After posting a seven-point profit in his last Championship preview, EFL expert Michael Beardmore analyses Friday night's West Midlands derby between West Brom and Birmingham.
1pt Matt Phillips to score anytime at 16/5 (Paddy Power/Betfair)
0.5pt Semi Ajayi to score anytime at 8/1 (Paddy Power/Betfair)
First world problems? West Bromwich Albion sit second in the Sky Bet Championship, well placed to challenge for an immediate return to the top flight – but a fair portion of the fanbase is unhappy.
“Val-ball” – the high-octane but not particularly aesthetically pleasing style of new boss Valerien Ismael – is not popular despite the Baggies going 10 unbeaten before losing at Stoke last time out.
Across the other side of the Second City, meanwhile – okay, West Brom isn’t technically in Birmingham but I’m a local and it’s close enough – Lee Bowyer is enduring a first crisis at Blues.
Four defeats in a winless run of five has spoiled a solid start that had Bluenoses believing this season might be the one where they avoided flirting with any trouble at the bottom of the table.
It’s worth pointing out, though, in three of those four defeats, even in two 3-0 losses, Blues won the xG (Expected Goals) battle and even in a 4-1 reverse to Fulham they were competitive, edged out 2.52-2.08 on xG.
Indeed, Infogol’s Expected Goals table has Blues sixth, a whopping 10 places higher than their current position. The trouble is they are underperforming in both boxes – scoring 10 from an xG of 16.9 and conceding 15 from an xGA of 12.1.
They are better than their position suggests but a lack of firepower up front has been a recurring theme for many seasons at St Andrew’s – although they will hope recent acquisition and hometown boy Troy Deeney can help on that front.
Going back to The Hawthorns, while Ismael’s style of play is under scrutiny, the results speak for themselves – much like they did during his spell at Barnsley last season as he guided the unfancied Tykes into the play-offs.
West Brom have the division’s third highest Expected Goals For (xGF) total, the second best Expected Goals Against (xGA) figure and the best Expected Goal Difference.
But, given the Baggies have been held by Millwall and Derby at home already, I’m loathe to back them at fairly heavily odds-on here, particularly in a frenzied derby atmosphere against decent opposition.
If you do fancy Albion, the best way in is to back them in the HT/FT market at 8/5 – of the Baggies’ six wins this season, they have led at both half-time and full-time in four of those.
But their little recent dip, if you can call it that – W2 D3 L1 from six – is instead pushing me in the direction of scorer markets, where there’s plenty value on offer given Albion are averaging almost two goals per game but tend to spread them around.
Having come on as a substitute in the past two games, wide man Matt Phillips is believed to be in line for a recall given Albion have injury and form worries over two other attacking players, Alex Mowatt and Jordan Hugill.
It’s one to keep an eye on the teamsheets for and perhaps assess in-play, but Phillips has scored once off the bench as well as two in his five starts so either way he’s a good play – he’s averaging a goal every 180 minutes this season and has been a regular scorer in the Championship for both Albion and former club QPR.
Those stats suggest that the 16/5 offered by Paddy Power and Betfair for PHILLIPS TO SCORE ANYTIME is a value punt, especially if he gets the nod to start.
I also can’t ignore 8/1 on SEMI AJAYI TO SCORE ANYTIME with the same firms given the Baggies defender’s propensity to net from set-pieces. In his past two Championship seasons, the big centre-half has netted 13 times and has already opened his account this term.
Birmingham have been vulnerable from set-pieces during their recent winless run and Ajayi’s strike rate for a central defender means he’s worth backing – he’s also 18s for first goal if you fancy.
Score prediction: West Brom 2-1 Birmingham (Sky Bet odds: 13/2)
Odds correct at 1930 BST (13/10/21)
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