Since losing Kenwyne Jones to Bournemouth at the start of the January transfer window, Cardiff have had to reinvent themselves and it’s to Russell Slade’s credit that they underwent a mini-revival with impressive three-goal victories away at Wolves and Huddersfield, either side of a 2-2 draw with Rotherham.
Subsequent goalless draws against MK Dons and Charlton have tempered the enthusiasm slightly but such wars of attrition might only serve as an ideal learning curve for a game against a disciplined Brighton side who might be feeling the effects of retaining focus for the full 90 minutes in a goalless draw at leaders Hull in midweek.
Chris Hughton’s men know their system and they aren’t liable to give away too many freebies but the information advantage, as well as the rest advantage, is probably with Slade, who has shuffled his pack in recent weeks by pushing Anthony Pilkington forward into central role.
The former Norwich winger was initially operating in the hole behind Joe Mason in a 4-4-1-1 but has recently been pushed on to the shoulder of the last man, playing alongside Leicester loanee Tom Lawrence in a more familiar 4-4-2. Yet the layers seem slow to cotton on to this and there’s some cracking value to be had in backing the former Norwich winger to score anytime at 5/1.
Pilkington was on the scoresheet twice against Rotherham a month ago and unlikely though it feels for this to be a particularly high-scoring game at the outset, it would also be rude of us not to take Bet365 up on their standout 50/1 quote about the 27-year-old Republic of Ireland international scoring two or more.
In terms of outcome of the game itself, it’s hard to look beyond the stalemate. These two sides have drawn no fewer than 25 of their 61 matches combined, implying odds of shorter than 6/4 about this ending all-square. And when you combine their respective home and away records, you end up with an odds-on sample of 17 draws out of 32.
Brighton’s record of conceding the first goal only seven times in 31 matches makes them comfortably the best deadlock team in the division but the Bluebirds can give them a good run for their money here, especially in the Welsh capital. They’ve conceded just three goals in the opening half-hour of their 34 matches this season and just three first-half goals in 17 matches on home soil, only once going in behind at the break.
Holding on to leads is another matter for both sides, though. Brighton have conceded 17 equalisers this season, two of them last weekend in a 3-2 home win over bottom club Bolton, while two-goal leads haven’t been enough for Cardiff in home games against Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday and Brentford in recent months, all of whom came back to level-up at 2-2.
So if and when that deadlock is broken, the potential exists for this to open up into an entertaining encounter with plenty of goalmouth action. Let’s pray for an early goal then. And if Pilkington gets it, we can be forgiven for getting just a little giddy at the prospect of a jackpot payout, safe in the knowledge that a profit has already been banked.
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