Bristol City v Sunderland
Both Teams To Score (1.8)
If you see the words Bristol and City in these Championship tips then you probably already know the four letters which will follow them… B-T-T-S.
Last season the Robins left their rivals in their wake in terms of both teams scoring, with 31 of their 46 matches seeing both sides on the mark, and lo and behold they got off the mark in the BTTS column in their first game of the new campaign too.
Austrian-hitman Andy Weimann gave them the perfect start on the road at Hull but the hosts turned the tide in the final 20 minutes in controversial fashion with Ozan Tufan converting a hotly-disputed penalty before the visitors saw their own frenzied appeals for a foul in the box on Rob Atkinson waved away. The dismay was compounded with a last-gasp Tigers winner and Nigel Pearson is faced with the task of lifting his troops ahead of the visit of newly-promoted Sunderland to Ashton Gate.
Sunderland suffered late dismay themselves on Sunday lunchtime as summer arrival from Spurs, Jack Clarke, saw his early opener cancelled out by Coventry six minutes from time.
Neither side knows what a clean sheet looks like yet and I think that will remain the case on Saturday evening. I’d be edging towards predicting a home win, were it not for the fact that Saturday’s appointed official, Keith Stroud, is something of a bogey-ref for City, who have won just seven of the 29 games in which he has taken charge of them, losing 13 times and finishing without the full compliment of players on the pitch in four of them.
Czech defender Tomas Kalas is back in training after five months out through injury but is unlikely to make an immediate return after missing pre-season and 18-year-old midfield starlet Alex Scott looks set to be at the club for at least another game as Premier League big-guns including Man United continue to monitor his development.
The 1.8 on offer for neither side to keep a clean sheet is too tempting to ignore so that’s where my money is going in this one.
Burnley v Luton
Burnley to win (1.75)
It was only one game, but the manner in which Burnley despatched Huddersfield last weekend, away from home, with a host of debutants, assembled by a manager taking charge of his first game in England, was worthy of respect.
The average age of the side was nearly 15% lower than at the end of the damp squib of their campaign in the Premier League and that led me to predict inconsistency might prove a factor. Well, we’re going to find out here… Luton did not look particularly impressive as they failed to beat, or even score against beleaguered Birmingham. Nathan Jones is facing the task of that difficult second album, how do you follow a campaign as successful as the last, when the Hatters flew under the radar in the promotion race until the last knockings of the season to reach the play-offs. There is a weight of expectation now.
If Burnley repeat the pattern of their match in Yorkshire last Friday then they should start the Turf Moor season with a bang. They were irresistible in the first half and Vincent Kompany’s only lament was that they didn’t turn their superiority into more goals. They played with very attacking full-backs and utilised the width they provided to good effect. The Clarets piled forward at every opportunity, and this was away from home, of course. On home soil you’d expect them to seize the initiative even more. I also underestimated the influence bringing Josh Cullen with him might have on the ex-Anderlecht manager’s side. The former West Ham youngster was man of the match, knows the system and was instrumental in advancing the ball and played his part in the furious pressing which the Clarets did when Town were in possession too.
They’re trying to add pacy wide-man Manuel Benson from Antwerp to fill the void left by Dwight McNeil’s move to Everton and if he’s in the squad then it’s another problem for Luton to worry about. They signed 19-year-old forward Aribim Pebble from the Canadian league this week but Elijah Adebayo looks unlikely to cross the pond in the opposite direction despite the interest of DC United.
Including the play-off semi-final against Huddersfield, Town lost three of their last four away games, scoring only once and they looked pretty toothless against the Blues, despite the best efforts of summer arrivals Carlton Morris and Luke Freeman. It was a fifth blank in 10 competitive games across last season and this, and they have only scored one in each of the other five.
Burnley are available at 1.75 which is more than tempting, and, if you’re wondering, it’s 3.0 on Burnley to win to nil.
Reading v Cardiff City
Cardiff and Draw (1.44)
There are always lots of really appealing games in the Championship, the kind you could build your weekend around watching… this probably isn’t one of those.
Reading allowed an incredible 44 goals in their 23 home games last season and though their 33 goals at the other end put them in the top-10 home scorers, they could only convert them into seven wins, which is a big part of why they were sucked into the relegation scrap.
At the other end of the scale Cardiff were pretty efficient on their travels, their 28 goals was the seventh best return on their travels in the division and, though their poor defence cost them an eye-watering 39 goals and led to 11 defeats, they managed eight wins on the road, which was also only bettered by six other sides.
Confidence will be high in the Bluebirds ranks after the opening day win against title-favourites Norwich last Saturday, and I fully expect them to take the same physical approach which worked for them in Wales to the Select Car Leasing Stadium. Reading have looked a bit of a soft touch in the past 12 months and the added weight of a transfer embargo for financial reasons has made it harder to bring in reinforcements to toughen them up.
Tom Ince, son of manager Paul, won’t have read my season preview which tipped Reading for a relegation battle, he says they’re avoiding all the negative words swirling around the club and focusing on matters on the pitch. Well, those matters saw them lose 1-0 at Blackpool, another of Ince’s former clubs, on Saturday. The Royals were trying to tie up a deal for former Huddersfield defender Naby Sarr on a free this week and hoping to complete a season-long loan for 18-year-old midfielder Omari Hutchinson who recently joined Chelsea from Arsenal, but it’s upfront where the Royals are looking light.
Saturday was their fourth straight Championship game without scoring, all defeats, despite the addition of some new faces in an off-season revolving door. Cardiff kept Norwich, usually free-scoring in the second tier, at bay for 90 minutes on Saturday and turned Romaine Sawyers goal just after the break into maximum points.
I suspect a similar pattern might see them make it six points from six to start the campaign, but I’ll err on the side of caution, and consider the possibility of a stalemate, and back the visitors to win or draw in the double chance market at an appealing 1.44.