Derby offered a fine demonstration of their title credentials with a comfortable win at leaders Hull last weekend. It’s still a tad early to be crowning the Rams as champions-elect but, on the night, they controlled the game from start to finish with a performance that contained a little bit of everything they'll require between now and next May.
Paul Clement’s tactical acumen should not be underestimated. After a sticky start that largely stemmed from an apparent lack of preparation for the role, the former Real Madrid assistant has quickly adapted to the demands of the division. He’s a man of simple perspective but his points when summarising any match are notably salient.
Jacob Butterfield was the major difference at the KC Stadium, scoring both goals, but it’s his midfield co-conspirator Bradley Johnson who tends to be the more viable wager in the goalscorer markets and the former Norwich man might be overcome by an extra desire to make his presence felt in the wake of Butterfield’s heroics.
It’s a feature of Derby’s forward play that shots are generally shared between the front six of their now-standard 4-3-3. Johnson and Butterfield are testing opposition goalkeepers around 2.5 times per game, as frequently as centre forward Chris Martin, and more often than wide men Tom Ince, Johnny Russell and Andreas Wiemann.
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Johnson was suspended for the trip to the KC, so comes into this game fresh on the back of a fortnight break. Yet, with Butterfield now likely to be the focus of extra attention, the senior statesman of the Rams’ engine room might be the one to benefit. He is now without a goal in his last six appearances, his longest barren run over the past 12 months.
During that time, the 28-year-old has netted 15 times in 36 league outings (at this level), seven of them breaking the deadlock and two of them accounting for a 2-0 win over Wednesday with Norwich back in April. So the 11/1 on Johnson netting the first goal and the 4/1 anytime price both look like decent bets. Incidentally, his two strikes this term have been in front of the Sky cameras.
The decision to stray into the goalscorer betting is made easier by the Asian handicap and total goals lines being more or less identical to those jotted down on my own tissue. Under different circumstances, the value might be with the Owls but not on the back of their midweek exertions in the 2-0 Capital One Cup defeat at Stoke.
Carlos Carvalhal made seven changes to his starting line-up at the Britannia and has the options to make a similar number of alterations again, some of which may be enforced. Defenders Tom Lees, Glenn Loovens and Jack Hunt were all substituted in the Potteries, leaving Wednesday with a patched-up backline and a race against time for this game.
That news might tempt some punters to go in lumpy on the visitors and Derby backers can only be encouraged by an excellent head-to-head record over the past decade (W8 D6 L0) but the Owls have performed well in holding Hull and Brighton to stalemates at Hillsborough recently. Therefore, the Johnson bets carry greatest appeal.
For more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system, follow this link.