QPR to pick up their ninth home win of the season
QPR 2.3411/8 v Coventry 3.45; The Draw 3.412/5
QPR sit 12th in the Championship table, however, based solely on their 2021 form, they should be play-off contenders. Only four sides, including high-flying duo Watford and Norwich, have produced better results since the turn of the year. Mark Warburton's side are 12 points shy of the top six, and although they have a game in hand on the majority of the sides directly above them, they could struggle to break into the play-off picture.
However, the West Londoners have been excellent in recent weeks, and have won three of their last five games heading into the international break. Defender Rob Dickie has praised his side's recent performances and has credited the January additions with sparking some much-needed improvement. Although Charlie Austin and the classy Stefan Johansen will take the majority of the headlines, the form of defender Jordy de Wijs has also helped the R's to tighten up at the back. The new arrivals have also enabled existing players to shine, with left-back Lee Wallace having been voted as the club's March Player of the Month, following a series of consistent and dynamic displays.
When it comes to xG, QPR haven't particularly stood out, however, they've remained fairly consistent across the last eight matches. They've scored seven in their last five, and have managed to avoid defeat in nine of their last 12. The manner of their comeback victory against Millwall on March 17th highlighted the terrific character within the squad, and they managed to follow it up with another creditable display at play-off chasing Reading.
Coventry have won just four times in 2021, and the Sky Blues still aren't clear of relegation trouble. Only four sides have netted fewer goals since the turn of the year than Mark Robins' men, and it's almost a month since they last registered. They are an archetypal home/away side, and are incredibly hard to beat on their own patch. However, they've been hugely disappointing on their travels, and have won just once on the road since mid-December.
They've had problems keeping clean sheets away from home, with just one shutout so far. However, they've managed to keep the opposition off the score-sheet ten times at St.Andews. Goals have also been at a premium recently, with the Warwickshire side having found the net in just three of their last six appearances. Despite this, the much-anticipated return of Matt Godden should help them improve their output over the coming weeks. The 29-year old completed 90 minutes for the under-23s last week and is likely to play some part in this fixture.
Notwithstanding Godden's return, Coventry look set to struggle on the road once again, and they could fall short here. QPR are 2.3411/8 on the Exchange and are worth backing to continue their good run of form.
Bristol City's poor home form to continue
Bristol City 3.711/4 v Stoke 2.265/4; The Draw 3.3512/5
Nigel Pearson's appointment at Ashton Gate has undoubtedly delivered plenty of positivity, however, the experienced manager has yet to correct the Robins' wayward home form. The hosts have now lost six matches in a row at this venue, and were recently beaten by a relegation-threatened Rotherham side, whose preparations for the game had been hampered by COVID-19 restrictions. Their away form has been much better, however, they were easily second best during a recent trip to Ewood Park.
Bristol City sit 14th in the Championship table, and with very little at stake this season, they are already starting to make plans for the 2021-22 campaign. Injury problems have largely been responsible for derailing their play-off hopes, and with a fully-fit squad next year, they will be fancied for a tilt at the top six. The versatile Tommy Rowe is due to return for this fixture, and Tomas Kalas' injury isn't as bad as first feared. Pearson will be forced into a change here, with Callum O'Dowda having picked up a knock, whilst Nathan Baker and Jamie Paterson won't be fit enough to feature across the Easter weekend.
Despite having beaten Birmingham, Swansea and Middlesbrough on their travels since Pearson's arrival, the Robins haven't been ranking well on the xG charts, producing an average of just 0.75 across the last eight matches. They've failed to score in each of their last two outings, and two of their three goals at St.Andrews were handed to them on a plate.
Whilst Bristol City have very little to play for, Friday's opponents Stoke still have faint hopes of gatecrashing the play-offs. Michael O'Neill's side are 10 points shy of sixth placed Reading and they are unbeaten in three of their last four. Their display against Middlesbrough on March 13th was better than the score-line suggested with the Potters firing in 16 shots and hitting the woodwork in the second half.
They arrive here off the back of successive clean sheets, and have managed to keep the opposition off the score-sheet in three of their last four outings. There was very little to say about their recent 1-0 victory over near-neighbours Derby, with the hosts managing to restrict the Rams to half chances. The performances of Nick Powell and Rhys Norrington-Davies were extremely encouraging, whilst Harry Souttar, James Chester and Danny Batth rarely looked troubled.
Stoke's away form has been fairly poor this season, however, they appear to be gathering some momentum at just the right time. With Bristol City lacking penetration, the Staffordshire side's obstinate defence may be the key to enabling the visitors to pick up their first away victory since December 2nd. O'Neill's men can be supported at 2.265/4 on Friday afternoon, and although the 0-0 draw is a possibility, it's worth backing them to inflict yet another home defeat on their out-of-sorts hosts.
Cardiff to give their play-off hopes a significant boost
Cardiff 2.265/4 v Nottingham Forest 3.814/5; The Draw 3.259/4
Cardiff have enjoyed a remarkable upturn in form since the arrival of Mick McCarthy. The affable Yorkshireman has turned the Welsh outfit into genuine play-off contenders, and with several matches against bottom half sides still to be played, they have every chance of finishing in the top six. McCarthy further endeared himself to the fans by masterminding a 1-0 victory over rivals Swansea prior to the international break, and they will be full of confidence heading into this tie.
Under Neil Harris, they were struggling to find the back of net, however, the former Republic of Ireland boss has managed to unlock his side's attacking potential. He's also improved their defensive solidity, and they've managed to keep four clean sheets in their last five outings. Although there has been a slight dip in xG numbers, they are still producing decent performances, and they should be able to keep a shotshy Nottingham Forest side at arm's length.
Keiffer Moore was back on the score-sheet for Wales in midweek and the lofty striker will be hoping to find gaps in the visitor's defence on Friday afternoon. He hasn't scored a Championship goal since the beginning of the month, although he provides a constant threat in the oppositions half.
Nottingham Forest are seven points clear of the relegation zone, although Chris Hughton's side cannot afford to switch off just yet. The Tricky Trees are winless in their last six, although they did pick up a useful point at the Brentford Community Stadium a fortnight ago. Forest haven't scored more than a single goal in a game since February 6th, and they may struggle to find a way past a dogged Cardiff back-line.
They have managed to stay competitive in recent matches, although they still lack some cutting edge. Only Preston have produced a lower xG number across the last eight games and they need to improve their productivity over the next couple of weeks.
Both James Garner and Filip Krovinovic have produced better performances in recent weeks, and Forest will be relying on the dynamic midfield duo to guide them to safety this season.
Cardiff will be buoyed by their recent victory over the Swans, and just a single goal may be enough to win this fixture. They can be backed at 2.265/4 on the Exchange and should be able to continue their upward momentum.
You can follow Jack Critchley on Twitter @jcritch7