STRUGGLING Stoke host Nottingham Forest on Friday night and Matthew Kirby (@M_Kirby95) oversees the Championship contest, picking out his best bet.
Stoke v Nottingham Forest | Friday 27th September 2019, 20:00 | Sky Sports
This could be the end. It could be the final straw for Nathan Jones, if Stoke fall to their seventh league defeat of the season against high-flying Nottingham Forest.
The Potters are winless in the Championship and crashed out of the EFL Cup on Tuesday at the hands of League Two outfit Crawley – previous managers have been sacked after similar spells.
It’s just two points after eight games following a stalemate at Brentford last weekend. Some still want patience, but that number is dwindling, as the pressure grows on Jones, who has won only four of his 32 games in charge – a win rate of just 12.5%.
Things are far better at the City Ground. Eyebrows were raised when Martin O’Neill was sacked before the season began, but Sabri Lamouchi has got this Forest side well organised and well drilled.
Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Barnsley saw the Reds climb to sixth in the table, having won half of their games so far, plus consecutive clean sheets have highlighted their defensive strengths.
Both sides exited the EFL Cup on Tuesday night in differing ways, yet both managers made plenty of changes.
Jones made 10 to his Potters side that took the lead through Sam Vokes, but in the end it was his penalty miss the saw Crawley progress.
While, Forest were smashed 5-0 by Arsenal, in a game where Lamouchi made six alterations after their victory over Barnsley.
One or two up front?
There have been problems at both ends of the pitch for Stoke and that’s led Jones to go with a lone striker – to the annoyance of the Potters faithful.
The Welshman has ditched the diamond and admitted he wants to play two strikers, but the issue of conceding has meant an extra man in midfield just to keep it tight and give a platform to build off.
It did help Stoke earn their first clean sheet of the season at Griffin Park, but with one hand you give, you taketh away with the other.
Even though the Potters matched Brentford in terms of shots, they only recorded an Expected Goals (xG) outcome of 0.39 – the third worst in the Championship last weekend.
I’ve been impressed by Lee Gregory since his arrival from Millwall. He’s strong, great at holding the ball up and very athletic, but he can’t plough a lone furrow, as he has been doing.
A couple of weeks ago in the defeat to Bristol City, Gregory had a couple of chances when running in behind, but a lack of support meant he wasn’t able to fully punish the Robins, who at the time had the extra man after Joe Allen’s dismissal.
With the way Forest have set up in away games, it may be wise for Jones to bring Scott Hogan, Vokes or Tyrese Campbell in to partner Gregory and show the intent is their to record a first league win of the season.
This might not be a game for the neutral given Stoke’s struggles and the way Forest set up away from home.
Peter Etebo has been excellent since joining the club, Badou N’Diaye has returned to the fold in the last couple of weeks and Sam Clucas offers energy, plus makes late runs into the area.
Forest have their own midfield grafters with Samba Sow and Ben Watson protecting the back four. The former has been immense since his arrival from Dinamo Moscow and averages four tackles per-game.
Tackles could be an interesting way into this game. Sow is 6/4 with SkyBet to hit his average, while Badou is 11/10 to record 4+ completed tackles for the hosts.
With the visitors looking fairly sound at the back, then it’ll raise questions about Stoke being able to break them down. That’s something the Potters are unable to do, and they’ve failed to do that one numerous occasions in the past.
So, given Lamouchi’s men have only scored one goal in six of their eight games then a low-scoring contest looks to be on the cards.
Angles of attack
Stoke have been on the drift since their EFL Cup exit, but I’m baffled at the fact they’re priced up as 11/8 favourites. I couldn’t back a side that is yet to win, not even my own.
Given those outright prices, I’m more than willing to put Forest Double Chance in a Bet Builder with a game low on goals. The visitors are unbeaten in four on the road this season and now they’ve recorded consecutive clean sheets.
Add in the lack of goals scored by Stoke – just once in the league have they scored two or more goals – and so with Forest’s defensive resilience, they can nullify an already quiet attack.
While delving in to Forest’s record, I noticed some similar patterns to when Forest find the net and when Stoke concede. The visitors have scored in each of their away games, with four of those five goals netted in the second half, highlighting how strongly they see out a game.
Stoke concede plenty of second half goals. Whether that’s fatigue, errors or just good opposition play is open to interpretation. To be exact, the Potters have conceded 11 of their 17 goals after the half time break, including two against Bristol City, Birmingham and Leeds.
Coral have Nottingham Forest at 19/20 just to score in the second half, which is tempting given both sides respective records, but I’d be taking Forest’s Highest Scoring Half to be the second, as it has been in three of four away games, at 13/8 (Bet365).
If that proves to be the case, then I’d expect the home crowd to voice their dissent towards the current regime with the atmosphere being rather toxic.