Nottingham Forest v Middlesbrough
Saturday 19 September, 12:30
Live on Sky Sports 5
Dougie Freedman's men have turned their season around in the space of four days, winning on the road at both QPR and Birmingham in the past week. The Tricky Trees put in their best performance of the season coming from a goal down to win 2-1 at QPR in front of cameras last Saturday and then followed it up with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at St. Andrews on Tuesday, despite five changes to their starting line-up, inflicting their hosts' first defeat of the campaign in the process.
Perversely, star man Michail Antonio departing to West Ham for £7m may well have proved to be a blessing in disguise. Without him Forest have had to alter their tactics which, in the continued absence of the Andy Reid, seemed to consist solely of long balls over the top for Antonio to run onto. Chris O'Grady, on-loan from Brighton, won't score many going by the game at Loftus Road - he spent most of the 90 minutes with his back to goal - but he was MOTM with his hold-up play and lay-offs and could well prove his doubters, myself included, wrong.
It's three league wins on the spin now for Boro who are up to second and starting to get some real momentum with that frustrating home defeat at the hands of Bristol City remaining the only blot on their copybook this season. Christian Stuani grabbed a double in the 3-1 win over Brentford on Tuesday night, taking his tally for the season to seven (four of them in the Capital One Cup admittedly). Four days earlier, their patience was eventually rewarded as Stewart Downing and fellow big-name signing David Nugent scored second-half goals to down MK Dons at the Riverside.
Playing away from home should suit Aitor Karanka's outfit as sides will attack a bit more and give the Teesiders the chance to counter-attack and enjoy a bit more space in their opponents' half. Boro had the best defence in the Championship last season and once again they have conceded the fewest goals so far this season - just four in their seven league matches.
Boro's impressive run means they are 2.0621/20 to make it four wins on the spin here, while Forest can be backed at a juicy 4.03/1 for a third consecutive win of their own and the draw is priced at 3.613/5. While the visitors are justifiably now clear favourites in the Championship winner market and can't be backed at any better than 3.39/4 to lift the trophy next May, I'm wary of siding with them here.
Seven days ago, an away win would have been the call but Boro now face a side who will be bouncing after those two wins and have the home crowd right behind them. With those five changes to a winning side, Freedman clearly isn't afraid to utilise his squad and freshen things up, which will keep his squad on their toes and keen to impress - that should lead to another much improved performance here. Karanka's men were held to draws in their first two away fixtures, at Preston and Derby, and my hunch is that they might have to settle for another point here.
Over/Under 2.5 goals
Unders is fancied by the market here at 1.855/6 with over 2.5 goals available to back at 2.111/10. That's probably about right and I can't see too much value in siding with either option so I'm delving into one of the side markets for my second bet at the City Ground.
Four of Forest's last five games have been goalless at half-time, while we know their opponents have the best defensive record in the division. Added to the fact that these early Saturday kick-offs often take a little while to come to the boil then I'm happy to take the 2.6813/8 available about 0-0 in the Half-Time Score market.
Back The Draw at 3.613/5
Back 0-0 in the Half-Time Score market at 2.6813/8
You can read my previews of all the live Championship games here along with Mike Norman's Saturday 3pm tipsheets