Gary Rowett’s men are the headline selection from Mike Holden's weekend Football League tips.
Bristol City v Birmingham
An ideal world, this would have been a straight match-up in November or December with Rowett’s tactical prowess unhinging the predictable 3-5-2 system that was prevalant under Steve Cotterill. However, Cotterill has been shown the door and John Pemberton has mixed it up over the past fortnight, playing variations of a 4-5-1 formation.
The January transfer window also adds another layer of uncertainty with Lee Tomlin, Alex Pearce, Scott Golbourne and Ben Gladwin all notable additions at Ashton Gate but Blues haven’t done bad themselves in snapping up Ryan Shotton and Diego Fabbrini and you’d back Rowett to second-guess how the new faces might alter the pattern for the hosts.
Ultimately, we should put our faith in the stats. Birmingham’s shot ratio might only be 50 per cent, which is hardly top-six material, but a study of managerial influence that I conducted earlier this week showed the Rowett effect to be worth around 0.25 points per game to the Midlands outfit.
It’s also worth noting that Blues have played all of the top six away, which means that all of their remaining nine away matches are against opposition currently below them in the table and there’s nothing they love more than putting the ball in the court of inferior opposition and picking them off on the counter.
In seven away matches played against opposition outside of the promotion picture, Birmingham have won five and drawn two - and four of those five wins were achieved with a clean sheet, so let’s supplement our main investment with a bet on Birmingham to win to nil at 4/1, not forgetting that only a fortnight ago Blues were comfortable 3-0 winners away at Derby.
Wigan v Port Vale
Goals change games, as the old cliche goes, and this is essentially a match between a home team who like to play with the handbrake on, against an away side that prides itself on being a tough nut to crack. No fewer than eight of Vale’s away games have been goalless after 60 minutes this term.
The Valiants have scored only one away goal in seven attempts against top-half opposition this term but six of those games have finished under 2.5 goals with four of them 0-1 defeats. And when you combine that with Wigan’s record of seven out of 14 home games going under 1.5 goals, the value in the standout quote with Bet Victor should be plain for all to see.