More bogey rewards for Bluebirds
With promotion now the sole focus for many Championship sides, Mike Holden believes there is value in backing promotion-chasing Cardiff and Hull to pick up away wins this weekend...
The lure of the Premier League now looms that little bit larger for teams chasing automatic promotion and we see nothing to prevent the Championship's main contenders picking up maximum points on the road this weekend.
When a club is locked in pursuit of the £120m dream, February sounds so much better than January. Suddenly, the prize on the distant horizon grows big enough to be detectable, but not so big as to test your nerve and potentially trigger a bout of the jitters. That comes later.
Invariably, you've dispensed with your FA Cup responsibilties - who really cares how embarrassing the manner? - and motivation for the bread and butter comes easily. The win ratio of promoted teams in the weeks after fourth round weekend tells its own story.
Over the past three seasons, teams occupying the top three places at the start of February have won over 60 per cent of their matches that month. It's not a massive increase on the overall average, but it's significant nonetheless. The top three at this points tends to be the top three for keeps. Only the order changes.
All of which prepares the ground for our selections on Saturday and we start with runaway leaders Cardiff to take maximum points at Leeds. The Bluebirds head into the month knowing it would take something extraordinary to knock them off the summit between now and March and, unlike many top teams, they ought to be relishing the trip to Elland Road.
The fact that Leeds toppled Tottenham in the FA Cup last Sunday to set up an eagerly-anticipated fifth round clash with Manchester City can only be of benefit to Malky Mackay's men. With their promotion hopes dwindling, the Whites might well have had their heads turned by those exploits, in which case the timing couldn't be better.
It's already a fixture that holds no fears for the Welsh club. They haven't lost to Leeds since 1984, winning seven of the last nine meetings since 2005, and it's not unfair to say they totally dominated the reverse fixture last September, even though they only edged home by a slender 2-1 scoreline. As such, you can't turn your nose up at the 2.36 available on the Bluebirds securing a fifth straight away win.
Meanwhile, Steve Bruce whisked his Hull side off to a warm weather training camp in Portugal after their surprise FA Cup defeat to Barnsley last weekend and we expect the Tigers to bounce back in purposeful fashion against a fading Millwall side.
The Lions need a class act up-front to be truly competitive and they've suffered since the departure of Chris Wood, winning just one of their last five league matches, which is similar to the standards they were setting at the start of the season minus Harry Kane.
Like Leeds, the Londoners are also six points adrift of the play-off places and being wooed by the prospect of glory in the world's greatest knockout competition. Victory over Aston Villa last Friday has put Kenny Jackett's men within touching distance of the quarter-finals after they pulled non-league Luton in the last 16, so don't bank on them approaching this clash with as a make-or-break moment in their season.
Hull have stuttered of late but Bruce was more active than most ahead of the transfer deadline, revitalising his squad up with the arrival of Egyptian duo Gedo and Ahmed Fathi, while another striker is expected to follow. In short, we expect the visitors to show a fresh impetus and the price is right at 2.69.
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