Villa Park plays host to a relegation scrap on Tuesday as Aston Villa take on Reading in what is sure to be a nervy affair, with one or both sides set to finish the night still mired in the drop zone.
Both Villa and Reading have endured a frustrating and fairly fruitless first half to the season and are just one point apart from each other in 18th and 19th positions respectively, but of the two, it is the more established Midlands side who appear better equipped to ultimately avoid slipping down to the Championship.
The Villans earned themselves a point on Saturday evening in a thoroughly dull and uneventful match with Arsenal, but despite the sleep-inducing standard of football on show, the 0-0 displayed a defensive solidity that could be vital in the bid to maintain their top-flight status.
The clean sheet was Villa’s third of the season, which may not be the most impressive stat on its own, but when you consider that they have only scored ten goals (the joint-worst record with QPR and Norwich) it demonstrates an important and necessary ability to stifle the opposition to earn points.
Reading, on the other hand, have only managed one clean sheet in 12 games and on six occasions have conceded more than once in a match as well, which puts great pressure on their attackers to produce in order to pick up positive results.
Their attackers did produce twice on Saturday against Wigan Athletic, but unfortunately, despite taking the lead, the defensive side of their game once again let them down as the Royals slid to a 3-2 defeat at the DW Stadium thanks to a Jordi Gomez hat-trick and some dodgy goalkeeping from Adam Federici.
The manner of the defeat won’t have been unfamiliar to Reading supporters as their side have scored first on four other occasions in the league, but as they did against Wigan, they have let all their hard work go to waste in the second half.
So bad is this drop-off after the interval that Brian McDermott’s side now have the worst second-half record in the Premier League with a -8 goal difference and have thrown away 11 points from winning positions.
With this in mind, odds of 6/4 on the Berkshire side scoring first look tempting, as does a price of 5/4 for Villa to win the second 45 minutes.
In bwin’s 3-way betting market, whether it’s because of the recent clean sheet or the standard of their opposition, Villa find themselves in the rare position of being odds-on favourites at 9/10.
The draw, which both sides have shown a propensity for with ten between them already, is available at 12/5 and a Reading win is 3/1.
I think it is fair to say that a Reading win really does not seem on the cards, but that their ability to start games well could well see them lead at half-time and this is my top bet at 16/5.
Considering the Royals’ impressive record of breaking the deadlock, this particular price looks way too long, with winnings of £84 on offer for anyone successfully backing it with their free £20 bet upon joining bwin.com.
Whether leading at the interval will prove good enough for McDermott’s men to pick up a crucial three points remains to be seen, but they I’m expecting them to put themselves in the driving seat at the very least.