Mike Holden fancies Bradley Johnson to be key in tonight's clash between Leeds and Derby.
Paul Clement has come a long way since his last encounter with Leeds when a late Chris Wood strike consigned his new Derby troops to defeat. It was a sickener that left the Rams winless after six matches, giving the former Real Madrid coach plenty to contemplate during the September international break.
Since then, the Rams have won 13 out of 17 matches, keeping 12 clean sheets in the process, and while the turnaround cannot be narrowed down to one single decision or conversation, the major difference has been a sharpened sense of focus while games remain goalless. Having conceded first five times in those opening six matches, the initiative has been handed over to the opposition only twice since.
When you combine that record with the potential for Leeds to tire as this contest wears on, as a result of unfair scheduling, it’s difficult to envisage anything other than a narrow/routine away win here. Much to Steve Evans’ dismay, the visitors have a 24-hour rest advantage coming into this clash and the Glaswegian, true to form, isn’t afraid to throw around the odd conspiracy theory as to why it’s fallen that way.
Nobody else does siege mentality quite like Evans and though we should expect his side to have a proper go here, his pre-match comments have essentially paved the way for dropped points to be taken with a pinch of salt, which he doesn’t condone too often. The priority, it seems, is to come through this game unscathed - without injuries, suspensions or embarrassment - and quickly move on to the next one. There’s no pressure, any sort of result will be considered a bonus.
If Leeds score first, then we have a contest. But it’s worth bearing in mind the Whites have only broken the deadlock four times in their last 15 matches, one of those against ten men. And in the 12 matches Evans has taken charge of, Leeds have only scored five first-half goals, three of them registered at 45+ minutes.
The trouble is, there’s no real value in any of the outcomes this chain of thought pertains to. Derby are 21/20 to win the game when my 16-match ratings have them no shorter than 7/5, the ‘win to nil’ price is generally 2/1 instead of 13/5, while the 0-1 and 0-2 correct scores are about a point shy of my conversions. So let’s revisit an old wager that remains just as inviting now as it was when first put forward three weeks ago.
Bradley Johnson has netted 16 times in his last 41 matches as a Championship player, seven of them breaking the deadlock, so there’s plenty of mileage in backing the ex-Leeds midfielder to do the dirty on his old club. All the attention is on Tom Ince at the moment after four goals in three matches but Johnson is averaging 2.7 shots per game, just 0.1 shots shy of the chart-topping former Blackpool winger.
Johnson is 11/1 to score the first goal at 4/1 to score anytime but given the likelihood that Derby will take a pragmatic approach as they attempt to store energy reserves for Saturday’s blockbuster clash at Middlesbrough, it’s worth taking a chance and forgoing the anytime quote, instead sticking a point each on the 28-year-old scoring both first and last. You never know, he might just cop both bets!
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.