Mike Holden previews tonight's Championship clash between Leeds and Middlesbrough.
Jordan Rhodes achieved inside 22 minutes at stadium:mk last Tuesday what Middlesbrough had been unable to do for an hour before his arrival as a substitute, something they had managed only six times in over 1,000 trailing minutes since the start of last season. He scored an equaliser. That’s what £9m gets you: out of jail a bit more often.
But the fact remains that Boro created very little against a mediocre MK Dons side prior to Rhodes’ intervention. And his purchase only indicates that Aitor Karanka has no intention of changing the way Boro play, he just wants to feed on a few more scraps because that alone could be the difference in clinching automatic promotion at the end of the season.
So let’s not be under the illusion that anything significant has changed at the Riverside. The Rhodes moment might have lifted spirits and injected a fresh burst of belief but Middlesbrough are still going to adopt a cautious approach and still going to struggle to win games whenever they fall behind.
When they faced Leeds on Teesside back in September, Uwe Rosler was still the United manager and Boro were ahead inside three minutes, so the remaining 87 minutes amounted to a stroll in the park. Rosler wanted his Leeds team to be solid and tactically astute but he never quite managed it and the defeat at Boro was the first of three on the spin that cost him his job.
But the German evidently put in place some solid foundations because his successor Steve Evans is hardly renowned for a defensive mindset, yet my 16-match ratings currently have Leeds operating on the second-lowest total expected goals figure in the league, level with Middlesbrough no less.
The total goals line for tonight’s game is set at around 2.06 but my ratings have it even shorter at 1.74. For whatever reason, markets invariably drop to around two goals and then go no further because doing so goes against most intuitions, meaning a good shot-based ratings system can hoover up small but consistent profits on games that fall below this figure.
Just because the occasional game produces a hatful of goals, bumps up the overall average and makes you look silly, it doesn’t make a strategy any less profitable in the long run and that could easily be the pitfall here. If Boro score first, and score early, we’re probably going to be out of pocket before half time.
But if Leeds concede as few shots as they have, on average, throughout Evans’ tenure, then there’s some decent value to be had in specific low-scoring outcomes. Take the 13/8 available on under 1.5 goals, a bet that has copped in five out of Leeds’ last eight home games, and back it up with correct score pick of Leeds to win 1-0 at 17/2.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system