Gianfranco Zola resigned last week after Birmingham’s 2-0 home defeat to Burton, leaving the Blues on the verge of relegation from the Championship with three games to go. The likeable Italian won just two of twenty-four matches in the Midlands, taking Birmingham from joint 6th on his arrival to 20th by the time of his departure.
Regular readers of this column will know how we have highlighted the poor decision by the Birmingham hierarchy to part company with Gary Rowett earlier in the season, and we’ve made plenty of profit by siding against the Blues in recent weeks. Harry Redknapp is the man tasked with keeping Birmingham in the second tier, and he has just three games to halt the alarming slide down the table. The Blues are still three points above the relegation zone, but the experienced manager has targeted at least four points to ensure survival. He will have to get them from away trips to Aston Villa and Bristol City, and a home game against promotion challengers Huddersfield.
The derby against Villa this weekend is a huge game to start with, but at least the players will need little extra motivation. It may not be the most famous derby in England but it is one of the fiercest, and Villa will relish the opportunity to help send their deadly rivals down a division.
In other big matches at the weekend, Leeds travel to Burton with both teams needing points for different reasons. That win at Birmingham has taken Burton to 48 points and four points clear of the drop zone. Survival would be a huge achievement for the small club, and it is in their hands. Leeds 1-0 home defeat to Wolves last week saw them drop out of the top six for the first time since November, and with just three games to go their play off place is suddenly in doubt. Another ‘top v bottom’ clash sees Reading travel to Nottingham Forest – the former hoping to steal an automatic promotion spot from Newcastle, and the latter desperately trying to stay in the division.
Aston Villa v Birmingham
188Bet are prepared to go a shade of odds-against at +101 about both teams finding the net at Villa Park, and those are odds worth taking.
Harry Redknapp has always been an inspirational ‘man-manager’ type of leader, and that could be just what the Birmingham players need. Remember, this squad was in play off contention under Rowett just a few months ago, and if Redknapp can tap into that potential he could bring the new boss bounce that clubs so often experience after a change of manager. Both teams have scored in each of the last three Midlands derbies, and the Blues have scored in four of their last five games, despite failing to win any of them.
Villa have been patchy since Steve Bruce took charge, and are probably already planning for next season. They’ve managed three and four-game winning runs in 2017, but have been beaten 3-1 the last twice by Reading and Fulham. After a succession of clean sheets, both teams have scored in each of Villa’s last three games, so Birmingham can be confident of finding the net.
Burton Albion v Leeds
The same bet is recommended when Burton host Leeds, with both teams to score a generous -105 with Betfair.
Burton have pulled enough results out of the bag to keep their heads above water, and they are now on the cusp of survival in the Championship. It could even be guaranteed on Saturday if they beat Leeds and Blackburn lose at Wolves. The Brewers home form in recent weeks has been the difference – they’ve gained 11 points from the last seven on home soil (w4 D2 L2) and have scored in each game.
Leeds have been coasting to a play off place since November, but all of a sudden they find themselves 7th with just three games to go. The high of a last-second equaliser against Newcastle was balanced out by the low of a 1-0 loss at home to Wolves, and that allowed Fulham to steal a march into 6th place. Leeds face Burton, Norwich and Wigan in the last three matches, and can only approach them all with three points in mind.
They’ve a fair scoring record on their travels, having scored in seven of the last ten on the road, and both teams to score is a decent bet in what should be an attacking game.
Nottingham Forest v Reading
Finally there could be a touch of value about Reading at +220 with Bet365 to beat Notts Forest.
It’s true that Forest are fighting for their lives, but they’ve failed to score in the last two 1-0 defeats to Cardiff and relegation-rivals Blackburn. Those results have left them just a point ahead of Rovers, who occupy the third relegation spot.
Reading on the other hand, have won five of their last six matches. The Royals are third in the table and six points behind Newcastle. A play off campaign beckons, but the Magpies recent wobble has opened the door for a late charge into the top two. Reading play three relegation battlers in Burton, Wigan and Forest in their remaining fixtures, but it’s not inconceivable that they could win all three.
Although Forest are desperate for points, they are in poor form and come up against one of the form sides in the division. At the odds, reading a worth a squeak.
Aston Villa v Birmingham – Both teams to score
Sunday 23rd April, 12:00 GMT
Burton v Leeds – Both teams to score
Saturday 22nd April, 15:00 GMT
Reading to beat Nottingham Forest
Saturday 22nd April, 15:00 GMT