14 games into the Championship season, and no-one can deny it’s a difficult task to pick three teams for promotion to the Premier League. As things stand, West Brom lead the table with 27 points from those 14 games. Looking down to the “bottom of the top half”, we see Brentford in 12th place with 21 points. Therefore we can say that although the Baggies are riding high right now, two other things are true. One, they’re going at less than two points per game – which isn’t “running away with it” form. Two, they could find themselves behind Brentford by the middle of November, and entirely out of the top six depending on how results go.
So although Bristol City make tonight’s trip to Oakwell enjoying a relatively lofty perch of sixth in the league – and could leapfrog West Brom if they really hammer Barnsley – they’ll know just how quickly and how easily that could be turned upside down. This is the kind of game that a side with designs on promotion really should be winning, and boss Lee Johnson will know that the Robins’ last away trip to a relegation contender ended in a 3-0 loss at Luton and an FA charge of misconduct for himself after a set-to with a match official. For Barnsley, caretaker boss Adam Murray will be looking for a reaction after his side lost 2-1 to Huddersfield last weekend; in his post-match comments he said his players needed to “man up”.
Should be a straightforward one for the Robins, but will it be?
Ignore what people might say about needing to beat the sides at the bottom in order to have any chance of finishing on top. Four words can answer that point: Manchester City vs Norwich. However, in a league where there is so much churn at the top, Bristol City would not be able to forgive themselves for not picking up three points against a Barnsley side that got promoted against all odds last season, is mostly made up of callow youngsters, and seemingly very much out of its depth in this company.
There is also some room for questioning whether a caretaker boss digging out his young squad for “feeling sorry for themselves” is likely to get the results he hopes for. The Tykes may be bottom of the league, but for reference they are on the same number of points as Stoke, and just four behind Middlesbrough – both of whom have much more experienced, and expensively-assembled, squads. Add to this the departure of popular manager Daniel Stendel, and perhaps Murray would be best advised deploying the carrot and not the stick here. Betway have the young Tykes at 14/5 to score fewer than 0.5 goals this evening, and those seem like generous odds.
A tight battle could be on the cards
Since the departure of Bobby Reid to Cardiff, it’s undeniable that Bristol City have struggled to replace the goals the pacey striker provided, and tonight their attacking conundrum is further complicated by the absences of Benik Afobe (through injury) and Famara Diedhiou (suspension). The Robins are left looking to Andreas Weimann to provide the finishing touches and, while he’s certainly not bad, he’s not really that kind of striker. On a night which promises to be rainy and cold, you could really do with a natural “fox in the box” to stick away a couple early on and make the game easier. Not having that makes the game a lot tougher.
It makes some sort of sense that some bookmakers have the sides almost level-pegging for a win tonight. City are dealing with a substantial injury list that sees them deprived of seven players before we even get to talking about Diedhiou’s suspension. If they pick up three points this evening, they will certainly have been earned. We can expect this to be one of those wet Friday night games that is better appreciated when you have the points, which we would just about expect City to do. With Betfair they can be backed at 10/3 to win either 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1. This is a lower return, but much more likely to come off, than any exact score bet.
Expect plenty of attacking, some of it good
One thing that has been evident in Barnsley’s first fourteen games – aside from the fact that, having won one of them, they are pretty much a stick-on to get relegated – is their willingness to attack. There is no point in their trying to stay in this division through snatching a point here and there. It’s admirable that they’re seeking to win games, and they actually out-shot Huddersfield in a 2-1 loss last weekend. So they’ll come for Bristol City tonight – probably unsuccessfully, but they’ll give it a lash.
With both sides keen to get the points, there’s likely to be a willingness to shoot on sight, and the conditions will lend themselves to penalty-box skirmishes. Against that backdrop, the number of corners usually climbs, so it’s worth cashing in on Paddy Power’s odds of 7/5 that the number of corners will be higher than 11.5 – as to whether any of them end in goals, well, that’s another matter, but expect there to be a lot of effort and plenty of set-pieces in this match and you won’t go too far wrong.
Bets of the Day
Bristol City to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 (Betfair, 10/3); More than 11/5 corners (Paddy Power, 7/5); Barnsley fewer than 0.5 goals (Betway, 14/5)