The Sky Bet Championship play-offs get underway on Saturday with two massive games. Tom Carnduff picks out his best bets.
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Aston Villa v West Brom
The more eye-catching of the two ties comes from Villa Park where Dean Smith's Aston Villa side welcome West Brom.
The hosts are the favourites for many to secure promotion back to the Premier League given their strong finish to the regular season.
West Brom are a serious contender though. They have been a regular feature in the top-six for the duration of the campaign, despite losing their best player in Harvey Barnes in January, and have proven a tough side to beat.
A result here would firmly put them in the driving seat heading back to the Hawthorns. They've won their last five in front of their supporters, scoring at least three goals on four occasions.
It's easier said than done in getting a first leg result though. Aston Villa's extraordinary ten-game run was brought to an end at the hands of Leeds in the penultimate game of the season. That was then followed up by a final day defeat to Norwich.
You can't look too much into the regular season results but the Baggies can take confidence in the fact that they won here in February. Their away form in recent weeks has been concerning, but it's understandable when you put those games into context.
They faced a Derby side who had to win to secure a play-off spot and the same applies to Bristol City and their play-off aspirations when they travelled there at the beginning of April.
There have also been visits to Reading and Millwall, who were both battling the drop, but the solo win during that time offers hope. They beat Brentford 1-0 who, despite finishing in 11th, had the third-best home record in the division.
One player who has been in exceptional form throughout the course of the season is Jay Rodriguez. The West Brom striker finished the season on 22 goals, contributing a further six assists.
He's also coming to this game with some momentum give his efforts in recent weeks. Rodriguez has netted three goals in his last five starts.
The forward also struck in both games against Aston Villa this season. In a game that has the potential for goals, it is worth backing someone of Rodriguez's quality to strike at a price of near 3/1.
It's difficult to call which way this first leg will go, which makes it more tempting to back the draw. Instead of selection an option in the win-draw-win market, goals may be another avenue to consider.
Over 2.5 goals is priced at near even money, which is great value given the attacking quality that both sides possess.
Score prediction: Aston Villa 2-2 West Brom (Sky Bet odds: 14/1)
Best bet: Jay Rodriguez to score anytime at 14/5
- This will be the 170th meeting between local rivals Aston Villa and West Brom in all competitions, with the Villans winning on 77 occasions (D37 L55).
- West Brom are unbeaten in their last four games against Aston Villa (W2 D2), winning on each of their last two trips to Villa Park, including their most recent visit in February.
- West Brom striker Jay Rodriguez has scored in three of his last four games against Aston Villa, including both matches during the 2018-19 Championship season.
- Aston Villa will be making their second appearance in the Football League play-offs, reaching the Championship play-off final last season, losing 1-0 to Fulham at Wembley.
- West Brom will be participating in their fourth Football League play-off campaign, securing promotion from the third tier in 1993 but losing out in both attempts in the second tier (2001 and 2007).
- The team to finish in fourth place has won the second tier play-offs in two of the last five seasons (QPR in 2013-14 and Hull City in 2015-16), as many as in the previous 22 campaigns combined (Leicester City in 1993-94 and Charlton in 1997-98).
- Only league winners Norwich City (93) scored more goals than West Brom (87) and Aston Villa (82) in the 2018-19 Championship season.
- Aston Villa have lost just one of their last 13 league games (W10 D2), although this loss was in their last game of the Championship campaign against title winners Norwich.
- West Brom striker Dwight Gayle has scored seven goals in his last seven starts, although only one of these goals has come away from the Hawthorns.
- Aston Villa striker Tammy Abraham scored 25 Championship goals during the 2018-19 campaign; only Norwich’s Teemu Pukki scored more (29).
Derby v Leeds
We're told that 'Spygate' is forgotten about heading into this one, but you can't help but feel that it is still in the mind of some of those in the Derby camp.
Leeds are the favourites to win the play-offs after a very impressive campaign. Marcelo Bielsa has transformed a mid-table side into serious promotion contenders almost overnight, with their attacking football earning the plaudits.
In Derby, the take on a team who have achieved their objective of reaching the top-six. Frank Lampard's first year in management has gone to plan with a talented group of players doing enough to secure that final place on the last day.
The Whites' form has been a concern heading into this one. Not only did they miss out on automatic promotion but they finished the regular campaign with four winless games. It's hardly given their fans confidence.
In can be argued though that Leeds have performed best against those teams around them. That includes in the two games against Derby, where they played them off the park on both occasions.
A lot has changed since those games though and Leeds need to be wary of the threat that the opposition bring. Equally, Derby need to ensure that they play the game and not the occasion.
A flurry of attacks in the opening exchanges, backed by what will be a vocal Pride Park, may come back to bite them. Leeds have shown that they prefer it when teams attack them, allowing space in behind to pick them off.
There are some whispers of a rare involvement for Izzy Brown here, given Tyler Roberts' expected absence. The attacking midfielder has played just nine minutes for Leeds having signed on a season-long loan from Chelsea.
It's a general price of 7/2 that he finds the net anytime in this one, if you're fancying him to make an impact at this very late stage. Available at the same price though is a goal for Harry Wilson, which makes for far more appealing value.
The Derby winger has 17 goals and five assists on his tally in all competitions this season, which includes a goal in that crucial victory over West Brom.
Leeds are looking weak at a time when strength is required and you'd expect Derby to score at least one in a home first leg. At the price going, it's worth backing Wilson to be among the goals.
Score prediction: Derby 1-1 Leeds (Sky Bet odds: 5/1)
Best bet: Harry Wilson to score anytime at 7/2
- Leeds United won both matches in the 2018-19 Championship season against Derby County, the first time they’ve achieved this feat in a single season since 2001-02 when both clubs were in the Premier League.
- Since winning seven successive home games in all competitions against Leeds between May 2007 and December 2014, Derby have only managed one victory in their last four (D1 L2).
- Leeds United’s Kemar Roofe scored in both Championship fixtures against Derby in the 2018-19 campaign (3 goals), bagging a brace in Leeds’ 4-1 victory away from home.
- This will be Derby’s eight venture into the second tier play-offs; no side have taken part in more. They’ve only won promotion once in those previous seven seasons in the second tier play-offs (in 2006-07).
- Leeds will be participating in their fifth Football League play-off campaign, they’ve never won promotion via this method, losing most recently against Millwall in the League One play-off semi-finals in 2009.
- The team to finish sixth in the Championship has won promotion via the play-offs in just one of the last 13 seasons – Blackpool in 2009-10.
- The side to finish third in the second tier has won promotion through the play-offs (current format) on 11 occasions (37%), more than any other position.
- Leeds finished the 2018-19 Championship campaign with just one point from their last four games (D1 L3), their worst winless run of the season.
- Derby County have lost just one of their last 12 league games (W6 D5), with a current unbeaten run of six (W4 D2).
- Leeds United’s Pablo Hernández created 116 chances in the Championship during the 2018-19 campaign; 19 more than any other player. Furthermore, only Brentford’s Said Benrahma (14) provided more assists than Hernández (12).