Birmingham v Sheffield Wednesday
Saturday 17 September, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports 1
Having suffered a deserved 3-1 defeat at home to Wolves nearly a month ago, the knives were out for Birmingham boss Gary Rowett. Claims were made around St Andrew's that Blues had stagnated, been found out and were on their way to a campaign of regression under Rowett's watch.
Birmingham had hardly been suffering - City had W1-D2-L1 in their opening four, including that Wolves loss - but bounced back in spectacular fashion, dispatching recently-relegated Norwich 3-0 in front of their home fans with a impressively dominant display.
Blues have since pressed Fulham into submission to pick up a 1-0 success at Craven Cottage before enjoying the better opportunities in a goalless game at Reading in midweek. Across those two fixtures Rowett's men have enjoyed an average of just 32.5% possession but won the shot count in both fixtures by a total 39-22.
Birmingham's desire to press high up the pitch takes a lot out of them and Rowett rested Clayton Donaldson and Jacques Maghoma at the Madjeski but both are expected to return here whilst Ryan Shotton and Michael Morrison's centre-back partnership should continue to flourish.
Sheffield Wednesday came from two goals down to see off Bristol City 3-2 in a thrilling Tuesday night clash. The three points ensured the Owls collected their first back-to-back league victories of the season and move back into the top-half.
Sam Hutchinson saw red in midweek and will now be suspended for Saturday - club captain and centre-half Glenn Loovens is in the frame to make his first competitive start of the season. Head coach Carlos Carvalhal will also be without left-back Daniel Pudil, meaning two of the visitors' first-choice back-four is absent.
Last season's top goalscorer Fernando Forestieri was left on the bench against the Robins and there was a first Hillsborough start for David Jones and a full home debut to club-record signing Adam Reach. Carvalhal clearly has plenty of options available bar the problematic left-back position.
The midweek win represented the first time in 13 years that Wednesday came from two goals behind in a league game, demonstrating the mental toughness around the club, but sloppy defensive errors continue to frustrate with the guests shipping nine goals in their past five outings.
Gary Rowett's worked wonders at St Andrew's since taking over from Lee Clark. The Blues have returned W33-D28-L24 - an average of 1.49 points-per-game that would have the club conclude a campaign with 69 points over a full season.
When welcoming league opposition, City have W19-D11-L12 - an average of 1.62 points-per-game - and suffered just a solitary loss in 11 games as hosts when including the back end of 2015/16.
But with poor performance data, the layers are uninterested in Birmingham and the hosts can be backed at odds as big as 2.982/1 here.
Visitors Sheffield Wednesday are 2.747/4 favourites but haven't tasted success in eight matches on their travels and their W6-D11-L9 return in away fixtures under Carvalhal leaves a lot to be desired - seven of those nine defeats came at clubs outside of the top-six.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
Birmingham have seen the Over 2.5 Goals barrier beaten in seven of their past eight at St Andrew's but the hosts have now kept three consecutive clean sheets and will enjoy the opportunity to return to their preferred approach; sit back, soak up pressure and wait for the home team to overcommit.
Sheffield Wednesday don't tend to be quite as eye-catching in the goals markets when outside of Hillsborough and interestingly, the two managers have both returned a 50% success rate in their home/away league games for winning Over 2.5 Goals selections. With that in mind, it's a market I'll leave alone.
Birmingham To Start Fast
The Blues have broken the deadlock in 12 of their past 16 Championship outings as hosts and last season City opened the scoring against eight of the nine teams who ultimately finished above them in the standings.
In fact, across the 42 fixtures that Rowett has presided over at St Andrew's, Birmingham have scored first in 25 (60%) with their opponents grabbing the first goal on just 13 (31%) occasions.
Wednesday have fallen behind in each of their last five Championship matches, as well as in 11 of their last 19 games as guests. Overall, the Owls have shipped the opener in 12/26 (46%) of their away days under Carvalhal so I'll happily back a repeat at 2.1011/10 with Betfair Sportsbook.
The intriguing trends and evidence above also leads me on to two other pro-Birmingham bets - the 3.309/4 for the Blues to lead at half-time has proven profitable in 18/42 (43%) of games at home under Rowett whilst the Birmingham/Birmingham half-time/full-time selection is 5.204/1 having paid out in 13/42 (31%) of the same sample; all three selections representing outstanding value options on the Exchange.
Back Birmingham to score the first goal @ 2.111/10 (Betfair Sportsbook)
Back Birmingham to lead at half-time @ 3.39/4
Back Birmingham/Birmingham @ 5.24/1