Birmingham City will aim to continue their push for automatic promotion from the Championship this evening as they take on Barnsley at Oakwell.
Fresh from their impressive 1-1 draw at Chelsea in the FA Cup over the weekend, the Blues are rated as 21/20 favourites in bwin’s 3Way football betting market, with the draw at 21/10 and a home win priced up at 27/10.
Although he would have been delighted by his side’s performance at Stamford Bridge, in truth, a replay is the last thing boss Chris Hughton needs as he prepares his troops for their 44th outing of what is turning into a marathon season.
After taking their eye off the ball domestically before Christmas amid their Europa League exploits, Birmingham are now the form team in England’s second tier, having put together a ten-match unbeaten run.
While their home form is unmatched – they remain unbeaten at St Andrews – doubts have been expressed in some quarters about their ability to win on the road, as they only have the 16th-best away record in the division.
However, a 6-0 spanking of Millwall at the New Den and a 4-1 success over Leeds United at Elland Road in their last two trips outside of the West Midlands suggests that they are well on the way to curing their travel sickness.
Another victory would further cement their grip on a play-off position – they would move from sixth place to fourth place at the very least – but I would be wary of investing too much faith in them overturning a Barnsley side who are unpredictable at the best of times.
It has been an incredible 22 league matches since the Tykes were involved in a draw – a run which stretches all the way back to September 27th, when they picked up a 1-1 against Derby County at Pride Park.
Keith Hill has done a great job with the Tykes but it is hard to know which Barnsley will turn up – the one which was beaten 3-1 at Oakwell by Millwall last month? Or the one which scored a superb 2-1 win at Leicester a week earlier?
Luckily, a closer look at the statistics shows a couple of extraordinary trends linked to Barnsley which could provide a couple of potentially profitable routes into this evening’s clash.
For example, it has been an incredible 22 league matches since the Tykes were involved in a draw – a run which stretches all the way back to September 27th, when they picked up a 1-1 against Derby County at Pride Park.
Of course, it is no guarantee of another here, but this record makes the 7/25 on either Barnsley or Birmingham winning tonight look a solid short-priced punt, while also increasing the appeal of their respective 3Way prices, even if the Blues are a little short for my liking at 21/20.
Meanwhile, both teams have scored in eight of the last ten league matches at Oakwell, with the exceptions being the blanks fired by notoriously poor travellers Doncaster and last weekend’s visitors Portsmouth, who both lost 2-0.
Birmingham should have no such problems hitting the back of the net, even though in-form striker Nikola Zigic will again be missing through injury, as Marlon King and Chris Burke are both set to return.
Backing both teams to score at 18/25 must surely be the closest thing to a banker on offer anywhere this evening, then, especially as only Leeds, Peterborough and Nottingham Forest have conceded more than the 24 goals Barnsley have shipped in front of their own fans.
Hill’s men have also scored in every home game since their first of the season – a 1-0 reverse to Southampton in August – which not only further cements the rationale for this bet, but also brings me neatly to my main tip for the match.
Barnsley have scored the first goal in a remarkable 13 of their 16 league matches in front of their own fans this term (not bad for a team in 14th place overall), while the Blues have conceded first in three of their last four away outings.
While Birmingham’s defence is second only to that of Hull City in the division (they have conceded just 27 goals all season), the 29/20 on offer for Barnsley to break the deadlock this evening surely cannot be missed.
New customers receive a free £25 bet for joining bwin.com and placing this on the Tykes to score the first goal of the game would bring returns of £61.25 if the prediction proves correct.
If you are dead set on backing a winner, go for Birmingham as they have form in their favour, have picked up three clean sheets on the bounce and also have seven wins in their last ten league clashes with Barnsley.
But I would strongly suggest getting your money on both teams to score or Barnsley to score first (or both!) to ensure a decent return from what promises to be an enthralling clash at Oakwell.
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