Bet of the Day: Villa to progress in high-scoring West Brom battle

14th September 2021

With the regular season over, we now know nineteen of the teams who will make up the Premier League next season. We can subtract Cardiff, Fulham and Huddersfield from this season’s contingent and add Norwich and Sheffield United. As for the twentieth club making up the roll call, one leg of Championship play-off action has given us some clues, without definitively confirming anything. Leeds take a narrow lead over Derby into tomorrow night’s meeting, while tonight sees Aston Villa make a short trip along the A4040 to meet local rivals West Brom. The Villains own a slight advantage, having won their home leg 2-1, but the Champions League semi-finals showed us that a three-goal advantage is surmountable, so a single goal is nothing.

The Baggies are looking for an immediate return to the top flight after dropping out last summer. Caretaker manager Jimmy Shan took over from club legend Darren Moore with the side in fourth place, nine points off automatic promotion. They finished the season in fourth place, nine points off automatic promotion, so the wisdom of sacking Moore two months ago will come under close scrutiny if they are knocked out of contention this evening. West Brom come into this game minus top scorer Darren Gayle, who was sent off with two minutes to play on Saturday. His absence could make a big difference to the outcome here.

A knife-edge battle in the West Midlands

West Brom’s relegation from the Premier League left England’s top division without representation from Birmingham and the Black Country, Villa having fallen from the elite in 2016. The play-off final on the 27th of this month will offer one of these sides a chance to fly the flag for their region, and there is no doubt that the local rivalry adds an extra level of spice to the contest this evening. That’s all the more so given that both managers were born and raised in the region – Villa’s Dean Smith, a West Bromwich native, grew up supporting the Villains.

With the Premier League and its attendant riches possibly 180 minutes away, this game will be an absorbing contest with no quarter asked or given, and there is every chance for the lead to change hands repeatedly. Almost uniquely within two-legged competitions, away goals have no extra relevance here, so the Baggies can’t go 1-0 up and rest on their laurels. We can, therefore, assume that both sides will be seeking to end the tie in 90 minutes – and given that both tend to prefer a progressive game, we’re expecting a close game with a few goals. Dafabet have odds of 9/5 on this showdown having more than 3.5 goals in it, and that’s a price we’d take.

Decent attacking options on both sides

The often unspoken wisdom in English football is that the top echelons of the Championship are of a level comparable to the lower half of the Premier League, and a look at the squads involved in tonight’s match bears that out to some extent. Villa have Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham and £40million-rated midfielder Jack Grealish in their ranks, while even in the absence of Gayle the Baggies can call on Premier League quality in the shape of winger Matt Phillips and striker Jay Rodriguez among others. Compare their star power to the relegated squads of Cardiff and Huddersfield, and it’s hard to say these sides would have done worse in the top flight than the sides who were there.

Rodriguez and Abraham in particular are players who could well find themselves in a Premier League squad next season even if they don’t get there with their current clubs. Both players are priced by BetVictor at 18/5 to snatch the first goal here. We would probably – just about – pick Rodriguez to get on the scoresheet first given the intensity West Brom will need to bring to this game, and the additional responsibility he shoulders with Gayle unavailable.

Villa to come out ahead

There’s not much to choose between these sides. They finished one place apart in the league table, and they have faced off three times this season, each side scoring one win and the other match ending in a draw. The result of tonight’s game is tough to call, but with Gayle and fellow forward Hal Robson-Kanu both missing for West Brom tonight, the visitors are in a position of strength, particularly on the basis of their narrow victory on Saturday. Of course, a position of strength doesn’t necessarily translate to a win – just ask Barcelona about that – but importantly, Villa don’t need to win tonight.

Betway are offering 2/7 on Villa to progress, and the smart bet is probably to take those odds given that they can draw and still go through. They could even lose on the night and go through on penalties. They also have momentum in their favour – after Moore’s sacking in March, West Brom picked up 19 points in 10 league games, while in the same time period their opponents snagged an impressive 28 in 11 and climbed nine places from a bottom-half berth to the top six, before winning the first leg. It’s easier to keep winning than it is to start again, and for that reason we’d back Villa to take their place in the final.

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