Fine margin suits McLeish
Everyone seems to have an opinion about Alex McLeish at the moment and few of them are very positive but that might be good news for value-seeking punters and this might be the right time to side with his Aston Villa team.
The brand of football produced by the former Scotland boss isn't everyone's cup of tea and it's true that recent televised performances against Tottenham and Manchester United have been limp to say the least but we see enough in Villa's record against the also-rans to keep them onside for the trip to Bolton on Saturday.
Only the top three have beaten a full strength Villa so far this season - their other defeat, at home to West Brom, only came about after Chris Herd's absurd red card for tangling with Jonas Olsson at a set piece - and though victories have been few and far between, we think there's some serious value to be had in boxing clever with bets on the draw and Aston Villa to win by a one goal margin.
We've made the point already this season about the disproportionate ratio of wins that McLeish achieves by the odd goal and though he's only managed it once since crossing the second-city divide in the summer, another slender triumph could be in the offing against a Bolton side that has tasted defeat in 11 out of 14 matches.
There's a case for saying Wanderers' early season record was skewed by some tough home fixtures in the first couple of months on the back of Owen Coyle's late trolley dash in the August transfer window but we're in December now with the halfway point in sight.
And the time has arrived where we should accept that Bolton are probably going to be embroiled in a relegation battle for most, if not all of the campaign. Home defeats against Norwich, Sunderland and Everton mean there's little ethusiasm to be found in odds of 8/5 about the Trotters.
Meanwhile, Norwich paid the price for being open and expansive against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium last weekend but we don't expect Paul Lambert to compromise his attacking principles against Newcastle and there's value in the 10/11 about over 2.5 goals at Carrow Road.
The Canaries have landed this bet in nine out of 14 matches since winning promotion from the Championship, including each of the last five on home soil, but in truth it could so easily have been landed in every game.
We might have been a little apprehensive about the Magpies in this market earlier in the season when Alan Pardew was setting his troops up to contain the opposition in matches against Sunderland, QPR and Aston Villa but confidence has soared on the back of a positive start and insight into how they might approach this game can be gained by recalling how they were 2-0 ahead at the break in recent away games at Wolves and Stoke.
Finally, the Liberty Stadium has been the source of some decent profits so far this season and we can't resist going back to the well with a bet on Swansea to keep a clean sheet at 2/1 against Fulham.
The Jacks have shut out five of the seven teams who have visited so far and that statistic is only accentuated by the knowledge that a bizarre Danny Graham own goal and the predatory instincts of Javier Hernandez accounts for the only two occasions when Michel Vorm has been beaten.
So the Swans look value when you consider that Fulham have been unable to find the net on trips Wolves, West Brom, Stoke and Sunderland, although we shouldn't dismiss the visitors chances of taking something from the game.
The Cottagers have become quite a pragmatic outfit under Martin Jol and they might see some mileage in turning this into an elaborate game of cat and mouse by allowing Swansea plenty of possession in their own half and getting bodies behind the ball.
Similar tactics have allowed Wigan, Sunderland and Aston Villa to snatch a point and, with that in mind, we also like the look of the standout 17/2 quote that SkyBet have put up about no goalscorer.
With Fulham facing up to a decisive final group game in the Europa League against Odense on Wednesday, sharing the spoils in a low-key affair against Brendan Rodgers' men might well suit them.
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