Brighton look the value call in Saturday's 'winner takes all' clash with Middlesbrough.
Man City v Luton in 1983, Liverpool v Arsenal in 1989, Hereford v Brighton in 1997, Sheffield United v Wigan in 2007, Brentford v Doncaster in 2013. For the past week or so, I’ve been racking my brains trying to think of all the do-or-die, winner-takes-all, final day encounters between two direct rivals that have occurred in my lifetime. And they virtually all follow a particular theme.
In each of the above examples, the away team has prevailed, getting the result they needed at the expense of the home team. In each instance, the pressure of carrying such a heavy weight of expectation proved too much for the hosts. And what’s more, the pressure invariably took its toll late on. In the first half, almost nothing happened.
With that and other recent factors in mind, take the 27/10 available on Brighton to secure automatic promotion with victory and speculate on them leaving it late with a supplementary wager on the Draw/Brighton half-time/full-time outcome at 15/2. Those famous wins for Luton, Arsenal and Doncaster were all landed in this manner.
Right now, it’s easy to believe that fate is with Middlesbrough. Having failed to beat Birmingham last time out, they were handed a reprieve when Brighton missed their chance to leapfrog by dropping points at home to Derby. Aitor Karanka’s men also come into this game on the back of eight days rest, whereas the turnaround for the Seagulls is just five days.
But time to prepare is time to think, and too much thinking isn’t what you want in this scenario, especially not with a team and fanbase as emotionally-charged as Boro’s. The Teessiders have been riding the highs and lows of this promotion race as though they were making a blockbuster movie, whereas Burnley and Brighton have gone out of their way to remain level-headed.
The hosts have some real quality, undoubtedly, and there’s a couple of key stats you should be aware of before taking any plunge on the visitors: Boro have the best home record in the division, winning 16 out of 22 matches, and they’ve conceded only seven goals at the Riverside, which equates to one every 282 minutes.
And it’s also worth pointing out that Karanka, for all of his questionable man-management calls over the past 18 months, is playing this one by the book, putting himself in a position of authority by drawing direct comparisons with last season and playing the role of convincer. For him, this is simply another play-off final but with home advantage and with the draw onside.
Karanka insists the players are better than they were last season, and stronger mentally. The proof of the pudding won’t be in the first 30 minutes when the atmosphere is going to be electric, but in the final 30 minutes when the anticipation turns to tension if Brighton are still in the game. If you’re looking for a correct score punt, look no further than Brighton to win 1-0 at 10/1.
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