Derby v Reading
Live on Sky Sports 2
Having led the table early in the New Year and been many people’s favourites for automatic promotion, Steve McClaren’s men are stumbling over the finish like an exhausted marathon runner. They have won just two of their last 12 games (against the bottom pair, Blackpool and Wigan) and had to come from behind in three of their last four games to scramble draws with Brentford, Huddersfield and Millwall.
You could, of course, argue that shows battling qualities and a never-say-die spirit which would serve them well in the play-offs, as they seek to avenge last year’s last gasp defeat to QPR in the final, but they need to avoid this potential banana skin to get there first.
Darren Bent, who has 12 goals in 16 starts on loan with the Rams, should be available after missing the 3-3 at Millwall last week and should start with talisman Chris Martin coming off the bench again. McClaren’s main headache is his defence which has been shredded by injuries and has leaked seven goals in those last two roller-coaster games.
The Royals have lost their last four on the spin and are without a win in eight making them probably the side you want most to face at this stage of the season. Certainly that was the case at the New York Stadium on Tuesday night as Rotherham defeated them more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline would suggest with the visitors not registering an effort on target until the 79th minute.
Since winning at Wolves in early February, Reading have picked up just 10 points from a possible 48 and narrowly avoided being dragged into the relegation battle. Steve Clarke must be considering a serious overhaul of his side this summer and may be tempted to give a couple of youngsters an opportunity to show what they can do here.
With just four wins, their record away from home this season has been pretty abysmal, although they did manage three victories at Championship clubs including at the iPro Stadium in the fifth round on the way to that FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal at Wembley.
Derby are [1.37] to win which is probably another example of a side’s price being shorter than their current form justifies, simply because they ‘have’ to win whereas their opponents don’t. However, we can’t ignore Reading’s form – they are probably the poorest side in the division at the moment bar all but Blackpool and Clarke described them as a ‘team in decay’ after Tuesday’s defeat. He won’t have had time to turn that around in four days so they are the perfect opposition for the Rams here.
McClaren’s men have cost backers a bundle over the past couple of months and, as highlighted above, they haven’t beaten anybody bar the bottom two in that time, but I can’t see beyond a home win here with Bent and Martin both available. Despite their recent trials and tribulations they did dispose of Blackpool easily enough in their last game at the iPro, leading 3-0 by half-time and while it might not be quite that easy here, Reading are certainly there for the taking. Derby are available at better than evens [2.04] to be leading at half-time and full-time and I think that’s the bet to be on here.
We missed out on a nice winner in the to score market on Monday night when Bournemouth’s Yann Kermorgant skied his penalty over the bar against Bolton and was promptly substituted, taking our [2.3] tip with him.
However, undeterred I’m going to dip back into the anytime to score market over at the Sportsbook again. Bent should return to the starting line-up here at the centre of Derby’s fluid 4-3-3 formation and the former England man has a good record against the division’s lesser lights, netting versus both Wigan and Blackpool in recent weeks.
He is also the Rams’ regular penalty-taker (and more reliable from the spot than the Frenchman who let us down on Monday), converting pressure kicks against Watford and Sheffield Wednesday during his loan spell at the iPro so I’m backing him to get on the scoresheet here and book the
Rams their play-off place.
Back Derby/Derby in the halftime/fulltime market at [2.04] *Best bet
Back Darren Bent to score anytime at [2.2] on Betfair sportsbook
Staked: 136 pts
Returned: 133.60 pts
P/L: – 2.40 pts
*2pts best bet if stated
1pt other recommended bets