Only three weeks ago, the Cottagers were tearing apart their west London rivals QPR in front of the television cameras. They raced into a 3-0 lead after barely half-an-hour, which followed on from early 2-0 leads established within 16 minutes at Rotherham and 30 minutes against Blackburn. These fast starts are relevant because matches involving Middlesbrough have a remarkable tendency to hinge on what transpires early doors.
Since the beginning of last season, Boro have featured in 17 matches that produced a goal inside the opening 10 minutes and all 17 have been won by the team who broke the deadlock. Fulham’s opening goals in the three matches listed above were timed at seven minutes, four minutes and two minutes respectively.
So it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Fulham could emulate Bristol City and Reading, both of whom seized control early doors and held firm thereafter. Given the numbers, there’s also some value to be had in the Fulham/Fulham half-time/full-time outcome at 11/1 with Coral. With Albert Adomah and Christian Stuani fatigued by long-haul trips back across the Atlantic, Boro might not be at their best.
Dropping down into League One, something isn’t quite right at Bradford and they could provide easy pickings for Darren Ferguson to pick up his first win as Doncaster manager - assuming, of course, the formalities of that appointment are completed on Friday. Either way, Rovers are unbeaten in 12 matches at the Keepmoat (W3 D9) and they deserve to be chanced at 2/1 or better.
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy isn’t a competition to be hanging your hat on as compelling evidence of a team in crisis but the Bantams had everything in their favour ahead of Tuesday’s second-round tie against Barnsley, yet they slipped to defeat with another lacklustre display in a season falling way short of expectations.
On recent observations, Phil Parkinson looks like a manager who has taken his eye off the ball. Whether it’s got anything to do with the proposed Gianni Paladini takeover that undermined his position in the summer or the move to Sheffield United that never happened, we can only speculate. But Parkinson seems distracted and his team are lacking their usual tenacity.
Meanwhile, things haven’t gone according to plan for Cambridge this season but their problems are small fry compared to those of local rivals Northampton and the contrast can provide the U’s with a sense of perspective that enables them to overcome the suspension of skipper Mark Roberts and land a morale-boosting win against the Cobblers at 2/1.
Only a week ago, Richard Money went into meltdown as he watched his team crumble in an acrimonious encounter against a streetwise Portsmouth outfit. Cambridge were 1-0 up against Pompey, having just delivered their best 45 minutes of the season, but lost Roberts to a red card in a half-time fracas and fell apart at the seams in the second period, eventually going down 3-1.
It was the third time in seven outings that a promising performance had been undermined by a dismissal, now the emphasis ought to be on keeping heads cool. If the big-budget U’s can just turn their emotions down a notch, they should easily have the beating of an over-rated Cobblers team reeling from the news of a collapsed takeover and a winding-up petition from HMRC.
Finally, take the 7/4 available on under-rated Mansfield beating Bristol Rovers at Field Mill. The fourth-placed Stags head into the game on the back of three wins, netting nine goals in the process, and manager Adam Murray is adamant his troops haven’t hit top gear yet.
By making this an each-of-two encounter, the market appears to be anticipating a plunge on the Pirates as a result of the smart money that backed them into shorter prices ahead of recent wins at Hartlepool and Morecambe but most of the early variance in their shot data has now been accounted for in those two matches.
However, with a quarter of the season gone, Mansfield boast the better shot ratio and have an extra six points on the board, so don’t be surprised if the same big-hitters who were backing Darrell Clarke’s men with such gusto a few weeks back now switch sides and turn against the Gasheads here.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.