FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his selections from Tuesday's EFL card.
Reading v Blackburn | Tuesday 20:00
Reading bolstered their brave promotion claims with a well-earned triumph over Leeds on Saturday evening. Jaap Stam’s side produced a sterling first-half display that’s almost guaranteed the Royals a top-six finish.
I’ve not been overly impressed by the Berkshire boys throughout the season and it’s an assumption that’s tallied alongside poor performance data across the campaign.
Reading rank very poorly when viewing shot data – on-target and attempts from inside the opposition box – as well as in the expected goal standings. In fact, the hosts have won the shot count just once in their last 12 Championship outings and that was a narrow 17-16 triumph against Barnsley here in early February.
However, Stam’s side continue to grind out results, particularly at the Madjeski Stadium and there comes a point when you simply have to stand back and applaud their resilience.
Midfielder Danny Williams rolled his ankle during Saturday's win but should be fit here and although skipper Paul McShane remains a doubt, it’s hard not to be secured by 23/20 (William Hill) quotes on a home win.
The Royals have opened the scoring in 10 of their last 13 matches on home soil, have W13-D5-L2 at the MadStad this season and recorded nine clean sheets along the way.
Blackburn have improved ten-fold since Tony Mowbray arrived at Ewood Park; Rovers are playing with pride and freedom once more but the Lancashire outfit have slipped back into the bottom-three following Saturday’s brave loss at Brighton.
It was the visitors first reverse in eight under Mowbray’s watch (W2-D5-L1) and Blackburn’s defensive deficiencies still need to be addressed, particularly on their travels. Bar a fluke 1-0 victory at Newcastle, Rovers have failed to keep their sheets clean on the road.
Blackburn have W2-D6-L11 in games as guests and although they tend to keep things tight at the league’s elite – 13 of their past 15 at top-six teams have featured fewer than three goals – the absence of Danny Graham takes away a vital focal point to the team’s attack.
If we’re blunt about it and put the two teams’ season-long home/away trends together then the home win has banked on 24/39 (62%) occasions – that percentage success rate implies betting odds of 8/13 so the 23/20 available is most definitely value, even if the advanced data suggests otherwise.
Preston v Bristol City | Tuesday 19:45
Bristol City’s mini four-match unbeaten streak (W2-D2-L0) came to an end on Saturday as the Robins were beaten at Brentford. Lee Johnson’s side remain just one point above the relegation zone and must now negotiate another testing assignment on their travels.
The Cider Army have 64% of their points tally at Ashton Gate but have tasted victory just once on the road since September, against fellow relegation battlers Wigan. The visitors have suffered nine losses in 12 games as guests and leaked at least twice in 13 of their 20 away days.
Johnson was keen to stress that the hard part in their quest for Championship survival was done by ending their disastrous mid-season slump and it’s true too that City have often been unfortunate to end up on the losing side in tight encounters.
However, a trip to Deepdale won’t be a walk in the park and I’m happy to invest in the 3/1 (Bet365) available on Preston edging by exactly one goal. It’s a selection that’s proven profitable in 11 of Bristol City’s 13 away defeats and in 16/39 (41%) of the Robins’ games already this campaign.
North End’s play-off bid has been hampered by three draws in four fixtures though all were earned from losing positions and the hosts have now suffered just two defeats in 16. Simon Grayson’s well-oiled machine are unbeaten at home this calendar year and last failed to score here in November.
Daniel Johnson may return to the squad after he missed the draw with Nottingham Forest to attend the birth of his baby and whilst striker Simon Makienok has returned to his native Denmark for personal reasons, there’s still enough intent and capability in the Preston camp to hurt a flaky City side.
Since returning to the second-tier, PNE have W17-D15-L11 at Deepdale and W10-D9-L2 when welcoming bottom-half sides here – nine of those 10 victories were achieved by a one-goal margin.
Reading v Blackburn – Reading to win (23/20 William Hill)
Preston v Bristol City – Preston to win by exactly one goal (3/1 Bet365)