Tenants Coventry 'host' landlords Birmingham in an unusual West Midlands derby on Friday. Michael Beardmore has two best bets.
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When is an away team not an away team? Why, when they’re at home, of course. Birmingham City find themselves in exactly that strange position as they ‘visit’ tenants Coventry at St Andrew’s.
Even more bizarrely, the lodgers have become to feel more at home than the owners, Coventry’s ‘home’ record since the ground-share began last year reading W13 D6 L3 while Blues’ is W8 D8 L13.
Coventry might be in the midst of four defeats in five but they did hand leaders Reading a first loss of the season during that run and were unlucky to lose at Watford before the international break.
But poor away form – one point from 18 – has left Mark Robins’ side 21st, five points adrift of their landlords, who have been equally guilty of blowing hot and cold, impressive wins over Brentford and Preston countered by home defeats to lowly pair Wycombe and Sheffield Wednesday.
Picking a winner is thus difficult - the bookies cannot separate them - and while I like the draw at a best 23/10 (both FA Cup ties between the teams last season finished level, Blues edging through on penalties) there are some key patterns in Coventry games that have led me to look elsewhere.
Chief among those is the prevalence of second-half goals in the Sky Blues’ matches – 24 of the 35 goals in Coventry’s games have come after the half-time oranges.
It’s 13 out of 20 for Birmingham too. Combine those stats and you get 67% of goals involving these teams coming after the interval, thus Sky Bet's 11/10 on the second half being the highest scoring half looks good.
I fancy a cagey first half before the floodgates potentially open and even if a couple of goals do fly in before the interval, Coventry have already been involved in three 3-2 scorelines this season.
Perhaps even more key to that punt is the paucity of goals – maybe due to players’ rustiness or managers’ caution when their squad has been separated – in the first halves of Championship games after international breaks.
In October, there were just FIVE first-half goals across 12 such second-tier games when players returned from duty with their country, and only 10 after each of the past two breaks last season.
The other standout stat here is Coventry’s goals against tally of 23 – by far the division’s highest, conceding an average of more than two goals a game which makes seeking out a Birmingham first or anytime scorer a must as the Sky Blues seemingly cannot keep clean sheets.
No team has scored more set-piece goals in the Championship than Birmingham’s five and no team has conceded more from such situations than Coventry’s four so I wouldn’t put anyone off a Blues central defender (Harlee Dean is available at 33s to score first, or 14s at anytime).
But, for me, midfielder Gary Gardner stands out at 20/1 each-way with bet365 (so, 6.67/1 to net anytime with their 1/3 odds 98-place offer) – he’s as short as 10/1 elsewhere and has scored headers from both set-pieces and open play this term so offers a multiple threat.
Score prediction: Coventry 2-2 Birmingham (Sky Bet odds 12/1)
Odds correct at 1100 GMT (19/11/20)
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