Championship betting preview: Clean up with cagey Cotterill

 

A week before Christmas is too soon to be talking about relegation six-pointers but there will be plenty at stake when Bristol City face Nottingham Forest on Saturday and we reckon there's value to be had in backing under 1.5 goals at Ashton Gate.

A cagey encounter would be entirely in-keeping with the reputation of the two managers, both of whom are relatively new to their respective roles and still at the stage where such matches are being viewed as pivotal to overall development.

Two months might not be long enough to generate a new creative identity but it's plenty of time to drill certain basics into a squad from a tactical perspective and we expect that groundwork to be evident here with both teams focused on keeping their shape and giving nothing away cheaply.

Indeed, the template has already been set by Forest and though Steve Cotterill had his fingers burnt by late goals in 1-0 defeats at Cardiff and Brighton, we don't expect him to rip up the blueprint and go back to the drawing board for a game against a team not nearly as accomplished as those two.

Bristol City have only managed two clean sheets under McInnes but it's significant that they were achieved against West Ham and Southampton, while Middlesbrough were kept at bay for the regular 90 minutes in their last home game, so the Robins do have it in their locker to batten down the hatches and play Forest at their own game.

However, we expect the visitors to dictate the tempo of this one, so much so that we would advise a saver on Nottingham Forest to win 2-0 at 14/1, which we view as the biggest threat to our main bet. In the event of a breakthrough, things are likely to open up much more if the home side are being forced to chase the game and they could leave themselves vulnerable on the counter.

Meanwhile, Doncaster have sold their soul to Willie McKay and while they can probably kiss goodbye to the goodwill they usually receive from the rest of the Championship, they have gained what it takes to take out the occasional heavyweight and we can't resist having a nibble at the 3/1 on Leicester going the same way as Southampton did a fortnight ago.

Rovers have a deal in place with the controversial agent to secure short-term deals for players of the calibre they could only dream of previously and now the likes of Carl Ikeme, Habib Beye, Pascal Chimbonda, Herita Ilunga, Herold Goulon, El Hadji Diouf and Marc-Antoine Fortune have all rocked up to showcase their talents in the Keepmoat shop window.

We do have a lot of respect for Leicester with Nigel Pearson back at the helm and while his knowledge of the division can help him to propel the Foxes back into promotion contention, this is a rare journey into the unknown for a manager who so often has the opposition's card marked. Dean Saunders had only just picked up the Donny reins when he went head to head with the former Hull boss back in September and so much has changed since then that we see no harm in chancing the hosts at a big price.

Finally, Keith Hill's success in his first season at this level is illustrated nowhere better than in his extraordinary record over 45 minutes and we'll finish up with a bet on Barnsley to win the first half against West Ham at Upton Park. The Tykes are 5/1 to be in front at the interval and that's a great wager when you consider they have edged ahead in ten out of 21 matches so far this season.

It might sound a little half-baked to make such a meal of half-time records but you have to understand that Hill is working with a playing budget that is only a fraction of those enjoyed by most managers, yet he continually finds ways to outwit his rivals and give his team a head start. In many cases, the Yorkshire outfit have faded once the tide turns against them and the 12 points dropped from a winning position provides just cause to overlook the 11/2 about the away win.

However, over the shorter timescale, the Tykes have seized the initiative on the road at Reading, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds and Peterborough and this, combined with West Ham's notoriously patchy home form, makes light of the value to be found in the price.

Recommended bets:

1.6pts Under 1.5 goals Bristol City v Nottingham Forest at 9/4 (general)

0.4pts Nottingham Forest to win 2-0 at 14/1 (general)

1pt Doncaster to beat Leicester at 3/1 (general)

1pt Barnsley to win the first half against West Ham at 5/1 (Boylesports, Victor Chandler)

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