Friday, 18th February
Reading v Burnley (8.00pm)
Home win: 4/5 Draw: 23/10 Away win: 7/2
Betting tip: Reading hope to make it five in five against Eddie Howe’s men in the weekend’s early tie – not to mention confirm their place amongst the play-off candidates. Burnley’s encouraging results of late can’t mask one fact: this is around the time of year when Brian McDermott’s team really kick into gear. That said, the Royals didn’t exactly bring in the new year with style, as they were barged out of the FA Cup by lowly Stevenage, while Burnley’s away form has seen them take all three points home from Upton Park, amongst other grounds. At 57/100, the visitors seem good value to net on at least one occasion in an encounter too tight to call.
Saturday, 19th February
Nottingham Forest v Coventry (3.00pm)
Home win: 22/25 Draw: 23/10 Away win: 31/10
Betting tip: Nobody would have believed at the start of the season that the Sky Blues would be above their rivals from the City Ground in the table. Yet here they are in 22nd to Forest’s 23rd on the back of an impressive win over Leeds United. That win has been mistakenly attributed only to United’s weaknesses by many, ignoring the fact that Andy Thorn got his tactics spot on when it came to stifling Leeds’ attacking threat. Gary McSheffrey netted twice from the spot and could be trusted to do so again against one the weakest defences in the league at the moment: with only one win since the start of the year, Forest are in dire trouble and are likely to come out second-best from this crucial relegation battle. As such, odds of 31/10 on a Coventry success look extremely tempting.
Barnsley v Portsmouth (3.00pm)
Home win: 13/10 Draw: 11/5 Away win: 2/1
Betting tip: David Lampitt’s recent revelations regarding Pompey’s debt have shocked some – though admittedly the £50 million sum still owed is nowhere near as preoccupying as what it was the first time the club went into administration. Portsmouth’s performances last season almost seemed to improve as the club’s financial situation got worse, with Steve Cotterill and his charges often pulling out all the stops and performing with the kind of courage their fans could be proud of. Can they do it again this time round under Michael Appleton? They certainly can, considering Barnsley have lost three in five at Oakwell, whilst their guests have improved on the road in 2012, losing narrowly to play-off chasers Birmingham, drawing to Blackpool and even beating Peterborough 3-0. Back an away win at 2/1.
Leeds v Doncaster (3.00 pm)
Home win: 31/50 Draw: 27/10 Away win: 17/4
Betting tip: Traditionally, in this kind of a situation, punters are tempted to chance their hand at an away win. With two defeats on the trot after the sacking of Simon Grayson earlier this month, Leeds United’s financial woes – and the realization that the club does not have the means of competing with its rivals on the transfer market despite the preposterous amounts charged for a ticket at Elland Road – have pushed the fans to mobilise once more against a chairman they blame (or, at least, 86 per cent of them do, according to a Yorkshire Post survey) for their current league position.
They are seemingly ripe for the taking, with a home defeat to bottom-of-the-table Doncaster the perfect theatrical ending to Neil Redfearn’s tenure. The visitors are, however, bottom of the table for many reasons, one of them being that ever since Billy Sharp – and his ten league goals – left the club, they have lost any real bite up front, with El Hadji Diouf’s four goals hardly much of a consolation. Leeds’ weakness seems to be their forward line, with the defence hardly the main culprit in United’s recent defeats to Brighton and Coventry. At 21/10, a multiple score bet on a 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0 victory sounds about right.
Peterborough v Bristol City (3.00pm)
Home win: 6/5 Draw: 11/5 Away win: 11/5
Betting tip: The Posh have little to cheer about at the moment: relatively secure before Christmas, their recent run of negative results has seen them plummet down the table. Darren Ferguson’s charges also have a tiny matter to sort out: with 51 goals conceded, Peterborough’s is the second worst defence in the league, behind only Ipswich Town. This makes the Robins, whose recent form has hardly been stellar, a sure-fire bet to score at 7/20. They also showed what’s known in the football world as great spirit against Crystal Palace in their last encounter: 2-0 down 13 minutes from the end, Brett Pitman suddenly woke up and fired in a brace. Can he deliver for his side once more? Odds of 17/10 say Bristol City repeat the trick and score more goals in the second half than they do in the first.
Crystal Palace v Watford (3.00pm)
Home win: 5/4 Draw: 21/10 Away win: 11/5
Betting tip: Palace have only ever let two sides net twice at Selhurst Park – a stat rendered irrelevant by the Hornets’ superb form over the past few weeks: having netted eight goals in their last four games, they could enjoy success here and over 2.5 goals in the game is quoted at an appealing 6/5. But Palace are unlikely to give in easily as their three recent draws – including two away from home – show, meaning this one’s likely to be a thriller.
Ipswich v Cardiff (3.00pm)
Home win: 8/5 Draw: 23/10 Away win: 31/20
Betting tip: Two seasons ago these sides faced off in the play-off semi-finals. As we all know, it eventually went to penalties, and a mysterious French signing Yann Kermorgant was charged with one of them. He fluffed the kick, prompting an incensed Tractor Boy to write a song about him. Regrettably, the contents are too rude to divulge here, but you get the picture. This encounter is likely to carry forward some of the passion we saw back in 2010, and these teams have already drawn 2-2 in the Championship this season, making the 7/4 on more than 3.5 goals being scored seem like a formality.
Southampton v Derby County (3.00pm)
Home win: 1/2 Draw: 29/20 Away win: 11/2
Betting tip: Saints’ fans have been notoriously edgy of late and you can see why: they were comfortably on top at one point before losing the winning habit which had characterised their meteoric rise. Having been overtaken by West Ham, Nigel Adkins’ men find their path blocked by Derby – a side whose five-game winning run has been succeeded by… a winless streak covering the same amount of games. Barring their victory over Hull in early January, they haven’t won away from home since September, making a Southampton win with a 0:1 deficit an interesting punt at 7/5.
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