Watford v Birmingham
Saturday March 20, 15:00
Watford impress in midweek
Watford manager Xisco Munoz believes his team are still capable of better displays despite a thrilling 4-1 win at Rotherham in midweek that took the Hornets tally to eight wins in nine games. Goals from Francisco Sierralta, Ismaila Sarr and Ken Sema put Munoz's men firmly in the ascendancy before the break, although it wasn't quite as plain-sailing in the second-half.
Daniel Bachmann had to make a penalty save after half-time and Freddie Ladapo reduced the deficit with a stunning strike before Dan Gosling went on to put the outcome beyond doubt. Speaking post-match,Munoz said: "We are building something and, while I was happy with this game and it was an amazing performance, we can still perform better."
A well-stocked squad with a relatively free treatment table has helped Watford's resurgence with Sarr, Kiko Femenia, Will Hughes, Philip Zinckernagel and Nathaniel Chalobah all withdrawn during the midweek match-up. However, Sarr is rated doubtful and will need to be assessed after the winger slumped to the ground moments before departing.
Birmingham begin Bowyer reign with a win
New Birmingham boss Lee Bowyer says his Blues team have shown him they have what it takes to win their fight against relegation. The newly-installed head coach was pleased with his players' effort levels in their 2-1 victory over Reading in what was his first game in charge on Wednesday night at St Andrew's, pushing City six points clear of the drop-zone.
In a game of three headed goals, Lukas Jutkiewicz's early strike gave Birmingham the lead, only for Yakou Meite to equalise at the far post from a right-wing corner. But Blues skipper Harlee Dean muscled home a superb 12-yard match-winning header on 71 minutes to earn City only their fourth home win of the season but capped a perfect start to Bowyer's tenure.
Bowyer said, "It couldn't have gone much better, if I am being really greedy it could have been a clean sheet but it was a really good start. If I didn't think we could stay up then I wouldn't be here." The Blues supremo paired Scott Hogan and Jutkiewicz up front in a 4-4-2 system, implementing a high-pressing system that caused Reading problems.
Watford come into this contest with a commanding recent record over Birmingham. The Hornets have taken top honours in six of their last seven league meetings with the Blues (W6-D1-L0), winning the reverse showdown 1-0 at St Andrew's. The visitors have lost each of their last three trips to Vicarage Road, although the last of which came back in 2015.
Watford 1.564/7 have been one of the division's form sides since Xisco Munoz was brought in. The Hornets have registered W12-D2-L3 to cement their place in the automatic promotion hunt, whilst underlying performance data suggests the hosts have been the division's most dominant and best performing side over their past 16 games, highlighting their threat.
Birmingham 7.206/1 bagged only their ninth Championship triumph this term in midweek as Lee Bowyer's appointment inspired an immediate improvement from the Blues. A rotten W3-D4-L12 spell across 19 games had seen City plummet under the safety-first stewardship of Aitor Karanka. However, the guests only lost five road trips thus far (W5-D8-L5).
Watford have largely refound their defensive resilience of late. The Hornets boast nine shutouts in their past 17 Championship contests, and 13 clean sheets in 25 going further back. That's meant goal-heavy games have been reasonably hard to come by - the hosts have seen Over 2.5 Goals 2.0811/10 land in nine of 26 league encounters since mid-November.
Goals were not commonplace during Aitor Karanka's reign at Birmingham with Blues' encounters featuring just 2.00 goals per-game on average, with that figure dropping to just 1.61 goals per-game when viewing away days. The visitors have fired blanks in 16/37 (43%) of league dates this term, including 8/18 (44%) in games as guests.
There's a hope and expectation that Birmingham will be more attack-minded under Lee Bowyer's watch but ultimately, I'm expecting the hosts to prove too strong. Watford are the Championship's form side right now and backing the Hornets to win alongside Over 1.5 Goals at 1.865/6 looks worthy of consideration via the Same Game Multi.