Birmingham v Hull - Thursday 19:45, Sky Sports 1

Hull City lost ground in the race for automatic promotion at the weekend, playing out a keenly-contested goalless draw in Friday’s televised game against Sheffield Wednesday, but they remain worthy title favourites and a solid bet for the top two, even more so in the wake of another Middlesbrough defeat in midweek.

The Tigers are keeping clean sheets for fun - seven in the last eight league outings, nine out of 11 in all competitions - but, curiously, my 24-match ratings throw up a total goals expectancy of 2.27 for this fixture, which is around a quarter of a goal greater than the Asian markets, so there could be some value in anticipating those recent trends being bucked.

However, the value doesn’t really translate into the fixed odds arena. The difference between the 13/8 available on over 2.5 goals and my digital odds conversion of 2.52 is neither here nor there, so instead of being unnecessarily bold about a marginal call, we should take the discrepancy as an invitation to be creative and explore the fringe markets a bit further.

And there’s one thread in particular that, once pulled, is hard to put back: half betting. Birmingham, under Gary Rowett, are an excellent first-half team. Indeed, there’s arguably no better manager in the Championship at second-guessing the opposition and winning the early tactical battle.

In 57 non-goalless matches with Rowett at the helm, Blues have broken the deadlock over 60 per cent of the time. In 14 against top-six opposition, there’s an exact 50-50 split. Of course, the first goal can be scored at any time, or cancelled out inside 45 minutes, but the patterns when measuring interval outcomes translate something like how you'd expect.

Over the whole 65-game sample, Birmingham’s half-time record reads W21 D33 L11. At St Andrew’s, that jumps to a very impressive W14 D13 L5. To what extent Hull are superior than your average Championship fodder is a moot point but, either way, a bet on Blues to win the first half at nearly 5/1 seems like a no-brainer.

As it happens, you have to go all the way back to October for the last time the Tigers scored a first-half goal on opposition soil. Steve Bruce’s men have been on their travels ten times since Ahmed Elmohamady’s early strike at MK Dons, during which time they’ve found themselves trailing at Bristol City, Leeds and Rotherham, the other seven matches being goalless.

By contrast, Hull are finishing games much stronger than their opponents, just as they appear to be growing in stature as the season develops. In their last 24 league outings, the Tigers boast a W15 D6 L3 second-half record. The aggregate score across that sample is 23-4.

Therefore, bets on the Birmingham/Draw and Birmingham/Hull half-time/full-time outcomes should be fairly self-explanatory. If the visitors do find themselves behind at the break, they still have enough quality to dig out a result that takes them back to the top of the table before Middlesbrough go into bat on Friday night.

Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system

Birmingham to win the first half - 1pt @ 19/5
Birmingham/Draw (HT/FT) - 0.5pt @ 18/1
Birmingham/Hull (HT/FT) - 0.5pt @ 33/1