Norwich to keep hold of top spot
Stoke 3.185/40 v Norwich 2.546/4; The Draw 3.412/5
Stoke were involved in a topsy-turvy affair at the weekend with the Potters coming out on the right side of a hugely entertaining seven-goal thriller. Three goals in the space of nine first-half minutes got the ball rolling in a hugely absorbing clash, with the talented Tyrese Campbell once again proving a cut above. The striker was unplayable at times, and his pace and vision caused trouble for the Huddersfield defence throughout the 90 minutes.
With supporters having been left on the edge of their seats for the final 30 minutes, some fans have questioned the logic of their side opting to retreat in order to protect their lead for such a long period of time. However, Michael O’Neill must be praised for his defensive changes with Nathan Collins helping to add an extra layer of protection for goalkeeper Josef Bursik.
It’s now three wins in four for the Staffordshire outfit, and they’ve also been victorious in each of their last three matches at this ground. Although they aren’t particularly ranking well on the xG numbers this season, they are doing enough to win games. They’ve won three of their opening six home matches, with their only defeat coming against third placed Bristol City.
Tuesday night’s clash with table-topping Norwich City is likely to be their toughest assignment so far, and they simply must improve their defensive discipline if they have any hopes of derailing the Canaries’ promotion bid. Although Collins’ arrival helped to plug the gaps, they were opened up far too easily during the opening 60 minutes of Saturday’s 4-3 victory.
However, at the other end of the field, they are thriving and have scored seven times in their last three games. Sam Clucas pulled the strings on his return and Steven Fletcher provided the perfect foil for the aforementioned Campbell.
Norwich continued to impress at the weekend with a narrow victory over in-form Middlesbrough. The Teessiders were unbeaten in 10 going into the game, and although the visitors were forced to work hard for the three points, they just about edged a tight contest between two potential title contenders.
The East Anglian side got off to a shaky start but they have recently clicked into top gear, and come into this contest off the back of three consecutive clean sheets. Each of their last four fixtures have come against teams who sit comfortably inside the top eight, yet they’ve still managed to collect 10 points from a possible 12.
During their promotion-winning season, Norwich were widely considered to be the Championship’s entertainers and would regularly out-score their opponents. However, Daniel Farke has adopted a far more measured approach this time around, and his tactics appear to be paying off.
The visitors often do their best work after the break with nine of their 14 goals arriving in the final 30 minutes of games so far this season. This is testament to their hard work on the training ground, with the league leaders clearly benefitting from much-improved fitness levels this time around.
Norwich continue their tough run of fixtures, and this will be far from straightforward. However, they have become incredibly difficult to penetrate. Both Grant Hanley and Tim Krul made the Championship Team of the Week for their performances on Saturday, and with the cultured Emi Buendia and assured Lukas Rupp also hitting top form, they should have just about enough to get over the line.
They are only fractionally shorter at 2.546/4 on the Exchange than they were at the weekend, so backing Norwich to strike again makes a lot of sense.
Swans to make it back-to-back home victories
Swansea 21/1 v Sheffield Wednesday 4.3100/30; The Draw 3.45
Although it was far from their best performance of the campaign, Swansea still managed to collect maximum points against Rotherham at the weekend. It was the third consecutive home win for the Welsh club, and they’ve managed to keep a clean sheet in each of those encounters. Steve Cooper‘s men are ranking well when it comes to xG, with only Middlesbrough proving more adept at restricting their opponents from creating clear-cut opportunities.
The return of Ben Cabango has also helped them tighten up at the back, and the 20-year old put in yet another assured performance in the heart of the defence alongside Ryan Bennett. Although the Swans weren’t at their creative best, the form of Matt Grimes and Yan Dhanda is a real positive, and the emergence of local-lad Liam Cullen is also likely to give the fans plenty to cheer.
The hosts have conceded fewer goals than leaders Norwich, with only the aformentioned Middlesbrough currently possessing a better defensive record than Cooper’s side. Sticking the ball in the back of the net remains the only concern at the Liberty Stadium, and the Jack Army will be hoping that Andre Ayew is fit enough to return to the side for this midweek clash. The Ghanaian missed the match with the Millers due to muscle fatigue, and the Swansea hierarchy have been quick to assuage any fears over a longer-term issue.
The lack of a 20-goal striker is the only thing that is stopping Swansea from being title contenders this season, although they have team spirit in abundance and potentially enough individual talent to collect yet another three points on Wednesday evening.
Recently appointed Sheffield Wednesday boss Tony Pulis got off to an underwhelming start as his side crashed to a 1-0 defeat at Deepdale. Although Josh Windass‘ early dismissal left the Welshman’s pre-game plans in tatters, Owls fans are still rightly concerned about their side’s lack of potency in the final third. The visitors failed to register a effort on target throughout the 90 minutes, and rarely looked dangerous in the final third.
The South Yorkshire club are joint second-lowest scorers in the Championship, and have managed to find the net on just six occasions. They’ve failed to breach the opposition defence in five of their last six outings, and with the aforementioned Windass suspended, and the injury-prone Jack Marriott set for another spell on the sidelines, they are looking extremely toothless, and are likely to struggle to break down one of the division’s tightest rearguards.
Although a 0-0 score-line is a possibility on Wednesday night, a single Swansea strike could be enough to secure all three points. Although they don’t possess the attacking riches of many of their promotion rivals, the hosts should have enough to edge this and can be backed at 2.021/1 on the Exchange.
Boro to get back on track at the Riverside
Middlesbrough 21/1 v Derby 4.67/2; The Draw 3.412/5
Middlesbrough‘s magnificent unbeaten run came to a crashing halt on Saturday as they went down 1-0 to high-flying Norwich. It was a tale of two penalties with Marcus Tavernier spurning his opportunity from twelve yards before Temmu Pukki cooly converted from the spot just 20 minutes later.
There was very little between the two sides, with Norwich slightly edging the shot-count, however, Boro managed seven efforts from inside the box, and looked extremely dangerous on the counter. It was their first defeat since the opening weekend of the season, and also their first reverse at the Riverside.
Neil Warnock has made his side incredibly tough to beat, and although they’ve picked up just two points from a possible six when hosting top six sides this season, they are yet to drop any points when hosting bottom-half opposition.
Despite the defeat, towering defender Dael Fry was included in the Championship Team of the Week, whilst there were also solid performances from Marvin Johnson and Jonny Howson. Similar to Swansea, the Teessiders are a regular goal-scorer away from being a bonafide top six side, and they currently possess an exciting blend of youth and experience.
Derby‘s struggles continued at the weekend with a 1-0 defeat to Bristol City. A late Famara Diedhiou strike settled the tie, and although the Rams out-shot the Robins, they weren’t able to find a way through. The East Midlanders, who are being temporarily managed by Wayne Rooney and Liam Rosenior, are the lowest scorers in the second tier, and they could struggle against the division’s meanest defence.
Boro are giving away the fewest opportunities in the Championship, and with the visitors having failed to register in November, Warnock’s side should have enough to stifle them in the final third.
Rosenior admitted that his side had worked on getting bodies into the box but they lacked confidence in front of goal. It was a much better performance from the visitors, yet their young squad could potentially struggle to outwit the wily Warnock’s men.
Derby will surely improve in the coming weeks, and the goals are likely to follow. However, their lack of confidence in front of goal is a huge concern, and the division’s tightest back-line should be able to keep them at arm’s length on Wednesday evening.
Boro can be backed at 21/1 on the Exchange, and they should be able to get back to winning ways this midweek.
You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7