Middlesbrough’s inability to capitalise on daylight at the top of the Championship should inspire these two to produce a better spectacle than they could manage in the reverse fixture at the iPro Stadium last September. On that occasion, they played out a tedious goalless draw, memorable only for the 10/1 winner we landed in the process.
Had Boro taken care of business over the past two weekends, Burnley and Derby would now be sitting at least a dozen points adrift of the summit. Instead, they can close the gap to five points or four points respectively. In short, the automatic promotion race still feels like any two from five, rather than Boro plus one.
Given that scenario, a draw does neither side any real favours, it merely lets Aitor Karanka’s men off the hook. So we should expect goals at some point, with both keen to seize upon the opportunity presented by Nottingham Forest’s helping hand at the Riverside on Saturday. If we do end up with a stalemate, you suspect it will come as a truce, only after a period where both teams have gone at it hammer and tongs.
In terms of the bare numbers, the market is in total agreement with my ratings: Burnley are slight favourites, their superioty worth roughly 0.1 goals, which is to say Derby would be almost quarter-ball favourites if the game was being played on neutral territory. But somehow that doesn’t feel right and this is one of those occasions where intuition should be permitted to intervene.
Whether you look in long-term retrospect or short-term, Burnley are the more reliable proposition. The Clarets boast a tight-knit squad packed to the brim with Premier League experience, the core of which clinched automatic promotion two seasons ago. And they are best-equipped for this time of year when the schedule is relentless and the games come thick and fast.
Sean Dyche’s men have consistently out-performed their shot data, their 24-match ratio barely above 50 per cent, and they come into this game with confidence high on the back of handsome victories against Charlton (4-0), Bristol City (4-0), MK Dons (5-0) and Brentford (3-1), whereas Derby are beginning to doubt themselves with no win in four league outings.
That sequence had been no cause for alarm until a humbling 3-0 home defeat to Birmingham last time out, which came on the back of a rollocking from Paul Clement following the 1-1 draw with Reading a few days earlier. A reaction was expected but the Rams were lifeless, inviting comparisons with their collapse under Steve McClaren at the end of last season.
You could argue this is the perfect game for them to bounce back but Burnley will be sniffing blood and they aren’t the sort of team to hold back if they perceive any sign of weakness. Take the 13/8 about the Clarets to prevail and, given their tendency to turn the screw in recent weeks, back it up with with a bet on Burnley to clear the -1 handicap at 5/1.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system