Brentford are still making all the right noises about targeting the play-offs this season but their business over the past few weeks tells an altogether different story. The gap between them and the top six - currently eight points - is highly unlikely to be any shorter come the end of the season.
The Bees waved goodbye to James Tarkowski, Toumani Diagouraga and Jota during the January transfer window, subsequently admitting that the money generated by those departures won’t be reinvested until the summer. It’s been a disappointing season and owner Matthew Benham seems all but ready to write it off.
The next three months are mainly an opportunity for new boss Dean Smith to take stock and hit the ground running next term. There was a brief belief that Brentford could get back into contention, finishing 2015 with a run of 14 matches that yielded two points per game, but four straight defeats at the start of 2016 poured cold water on that optimism.
So we should probably take the shorter yardstick of any statistical input with a pinch of salt. My two sets of ratings deliver contrasting conclusions. Based on shot data accumulated over the past 24 matches, Brighton look a solid bet at evens or better, which is evidently more reliable than a 16-match sample that flags up the Bees as the better wager.
Our position of maximum opportunity, though, can be gleaned from two simple stats that both support each other: 1) Brentford’s record against the nine teams currently above them in the table reads W0 D2 L10 (including five defeats out of five on the road), and 2) all 12 of Brighton’s wins this season have been achieved by a one-goal margin.
Therefore, a bet on the home side to prevail by the odd goal at 3/1 with Stan James should require little further explanation. The Seagulls tend to dominate games but are promising rather than prolific in the final third and it’s never been in Chris Hughton’s nature to throw bodies forward when sitting on a lead.
The transfer window was a bit of an anti-climax for the Seagulls too, but they did at least add to their squad rather than take away, with Liam Ridgewell and Anthony Knockaert notable additions to plug the gaps left by injuries to Gordon Greer and Solly March.
But hopes were high that an archetypal No.9 would arrive at the Amex to take the strain off Bobby Zamora, who is struggling to keep up with the pace of the division. At 35, about an hour of playing time a week is about his limit, providing Hughton with another excuse to apply the handbrake when his team are ahead.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system