The first 16 rounds of the Championship season have taught us nothing new about Middlesbrough. Aitor Karanka’s men are formidably efficient against the also-rans of the division but when it comes to the crunch games against the heavyweights, they invariably come up short. A 3-0 defeat at Hull last time out was the latest chastening experience.
Their success or failure in all scenarios is heavily dependent on the first goal, which is now almost reaching the point of self-parody. Since the beginning of last season, Boro have broken the deadlock 37 times and taken maximum points in 32 of them. On the 18 occasions when they’ve fallen behind, they’ve lost 14. Combine the two records, and first goal wins 84 per cent of the time.
Karanka has been mindful of the trend for some time, yet appears to be doing little to change it. There’s little evidence of improvement when the situation dictates that Boro throw caution to the wind. Last season, they mustered just four equalisers across 678 trailing minutes. This season, they’ve drawn level just once in 289 trailing minutes. Combined, equalisers arrive at a rate of one every three hours and 13 minutes.
So Karanka’s answer to the problem, it seems, isn’t to work on patterns of play that enable Boro to fight back better, rather to increase their efforts strike first more often, although it’s hard to imagine how much they might improve on breaking the deadlock in 67 per cent of games that aren't goalless. Either way, it’s a mindset that can lend itself to low-scoring outcomes and there’s value to be found in backing under 1.5 goals here.
My 16-match ratings produce a total goals expectancy of 2.27, compared with a market line of around 2.46, and that converts into odds of 3.05 about the under 1.5 bet, which is much shorter than the 13/5 available at Bet Victor. And it says nothing for QPR’s improvement defensively since their televised 4-0 drubbing at Fulham two months ago.
In seven subsequent outings, Rob Green has been called into action just 19 times - about once every 33 minutes - and the Hoops head to the Riverside having conceded just two goals in their last five outings. It’s a developing trend unabashed by recent managerial upheaval. The run started under Chris Ramsey and has continued under Neil Warnock with the latter ‘advising’ the former for much of the period in between.
Warnock isn’t generally considered to be much of a tactical mastermind but clean sheets come in all shapes and sizes, and his up-and-at-em brand of motivation can be just as conducive to low-scoring outcomes. So don’t be afraid to back up the main wager with an additional interest on ‘no goalscorer’ at 10/1.
In Warnock’s last managerial post at Championship level, he tightened up a Leeds United side that was shipping goals for fun, delivering 0-0, 0-1 and 0-0 correct scores in his first three matches, while his first game in charge of the R’s a fortnight ago was also a goalless draw against Preston.
Holding out for a 0-0 at the Riverside won’t be easy, but it’s not much of a stretch from narrow 1-0 defeats in the last two away games at Brentford and Derby, even more so when you consider that Middlesbrough might be slightly more conscious about the importance of that first goal given how their shortcomings were laid bare at the KC Stadium.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.