Birmingham v Derby
Friday 21 August
Live on Sky Sports 5
Having spent just £170,000 this summer, to Groningen for midfielder Maikel Kieftenbeld and being among many pundits' predictions for relegation material, Gary Rowett will be delighted with his men's start to the season, following up the opening day victory over Reading with an unexpectedly (well to me anyway) entertaining 2-2 draw at Burnley in front of the cameras last Saturday, where they convincingly outplayed the home side for the first 45 minutes - solid in defence and dangerous on the counter-attack.
Spanish midfielder Jon Toral, on loan from Arsenal, netted in both games and looks set for another successful season after impressing during last season on loan at Brentford. In a division where there's little to choose between a lot of the sides, goals from midfield are a priceless asset and he's bringing that to the Blues at the moment. They didn't play in midweek as they agreed to Brentford's request to postpone their game until the end of September due to the terrible state of the pitch at Griffin Park to allow the Bees to relay it.
In contrast to their opponents, the Rams, one of the pre-season favourites for promotion, have made a slower start with a trio of draws against Bolton, Charlton and Middlesbrough and a Capital One Cup exit at the hands of Portsmouth. New manager Paul Clement will feel his men were unlucky not to have picked up all three points at home to the Londoners but they needed a late equaliser against Boro to earn the point at the iPro Stadium on Tuesday night.
His side have looked more solid in defence, though, with Jason Shackell back from Burnley to partner Richard Keogh. A leaky rearguard was the main reason for the Rams falling out of the play-off race last season - the only sides they kept clean sheets against in the final three months were the hapless relegated duo Wigan and Blackpool. Injuries have already made life difficult this season with young star Will Hughes out until next year and fellow midfielders Jamie Hanson and Jeff Hendrick both forced off in midweek.
With a new man at the helm the Rams, who the market has priced up at 2.526/4, are not surprisingly taking a little time to gel but I expect them to come on strong in the second-half of the season once Clement has had the chance to get his talented squad playing the way he wants. Now is a good time to face them, though, and Birmingham, priced at 3.052/1 here, have started the season a lot more impressively than some observers anticipated. The draw is available to back at 3.45.
I certainly wouldn't put anyone off backing the draw as there have been plenty around in the opening three sets of Championship fixtures which backs up our theory that a lot of the sides are pretty evenly-matched and I expect to be putting my money on a point apiece on quite a few occasions over the coming months.
In this one though, and with confidence high and the benefit of a week's rest, while Derby had that tough midweek game with Boro, I want the Blues onside so will look at the draw no bet market where they can be backed at 2.166/5. As highlighted here, the Rams have now gone six games without a win and drifted to 9.28/1 in the title market.
Over/Under 2.5 goals
Each of the Rams' three games have been unders so far and with Clement's cautious approach and the injuries which have decimated his midfield I can't see his side taking a particularly gung-ho attitude here. As mentioned above, the Blues game at Burnley was far more entertaining than I'd expected but I don't think Rowett's side will be able to employ the same counter-attacking tactics here and I'll be surprised if this match was open, given the visitors defence has looked solid and it's going forward they have lacked fluency and potency.
Despite having Chris Martin, Darren Bent and Andreas Weimann among the cards he can play, Clement clearly hasn't yet worked out his first-choice frontline. Unders is available at 1.855/6 which is slightly better than I'd expected and looks the value here as opposed to overs at 2.0621/20 so I'm going to be backing a low-scoring affair as my second recommended bet.
Back Birmingham draw no bet at 2.166/5
Back under 2.5 goals at 1.8810/11
You can read my previews of all the live Championship games here along with Mike Norman's Saturday 3pm tipsheets