Derby v Hull: Don't expect goal feast at the iPro
The second Championship play-off semi-final on Saturday lunchtime is one which Andy Tongue expects to conform the strong recent trends of cagey, low-scoring first-legs...
"What we know about the Rams is that they do struggle to break down teams who defend well and in numbers behind the ball - the home side will have plenty of possession on Saturday no doubt but I'm not sure they can get in behind their opponents."
Derby v Hull
Play-off Semi-Final, First Leg
Saturday 14 May, 12:30
Live on Sky Sports 1
The Rams were beaten 1-0 at home by Ipswich as they ended the regular season in disappointing style, which was compounded by the broken-leg to influential holding midfielder George Thorne, who plays a key role in their preferred 4-3-3 formation. Darren Wassall's side never got going despite playing a full-strength XI but he won't be worried by that as long as they turn up for this one.
On the plus side Will Hughes is back after missing most of the season with an injury of his own, while Bradley Johnson and Jeff Hendrick could also both feature after also missing recent games. Skipper Richard Keogh was hauled off at half-time having picked up a yellow card and been fortunate not to see red for a second rash challenge but will lead his team out here.
In contrast to their opponents, Steve Bruce's side warmed up with a 5-1 thrashing of a Rotherham side, who have been one of the form outfits in the division over the past few months. Following on from the dismal 1-0 defeat at rock-bottom Bolton in their previous outing the victory will have given the Tigers some much-needed momentum going into this two-legged clash.
Bruce played what he said will be a 4-4-1-1 system with very similar personnel to his starting line-up at the iPro with star striker Abel Hernandez netting his 20th goal of the season. His line-up included nine full internationals and just two players under the age of 25 and that experience can only be a plus in the high-pressure environment of the play-offs.
Derby are favoured by the market at [2.64] but not by a huge amount with the visitors [3.15] for the win, just ahead of the draw which is priced at [3.2] - illustrating what a tough market it is to call and put simply I could see each of the three outcomes depending on what happens on the day.
Hull's recent away form is poor - one win, one draw and four defeats - which might be a bit of an angle and Derby did beat them convincingly on both occasions this season but I don't think either is strong enough to recommend a home win here. The two sides just look very evenly-matched - the Tigers finished five points above their opponents in the regular season and are probably a more consistent outfit but on their day County are as good as anybody in the division.
Bruce will set his men up very compactly and what we know about the Rams is that they do struggle to break down teams who defend well and in numbers behind the ball - the home side will have plenty of possession on Saturday no doubt but I'm not sure they can get in behind their opponents so this market is a no bet on this occasion.
Over/Under 1.5 goals
Goals are normally a scarce commodity in the first legs of Championship play-off matches as I highlighted in the preview of Friday's first semi-final between Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton and this is a game I expect to conform to that trend.
This is mainly due to Bruce and his side's defensive capabilities. They conceded just 35 goals in the regular season (the second best record alongside champions Burnley, behind Middlesbrough) and I can't see beyond the Tigers turning up at the iPro intent on defending deep, keeping a clean sheet and backing themselves to get the job done in the second leg.
Interestingly they only scored once in five away games against the other top six sides (in a 1-1 draw at Hillsborough), which suggests that either their approach to games on the road against stronger opposition is pretty negative or they are unable to create enough chances against the better-drilled defences.
The [1.57] about under 2.5 goals is very skinny though so I'm going to take the [2.72] on offer for less than 1.5 goals. As highlighted above Derby can struggle to turn their possession into clear-cut chances in front of their own fans and it could be a frustrating afternoon for them with the visitors' rearguard calling on all their experience and keeping goals to a minimum.
Back under 1.5 goals at [2.72] *best bet
Wagered: 221 pts
Returned: 256.76 pts
P/L: +35.76 pts
*2pt best bet if stated
1pt other recommended bets