue their climb up the League 1 table by bagging at least twice.