We're delighted to welcome EFL expert and football data expert, The Betting Desk to our team of tipsters here at MFT. He'll be providing weekly analysis on selected matches in the Football League and debuts with a deep dive in to Nottingham Forest's visit to Stoke City on Saturday…
Stoke City look to have finally got it right on and off the pitch and maybe this is the season they finally challenge promotion back to the Premier League.
They have started the season well with W2-D1-L0 and manager Michael O’Neill was quick to point out there is still a long way to go after an excellent performance and result as they laid down a marker for the season with a fine win at Swansea. Stoke were good value for a 3-1 win, with goals from Nick Powell, Sam Clucas and Leo Ostigard, to make it seven points from their first three games. But it was the style of the performance which was so eye-catching.
The Swans were in the play-offs last season and despite a change of manager, would be expecting another decent season, but Stoke were dominant winning the xG 2.42 vs 0.35 winning the shot and shot on target count convincingly.
To go to Swansea and win 3-1 is a real statement. Last season the Swans at home were pretty formidable with a record of W12-D6-L5 conceding just 0.7 goals per match with 11 clean sheets, conceding two or more goals in just three home games and eight games in total.
My rankings have Stoke at 5th on xPTS whilst Forest sit 23rd although we should remember this is from a sample of three games, but it still gives us an understanding of how the underlying performance of each team is looking. Whilst the Stoke xG of 3.6 and goal return of six would suggest some clinical finishing, defensively they look very sound with one of the lowest shots on target and shots in the box conceded so far in the championship, which has resulted in a xGA of just 0.53 per game, which is the 2nd best return in the division.
I like the squad balance with a mixture of youth and experience. O’Neill prefers 3-5-2 with the central three in Joe Allen, Sam Clucas and Nick Powell offering real pedigree with Sam Surridge and Jacob Brown holding the front two spaces with the likes of Tom Ince, Danny Batth and Steven Fletcher on the bench.
In comparison Forest look in a bit of mess. The transfer activity in the summer promised a lot but really failed to deliver. So far this season they sit 23rd with zero points after three losses on the spin with defeats against Coventry, Blackburn and Bournemouth, conceding two goals in all three games.
Despite having a front two of Lewis Grabban and the excellent Brennan Johnson tucked in behind, they have generated just 1.8 xG in total over three games with an average of just four shots in the box, with only Derby County and Swansea City averaging fewer. At the other end they sit in the top six for shots on target conceded with a xGA of 1.13 per game.
Chris Hughton is under pressure already and now has a defensive crisis to resolve. Jordan Gabriel was sent off midweek meaning he will miss the trip to Stoke, Jordi Osei-Tutu was injured in their previous game, which means another reshuffle at the back and a potentially weaker back four. Joe Worrall is still missing which means that there is a lack of leadership across the pitch.
Whilst it’s great for fans to see so many of the Forest academy playing for the 1st team, it does mean that there is a lack of know-how and experience. Whilst people might point to experienced players like Lewis Grabban, for me he isn’t a genuine leader.
To make matters worse Hughton has a poor away record with the Tricky Trees – W5-D7-L8. Wins have been against relegated Rotherham and Wycombe and then struggling Preston and Coventry with a good win over Cardiff in April.
This looks like two sides currently heading in different directions with contrasting self-belief, confidence, and momentum.
Stoke look to be a good bet to win at home and continue the away day disappointment for Forest Fans and I will happily take them at just shy of even money at 19/20 with Betway to win the game.
- Stoke City to win 19/20 (Betway)