League leaders Cardiff travel to Birmingham on Friday night looking to extend their advantage at the top of the Championship. Mark O'Haire previews the encounter...
"Cardiff have already won three won three more league matches in 2017 (18) than they managed in the entirety of 2016 (15)"
Birmingham v Cardiff
Friday 13th October, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
Steve Cotterill takes charge of his first game as Birmingham manager having watched from the stands as the Blues were stuffed 6-1 at Hull in their first outing following the sacking of Harry Redknapp. The result left the Brummies in the relegation zone with seven defeats from eleven.
Birmingham appeared lethargic and jaded during their drubbing on Humberside but there's renewed hope around St Andrew's that Cotterill's appointment and last week's mini-pre-season will at least produce a more conditioned performance from the under-performing outfit.
As well as solidifying a defence that's averaging 1.73 goals per-game against, the new man in the dugout must also address Birmingham's shot-shy attack. Only Sunderland (0.77), Burton (0.56) and Bolton (0.50) are averaging a worse xG return from open play than the Brummies' paltry 0.81 this term.
Few pundits forecast ante-post 30/1 shots Cardiff making such a strong start to their Championship campaign under Neil Warnock. However, the Bluebirds are flying high at the top of the table following a superb W7-D3-L1 return from a devilishly difficult set of fixtures.
The capital club have already faced seven of the current top-half and although the visitors were held to a goalless draw at Derby before the international break, Cardiff have already won three won three more league matches in 2017 (18) than they managed in the entirety of 2016 (15).
Warnock's now been in charge of 46 Championship fixtures with the Bluebirds and their W22-D12-L12 results give the guests a 1.70 points per-game average, figures that would put the Welsh club right on course for a top-six finish.
Cardiff [2.26] have claimed W4-D6-L1 in their last 11 meetings with Birmingham but have claimed only two away triumphs in 27 trips to St Andrew's. Even so, the Bluebirds have W3-D1-L0 in four encounters with the current bottom-half dwellers and boast a terrific 60% xG ratio return from open play.
Birmingham [3.40] boast a paltry 37% ratio in the same measurement, as well as negative supremacy figures across all of the major performance data metrics. Cotterill's arrival should shake-up the Blues but I wouldn't be keen to invest financial faith in the home side here.
Cardiff are facing the third fewest shots in the division, have conceded more than a solitary strike just once this term and can call upon a solid W8-D6-L8 road record under Warnock's watch, making them a decent value option on Friday.
Both Teams To Score
For all of Birmingham's woes, the Blues have netted in each of their last four on home soil, as well as in 12 of their last 14 fixtures when welcoming top-six sides dating back to 2015/16. Indeed, eight of the Brummies' most recent 11 showdowns with top-six clubs at St Andrew's have delivered Over 2.5 Goals.
Despite Cardiff's genuine claims for a top-two berth at this stage of the season, the Bluebirds' clean sheet at Derby last time out was their first in eight outings. With key midfielder Aron Gunnarsson a doubt following Iceland's over exuberant celebrations, backing Both Teams To Score could appeal at [8/11].
No Championship club average a higher xG goals average from dead-ball situations than Cardiff's 0.75 per-game. Unsurprisingly, five (29%) of their 17-goal tally have arrived via headers with three from set-pieces.
Two of those three goals were scored by centre-half Sol Bamba. The Ivory Coast international is averaging 0.80 efforts at goal per-game and looks well worth a small interest at 11/1 to grab a goal in Friday night's fixture.