CHAMPIONSHIP fan Matthew Kirby (@M_Kirby95) oversees Thursday evening's action, picking out his best bets from Hull's six-pointer with Middlesbrough.
Hull vs Middlesbrough | Thursday 2nd July 2020, 17:00 | Sky Sports
The Championship relegation battle intensifies at the KCOM Stadium, as Neil Warnock takes his Middlesbrough side to Hull.
After the news of Wigan entering administration, there will be a few clubs trying to stay within 12 points of the Latics come the end of the season. One of those will be the Tigers, but they’re on a rotten run of form.
Hull’s win on New Year’s Day saw them in ninth place and just two points off the play-off spots. Fast-forward to today and they’re in 22nd – in the relegation zone a point from safety.
Grant McCann has been hamstrung by the board selling key assets. Jarred Bowen going to West Ham and Kamil Grosicki joining West Brom left with few quality options, especially on the tight budget they find themselves on.
After sacking Jonathan Woodgate, Boro picked up a 2-0 win at Stoke. The new manager bounce was seen in full effect with them scoring twice from limited opportunities while riding their luck at the back.
A few more days for Warnock to work with his new players on the training ground should see them well-drilled for this big game towards the bottom of the league.
Hull’s rotten run
After the 3-3 draw at Birmingham on Saturday, Hull are now winless since New Year’s Day. That’s a run of 13 games where they’ve collected just three points (W0-D3-L10).
In this run, they’ve conceded 33 and scored just 12 proving their problems at both ends of the pitch. I saw them in the 5-1 defeat at Stoke where they were 3-0 down at half-time. That day they looked a side low on confidence and players seemed to shy away from responsibility.
Worryingly their confidence will have taken another hit after throwing away 2-0 and 3-2 leads at St Andrew’s. There was some abject defending in that mix with the Blues scoring two headed goals, and that’s an area Warnock will look to exploit.
Some of the Expected Goals (xG) data doesn’t make good reading for Hull either. Charlton came here on the restart and won 1-0 with a 1.93 xG to Hull’s 0.98 xG. While looking back further sees Stoke generated 2.46 xG, Leeds 1.27 xG and I think the most problematic one is the fact that Barnsley hit 2.19 xG in their 1-0 win here at the KCOM.
With the 23 goals of Bowen (16) and Grosicki (7), their next highest scorer is Tom Eaves with five while Josh Magennis took his tally to four at the weekend. Pinning your survival hopes on those two doesn’t scream at one that’s going to be successful.
Warnock’s winning return
Think of a typical Warnock display and you’ve got it in one for how they earned the three points at Stoke. It was very direct and very defensive, but it worked!
Boro reverted to a 4-4-2 with Britt Assombalonga partnering Fletcher and Patrick Roberts returned to the fray. They do pressurise their opponents and the two up front seems to cause defences problems these days.
Although they had two up front, they created just 0.66 xG from eight shots compared to the Potters who racked up 22 shots with 2.19 xG. Their goal did come under fire, but Dejan Stojanovic made a couple of smart stops to deny James McClean.
If you want to know how direct they were, just look at the passing stats. Ashley Fletcher completed the most with 14, while keeper Stojanovic, George Saville and 64th-minute substitute Lewis Wing came next with nine. Possession wasn’t something they were concerned about having just 31%. If they follow a similar suit here then Hull will have to step up considering they’re only averaging 45.6% this season.
You’d have to expect Boro to sit off and remain rigid in two banks of four saying to Hull ‘break us down’. I don’t think there’s enough quality in the home side to do that.
The betting angles
It’s time for Hull to stand up and be counted, but it’ll be a struggle against a well-organised Boro side, which is likely to set-up in a similar fashion to the weekend.
Extra sessions under Warnock will have given them time to work on plans to stifle the hosts and then utilise crosses into the box. Their first goal at Stoke came from a wide free-kick headed in by Fletcher.
While Fletcher had three shots, two of which hit the target and one resulting in a goal, centre-back Dael Fry also attempted two shots showing their set-piece strength. Given their aerial advantage and how they keep the ball alive in those situations, it could be an area we can profit. Although not being a frequent shooter, Fry is 7/4 for one shot, which is worth a nosey.
But the prices on Fletcher look generous. Although his career stalled at West Ham, he’s very much a striker for this level with an eye for a goal. He’s 10/11 for one shot on target and 5/1 for two with Betfair. Those look quite kind with Hull’s porous defence and the fact Sky go 8/11 and 3/1 on the same markets.
The other bet I’d consider is Paddy McNair 2+ tackles at 6/5. With Boro’s set-up, his job in the middle of the park will be to break play up and upset Hull’s rhythm.
He completed two at Stoke and three against Swansea, so it’s now 12 games that he’s hit that 2+ tackles mark. This bar always appeals for a central midfielder, especially at the odds-against price, so the Northern Irish international is worth having on side.