James O'Rourke returns with his insights and analysis on the Luton vs Watford, Bristol City vs Reading and Huddersfield vs Middlesbrough matches in the English Championship. This weekend his expert predictions include tips on the cards market and why Reading's poor away form makes them vulnerable.
Luton vs Watford
There are quite a few local derbies on the Championship fixture card this weekend and one which never fails to catch the eye is that of Luton v Watford. It is perhaps the sort of game that many outside of the area don’t truly appreciate how big it is in that part of the world. There is certainly no love lost between these two foes, and with Luton now viewed as favourites in this head-to-head for the first time in recent memory, this adds more spice to the fixture. Watford have generally been the big dogs in this meeting for a while now, but with the Hornets playing catch-up in the promotion race, they can’t afford to be dropping too many points to those ahead of them in the table.
Another added angle to this is that Luton are now managed by Rob Edwards, who himself started the season in the managerial job at Watford. He didn’t last long, but everything has turned out rather rosy for the former Forest Green Rovers boss. Edwards has not only maintained the good work left in place by Nathan Jones, who departed for Southampton earlier in the season, but he has improved upon it as well. So much so, automatic promotion is not out of reach for the Hatters and they know if they can put a run together then they may give a scare to Sheffield United and Middlesbrough.
Watford are still adjusting to life under Chris Wilder after deciding to make yet another managerial change in-season. A win, a draw and a defeat has been their return in his first three games at the helm, and he’ll have wanted to use the international break to further get his squad up to speed with his methods. With many of the team away with their national teams over the last few weeks, then it has been difficult to do that. For all that man-for-man they have a more talented squad than Luton, the fact is the opponents are well-versed in their way of playing right now. The league table never lies, and it’d take a mammoth effort for Watford to now finish ahead of Luton before the season ends.
Anything can happen in a local derby so I will swerve picking a likely winner here. Luton are the favourites but Watford have the talent to beat any team in this league on their day, and it would be no shock to see them turn things around pretty sharpish. However, the obvious angle is looking at the cards market for this big local derby. Expect plenty of challenges, especially if the earlier season meeting is anything to go by. That clash in October saw seven yellows and one red card dished out as Watford ran out easy 4-0 winners. Luton will be out for revenge, but both teams need the win, certainly Watford. Over 5.5 Cards is priced 6/5 with Bet365 and there is more than a good chance of that paying out.
Josh Smith is the referee for this one and he has developed a bit of a habit of booking Watford players. In fact, during his time officiating in Championship games, he has booked a Watford man 11 times, which is more than any other side. That is despite only taking command of three of their games. He has booked Luton players eight times over three matches as well, so there is plenty to point towards more cards being dished out.
Bristol City vs Reading
The international break is now done and dusted, thus allowing us to fully concentrate on Championship action once again. Our first focus takes us to Ashton Gate, the home of Bristol City, and they welcome Reading on Saturday afternoon. The international break probably came at a good time for the Robins following back-to-back defeats, but consistency has never been their strong suit, meaning they’re just the type to bounce back at some point. It may look as though they have nothing to play for sitting in mid-table, but it wasn’t so long ago they enjoyed a 12-game unbeaten run. Boss Nigel Pearson knows his side are capable of putting a run together, but it still looks unlikely they’ll make a late dash for the playoffs.
A win this weekend is therefore a must if they’re to even keep those slim hopes alive, and it is probably a home clash with Reading being one they’d ideally hand-pick to get back on track. It has been a troublesome period for Reading, most notably because they have a probably points deduction hanging over their heads. Should they lose the reported six points, that’d propel them right back into the relegation picture. Getting as many points as possible is therefore paramount if they’re not to feel those effects as badly as they could be. One big issue they do have is collecting points away from home. Manager Paul Ince has highlighted this himself and the numbers suggest he has a point. They are rock bottom of the Championship is relation to points collected away from home, and it is a good strong they’re proven so solid on home soil. They’re lost seven away games in a row in all competitions, last earning any point on their travels in late December.
The obvious angle here is to oppose Reading, and understandably so. They have proved far too toothless in away contests that you just can’t have maximum faith in them turning it around. The only thing they have going for them is that Bristol City can ‘chuck one in’, and the other is that Reading will surely improve at some stage and not keep losing these away games. A price of 17/20 with Unibet on a home victory here though will be my recommendation, although more so to get on the other side of Reading more than anything!
Reading’s injury list has been an issue for a long, long time and it has prevented Ince from really getting the chance to nail down a settled starting eleven. The international break may have helped recover some injuries, so team news could be key, but we just cannot ignore their away record. Something else we can’t ignore is Bristol City’s home record is sides below them in the table, which is where Reading are situated. City’s record reads won five, drew two and lost one, so they know how to get the job done in these type of duels.
Huddersfield vs Middlesbrough
One team that probably did not want the international break to arrive when it did was Huddersfield Town. They enjoyed a rare victory last time out when unexpectedly defeating play-off contenders Millwall away from home, and they’d have been keen to try and utilise the momentum they built from that. An even harder assignment awaits them now in the form of automatic promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough, who themselves had a great win previously when confidently despatching Preston North End 4-0 at home.
Some more infrequent good news came out of Huddersfield recently in the form of the club being taken over. Whilst this may not directly affect the team on team on the pitch either way right now, it is at least something positive for the club to publicise and will undoubtedly help them from a financial and security aspect. Manager Neil Warnock however has more pressing and immediate concerns in terms of trying to keep the team from slipping into League One. They currently remain in the drop zone but the gap to fourth from the bottom now stands at three points, meaning there is plenty of life in their escape plans. He’ll no doubt be delighted at their win over Millwall, but he’ll also be aware that a degree of fortune was on their side on that occasion. Millwall were a full 1.00 higher on the xG (Expected Goals) count, and 18 shots compared to the Terriers’ 4 proves they were second-best on the day. Still, a win is a win, and they’d take something similar this weekend.
Middlesbrough have enjoyed a more than fruitful return since Michael Carrick was appointed as manager. He was something of a surprise appointment to the Riverside Stadium dugout, but he has more than proved his worth in the managerial game. From his 22 league matches in charge, Boro have yielded a whopping 16 victories. They sit top of the ten-game form table, with no other Championship outfit scoring more goals in that period of time. Carrick has a largely settled team at his disposal, and that has certainly helped produce a consistent set of performances and results. He has the option to make changes and does make one or two from time to time without damaging the quality of the overall eleven.
With Middlesbrough looking to maintain their automatic promotion push, then three points here is the minimum expectation that they’ll have from within. The bookies set it that way too, with Boro going off as the odds-on favourite to return home with maximum points. Clearly, the right way to approach this is to get the away team on side in some way. Huddersfield have failed to score in all meetings with current top-four sides this season, whilst Middlesbrough have won 12 of 16 encounters with teams positioned 15th or below. We’ll play the away side and over 1.5 goals, which boosts our price to an impressive 11/10 with Coral. Boro are the league leaders in terms of matches featuring two or more goals, and their last eight wins also contained at least two goals.
England Championship Tips
- Luton v Watford – Over 5.5 Cards (6/5 Bet365)
- Bristol City v Reading – Bristol City (17/20 Unibet)
- Huddersfield v Middlesbrough – Middlesbrough Win and Over 1.5 Goals (11/10 Coral)