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Betting preview's

 

23.09.2017
 England Premier League
 

Manchester City 1.16 v Crystal Palace 23.00; The Draw 10.00


As the above Opta stat suggests, Sergio Aguero is arguably in the form of his life right now. His partnership with Gabriel Jesus in attack is devastating - the pair have scored an incredible nine goals between them in their last three games paired together - and with Kevin de Bruyne also in scintillating form, it's impossible to envisage City not scoring three or four at least against goal-shy Crystal Palace.

Aguero is just two goals away from equalling the club's all-time goalscoring record, currently held by Eric Brook on 177 goals. I doubt the brilliant Argentine himself would have hand-picked a better fixture to break that record than Saturday's home game against the Eagles.


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Palace are in awful form, and barring an excellent six weeks under Sam Allardyce that helped preserve their Premier League status, they've been in awful form for a very long time.

The Eagles were among the worst professional teams in English football during the whole of 2016 based on points per game, and they've started this season in even worse fashion - five league games played, five defeats, no points, no goals scored. It already appears that Roy Hodgson needs a miracle to save them from the drop.

Man City should be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Palace on Saturday. I just can't see any way that Hodgson can set his men up to try and stifle the Citizens. Pep Guardiola's men will eventually make the breakthrough, and if it comes early enough then they could run in another big number to add to their recent 5-0, 4-0, and 6-0 victories.
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There's a ruthlessness about City since the international break. Guardiola appears to have finally settled on a formation, and it's one that is bringing the best out of many of his players, none more so than Aguero.

I'd love the 29-year-old to break the record on Saturday in front of his own fans, but to do that he needs to score at least a hat-trick. I wouldn't bet against it though, he'll be on penalty duty and in this form, City in this form, he's worth a punt at 10/1.

But the main bet has to be City to record another emphatic win. They're 6/5 on the Sportsbook to win by at least three goals, and that's a very fair price.
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Southampton 5.30 v Manchester United 1.80; The Draw 3.80


The Opta stat above is quite damning. Any team can go through a poor run of form where they can't buy a goal, whether it be either at home, away, or a combination of both. But when it goes on as long as it has for Southampton then there has to be something in it.

My own view is that the Saints are in decline. And by that I mean they're just not as good as they where when they were regularly finishing in the top eight. I believe they'll do extremely well to finish top half of the table this season, especially if their home form doesn't dramatically improve.

Mauricio Pellegrino's men have actually failed to score a single goal in front of their own fans in nine of their last 11 matches in all competitions, and when you consider that among the teams that have shut them out include relegated Hull, Championship outfit Wolves, and the likes of Watford, Swansea, Stoke, and Bournemouth then it doesn't make for great reading.


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Manchester United are the visitors to St Mary's on Saturday, a team that has recorded six clean sheets from its last eight matches, so it's a pleasant surprise to see Jose Mourinho's men available to back at 13/10 to record yet another clean sheet, and make it 10 games from 12 matches that Southampton haven't scored on home soil.

United did concede two in their last away game at Stoke of course, so that's a concern, but generally they've been very solid defensively with Phil Jones playing superbly, and Eric Baillycoming on bundles in his second season at the club.

But this basically boils down to the Saints. If they don't raise their game considerably for the visit of one of the title contenders then I don't see them breaking that horrible run of form they are on in front of their home fans, and I'd fancy United to win without conceding.
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Stoke 6.20 v Chelsea 1.66; The Draw 4.20

(Significant Opta Stat: Mark Hughes will be facing Chelsea for the 24th time in the Premier League as a manager; he has lost more times (15), and conceded more goals (43) against the Blues than any other club.)

Stoke have started the season well at the Bet365 Stadium, beating Arsenal and drawing with Manchester United, so you'd be forgiven for thinking they have a good record on home soil against the 'big six' clubs.
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Don't be fooled. Mark Hughes' men generally pick up their home points by beating clubs other than the big six; in fact that narrow victory over the Gunners last month was the only time Stoke have beaten one of the big boys on home soil in 10 attempts.

And an even more damning statistic is that last season the Potters failed to win at home against Everton (7th), Southampton (8th), Bournemouth (9th), West Brom (10th), West Ham (11th), and Leicester (12th), meaning they didn't record a single home victory over any of the 12 clubs that finished above them.

It just so happens also that Hughes has a dreadful record as a manager against Saturday's visitors Chelsea so there are a lot of pointers towards an away win. But then odds of 1.66 about a Blues victory tell us that's the most likely outcome, and that's not a price that I like to put up in this column.


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So let's take a chance on Antonio Conte's men leading at half time before securing all three points, just like they have in all five of their victories this season.

Chelsea have scored 17 goals in winning five matches so far this term, and nine of those goals have been scored in the first half, suggesting Conte's men can often be fast out of the blocks. And with Eden Hazard fit again - he was superb against Nottm Forest on Wednesday night - then I'm confident the Blues can lead at the interval again before claiming the win.
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 England Championship
 
 

Fulham 2.40 v Middlesbrough 3.30; The Draw 3.50

I fancy a trio of away sides on Saturday in the Championship but I'll commence with the one that I don't necessarily believe is the most likely to win, but the one that I just believe is over-priced, and therefore from a value perspective, has to be the best bet of the day.

A Middlesbrough clean sheet didn't happen last week at home to QPR - thanks to an uncharacteristic and very early defensive error - so my advised wager went west. That can always happen when backing clean sheets or going low on goals - a defensive error, a moment of madness or even magic, a poor referee decision, all those factors can contribute to a goal and ruin your thinking.

The positive aspect of last week's game - from a Boro perspective of course - was that they fought back to win the game meaning they are now on a very decent run of form.


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Garry Monk's men are unbeaten in six games in all competitions, they've scored at least three goals in 50% of those matches, and they've recorded five clean sheets in that time. Away from home they've kept three consecutive clean sheets, including two against Aston Villa who were favourites to beat them both times.

And it's the clean sheet aspect that is key here because if Middlesbrough record one away to Fulham on Saturday then they're very likely to win the game. There hasn't been a 0-0 at Craven Cottage for 129 matches now, and Slavisa Jokanovic's men haven't recorded a home clean sheet in any competition since January, a run stretching 17 games.

So the stats strongly suggest that Boro are likely to get on the scoresheet, and against a Fulham side that has made a relatively poor start to the campaign - lost at relegation favourites Burton last week and already have home defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol Rovers - I'm very confident Monk's men will do exactly that.

And of course, if Monk's men can be as reliable at the back as they usually are then all three points will be there for the taking.

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Sunderland 3.00 v Cardiff 2.64; The Draw 3.40


The Black Cats have now gone 14 games without winning at the Stadium of Light and they entertain highflying Cardiff on Saturday afternoon on the back of three straight defeats in front on their own fans. They currently sit just one place above the relegation zone after a six-game winless run, accumulating just two points from a possible 18 in that time.

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Against an out-of-form and much-changed Everton side in the League Cup in midweek, Simon Grayson's men barely laid a glove on the Toffees in a 3-0 defeat.

Grayson has a dreadful managerial record against the Bluebirds too, winning just one of his 14 game against the Welsh outfit. Is it any wonder then that Cardiff are favourites to win this encounter? Not in my eyes it isn't.


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Neil Warnock's men have been slightly disappointing since the international break admittedly, losing at Preston in their last away game and drawing home matches with Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday either side of that defeat. But those were three tough fixtures, so to lose just one of them on the back of winning five straight league games represents a fantastic start to the season.


Cardiff currently sit tied at the top of the table with Leeds and Wolves on 17 points but I fancy they can get back to winning ways at the Stadium of Light. I expect them to keep it tight in the early stages and try to frustrate Sunderland. It won't take long before the Black Cats faithful are losing patience again, and the fragile confidence of the home side will be fully tested.

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Norwich 1.97 v Bristol City 4.10; The Draw 3.95

Home advantage counts for a lot, I get that, but I had Norwich at around the 2.40 mark to win this game with Bristol City considerably shorter than what's currently on offer, so the away win has to be the selection purely on price.

The Canaries currently sit mid-table after a decent run of form since the international break, taking seven points from a possible nine, and last weekend they gained a terrific win at Sheffield United, a side that were on a long winning run on home soil.

But I'm still not convinced by Daniel Farke's men, they can be a very inconsistent side who are likely to concede lots of goals when not at their best, and that will always make them opposable at an odds-on price.

They've enjoyed some success at Carrow Road already this term, but two of their victories came against lower-league opposition in the EFL Cup, while the two sides they narrowly beat in the Championship - QPR and Birmingham - have proved to be no world beaters on the road so far this term.


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And the fact that Norwich lost to a poor Sunderland side on home soil, as well as failing to beat one of the relegation favourites in Burton, is as good a reason as any to take them on with a very good, and in-form, Bristol City side.

The Robins have been excellent all season. Sitting just outside the play-off places and on an unbeaten run of eight games they'll be full of confidence going to Norwich after beating Premier League outfit Stoke in the League Cup in midweek, this coming just days after thrashing Derby in the Championship.

Lee Johnson's men are no longer a dark horse in this division, they're just a very good side capable of mounting a real push to make the play-offs. They've lost just one game all season, defeated another Premier League outfit Watford away from home in the cup, won away at Reading, and scored three at title favourites Wolves recently.

In other words Bristol City have rock solid away form, are full of confidence, and there's no way they should be as big as 4.10 to win at Norwich.

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England League One
 
 

Scunthorpe United 2.54 v Portsmouth 2.92, the draw 3.40


My first impression here is that Scunthorpe look a good price for Saturday, and a tick over 6/4 means that there should also be a bit of value in siding with the Draw No Bet.

Opta stats do not dissuade me here; in fact, they make a strong case for the hosts. The Iron have won their last three matches with Pompey, and have kept five clean sheets in six matches. The south coast club have never kept a clean sheet at Scunthorpe according to the Opta team, and that's from 11 previous visits.

There's a lot to be said for clean sheets; granted not the most thrilling of pub conversations as an ice-breaker. But United have that, and with a defence that has conceded just three goals in eight League One matches this term; it sparks the interest in a host of markets ranging from the Clean Sheet bet, or the To Win To Nil market.


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Scunthorpe did just that last Sunday (and something that was predicted here for the preview) with a 1-0 victory at Doncaster. They only needed one chance to win the game, whilst Rovers had plenty of pressure but mustered very little in terms of shots on goal in the final hour. The Iron's defence is better than Portsmouth's, whilst they possess the threat of game-changers such as Josh Morris.
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I got Pompey's lack of penetration wrong last week with a 4-1 victory against Fleetwood. A great result, but the Cod Army have lost the plot recently and cannot defend anything from a set-piece; something that the Iron have no problems with. This could be an Under 2.5 game, and anything around the 1.80 come Saturday will do. For that bet, the hosts have hit seven out of eight, so the hope of the 4/6 might dwindle.
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Rotherham United 1.62 v Oldham Athletic 4.90, the draw 4.10


John Sheridan's Oldham are bottom of League One, yet have nearly pulled off shock victories against Fleetwood (2-2) and Charlton (3-4). They did pop up at a big price for their sole win of the season with a 3-2 success at Bristol Rovers - so we know they can score.

There might be a few takers on that 4.90 price, and it certainly is one that offers hope of trading. 

I got stung by tipping and backing Fleetwood at home in the 2-2 draw with the Latics, and I won't be doing that again - especially with the 1.62 on offer for a Rotherham win. It's the right price; as the

Millers are far better at home and score plenty in Yorkshire. Manager Paul Warne will be hoping six-

goal forward Kieffer Moore will be 100% fit.

How do we play this game?


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Well, Opta state that the Millers have won four of their last five matches against Oldham in all competitions, and have scored 13 at home this season (which is the highest in the division), so we should use the latter and look to goals. Especially as the Latics have scored in every away match this term (1,1,2,3). 

Oldham are not no-hopers, though. They were the better side against leaders Shrewsbury last weekend, and might just be in a false position. However, Rotherham have thumped a couple of teams this season at home, and it might be safer to play for goals. 
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Shrewsbury Town 3.15 v Blackburn Rovers 2.36, the draw 3.55


If the ante-post title favourites Blackburn had got off to the start that Shrewsbury have enjoyed, you could expect a price of around 1.50 - or maybe shorter if they were taking on one of the perceived weaker teams. So that home price on the league leaders is very attractive.

I haven't touched on the Shrews at all this term, but now is the time to do so. Their flying start to the campaign includes seven wins from eight games, and they are the only unbeaten team in the third tier. That's what some expected Rovers to do.

According to Opta, this is Shrewsbury's best-ever start to a league campaign. And with a three-point advantage at the top, we can still back them at over 2/1.

Their home record this season has displayed a liking for the 1-0 Correct Score. They've beaten Wigan Athletic, Southend and Northampton by that margin, with a 3-2 success for good measure. Paul Hurst's men are now 19.00 for the title - matched from a high of 200.00. I gave them very little chance to win the league.


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Considering Salop have beaten second-placed Wigan this term, we shouldn't be put off by opposing Blackburn - who themselves were turned over by AFC Wimbledon last weekend 1-0. That defeat ended a run of four consecutive wins for the Ewood Park men.

Rovers' boss Tony Mowbray might make a few changes this weekend, and he needs to, as the game versus the Dons last Saturday was a drab affair. I am still to be convinced by Mowbray at this level too.

However, we don't get the chance too often to back the undefeated leaders at home at such a big price, and Blackburn have only taken 12 points from seven games thus far.
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England League Two
 
 

Newport County 2.20 v Grimsby Town 3.60; the draw 3.60 

Newport's pitch was utterly horrible last season. Even home manager Graham Westley (for his few months in charge) came up with a separate game plan for home games - namely the type of "in the air" tactics you might expect from an away side. Different personnel were required than for a normal home game.

This season, however, Rodney Parade is no longer a "cowfield", as described by Michael Flynn, who is all smiles about the surface installed by the Welsh Rugby Union.
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The Exiles are certainly enjoying it, scoring five and conceding just once in their unbeaten two wins and a draw at home so far this season. 

Flynn called his players "spineless" after a surprise defeat at Morecambe, annoyed at them pulling out of tackles and other indiscretions. It was a bit of a reality check, perhaps, on the start of the season.

Scorer Scott Bennett, one report said, had come in for stick earlier in the campaign but looked one of the best players, pushing into midfield. Ben Tozer, returning to midfield after several months out, is determined to put matters right against Grimsby and with the relaid pitch County surely have few excuses.


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Frank Nouble, who already has five goals this season, and Padraig Amond need to show more if the hosts are going to defeat a Grimsby side who have won their last two matches, including at a strong-looking Accrington. Amond is up for it, as he scored 37 goals for Grimsby in the season they were promoted to the Football League - and has outlined his desire to score against former team-mate James McKeown.

The Mariners suffered a hammering at Mansfield before that, however, but with three wins from four matches defender Danny Collins is already eyeing a long unbeaten run and a place in the play-offs at the end of the season. A consistent marksman would be nice to achieve that ambition - Mitch Rose and Sam Jones have work to do, as do others, to establish who will be seen as the lead scorer. 

Newport will not want to let their unbeaten run go on their new-look turf and should have the edge.
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Accrington 2.30 v Cheltenham 3.20; the draw 3.80

Accrington, Opta stress, have scored in every game this season - only once failing to score more than once. Yet, unlike the falling price on Newport since the odds markets opened, Stanley have got longer to win this match.

It seems odd because, by contrast, Cheltenham failed to score in three games before sticking three goals past Colchester, who have lost all four of their away games and finished with 10 men. Dramatic improvement is therefore completely unproven.

If there was any justice, John Coleman's hosts would be odds-on. They have been in fine fettle this season, with Billy Kee, who wasn't certain to play after a knock, and substitute Mallik Wilks, on loan from Leeds, scoring to secure victory at Chesterfield, who then sacked their manager.


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It is no surprise that two players - both Kee and Kayden Jackson - have five goals apiece as Accrington share League Two top team scorer rights with Luton. The Hatters posted eight on the opening day, while Accrington have spread their 17 goals evenly across their eight games. The Wham Stadium has seen some entertaining games and it seems a surprise that the hosts are not a shorter price.
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The Robins remain long because they have not won away - they have one goal and one point from their travels - and have won just twice. There was mighty relief for Gary Johnson when a double from Kevin Dawson and one from James Grimes gave them a victory last Saturday.

Grimes says the team are confident and ambitious - believing they can climb the table. A win only brings temporary confidence if the next opposition are as strong as Stanley, who merit their place in the top three at present. They will be eager to cement it.
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Notts County 2.92 v Lincoln 2.80; the draw 3.50

Just how hot are Notts County at present? A visit from Lincoln will give them an indication of whether they can sustain a top three bid.

Unbeaten in their last seven League Two games (Opta assert they have won four in a row without conceding), Kevin Nolan's side have scored seven and let in only two goals at Meadow Lane this season.

We're in for a tight affair here, if Opta's additional statistics pan out: Notts County have conceded a league low one goal in the first half of games, while Lincoln have the lowest second half concession rate of just three. That's practically asking for a goalless draw, available in the correct score market at 11.00 and given those four wins were all under 2.5 goals it is no surprise that the price on that outcome is 1.80.


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Jorge Grant has been in fine fettle with four goals while Lewis Alessandra and Jonathan Forte are also contributing well.

The Imps haven't been scoring - or conceding - many either recently. Defeat to Mansfield last Saturday came a day short of being unbeaten at home for a year. Danny Cowley will be keen to bounce back, with Matt Rhead and Matt Green in harness up front. The manager thinks their FA Cup experience will help them in big games like against Notts County, although it didn't bring them victory in the local derby against Mansfield.

These two sides might just cancel each other out.
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Colchester 3.00 v Wycombe 2.50; the draw 3.50

Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth believes his side can compete and go one better than last year by making the play-offs, based on how his side have performed against title favourites Mansfield (0-0) and Luton, to whom they lost 2-1 with two goals in second half injury time.

He was proud of his Chairboys in defeat, he said. To really compete, however, they have to gain results against Grimsby and Notts County at home - they conceded another two late goals against the Magpies.

They have excellent cover now for Adebayo Akinfenwa, who netted yet again on Saturday, if they can leave Paris Cowan-Hall on the bench. This is a tough one to call, because Wycombe are unbeaten away with two wins and two draws, while John McCreal's side are unbeaten at home, two wins and two draws.


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However, the hosts have hammered Forest Green 5-1 and defeated Crawley 3-1 on their way to putting together a health 10 goals at the Weston Homes Community Stadium. Opta emphasise that only Luton have scored more at home (13) and that included the eight on the opening day.
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Notably, Colchester have not managed a clean sheet this season point out Opta, conceding one at a time or three at a time. That makes another Opta stat very interesting. In Wycombe's eight matches, both teams have scored in six of them - two have been goalless draws, by contrast.

It seems that Wycombe are destined to score, then - and it is about time Craig Mackail-Smithdid so - but that Colchester should manage to score, too. Midfielder Sammie Szmodics is their top scorer with four and they seem to have goals from a variety of areas. However, if Wycombe can put on one of their tight defensive performances Colchester keeper Sam Walker will still be looking for his first clean sheet at 5pm and the visitors could have all three points.
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16.09.2017

 

Huddersfield 3.30 v Leicester 2.46; The Draw 3.40


It's going to be fascinating to see how Huddersfield react to their first league defeat - and first goals conceded - of the season when they host Leicester on Saturday. My money is on them not reacting well, and another defeat following.

Of course you have to give David Wagner's men credit for the start they made, I don't deny that, but I'll repeat what I said prior to their trip to West Ham. The Terriers beat a Crystal Palace side who we now know were dreadful under Frank de Boer. They narrowly beat another newly-promoted club on home soil. And they could manage only a draw at home to a Southampton team who I also believe are there for the taking right now.
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I'm not trying to take the gloss of what Huddersfield have achieved so far because I agree, seven points accumulated from their opening three games was a terrific start. But you have to look at the quality of the sides they faced and keep things firmly in perspective.

Wagner's men went to West Ham on Monday night and they rarely threatened with the manager himself admitting his side were deservedly beaten. As I say, it's going to be fascinating to see how they react to that defeat and Wagner's seemingly harsh, but accurate, words.


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Leicester sit just above the relegation zone in the early standings but it's impossible to dispute that they were handed a very tough set of fixtures to start the season. They've faced Arsenal and Manchester United away from home, and last week hosted champions Chelsea. They performed with credit in all three of those game, losing by a single goal to the Gunners and Blues, while only falling behind at Old Trafford in the 70th minute.

The Foxes' only other Premier League game was a comfortable victory over newly-promoted Brighton, and an away match at Huddersfield - a team they've defeated in all of their last seven league meetings - gives them an excellent opportunity to get back to winning ways.

Craig Shakespeare's men - as they did during their title winning season - look to have an extremely dangerous counter-attacking look to them and I'm hopeful they can utilise that strength at the John Smith's Stadium.

Expect the Terriers to have most of the possession, but if Leicester can defend as we know they can then don't be surprised if Wagner's men get put under huge pressure once they lose the ball up field. The Foxes have the quality to turn defence into attack extremely quickly and I fancy this will be key to taking all three points on Saturday afternoon.
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Liverpool 1.30 v Burnley 12.50; The Draw 6.20


You could have put your life on Burnley securing a 1-0 win over Crystal Palace on Sunday afternoon as soon as they were gifted a third minute lead.

Okay, it might not have been that clear cut but I'm sure you get my gist. Burnley are excellent at defending leads and seeing out games, especially against the lesser lights. Tell Sean Dyche he can start any game leading 1-0 and I'm pretty confident he'd line up with one goalkeeper and 10 defenders.

That's not a criticism, it's just how the Burnley boss goes about his business, and you can't argue with the results he's had in the last 14 months. He'll got to Anfield on Saturday with the same attitude, try and defend the clean sheet and if they can grab something at the other end then all the better.


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So Liverpool have to be patient as it might turn out to be an extremely frustrating afternoon. Crystal Palace came with the same mentality, and lost only to a late Sadio Mane goal.

On the flip side however, if Jurgen Klopp's men do go ahead early - as they did against Arsenal - then they could easily win by three or four.

The percentage call has to be to back the Reds to get that early goal, or at least a first half goal, and if that's the case and Burnley decide to try and get back into the game, then I'm confident that we'll witness a comfortable home win.
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Watford 10.00 v Manchester City 1.36; The Draw 6.00

(Significant Opta Stat: Sergio Aguero has been involved in seven goals in four previous appearances against the Hornets (six goals, one assist).)

Manchester City have been sensational since the international break, winning two games in the space of five days by a combined aggregate of 9-0! It's hard not to be impressed, but it's equally hard not to be impressed with the start Watford have made.

The Hornets are unbeaten having won two and drawn two of their four league games, recording three clean sheets in the process. They did concede three goals at home to Liverpool however, and it's impossible not to see Manchester City getting on the scoresheet a few times at least also.


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After leaving Sergio Aguero on the bench for the hard-fought 2-1 win over Bournemouth Pep Guardiola has since started the brilliant Argentine in a two-pronged frontline alongside Gabriel Jesus for a return of five goals between them in those two recent wins.

It looks certain that Guardiola will stick with the same front two on Saturday, and given that Aguero has a fantastic record against the Hornets then who can blame him.

So yes, I fancy Man City to keep up their impressive recent form and I can see Aguero and Jesus getting amongst the goals again in another victory, but I wouldn't be surprised one bit should Watford get on the scoresheet themselves.
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Marco Silva's men scored three at home to Liverpool on the opening weekend of the season, and even though City ran out 5-0 winners against the same opponents last weekend they looked far from comfortable at the back until Sadio Mane was dismissed. Vincent Kompany will be absent again, and that's a big loss, and I expect a confident Watford side to get amongst the goals.

I was going to go for a Man City win with both teams getting on the scoresheet, which is available to back at 13/8 on the Sportsbook, but at the slightly less price of 2.40 I see far more benefits to backing Over 3.5 Goals. I'll have a saver on the 1-2 City win (though won't put it up as a bet here) but backing at least four goals to be scored get lots of away wins on board - 1-3, 1-4, 2-3 etc - plus the high-scoring draws.
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Back Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.40

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 England Championship
 
 

Hull 2.16 v Sunderland 3.90; The Draw 3.50


I know it's early in the season, just seven league games in to be precise, but this is a match that brings together two very under pressure managers. If there's a loser in this game then surely either Hull boss Leonid Slutsky or Black Cats manager Simon Grayson will be fearing the worst.

That shouldn't be the case of course because as both Harry Redknapp and Steve Bruce have alluded to in recent days, there's still 39 games to go. Though it's no surprise to hear those two speak the words they did given their current league positions (Villa are 18th, Birmingham are 22nd).

Eyebrows were raised when Slutsky was given the job at Hull but the Russian got off to a decent start, drawing at Villa and thrashing Burton in his first two league games. But since then it's been a tale of woe; five defeats in six games including an EFL Cup defeat to League One Doncaster and a dreadful showing in front of the live TV cameras in last week's 5-0 loss at Derby.

After Hull's midweek loss at Fulham Slutsky said, "We will have a special tactical lesson speaking about a new formation."


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I find those words very worrying. It suggests that the Tigers boss doesn't really know what his best formation or starting XI is, and what tactics to deploy. It means we could be set for a wide open affair on Saturday afternoon.

At the KCOM Stadium this season Hull have played three times, with their results being 4-1, 2-3, and 4-0, so that's 4.66 goals per game in that period. On that basis alone, and with Slutsky's words fresh in my mind, Over 2.5 Goals looks a decent bet at 2.04.

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Sunderland are the visitors on Saturday afternoon however, a team of similar ability that is also going through a poor run of form, so I can understand why the layers expect this to be a tight game with marginal preference in the market for Under 2.5 Goals.

But Grayson's men look to be a much better side on the road than they are at home, and hopefully they'll go to Hull believing they can take all three points, which should result in a clash between two sides desperate and needing to win. And when that's the case then usually goals are scored.
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Middlesbrough 1.76 v QPR 5.60; The Draw 3.80


This is the fourth column this season in which I've recommended a Middlesbrough Clean Sheet, but when you can keep backing something at odds against (or thereabouts) that happens extremely regularly then why would we even think about not doing so?

We wouldn't is the answer, so this recommendation will be short and sweet.

At odds of 10/11, 5/4, and 2/1 Boro kept clean sheets against Burton, Preston, and Aston Villa when advised on these pages, and Garry Monk's men have also recorded shut-outs against Sheffield United, Bolton, and Scunthorpe in the League Cup. That's six clean sheets in eight games for the Teessiders, and four out of four at the Riverside Stadium.


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Boro now host a QPR side team that has started the season quite well, but one that has shown all its best form at Loftus Road. Away from home Ian Holloway's men haven taken just a single point from a possible nine, and last week at Cardiff they managed just the solitary shot on target.

I know I keep repeating myself but Middlesbrough recorded more clean sheets than any club in the country during their last Championship campaign, they've have retained many of the players that were pivotal in those defensive areas - Ben Gibson, George Friend, Daniel Ayala, Grant Leadbitter, Adam Clayton for example - and they're yet to concede a single goal on home soilthis term.
A price of 6/5 about Monk's men keeping another clean sheet makes plenty of appeal.
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Sheffield United 2.60 v Norwich 2.96; The Draw 3.55


I haven't quite called Norwich correct yet but I'm going to oppose them on Saturday when they visit in-form Sheffield United.

The Canaries were slightly disappointing - performance wise - in their two home games after the international break; a scrappy 1-0 win was followed by a disappointing goalless draw against relegation favourites Burton when Daniel Farke's men managed just two shots on target.

Okay, a return of four points and no goals conceded is not to be sniffed at, but playing at home to two sides in the bottom four you'd have expected Norwich to score more than a single goal.


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But it's the Canaries' away form that is the bigger concern. They lost back-to-back away matches just before the break and conceded an alarming eight goals in the process. The 4-0 defeat at Millwall was a horror show and is hard to forgive.

The Blades have enjoyed a tremendous start following last season's promotion from League One. Chris Wilder's men currently sit third in the table after recording their fourth consecutive victory in midweek. But it' at Bramall Lane where United are particularly strong, winning all three of their league matches on home soil so far including an impressive 3-1 victory over much-fancied Derby.

So given Wilder's men have home advantage on Saturday, and are hosting a side that has been very disappointing on the road this term, then odds of 2.60 about another home victory look worth chancing.
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England League one
 
 

Portsmouth 2.00 v Fleetwood Town 4.10, the draw 3.65

Saturday 15:00 

I just cannot get involved with Pompey at such a short price for this weekend, and that 2.00 is far too skinny for what they have achieved thus far. 

Kenny Jackett's side have played three at home this season; with one victory, a draw and a defeat. The loss came in the live Sky TV game against Rotherham, and Pompey's lack of penetration was exposed there. Although that narrow loss ended an eight-game unbeaten run in the league at Fratton Park. According to Opta, the hosts have not lost back-to-back matches since October 2016. 

Life is certainly not dull at the moment with Fleetwood

Tuesday's 3-2 win against Bury was a classic up-and-down League One game. Cod Army striker Jordy Hiwula scored two and missed a penalty. Fleetwood were 2-0 up, but then their Achilles heel reared its ugly head again - and their complete inability to defend set-pieces. 


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Opponents have really done their homework recently against Town in that area, but we should give them a bit of slack, as manager Uwe Rosler has built a very young team with an average age that took to the field in midweek of just 22. The oldest player on the pitch was just 26. 

Fleetwood reverted to their wing-back 3-5-2 formation on Tuesday, and that's when they are at their best when stretching the game. They also play better on the counter-attack, so this fixture might just suit them. 
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The visitors are certainly dangerous going forward, and have scored in every League One match this term. Rosler said after the Bury win: "Now we can go to Portsmouth and be free to pick up the three points again."
And the Fleetwood price is far too big.
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Walsall 2.76 v Peterborough United 2.64, the draw 3.50

Saturday 15:00 

According to Opta, Peterborough are looking to win six of their opening eight league games of the season for the first time since 2013/14 on Saturday. If successful, it would be the only time they have achieved this since 1961. 

They look a good price to do so again at 2.64

Grant McCann's side beat MK Dons easily on Tuesday, and are now second in the table with 16 points. Compare that to Walsall's eight points - the bet certainly looks the Posh way. 

But this could come down to goals. Peterborough have regained their mojo as the best attacking team at this level. The good times are back. They've hit 15 in total this term - and that's the joint-highest in the league with Rotherham. Eight have been scored away from home with just two conceded.

Peterborough have also thumped Northampton and Bristol Rovers on their travels 4-1. 


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Walsall meanwhile have been quite entertaining with this new pressing, aggressive game. However, they haven't kept a clean sheet in all seven of their League One matches - and that is a huge cause for concern against the likes of Jack Marriott. 

Peterborough switched to a 4-4-2 in the week to use their width, whilst the great enigma Marcus Maddison starred with a goal and an assist. Maddison helped an excellent second-half display, and any replication of that will see them go close here. 
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Doncaster Rovers 2.46 v Scunthorpe United 2.96, the draw 3.50

Sunday 15:00 

Despite being unbeaten at home in the league this season, Doncaster are yet to win a league game at the Keepmoat since their promotion according to Opta stats (three draws), so they are quite a tricky team to price up for Sunday. 

Do they deserve favouritism? Maybe they should be closer in the market with the visitors, so for that reason we are looking to the Draw No Bet here for Scunthorpe. 

Perhaps there is an overreaction to the Iron's 0-1 loss to in-form Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday. There shouldn't be, as they played really well. Scunny boss Graham Alexander went as far to say it was their best display of the season. 


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United aren't scoring many, but they created a lot of chances against Tony Mowbray's team. With 16 shots to their opponents' six, it was a harsh way to lose their unbeaten record. Optaalso reveal that Scunthorpe have failed to score in each of their last two league games, having found the net in 16 consecutive games with 28 goals - so maybe we shouldn't worry too much on the goals front. 

Indeed, with Josh Morris who has a knack for scoring, hopefully he can help breach the Doncaster defence. 

In fact, the more I look at the market, the more enticing that away price is. Scunthorpe are one defeat from five, whilst Donny are winless in the same amount of games. Alexander's men also look potent on their travels with victories against Bury and Plymouth, and they've only conceded once on the road.
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Back Scunthorpe United Draw No Bet @ 2.00

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09.08.2017

 England Championship
 

Aston Villa 2.64 v Middlesbrough 3.10; The Draw 3.30

I put Aston Villa up as a confident selection on Saturday only for them to produce a dire performance at home to a Brentford side still without a win all season, and who'd sold their best player in the transfer window.

Steve Bruce's men were awful, and the reality is that but for a tremendous goalkeeping display by Sam Johnstone Villa could easily have lost by two or three. The Bees registered 18 shots at goal, five on target. Villa managed just the solitary shot on target all game.
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There's no doubt about it now, Bruce is under pressure, and who knows how his team will react when pre-season title favourites Middlesbrough visit Villa Park on Tuesday night. The home side may well raise their game significantly - in fact I'm expecting them to - but on the evidence of what we've seen so far this Aston Villa team aren't in great form and are lacking confidence.

As expected Boro got their first away win of the campaign with an impressive 3-0 victory at Bolton on Saturday, and the first two goals illustrate perfectly why I always fancy Garry Monk's men to do well on the road at this level. They can pinch the ball and counter attack in lightning fast fashion - watch Adama Traore's contribution in those two goals below - which is a potent weapon to have.


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With home advantage I can just about understand Villa being favourites to win this match, but given that my worry for them before the season commenced was their ability to score regularly, and now that they're facing arguably the best defence in the Championship, then I'd just favour the away win if forced to make a selection.

But it's a Middlesbrough Clean Sheet that I'm making my best bet ahead of this game. Monk's men have already kept five in seven league and cup games this term, and with Villa misfiring in large parts so far - none more so than at home to Brentford - then being able to back Boro to record another clean sheet at 2/1 makes plenty of appeal.
source: bettfair
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QPR 2.40 v Millwall 3.30; The Draw 3.50

It's been a more than satisfactory start to the season for QPR with the club currently sitting eighth in the table after accumulating 10 points from their opening six games.

But it's at Loftus Road where 90% of those points have been accrued; Ian Holloway's men have won three from three league games in front of their home fans, beating decent outfits Reading, Hull, and Ipswich so far. The goals are being shared around too, with strikers Jamie Mackie, Conor Washington, and Matt Smith having two each to their names, while Idrissa Sylla has one despite never starting a league game so far this term.

Away from home the Hoops haven't been quite as good, and perhaps it's too early to make a definitive call but a lot of times you'll get a team that performs much better on home soil than they do away from home, or vice versa.

Millwall are the visitors to Loftus Road on Tuesday night so you can guarantee there'll be a terrific atmosphere given the derby aspect, but Neil Harris' men are yet to score a single goal away from home in the Championship, while they also lost on their travels in the EFL Cup.

The Lions don't look a bad side, and their home form is decent, but this looks on paper to be a match-up between a very good home side against a poor away side, and that means QPR have to be the selection.
source: bettfair
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Sunderland 2.04 v Nottm Forest 4.00; The Draw 3.70

Simon Grayson is another boss under pressure after his Sunderland side lost their third consecutive game at home to Sheffield United at the weekend.

The Black Cats have been dreadful at the Stadium of Light for some time now and alarmingly haven't won in front of their own fans for 13 games, which is the second longest winless run in the club's history. A home draw with Derby was creditable, and a defeat to Leeds now looks as though it was at the hands of a good team, but Saturday's home defeat to the Blades was a shocker and the boos were loud and clear from the Sunderland faithful.

Grayson knows his team have to improve on home soil, not least because if he wants to stay in a job results need to turn around quickly, so I'm expecting quite an attacking mentality on Tuesday night knowing that Forest can be quite leaky.

Mark Warbuton's men have won three and lost three in the Championship so far but away from home their games have been wide open affairs. They won 4-3 at Brentford, lost 2-1 at Barnsley, and on Saturday lost 3-1 at Sheffield Wednesday. In the EFL Cup they won 3-2 at Newcastle (2-2 after 90 minutes) meaning their four league and cup away games this term have witnessed a total of 19 goals for an average of 4.75 per game.

It seems madness then - and a gift - that we can back Over 2.5 Goals in this fixture at odds against, and that's where I'll be placing my money.
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Back Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.02


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 England League One
 

Peterborough United 2.26 v MK Dons 3.30, the draw 3.50


Saturday was a complete washout with the tips, and I wrongly opposed the MK Dons away at Plymouth. I am against them once more for Tuesday night, though. 

The game sounded a fairly dire affair with Robbie Neilson's side grabbing a 1-0 victory. Their local press described the performance as limp, but any manager will take an ugly win at this stage. 

Winning in that fashion is anathema to Peterborough, who stormed to the top of League One with a swagger reeling off four wins on the spin, but they were knocked off top spot on Saturday following a 3-1 home loss to Bradford. 

We can look at this two ways. The Bantams are a good team, and when their passing game clicks they are one of the best. BBC Five Live pundit David Pleat commented last year on how good they looked. 

Also, Peterborough conceded two goals from set-pieces, whilst the other was goalkeeper error. They came back with a good response in the second-half, and no team at this level should ever be written off after one defeat. 

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Posh had their customary number of shots against the Bantams - 20 in total, and it was great for United finally to get a look at summer signing Ricky Miller. The striker hit 42 goals at Dover last season, and one thing Peterborough do well is unearthing forwards who score. Miller had to serve a ban for biting, and following a 30 minute run out, I'd love to see him partner the rapid-quick Jack Marriott

The hosts are the joint-top scorers in the division, and they are usually fairly sound in stopping the supply line from wide areas. They might not have to be at their best on that front this Tuesday, as the MK Dons were very unambitious at Plymouth.
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Rotherham United 2.00 v Walsall 3.95, the draw 3.65

Millers' boss Paul Warne gave quite a statement to the press on Saturday following their 3-2 triumph against Bury. He said: "I don't think they (the players) realise how good they are."

It certainly was an end-to-end game against the Shakers, with another two goals from striker Kieffer Moore. The 6ft 5in forward was a real handful and just couldn't be stopped - and he has to be a major worry for the Walsall defence for Tuesday night.

The Rotherham press gave a nice stat regarding Moore; he has scored one in every 74 minutes of League One action this term - more than any other player in the division. He's a real fans' favourite at the moment.
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Warne's men are obviously a threat going forward, and they showed that earlier in the season by smashing five past Southend. Rotherham have scored eight at home and just two on their travels - so clearly we need to be looking at them at the New York Stadium.

Walsall are without an away win in 2017, but Rotherham had gone 27 matches without success on their travels before defeating Portsmouth recently, and the price is half-tempting on the Saddlers after an encouraging display at Bristol Rovers on Saturday.

Manager Jon Whitney is setting up a 3-4-1-2 these days, with pocket dynamo Erhun Oztumerplaying in the hole as a proper number 10, and he's a clever player with a cute pass in him.

Their new found high press and high energy has yielded eight points this term, and they looked very threatening in attack with plenty of high balls against Rovers.

If they can replicate that on Tuesday, we should look to the Both Teams To Score market, as four of Walsall's six matches have hit the Over 2.5 Goals target.
source: bettfair
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Back Both Teams To Score @ 1.85 
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Bristol Rovers 1.71 v Oldham Athletic 5.40, the draw 3.85


The visitors might have their backers here at a price of 5.40 following their away 2-2 at Fleetwood on Saturday. I was with Town and thought even at their skinny odds, they should have beaten the Latics. In fact, Oldham nearly pulled off the win, had it not been for a late home equaliser.

Oldham looked fairly comfortable for long parts against a very good Fleetwood team. Uwe Rosler's men missed a few chances (namely Devante Cole), but they showed they are an improving side that just need a win.

If John Sheridan's side can match their Saturday efforts again here, that is a massive price. But two away trips is a tough ask, especially with an even longer away day at Bristol. They only have one point this season, so they are going to be a big price for a while. However, I cannot tip them here and perform a complete U-turn from Saturday.

Neither will I be backing the hosts at 1.71!

The angle to explore here might be goals. Oldham hit three against Charlton (and lost), and they do create chances.

But Rovers are quite entertaining at the moment, and they are five from six in both Both Teams To Score and Over 2.5 Goals markets. The Gas have been involved in games with scorelines of 4-1, 3-2 and 3-1 (twice), so Tuesday might throw up another feast.

The Gas have a never-say-day attitude and have conceded as many goals at home as they have scored this term (six), and they also have Billy Bodin on song with six goals in eight matches.
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Back Both Teams To Score @ 1.90

 


 

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 England League Two
 

19:45 BST kick-offs
Notts County 2.20 v Swindon 3.50; the draw 3.60

Asking Port Vale to win at Luton might be a stretch too far, even for a night (Tuesday) that traditionally gives us some results against form - tempting as the rewards might be at 7.80!

However, Swindon do seem a big price to win at Notts County. I'm not taking Kevin Nolan's word for it that the Magpies dominated Morecambe on Saturday. That's not what a 2-0 scoreline says to me, one which was only fully achieved in the 85th minute. They also beat the Valiants, now bottom, by the narrowest of margins, 1-0, the week before.

The Midlands club have plenty of strengths - seven different scorers in the five games they have scored (11 goals) being one. Lewis Alessandra and Jorge Grant, on loan from Nottingham Forest, are sure to be a threat to any team.

But Swindon have put down a marker for David Flitcroft after beating Luton 3-0, taking advantage of the Hatters having Scott Cuthbert dismissed in the first half. Nonetheless they still had to make the numerical advantage count. Swindon's away form reads played three, won three. Paul Mullin and Luke Norris can score, while James Dunne acts as a great "screen" in front of the new-look defence this season, says keeper Lawrence Vigouroux

It could well be just a matter of time before Flitcroft has his team where his former team Bury were positioned in this division when he led them in 2014-15 - near the top. Saturday's win could be a confidence-boosting win to consistency.
source: bettfair
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Mansfield 2.04 v Wycombe 4.30; the draw 3.70

Regular readers will know I like to look for against form upsets on Tuesday nights. However, some teams like to throw in "form shocks" on the Saturday beforehand. Or odd results anyway.

Wycombe drew 0-0 at Newport at the weekend, which was in stark contrast to each of their five games this season reaping over 3.5 goals. They have scored 13 and conceded 11.

How they didn't score seemed a complete mystery to Gareth Ainsworth - and particularly to Craig Mackail-Smith who missed an open goal. Josh Umerah and Anthony Stewart both missed chances, too. 

Maybe Bayo Akinfenwa will be back for this big game against the pre-season title favourites. Did he miss out injured after using Luke O'Nien for squatting practice celebrating a goal against Forest Green? The big striker told Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp on deadline day he was the perfect striker to finish off the work created by pacey wingers - so he should sign him! Paris Cowan-Hall take note: Akinfenwa is saying he will finish your crosses.
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Mansfield manager Steve Evans is sure to have an opinion about Akinfenwa's antics - and idea of how he will try to stop the Chairboys' marauding forward line, whoever plays and which had six shots on target and nine off on Saturday.

The Stags' statistics and results look tighter games, but in fact they are not much different, having scored 12 and conceded eight. On Saturday, they converted all four of their shots on target, beating Grimsby 4-1, two of them penalties by Lee Angol. Mariners' boss Russell Slademoaned that Mansfield had not "undone" them in open play.

Wycombe should be similarly hard to unravel, if they have true ambitions of promotion this season. He has made much of Adam El-Abd being an imposing player, so now the defenders - from both sides - need to show what they are made of. The visitors are a large price for a victory. To beat Mansfield at home will not be easy, but it is worth a punt.
source: bettfair
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Newport 2.30 v Cheltenham 3.55; the draw 3.60

Newport's home league season might have been interrupted so they could sort out their pitch - which was a huge problem for them last season - but the pictures from their weekend stalemate with Wycombe indicate a great turf.

There was an air of expectancy, said one report, every time Frank Nouble attacked Wycombe from his position on the left, that something great would happen. If Padraig Amond or others could only take the opportunities that were created, from Nouble, the League Two player of the month, and others. 

No manager wants a season of "if onlys". Sean Rigg has the experience across the midfield to coax great performances out of others. They will need every ounce of experience after Joss Ladabie joined the injury list. But Michael Flynn's side have shown plenty of grit to suffer just one defeat last season. They will be hoping they don't have to repeat last season's miracle escape from the foot of the table.

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Cheltenham don't look in much better fettle than they did last season - yet anyway. Striker Danny Wright wasted a great chance to score in the goalless draw at Yeovil. He'll be looking for longer in this game than the first 23 minutes, but his replacement Jaanai Gordon didn't fair much better, forcing saves from the keeper but still not scoring. 

All Gary Johnson wants is a goal, says the Cheltenham boss, but his side have scored in three of their six games, just not in the last two. It could be worse. He could be a Crystal Palace player or fan, who are still awaiting their first league goal of the season (after four games). I fear, however, that Cheltenham fans might have to suffer another disappointment here, after gaining their first point of the season on Saturday. 

Newport will have to contain Kevin Dawson, who is looking better and better on the right of a front three, but will want to impress home now they have full use of Valley Parade. 
source: bettfair
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20:00 BST kick off
Barnet 2.70 v Exeter 2.90; the draw 3.50


Now here's a shock: Exeter took a handsome victory and didn't suffer the "kiss of death" after Paul Tisdale received the manager of the month award. Being his first in 11 years in his current job, to be given it was a bit of a shock in itself!

The Grecians might have lost a few players over the summer - and initially boss Tisdale seemed reluctant to recruit - but he is proving the case for stability. On Saturday, he named an unchanged lineup for the third game running, which set Liam McAlinden, Reuben Reid and Lee Holmes free up front. 

Dean Moxey, recently returned, was on the bench with some other notable performers looking to work their way back in. The manager has a pretty much injury-free squad at his disposal, unlike this time last year. The club has enjoyed a record start to a Football League season, returning 16 points from six games.

For all the stability and consistency, I am wondering what sort of barrier Barnet will be at the Hive? A rock pool that is tricky to navigate during an otherwise smooth run on the beach? No team is going to go a whole season without setbacks. 

Rossi Eames' side don't seem to be missing injured John Akinde right now. Instead they are ploughing on with first Shaq Coulthirst firing a hat-trick in a 4-1 defeat of Swindon, then Mauro Vilhete notching two in a 3-1 win over Cambridge. With Jamal Campbell-Ryce a driving force, they really have found their feet after a three losses.

Performance. Work-rate. Vibe. Creating chances. All words the manager used afterward. They will be out to test Christy Pym in Exeter's goal.

The Bees are riding a wave at present and the fact they are the shortest odds reflects that. Exeter's two "dropped" points came in an away game at Swindon and, once he has seen them play against his side, Tisdale might settle for a single point at a team in-form.
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England Premier League 26.08.2017

 

 
 

Crystal Palace 1.98 v Swansea 4.50; The Draw 3.65

Crystal Palace appear to have lost the momentum they built up towards the end of last season under Sam Allardyce, and their performances to date have been similar to what we witnessed in the first half of last season, which surely has to be concerning.

The Eagles' 0-3 home defeat to newly-promoted Huddersfield was extremely disappointing. It wasn't just the result and the three goals conceded, but also the fact that they registered fewer shots on target than their opponents and just didn't look up to the task. Various reports after the game commented that Frank de Boer's men looked like they were still in pre-season mode; just seven fouls committed in 94 minutes suggests those reports weren't too far off the mark.

Incidentally, the five clubs that committed the fewest fouls on the opening weekend of the season were Brighton, Bournemouth, Palace, Newcastle and West Ham. Those clubs currently occupy the bottom five positions in the table having played two and lost two! A telling statistic perhaps.


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Back to Palace though, and yes, they - or to be more precise, Christian Benteke - should have scored at Anfield last Saturday with that glorious chance, but apart from that they were absolutely toothless. They enjoyed just 28% possession, registered just one shot on target, and but for some wasteful Liverpool finishing - the home side had 23 shots at goal, 13 on target - they could have suffered another big defeat.

And even though De Boer's men beat Ipswich 2-1 in the League Cup in midweek I actually believe that result will have done nothing for the Eagles' confidence. Palace lined up with a strong side that night, and faced a very young and inexperienced Ipswich side.

So I have to oppose Palace in this match. True, they are facing a Swansea side that were also thrashed in their only home game this term, but a defeat to a rampant Manchester United team - remember, the scoreline was just 0-1 until the 80th minute - reads much better than a home defeat to relegation favourites Huddersfield.

Paul Clement's men earned a point away to Southampton on the opening day of the season, and in midweek a Swansea team showing five changes won easily at MK Dons in the League Cup, so the Welsh outfit have done nothing wrong on the road so far this term.

There won't be much between Palace and the Swans in this match, but getting the draw and the away team on side at around even money is the recommended bet.
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Huddersfield 4.00 v Southampton 2.14; The Draw 3.50

Southampton were undoubtedly in my eyes the big losers from the midweek League Cup round two matches, and as a result they are well worth opposing at the John Smith's Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino fielded a strong side on Wednesday night that included regular starters Fraser Forster, Maya Yoshida, Oriol Romeu, James Ward-Prowse, and Dusan Tadic, as well as the often used Jack Stephens, Sofiane Boufal, and Charlie Austin - it was arguably one of the strongest Premier League outfits on show during the week.

So to lose 0-2 at home to Championship side Wolves was a big disappointment, but when you consider that Nuno Espirito Santo made the full 11 changes to his starting line-up, then the result almost becomes embarrassing for Southampton.


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The Saints' two Premier League outings this term haven't exactly been eyecatching either, despite taking four points from a possible six. Pellegrino's men could manage only a draw at home to Swansea a fortnight ago (admittedly, a game they should have won), and last weekend they led 2-0 and had a man advantage at home to West Ham, but almost threw away victorythat afternoon, being pegged back to 2-2 before a last-gasp penalty saved their blushes.

It could be that Southampton perform better on the road as results at St Mary's towards the end of last season and the start of this certainly suggest they're struggling in front of their own fans. But until we see evidence this term that they're a better side on their travels - and of course, we might see it here - then I'm happy to oppose them.

Huddersfield have started the season in blistering fashion, taking six points from a possible six without conceding, and although they struggled to get the better of League One outfit Rotherham in the cup in midweek the fact that their much-changed side did come from behind to grind out a victory bodes well.

David Wagner's men are a typical example of a newly-promoted side bringing all the built-up momentum and confidence from a successful campaign into a new season and playing as if they have nothing to lose. It's refreshing to watch.

The Terriers will come a cropper sooner rather than later no doubt, and I fear for them when they do, but at 4.00 to back at home to a side that must be deflated following their surprise midweek loss, well that's a price well worth chancing.
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Watford 2.00 v Brighton 4.50; The Draw 3.65

Like Southampton, Watford fielded a relatively strong side in midweek at home to Bristol City in the cup, and lost, so perhaps it's a bit contradictory that I'm selecting them to take all three points against Brighton on Saturday afternoon. 

But unlike the Saints, Watford's four league points gained were done so in very impressive fashion. Marco Silva's men really took their opening game to Liverpool, led twice, and battled right to the death to take a point from a very good attacking side. And they then put in a thoroughly dominant display at Bournemouth last weekend, coming away from Dean Court with a deserved 2-0 victory.


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So on the early evidence the Hornets are about on a par with Leicester in that they both should comfortably finish around mid-table, and the reason I mention the Foxes is because last week I made them a confident pick to beat newly-promoted Brighton. So I have to back the Seagulls to suffer another away defeat, yet we're getting an even juicier price about the home side this time around.

Chris Hughton's men have suffered back-to-back 2-0 defeats in the Premier League, and while there's absolutely nothing wrong on paper with two-goal reversals to Manchester City and away to Leicester, the worrying aspect is that they really didn't lay a glove on either side.

Hughton then made 11 changes for the visit of League Two Barnet in the League Cup in midweek, though deep down I expect he was hoping his side would win far more comfortably than the final 1-0 scoreline.

I do expect Brighton to improve as the season goes on, but the danger is that they might soon be cemented in a relegation battle, and another defeat at Vicarage Road on Saturday will do nothing for their confidence going into the international break.
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Championship 26.08.2017

 

Brentford 2.50 v Wolves 2.94; The Draw 3.65

I'd like to say that the Championship table is starting to settle down, and that we can clearly see from the standings which clubs are going to be challenging for promotion, and which ones will be battling to avoid the drop.

But I don't think that's the case at all yet!

There are a number of clubs that have started slowly that look certain to improve. The likes of Brentford and Fulham for example, who are yet to win a single league game between them in eight attempts. And then there's Aston Villa, Hull, Sheff Wed, and Sunderland, who all sit 12th or lower having recorded just a single win each from their four games.

I think it will be a few weeks after the international break, and when the transfer window is closed, that we'll see the big clubs coming to the fore. It's certainly been a tough division to predict so far, but then it's like this every season.

So for our first bet let's stick with something that is as regular as the dongs from Big Ben... goals involving Brentford. Oh, hang on!


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But you get my drift, some things usually happen a lot, and when the Bees are involved it usually means the back of the goal nets rippling. Their last five league and cup games have finished 1-3, 3-4, 2-2, 2-0, and 1-4. That's just shy of an average of 4.5 goals per game in that spell, and 11 goals witnessed in just two games at Griffin Park.

As I've been saying for the last few weeks, Dean Smith's men will be desperate to get that first league win on the board, and I certainly don't expect them to sit back against a decent Wolves team.

Nuno Espírito Santo's men must be on a high after winning away at Southampton in the League Cup in midweek, and they themselves will be looking to bounce back from last week's home loss to Cardiff, their first defeat of the season.

Wolves have won all three of their away games this term and they've scored at least two goalsin all of them, and that bodes extremely well if you're backing a high-scoring game on Saturday afternoon.
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Ipswich 3.45 v Fulham 2.22; The Draw 3.75

Similar to last week, when I couldn't believe Ipswich were the outsiders at home to out-of-form Brentford, I'm surprised that they are trading at such a big price again. But at least I can sort of understand it this time.

Last week I mentioned that Ipswich v Brentford appeared to have been priced up on how both clubs were expected to perform overall this season, and not on the early form that we'd witnessed. The Tractor Boys had made a 100% winning start to the season of course, and the Bees were rock bottom.

What I didn't know at the time was the extent of Ipswich's injury list, and that was probably the reason why they were a generous price. However, they still won the game 2-0.

And it's a similar feel this week. Mick McCarthy changed his full starting XI for the midweek League Cup defeat at Crystal Palace, saying that he had no more than just eight or nine fit first-team regulars, and he didn't want to risk those players picking up injuries or suspensions.


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McCarthy will revert back to his strongest side available for the visit of Fulham, and I can't help but feel that with such limited options to him regarding personnel, McCarthy will instil an 'avoid defeat at all costs' type of mentality into his men.

So I'm fully expecting a tight, low-scoring affair here, and therefore a price of 2.50 about both teams not scoring makes plenty of appeal. Ipswich have played just two games at Portman Road this term, winning them both without conceding; 1-0 against Birmingham and 2-0 v Brentford.

Fulham meanwhile have been bitterly disappointing this term, and they seem to have forgotten where the back of the net is. They started the season by scoring just a single goal against both Norwich and Reading, but they've drew a blank in all of their last three outings, drawing 0-0 at Leeds before losing 0-1 at home to both Sheffield Wednesday and Bristol Rovers.
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Middlesbrough 1.82 v Preston 5.20; The Draw 3.75

I'll keep this one extremely short, and hopefully it turns out very sweet, and I'll also make no apologies for sounding like a broken record.

But when you can back Middlesbrough to record a clean sheet, at the Riverside Stadium, against one of the division's lowest scorers, then I'm always going to be interested at an odds-against price.

Remember, this is almost the same Boro defence that had one of the best defensive records in the Premier League last term outside of the big six, and during their promotion season they recorded more clean sheets than any professional club in the country.


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That defence - although very similar in terms of personnel - is a lot more experienced and wiser now, and they've arguably got a much better goalkeeper behind them in £5m summer signing Darren Randolph.

But what seals the deal is the fact that Garry Monk's men have played three games on home soil this term, and they've yet to concede a single goal. Preston on the other hand have played two games on their travels in the league, and they've failed to score a single goal.

A Middlesbrough clean sheet can be backed at 13/10 on the Sportsbook, and that looks very generous.
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England Leagues 26.08.2017

 

Northampton Town 2.40 v Peterborough United 2.92, the draw 3.45


Sometimes a market just doesn't look right. Northampton have lost all three games in League One, whilst Peterborough have won all three and are scoring plenty. So a price of nearly 2/1 on the visitors looks too good to turn down for this Saturday.

Is it the derby factor for the home team's price? To be honest I am a bit baffled, so we side with the 'goal kings' again.

I outlined the Opta stat involving Peterborough's Jack Marriott last week- he now has five goals in two games following a double against Rotherham. Anyway, the stat now reads that no player in League One has more shots (19), shots on target (nine), or goals (five) than him so far this season. The 22-year-old is beginning to look a bargain at £450,000, as young players that score are a valuable asset.

Posh do have a midas touch in unearthing strikers. They've also got 17-year-old Idris Kanu who is waiting to be unleashed properly.


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If you are looking for the Over 2.5 bet or the BTTS, Posh have hit the target in both of those markets in every game this season, and are the top scorers in the division. In Marriott however, they have the game-changer. He is quick and aggressive, and his pace has really livened up this Posh team. This should be a game they should view as winnable.

Northampton's summer signings are not gelling, and a heavy 4-1 loss to Charlton last week doesn't make them a 2.40 chance for me. Manager Justin Edinburgh didn't acknowledge the fans last Saturday, and that's not ideal when you have lost all three. Edinburgh was never convincing defensively at Gillingham, and how they approach this game is the great poser.

They are home, in a derby against their rivals, yet their confidence levels won't be high. Meanwhile, using Opta stats, the Posh have won each of their last three league matches against Northampton, as well as winning on three of their last four visits (D1).
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Rotherham United 2.46 v Charlton Athletic 2.90, the draw 3.55


The Addicks have a poor record on their travels to Rotherham. According to Opta stats, the Londoners have only won on once of their last 11 league visits to Yorkshire (D3 L7), and I am backing the hosts here to extend the numbers on that miserable run.

I mentioned the Rotherham defeat to Peterborough last weekend above, but they created plenty of chances in a real end-to-end game. On-loan striker Kieffer Moore scored his fourth in two games in that, and at 6ft 5in he gives his team plenty of options. He works very hard too.

Mistakes were made in the Posh match, and manager Paul Warne was incandescent with rage after one piece of comedy defending. But we are banking on the great attacking threat they pose, as they are very good going forward. United are big and powerful, with the added bonus of a side that always looks like scoring. If it wasn't for those mistakes.

Southend were on the receiving end of a 5-0 thumping at the New York Stadium a couple of weeks ago, and they are not a bad team.


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Charlton are much improved this season, and they certainly look more of a team than at various stages last term. Manager Karl Robinson has instilled more intent, and the side have plenty of energy with their pressing. But they don't have a Jack Marriott - who Rotherham couldn't really handle last Saturday.

Robinson's men have picked up six points so far, and that includes the recent 4-1 victory against Northampton. The scoreline probably flattered them, and they were beaten 2-0 at Plymouth the week before - a team that are fairly physical themselves.

Take the 2.46 to back for the Millers to return to winning ways on home soil, after all, their away record is appalling. They have gone 27 matches without success on the road.
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AFC Wimbledon 2.70 v Doncaster Rovers 2.80, the draw 3.45


"We've got goals in the team, all over the team."

That was the quote from Doncaster manager Darren Ferguson last week following their 3-3 draw with Blackpool. They also hit three in the EFL Cup against Bradford, and won at early title favourites Blackburn 1-3.

Unfortunately goals are the problem for Wimbledon. Scoring - not conceding.

The Opta stat that the Dons have failed to score in each of their last four home league games is a worrying figure if you are backing the home team at 2.70. The Londoners have signed Harry Forrester from Rangers on loan - which looks good business. He needs to make an immediate impact.


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However, the price of Doncaster looks too good to turn down. That away victory at Blackburnmust have given them a bit of swagger, as they played with a lot of confidence last weekend, but like many teams at this level, those defensive mistakes are so costly.

A midweek EFL Cup win against Hull can only boost the confidence, as striker Alfie Mayexcelled to make his case for a starting berth. Where does Ferguson squeeze him in? He has a very well-balanced side, and the Scot changed his formation to the en-vogue 3-5-2 last week to have more control of the game.

The Dons will present a very physical test, but their lack of goals at the moment (and points), makes the away side the bet.
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Notts County [2.65] v Accrington 3.00; the draw 3.50


Jonathan Forte must be full of confidence at present, with an endorsement from his manager ringing in his ears and having scored his first goal since January for Notts County.

He was left out of the squad to face Coventry on the first day of the season by Kevin Nolan, and then asked the manager if he was in his plans. At least, that was the polite version that the boss reported, after the striker scored in the 4-2 win at Wycombe.

Forte came off the bench to put the Magpies 3-2 up, after they had led 2-0, and Lewis Alessandra, another substitute, scored the fourth. With Shola Ameobi and Jon Stead starting, there is clearly rivalry for places which just might be the sign that County can rid themselves of the struggle of last season and kick a bit higher.


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It's early days, of course, and Accrington are there to test the resolve of the hardest desires. They are driven, year on year, by John Coleman to be more than the sum of their parts. 

Billy Kee might be facing a court case soon for an alleged incident on a night out earlier this year, but that didn't stop him playing or scoring on Saturday, when he bagged the late winner against pre-season favourites Mansfield. 

The striker has much experience in this division, and, with 32 league goals, is close to the 39 he scored in his Burton spell. 

Coleman is great at finding, or polishing, rough diamond players and loves it when they think they have a point to prove, as Kayden Jackson seems to want to do to Barnsley where he thinks he wasn't given a chance. 

Opta emphasise that Jackson has scored in all three League Two games this season, while Notts County have lost just once in 12 at Meadow Lane.

Accrington lost 3-2 at Yeovil in their previous away game and started with a 3-1 win over Colchester and it is likely both teams will be on the attack here.
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Saturday, August 26 kick-offs 15:00 BST

Cheltenham 2.90 v Exeter 2.74; the draw 3.50

One wonders if Exeter's inability to score more than once a game at present will be regular feature of their season - and it has been successful for teams in the past - or whether ultimately it will come back to bite them.

The Exeter City Supporters Trust has received a grant to create a museum and fans would love to create another worthwhile entry with promotion this season, having gone so close last year.

Solid and composed was one verdict of their 1-0 win on Saturday when beating Lincoln. Even Paul Tisdale suggested they might have lost a game like that this time last season, such was Lincoln's dominance of possession.


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Now, the squad knows each other well. Few players have left and few have been recruited. You could argue that key ones have left but actually that win was also achieved without Jordan Moore-Taylor and David Wheeler. They could have played, admitted Tisdale, but it would have been a risk as they come back from injury.

It was quite a defensive display, said watching Wheeler in his local paper column. But the Grecians are in no mood to play catch up this year, as they had to last season.

Reuben Reid, a proven striker at this level, should prove a handful for any defence, but especially one which has conceded six goals in three games - and the Robins have scored just once in reply.

Opta state that Exeter are looking to start a season unbeaten in four games for the first time since 1999. They also add, however, that Cheltenham have won their last four games at Whaddon Road. They are going to need plenty of steely determination to get any change out of Exeter, I think.

Gary Johnson called on his squad to enhance their reputation in the League Cup tie with West Ham (they lost 2-0 but acquitted themselves relatively well it seems). Saturday's visitors could be a different prospect and determined to prove themselves in this division. The away win price is temptingly large, with a saver on under 2.5 goals at 2.04 to with it.
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Lincoln 2.20 v Carlisle 3.70; the draw 3.70

No team wants to acquire the tag of 'nearly men', or be the 'hard luck' story. And Danny Cowleyhas already tried to get rid of the thought by mentioning that his Lincoln side don't want to end up with that monica. Surely that's a bit like asking a child to go into a corner and not think about pink elephants? The idea is now in the players' heads.

Two draws and that 'banging heads against a stubborn wall' defeat to Exeter make Cowley impatient for a first win, of course. With their players still under scrutiny from higher levels until the transfer window closes, the manager faces a tough time trying to keep his squad's minds on the job.

Exeter were already wise to the tactic of keeper Paul Farman's long kicks for Matt Rhead to head on, but another Matt - Green - has to be the one to watch, having scored twice already this season.


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Carlisle's Reggie Lambe has a personal challenge - he has scored in two consecutive games but has never scored in three in a row, according to Opta. The midfielder's career stats show a 0.15 goal per game return, so it would be a surprise if he achieved the feat. However, the Cumbrians have plenty of other people who can finish a chance: from defender Tom Miller to striker Shaun Miller and quite a few others in between.

The visitors won't find this game easy, but do seem a rather big price. Maybe a lay of the hosts would seem more prudent, but I think the risk on the away side is worth a shot after successive victories over Cambridge and Cheltenham.
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England Premier League 19.08.2017

 

Leicester 1.77 v Brighton 5.40; The Draw 3.85

I really fancy Tottenham to beat Chelsea at an odds-against price this weekend - see the Betting Battle for reasons why and other recommended bets - but as they're playing on Sunday afternoon I can't include them in this column.

But thankfully we have some decent teams kicking off at 3pm and the one I really like in the Match Odds market is Leicester City.

From the moment the game started at the Emirates Stadium last Friday I always fancied the Foxes to get something out of the match. They looked very lively from the word go and Jamie Vardy was a constant threat. I was almost justified in my confidence when they led 2-1 and 3-2 but they fizzled out in the last 15 minutes under a barrage of Gunners attacks.

But I saw enough in that performance to believe that Leicester will comfortably be a mid-table side - at worst - this season and I'm happy to back them to record their first win of the season against newly-promoted Brighton.


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It's hard to judge the Seagulls on last week's defeat to Manchester City. They were simply outplayed, barely looked a threat, and actually deserve credit for staying in the game as long as they did. But Chris Hughton knew what type of game he was in for and he set his side up accordingly. I just wonder if he'll be more adventurous at the King Power Stadium, and if Brighton do enjoy more possession than they enjoyed last week then we all know how dangerous that can be against Leicester.

I'm not dismissing Brighton lightly by any means, as Hughton will know how good the Foxes are on the counter attack and that he must minimise the amount of space afforded to Vardy behind the backline. But if Leicester get their noses in front in plenty of time - and I fancy they will - then Brighton might get caught out once or twice more as they chase the game.
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Liverpool 1.37 v Crystal Palace 10.50; The Draw 5.60

As we saw so many time last season Liverpool simply can't be relied upon when they're a huge odds-on price and even if you fancy them to win then it's best to look to profit elsewhere in other markets.

Liverpool's odds-on backers saw early evidence of exactly what I'm talking about last Saturday when they failed to land the odds against Watford, and even traded at 1.04 in-play before conceding that last-gasp equaliser.

Put simply, Liverpool just look vulnerable at the back, whoever the opposition, and for that reason I think Dan Thomas is onto a winner with his Both Teams to Score selection in the aforementioned Betting Battle. But I really like Jurgen Klopp's side going forward and I don't think there'll be many games this season when they don't get on the scoresheet.


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At home to a Crystal Palace side that conceded three to Huddersfield last weekend I fancy Liverpool to get on the scoresheet two or three times at least, and at the prices the player I like is Sadio Mane.

The Senegal international had last season cut short due to injury but was still good enough to be named in the PFA Team of the Year and also receive Liverpool's Player of the Seasonaccolade after scoring 13 goals in a highly promising start to his Anfield career.

And the 25-year-old started this season in similar fashion, scoring a quite brilliant goal at Vicarage Road last week. He's 13/10 to score at anytime in this game, and that makes more appeal than the 5/4 quote about Mo Salah and the 11/10 price available for Roberto Firmino.
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Stoke 4.60 v Arsenal 1.88; The Draw 3.95

Rather like Liverpool, Arsenal weren't exactly the epitome of a rock solid defensive unit in their season-opening against Leicester last week, but I definitely feel - with the personnel each club has currently - that the Gunners have the potential to be stronger at the back.

It just seemed that they weren't expecting the Foxes to be so high energy, and maybe Vardy not to be so on his game. Admittedly, Arsenal's defending for Vardy's third goal left a lot to be desired however.

Arsene Wenger's men face Stoke on Saturday afternoon, and this is a fixture that they've generally struggled in during recent years. Prior to last season's victory at the Bet365 Stadium, Arsenal have won none of their six previous visits to the Potteries. Four of those six games ended with scorelines of 0-0 (twice), 1-0, and 1-1, and that's the wager - Under 2.5 Goals - I have a hunch for here.


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My personal view is that this is the weakest Stoke side Mark Hughes has had at his disposal for quite a few 
seasons, and even though Jese Rodriguez has been brought in on loan this week the likes of Saido Berahino and Peter Crouch (when they start) in attack shouldn't really frighten any defence.

Stoke managed just one shot on target at Everton last Saturday, that coming with almost the very last kick of the game, and I just don't see them troubling Arsenal enough to support the Over 2.5 Goals option at odds-on.

Arsenal are very capable of scoring two or three themselves of course, but given their recent record at Stoke I fancy Wenger's men will be more than happy to just consolidate last week's victory with a low-scoring, dull win.
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Championship 19.08.2017

 

Wolves 2.04 v Cardiff 4.10; The Draw 3.65

You can't fault the start Wolves have had to this season's Championship. Three games played, three wins and six goals scored is impressive enough, but when you consider that two of those games were away from home, and that they've faced pre-season title favourites Middlesbrough, recently relegated Hull, and a fancied Derby side, then it becomes a dream start for the West Midlands outfit.

It's a start that has also elevated Wolves to the head of the Championship Winner market - now available to back at 3.60, just ahead of Middlesbrough at 6.40 - and yet we can back Nuno Espírito Santo's men, on home soil, at a slightly odds-against price against one of the clubs fancied to struggle this term.

Okay, that's a slightly manipulated way of dismissing Cardiff's chances as the Bluebirds - matched at a high of 55.00 to win the title - actually top the early-season table following three straight wins of their own, all without conceding.

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But Neil Warnock's men have faced rock bottom and relegation favourites Burton, and a Sheffield United side that were promoted from League Two last term; a far cry from the calibre of teams that Wolves have been defeating. True, a 3-0 thrashing of Aston Villa was very impressive, but it may turn out that Villa will once again be a team that struggles to challenge for the play-offs.

Still, you can't knock Cardiff's start either, but given that Wolves have home advantage, and the confidence they must have given the victories they've achieved, then as title favourites I think they deserve to be a slightly shorter price in the Match Odds than they actually are to win this game.

I took the view that it might take Wolves a few months to settle down given the number of summer signings they've made but it's been the complete opposite, and £15.8m man Ruben Neves - who scored a sensational goal in midweek - is already showing exactly why he's the Championship's record signing.
A home win looks just about the best bet in the Championship on Saturday afternoon.
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Bristol City 2.00 v Millwall 4.10; The Draw 3.70

The goal involvement standings for teams in the Championship (goals scored plus goals conceded) currently reads; 12 - Brentford, Hull, 11 - Bristol City, Ipswich, Nottm Forest, 10 - Millwall, Barnsley. It's an embryonic list of course, but as the weeks go by it's very much worth taking notice of if you're a big fan of Overs/Unders markets.

Four of those seven clubs listed are in opposition on Saturday afternoon, so you won't be surprised to learn that I'm backing goals when Bristol City host Millwall and when Brentford travel to Ipswich.

I mentioned last season - when they were in a poor run of form actually - that games involving the Robins had huge potential to go high on the goals lines. And they did generally. Lee Johnson's men were conceding goals for fun but they were excellent at counter attacking and were usually good for a goal or two themselves.

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As the season concluded Bristol City tightened up defensively to a certain extent and went on an excellent run of form to avoid relegation. They've started this season very much how you could sum them up last season - capable of scoring plenty at one end, but always likely to concede at the other. Their four games this term have finished 3-1, 5-0, 2-1, and 2-2. That's an average of exactly four goals per game.

Millwall have performed with enormous credit so far and have arguably been the better side in all three of their league games, yet they have just a solitary point for their efforts, which is extremely concerning. They led early against Ipswich in midweek, fought back from 1-2 down and 2-3 down, then lost 3-4 in the dying minutes.

It all suggests that this game should be an absolute cracker. City will do what they do best; get at the opposition, and with a Lions defence that has conceded six goals in three league games you have to fancy Johnson's men to score a few. But Millwall will be a threat at the other end too and it's easy to envisage a goal-filled game.
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Ipswich 2.92 v Brentford 2.54; The Draw 3.70

First off, I'm absolutely amazed that Brentford are trading as quite strong favourites in the Match Odds market. They're away from home, have taken just a single point from nine available, can't stop conceding goals, and they're facing a team with a 100% win record.

You'd think then that I'd be putting up Ipswich as the bet. I'm not, but I certainly wouldn't put anyone off backing them at the price. They've won four out of four in all competitions and averaged over two goals scored per game, so confidence must be sky high at Portman Road.

But I just think it's too early in the season to say that this team are in sparkling form and that team are in poor form etc, and if pricing this match up on season expectations - which I think the market has here - then the odds are just about right. I'm just extremely surprised that the market doesn't appear to have taken into account those early season results.

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But in a nutshell, the bet I fancy is goals. I recommended Over 3.5 Goals in Brentford's game against Nottm Forest last week and it finished 3-4. I then repeated the bet in midweek when the Bees hosted Bristol City, and that game ended 2-2. So why change something when it's not broken?

Brentford's last three games have witnessed 15 goals, which is exactly five per game on average, and remember this is a team that were involved in more goals than any other Championship club last season. On Saturday they face an Ipswich side that won 4-3 in midweek, showing that they can score goals themselves as well as concede to clubs expected to be in and around the relegation zone.

As was the case in midweek, Dean Smith's men will be desperate to get the win that will kick-start their campaign, and they're facing a team high on confidence. It should result in another goalfest. 
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England Leagues 19.08.2017

 

Bury 2.46 v Bristol Rovers 2.96, the draw 3.45


The away side do not warrant being a tick under 2/1 for this judged on two defeats in both League One fixtures this term - especially as they were labelled "mentally weak" by their manager Darrell Clarke for last Saturday's 4-1 shellacking against Peterborough.

Rovers couldn't get to grips with a young and attacking side last week, and that has to be a worry if you are thinking of backing the away team here at the bigger odds.

Their run of form in the division that has carried over from last season is not particularly encouraging either; they have lost their last four and haven't lost five in a row since 2011 according to Opta.

Bury are the bet here, and with them being 2.46 for the win - we can probably squeeze out that Draw No Bet option.

You have to be in a forgiving mood, though, as the Shakers themselves were stuffed 4-1 by Wigan last weekend. Manager Lee Clark probably had a cogent excuse in that they were the only team in the division to play on the Thursday in the League Cup (against Sunderland). Clark thought his players looked tired. So there ought not to be any excuses here.

The Shakers done us a favour on the opening day by winning 1-0 against Walsall - although they bizarrely missed two penalties. They scored from a set-piece delivery from Chris Maguire, and that is an often under-rated quality at this level. Bury looked good defensively in the game, though, and with their goal threats of Nicky Ajose and Jermaine Beckford, their price is more than fair.

Opta point out that Bury have won three of their last four home games against the Gas, so we'll stick with the hosts.

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Fleetwood Town 2.00 v AFC Wimbledon 4.30, the draw 3.55 


There are some terrible prices knocking around this weekend. Portsmouth at home on Saturday are 1.72, whilst the MK Dons can be backed at a ridiculous 1.68. Any takers on Doncaster and Charlton? They both trade at 1.82.

Fleetwood are a better team than all of those, history tells us that as they reached the play-offs last term. They have won both of their games so far without conceding a goal, and they also have the best manager in the division. Yet we can back them at 2.00.

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Throw into the mix the Opta stat that AFC Wimbledon have failed to score in 13 of their last 19 away matches in all competitions, and the case to back Fleetwood looks a little stronger.

The Cod Army kept out Rotherham on the opening day of the season - and they (Rotherham) subsequently hit Southend for five. The Northampton game last weekend was not a match high on quality, with manager Uwe Rosler saying his team got dragged down to the level of their opponent. They rode their luck for a brief moment, but they never really looked in trouble against a side who struggle to score. I expect the same sort of game here.

The Dons earned a point away at Scunthorpe recently thanks to Jimmy Abdou - and his experience as a holding midfielder is just the sort of player that will do well at Kingsmeadow. I liked him at Millwall.

However, this is a tough test, and Fleetwood are a decent side at home. Wimbledon are more physical and direct, whilst the hosts play on the counter-attack. According to Opta; all three games between these two at Highbury have ended level - with two finishing goalless. I would be interested in the Under 2.5 Goals here due to Wimbledon being away from home, but the hosts look a good price compared to some others this Saturday.

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Peterborough United 2.40 v Rotherham United 3.10, the draw 3.55

The good old days are back at Peterborough. I remember writing about them as the classic Overs' team many seasons ago. So far, so good. They are delivering, and are on schedule to hit those 110 goals for the chairman.

As a bettor we have to decide if everyone else has cottoned on to the fact that the 'Goal Kings' are back? Well, the Over 2.5 Goals was trading at around 1.71 on Thursday, whilst the Over 3.5 was pushing towards 2.80. Should we consider Over 4.5?


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Or we could stick to the Both Teams To Score angle that served us well last weekend. That has been squeezed; with a price of around 1.60 on offer for this potentially exciting clash.

Posh have more pace up front these days in the shape of Jack Marriott; and according to Opta stats, no League One player has more shots (11), more shots on target (6), or scored more goals (3) than the striker. One thing they do well is finding decent forwards that score plenty of goals. Those are like alchemists in this league.

Rotherham themselves enjoyed a five-goal romp last Saturday with a thumping victory over Southend. The Shrimpers are a good team, so that was some performance. Kieffer Moore was another to help himself to a hat-trick - so we really should expect goals here.

Part of me thinks that Rotherham look a bet at 3.10 as this game could be open. Posh might be vulnerable down the flanks, and we know they'll attack. In fact, from their two wins this season, Peterborough had 20 shots at Bristol Rovers and 17 against Plymouth, so the prudent play is to just squeeze out the Over 2.5 bet.
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Wycombe 2.30 v Notts County 3.60; the draw 3.50

With the season in its infancy, the shaping of the odds is also undercooked. Wycombe's high-scoring games so far should make them a little shorter than 2.30 against a Notts County side who have yet to convince me they can improve on last season's mediocre finish.

Kevin Nolan might, to some, have added pace and width but it was substitute Jorge Grant (on loan from Forest) who scored two goals to beat Chesterfield. He'll be back in the starting line-up, surely, especially as he was on loan at Meadow Lane last season. A tight hamstring during the week kept him on the bench.

What I think is key to this game is Wycombe's great start in front of goal. Having scored twice at home to new boys Lincoln on the opening day, securing a draw, the Chairboys went 3-0 up at Port Vale and were in cruise control by the time Michael Brown's men pulled a couple of goals back.

Crucial to that was Bayo Akinfenwa's double. As I've said before, he won't last the season of full 90 minute games but he's clearly in good form at present. At the start of the season, he's a player who causes havoc while some are still gaining full fitness. And his own fitness is something Gareth Ainsworth says Akinfenwa needs to improve.


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The striker - known as The Beast - has always been on the larger than life side - mobility never his strongest asset - but the vision of him coming towards you on or off the ball is enough to give defenders nightmares. He's built more like a centre back (although a little short) and more than capable of banging in a fine strike once he gets the chance.

Paris Cowan-Hall will supply plenty of chances as well as score some and a key signing could be centre-back Adam El-Abd. At 32 the former Shrewsbury player has plenty of experience at the higher level Ainsworth wants to attain and the manager says he is a "nightmare to come up against". Similar to Akinfenwa, then, but at the other end. Ainsworth will need every advantage in a small squad. It says something about the defence that Wycombe have faced the fewest shots against them in the division, say Opta, at this fledgling stage of the season.

Maybe Wycombe will, at last, make a concerted challenge for promotion. There is still a margin in the price for a home victory which makes it worth taking.

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Exeter 2.40 v Lincoln 3.50; the draw 3.40

How is Paul Tisdale ever to replace Ollie Watkins, who left for Brentford in the summer, especially after making minimal signings? With another teenager from the academy of course, in the mould of Ethan Ampadu who played from mid-season during his GCSE year.

If you ever wondered what happened to academy products then the Grecians are giving us the answers. Jack Sparkes, 16, made his debut as a substitute against Swindon and plays in Watkins' position of winger.

David Wheeler, last season's top scorer, is a doubt after suffering a heavy tackle in the draw at Swindon. Tisdale won't want to be without him for long. He has 33 goals in 95 starts (and 56 as substitute) and sets up many more chances.

Morecambe's manager Jim Bentley said Lincoln are a threat and could steamroller sides if they get on a roll this season, having drawn with them last weekend. A high shots ratio of 17 off target and 9 on target in that match would suggest the Imps are attack minded. However, they will come up against Christy Pym, a highly rated goalkeeper who will be as tested as veteran Barry Roche was for the Shrimps.

This is where the spotlight will shine in the Devon side's defence, namely one of their key performers Jordan Moore-Taylor. Exeter also showed plenty of attack at Swindon, eight shots off target and six on. Despite signing several players after promotion, I would be surprised if Lincoln mounted a season-long promotion bid in the way I expect Swindon and Exeter to do. However, at this stage it might be wise to make this match the week's draw prediction, given that the hosts have not started banging in huge numbers of goals and their visitors have their tails up.

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Carlisle 2.10 v Cheltenham 4.20; the draw 3.60

Keith Curle was delighted with how his side "adapted" to the physical presence of Cambridge, who featured one of his former strikers he described afterwards as a man mountain.

Let's give him more credit than working out how to defeat his former players! Carlisle will be disappointed after faltering badly last season, slipping from second place to scraping into the play-off positions and looking out of sorts by the time they reached those semi-finals.

A bit of a rethink over the summer and some new faces has clearly left Curle minded that he can make changes to a winning team and succeed. As his side did against Cambridge after the League Cup match against Fleetwood.

It gave Richie Bennett, brought in from Barrow in the summer, the chance to make his first league start for the Cumbrians although it was Reggie Lambe who notched the first goal.

Cheltenham wriggled past a Crawley side who might struggle this season after losing to Morecambe. Billy Waters, a summer exit to Northampton, is a big loss for Gary Johnson.

I'd expect a shorter price for the home win here if this game was 10 matches into the season which is what makes this time of the season so fascinating as teams settle in. One caveat to that is the emergence of Mohamed Eisa, a summer signing from Greenwich Borough, who has two Football League and two League Cup goals already. Even though he is a fresh face to League Two, expect Curle to have a plan and his team to adapt to him.

Cheltenham's away record remains a worry. Opta state they have scored six and conceded 11 goals in their last three away games in all competitions (although one of those was the 6-1 loss to Portsmouth on the final day of last season).

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Accrington 2.80 v Mansfield 2.80; the draw 3.40

I was thinking of tipping Coventry until they dipped under the betting benchmark for this column of even money. Profit hunting is not going to be rewarded by backing odds-on favourites.

So it's off to the Wham Stadium where Stags boss Steve Evans is bound to make another outrageous remark to draw attention to himself. Name dropping is his second favourite sport. Last week he told the world Jurgen Klopp hadn't invented high pressure football and he had been doing it for 10 years. He has previously said how he has "assessed" Klopp in Germany, noting his touchline passion. He used to be full of plaudits for Sir Alex Ferguson.

Evans has always suggested that graft beats skill. Although his Mansfield side have plenty of skill and experience he won't let graft go. Danny Rose has already scored in both league games and must be relishing having a whole host of better quality players around him compared to last season after the manager's summer recruiting.

He headed home a cross from one new boy, Will Atkinson (Southend) while spurning one supplied by Paul Digby (Ipswich). It surely won't be long before fellow striker Lee Angol(Peterborough) joins him on the scoresheet.

Tipping them against Accrington is a calculated risk, because there are likely to be fireworks on the touchline as John Coleman doesn't like every little thing that goes against his team - just like Evans.


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Coleman was left taking the positives after a 3-2 defeat at Yeovil where his defence "imploded", he said, for 20 minutes and refused to blame a sick bug that had been doing the rounds beforehand. Kayden Jackson is clearly loving life, having scored three in two league games and Stanley certainly know how to beat title favourites, having defeated Portsmouth early last season.

Opta state that Accrington have never lost to Mansfield in the Football League (eight wins, four draws) and have only lost once at home in 2017, in all competitions. However, they add that two of the four players to have taken the most shots in League Two this season are Mansfield's Rose and Paul Anderson.

The last time these two met, in February at Mansfield, the game finished 4-4. At the prices, the layers clearly mark this as a draw. And if you want over 3.5 goals it is 4.00, but I'm going to stick with an away win. Just.

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The Championship 15.08.2017


Brentford 2.12 v Bristol City 3.65; The Draw 3.75

As I mentioned prior to Saturday's column, games involving Brentford last season were amongst the most entertaining to watch, averaging 3.7 goals per match. And given the evidence of Saturday's encounter with Nottingham Forest then it's likely that we're in for a repeat.

In a game that they were on top for long spells the Bees somehow managed to lose a seven-goal thriller, going down 4-3 to Forest despite registering 20 shots at goal, nine of which were on target.

After losing two league games on the spin now Dean Smith's side will be desperate to chalk up their first points of the campaign so don't be surprised to see them go all out for the victory at Griffin Park on Tuesday night. So let's back another goalfest as they take on a Bristol City side that have started the season in very entertaining fashion themselves.

Lee Johnson's men went on a fine run of form at the end of last term, winning six of their last 10 games to comfortably avoid the drop, and it seems that has served as a huge confident boost.

The Robins started this campaign with a 3-1 win over Barnsley - about as easy as a win as you'll see all season, it really could have been five or six - before thrashing Plymouth 5-0 in the League Cup. And they really ought to have taken something from St Andrew's on Saturday. Johnson's men led early, dominated possession, registered an incredible 25 shots at goal, yet somehow lost the game 2-1.

Both managers after the game admitted it could have been any scoreline had chances been taken, and that bodes well for the recommended bet. City's first three games this term have averaged exactly four goals per match, and with Brentford coming off that 3-4 defeat then this is a game that really should witness plenty of goals.
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Hull 2.74 v Wolves 2.96; The Draw 3.30

Although we don't have the luxury of being able to record - for Profit/Loss purposes - details of any In-Play trades it's worth me reiterating that you should always try to squeeze some profit out of a bet if it looks like it's not going your way.

Take Saturday's game between Derby and Wolves as an example, a game where I recommended backing Over 2.5 Goals at 2.54 simply because the price looked too big. Ultimately the bet was a loser, but despite the game being a slow burner and a glut of goals looking unlikely from an early stage, Over 2.5 Goals traded at odds-on both when Wolves scored their fist, and second goals.

So there was definitely an opportunity there to make a small profit, or at least take back your stake, which is always advisable in some circumstances. Hopefully though, we won't need to rely on trading in-play when Wolves travel to Hull on Tuesday night.

Again, I fancy Over 2.5 Goals is over-priced and I'm happy to back it for the second game running involving Nuno Espirito Santo's men.

Derby boss Garry Rowett was bitterly disappointed with his side's display on Saturday but the Rams still won 10 corners in that game and registered 13 shots at goal, so I'm confident that a Hull side that scored four at the weekend can trouble Wolves here. It's even more encouraging to see that the Tigers had 27 shots at goal in Saturday's win with 11 of them being on target.

Wolves are still a work in progress but you can't fault the start they've had, beating title favourites Middlesbrough and then winning away at Derby is a fantastic boost to their confidence and I think they'll go to the KCOM Stadium with their tails up expecting another positive performance.

Nuno's men are going to concede sooner rather than later and if it happens to be on Tuesday night then I believe Over 2.5 Goals has an excellent chance of landing.
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Middlesbrough 1.50 v Burton 9.00; The Draw 4.50

I've watched both of Middlesbrough's first two games of the season and based on what I've seen then it's clear that putting the ball in the back of the net remains a problem.

Garry Monk's men were pretty toothless at Wolves on the opening day of the season, though admittedly they only lost due to a dreadful individual error, and despite playing really well at home to Sheffield United on Saturday they could only muster two shots on target.

It seems ridiculous that a club that was playing Premier League football a few months ago, and has spent upwards of £40m on attackers in 2017, can struggle so much in front of goal, but it's seemingly been like that for over two seasons now.

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I'm sure the Boro frontline will find their feet sooner rather than later and start scoring plenty of goals, but until they do I won't be in a rush to back Over 2.5 Goals at odds-on prices like that option is here.

But what we do know about Monk's men is that they are possibly they best defensive side in the Championship. Middlesbrough had by far the best defensive record at this level during their promotion campaign the season before last, and the likes of Ben Gibson, Daniel Ayala (when he played), and George Friend amongst others, didn't look out of place in the Premier League last term, having one of the best defensive records outside of the top six.

This is a game that the title favourites really should be winning given Burton are currently rock bottom of the early Championship table following two straight defeats, but I never back at 1.50in this division, in fact it's probably the quickest way to the poor house.

But I do like the 10/11 on the Sportsbook about Boro recording their second consecutive clean sheet at the Riverside Stadium. The Brewers drew a blank in their opening-day defeat to Cardiff, and although they did score at Hull on Saturday in a game they lost 4-1 it's unlikely that they've faced a defence as strong as Middlesbrough's in those two league outings.
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The Championship 12.08.2017

 

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Birmingham 2.56 v Bristol City 3.00; The Draw 3.50

I'm not shying away from the fact that we got off to a poor start last weekend, and I'm certainly not downbeat just yet, but you just have to look at the opening day results to see further evidence of just how tough and unpredictable this league is from a betting perspective.

Incredibly, eight of the top nine in the Championship Winner betting going in to last weekend - that's Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Fulham, Sheff Wed, Norwich, Derby, Hull and Sunderland - all failed to win, while a quartet of outsiders all picked up three points.

And don't expect those results to be a one-off; this division throws up shock outcomes week after week and is one of the main reasons why I very rarely back odds-on shots at this level.

It will be a few weeks at least before form settles down and we can gauge where each team is at, but if there is one club that impressed during the first week of the season then it was undoubtedly Bristol City.

The Robins could easily have replaced boss Lee Johnson last term when relegation looked a distinct possibility, but instead the club publicly backed the manager and instead a lot of the backroom staff were changed. Bristol City then went on an excellent run of form, winning six of their last 10 matches to avoid the drop, including a 4-0 thumping over Huddersfield and a 1-0 away win at Brighton. As we know, both those clubs got promoted to the Premier League.


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Johnson's men have brought that momentum into this season it seems, recording two wins in the opening week and scoring a hugely impressive eight goals in the process. Surely confidence couldn't be higher at Ashton Gate.

The Robins face Birmingham at St Andrew's on Saturday afternoon and anyone who has followed this column regularly down the years will know that some of our best results have been achieved when opposing Birmingham on home soil.

Brum had another poor campaign in front of their own fans last term, finishing 21st in the 'home' league table, and they have started this season with a surprising loss to Ipswich, albeit that coming away from home. Harry Redknapp's men did record a resounding home win against Crawley in the League Cup in midweek but Bristol City will be a much tougher test altogether and I'm happy to take a chance on an early away win for the Robins.
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Derby 2.42 v Wolves 3.40; The Draw 3.30

For the second Saturday running Wolves are involved in the 'game of the day' regarding the 3pm kick-offs and they'll be in confident mood after beating title favourites Middlesbrough at Molineux.

Boss Nuno Espirito Santo then made nine changes for the visit of League Two outfit Yeovil in midweek, and although on paper it appears Wolves had to fight hard for their 1-0 victory, the statistics show that they enjoyed over 80% possession and registered now fewer than 18 shots at goal.

So two wins out of two without conceding will set Wolves up nicely for the trip to Pride Park to face a Derby side that effectively haven't played sine their Friday night 1-1 draw at Sunderland - their midweek cup tie at Grimsby was abandoned very early due to heavy rain.


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Gary Rowett declared himself pleased with his side's performance at the Stadium of Light, it was a game that could easily have gone either way with both sides missing some good opportunities. It was a very entertaining affair, and that's the angle I'm taking for a recommended bet here.

In fact, if I'm being honest, I had to look twice to see that I was viewing the correct market when I noticed that Under 2.5 Goals was available to back at just 1.51. That seems ridiculously shortto me. True, it will settle towards the 1.60 mark at kcik-off, but the fact that we can back Over 2.5 Goals, given how Derby performed at Sunderland, at 2.54 seems a price well worth taking.

And just take a look at the recent history between these two sides. The last six meetings between Derby and Wolves have produced 25 goals, that's an average of over four per game, and the last three clashes at Pride Park have finished 5-0, 4-2, and 3-1. That's an average of exactly five goals per game
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Brentford 1.88 v Nottingham Forest 4.60; The Draw 3.85

Another game where I wouldn't be surprised to see a glut of goals is the one at Griffin Parkwhere Brentford host Nottm Forest, though unlike the Derby game, I believe the price is just about right here so it's only a tentative selection.

Both these sides were involved in 1-0 games last weekend (Brentford lost, Forest won) but the goals returned in the League Cup games in midweek with the Bees winning 3-1 at Wimbledon and Forest recording a 2-1 verdict over Shrewsbury.

But it's last season's figures that I'm largely basing my wager on here, and although I appreciate that's a dangerous game to play, as I said seven days ago the opening weeks of the season are very tricky from a betting perspective and I just don't fancy anything else this weekend. And as my remit is three bets then three bets it will be. I'm confident about the first two, I'm just slightly less confident about this one.

But I digress. Back to those figures. Brentford were involved in 140 goals last term at an average of close to 3.7 per match. Forest were involved in just slightly less but their average still ended at 3.52 goals per game.

And if you look at the recent meetings between these two sides then you'll notice that in six of their last seven clashes you would have been paid out on Over 2.5 Goals, but also, Over 3.5 Goals would have also been a winner on four of those occasions. Backing at least four goals to be scored on Saturday afternoon then has to be the call.
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League One

 

Blackpool 3.00 v MK Dons 2.46, the draw 3.50


I wouldn't be in a rush to take the price on the MK Dons this weekend. That figure looks a bit on the short side - especially with them playing away from home. Of course we need layers for both markets, and if that 2.46 is within your remit, they are worth taking on. 

However, I think we can get some mileage with the Draw No Bet here on Blackpool. The gap isn't huge from the promoted League Two teams to this level, and it's more attractive because the MK Dons are not quite the same under Robbie Neilson as they were under the attacking style of Karl Robinson. 

Neilson made plenty of loan signings ahead of the new season, and five debuts were handed as the Dons were seen off at home to title contenders Wigan

Blackpool produced a decent first-half at Bradford last weekend. For the first 45 minutes they showed they could cut it with the best of what this division has to offer. That was certainly an entertaining match at Valley Parade, with Gary Bowyer's side mustering nine shots. They might have over-done the playing from the back at times, but they have a lively front two in Mark Cullen and Kyle Vassell - and they will play weaker teams than Bradford. They lost 2-1. 

According to Opta, the Seasiders enjoyed a fine end-of-season home run in 2016-17; losing just once in 12 matches at Bloomfield Road (W5 D6). Further credence to the Draw No Bet option. 

Bowyer made nine changes in the midweek Carabao Cup defeat, so we can largely ignore that as irrelevant for this. A couple of errors cost them defensively last Saturday, but it was a positive start. And we should never be put off by backing the outsider of the two in this league.
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Plymouth Argyle 
2.70 v Charlton Athletic 2.84, the draw 3.65


A very close call this one looking at the prices. Charlton got their season off to a winning start last weekend with a 1-0 victory at home to Bristol Rovers. Newly-promoted Plymouth couldn't quite replicate the perfect beginning against Peterborough - and manager Derek Adams suffered the blow of losing striker Ryan Taylor who broke his ankle in the match. He's out for three months, meaning Adams is now light in the forward department.

Argyle schemer Graham Carey should have a big role to play this weekend. He's been the outstanding player for the Pilgrims in the last two seasons, and he's the one to pick the holes and prise open the gaps in a team that is big and physical. There must be something in those left-footed wizards why I like them so much.

Carey was the team's top-scorer in 2016-17, and it was no surprise that Posh manager Grant McCann spoke afterwards about nullifying the threat that he posed in the match at London Road - he was marshalled by two men the whole game. McCann also said that Plymouth looked a strong team. Those quotes were no surprise - especially as the Greens had 56% of the ball away from home and earned 11 corners. 

I tipped Plymouth in my ante-post season preview, and there were too many bright spots from Saturday's defeat to ignore for this weekend. 

What to make of Charlton? 

Well they under-performed badly last season and will always be a shorter price than they should due to the name. They are narrow outsiders here, but historically they have a good record against Plymouth according to Opta stats - and they unbeaten in five league matches with the Greens. 

Is that enough to back them here? Probably not. As I need to see more, although the signs were encouraging in last weekend's performance. It was more grit and determination. The Londoners played more like a team than at stages last term. However, Opta also point to the fact that the Addicks have won just one of their last nine away league matches. 

Plymouth showed plenty of attack against Peterborough and possess great speed on the counter. This will be a good test for Charlton.
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Bristol Rovers 2.10 v Peterborough United 3.60, the draw 3.55


Peterborough earned a 2-1 victory last Saturday against Plymouth but were quite open, whilst Rovers were blunted in the 1-0 defeat away to Charlton. However, the Pirates were excellent at home last season, and we shouldn't ditch them after one game. 

Touching on that record at Memorial Stadium from 2016-17, they won 13 of their games and lost just four. That compares favourably to the top teams, as does the tally of 42 goals from last season. Sheffield United hit the same amount at Bramall Lane, and only two other teams bettered that. 

Rovers wasted their delivery from wide areas time-after-time on Saturday, and their passing and moving game wasn't quite there. They managed to pin Charlton back in the second half, with the Londoners defending quite deep. Unfortunately, Darrell Clarke's side couldn't really do much with the ball in the final third - they are better than that. 

Peterborough need a big season, they also need goals. According to the local press, chairman Darragh MacAnthony wants 110 of them. No pressure then. 

With a 2-1 victory against Plymouth last weekend, the Posh came out of the traps with speed. However, the superb local reporter Alan Swann of the Peterborough Telegraph pointed out that the 3-4-1-2 formation could leave them open with the wing-backs playing so high up the pitch. Once again, we have to look at that BTTS market if we can get the right price. 

Rovers are better than last weekend, whilst backing against Peterborough you always feel you have got half a chance. The hosts are probably a touch too short, though, so it's the goals for us.
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Premier League Team-by-Team Guide: The best bets for every club


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Manchester City - 15/8

Last season: 3rd - 78 points, 80 Goals For, 39 Goals Against
Top Goalscorer: Sergio Aguero - 20
Manager: Pep Guardiola
Predicted Finish: (according to market) 1st

It's becoming increasingly difficult to deny that Manchester City don't deserve to be title favourites given their summer transfer business. Forget that for a moment though as bettering last season's third-place finish isn't impossible to envisage on the basis of the potentially brilliant Gabriel Jesus improving this term, and his role in an attacking line-up that could figure a combination of Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Sergio Ageuro - as it did when City scored 15 goals in winning their last four matches in May - could be explosive.

But the addition of attacking full-backs Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, plus the excellence of midfielders Bernardo Silva and the soon-to-be-fit again Ilkay Gundogan to name but four, mark Pep Guardiola's squad out to be of the very highest quality. You still feel that another top class centre-back would be a welcome addition, and they might yet get one, but for now City look like a team that will entertain their way to outscoring their opponents on a regular basis.

Best Bet: Back Man City @ 15/8 to Win the Premier League

 


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Chelsea - 7/2

Last season: 1st - 93 points, 85 GF, 33 GA
Top Goalscorer: Diego Costa - 20
Manager: Antonio Conte
Predicted Finish: 2nd-3rd

The defending Premier League champions are rated as joint second favourites to retain their crown, this despite the arrival of £70m striker Alvaro Morata from Real Madrid. If - and it's probably a sizeable if - he can be a 20-goal-a-season man just like the seemingly outgoing Diego Costa is, then there's no reason to think that the Blues won't go close to retaining their title.

Consider also the big-money signings of German defender Antonio Rudiger and French midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko and it's almost laughable that Chelsea can be backed at 7/2, the same price as Manchester United who they finished 24 points ahead of last term. The reason probably lies with Antonio Conte, and the niggling hunch that he's not entirely happy at Stamford Bridge. Ignore this and Chelsea are a stonking bet to finish ahead of United.

Best Bet: Back Chelsea to finish ahead of Manchester United @ 4/5

 


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Manchester United - 7/2

Last season: 6th - 69 points, 54 GF, 29 GA
Top Goalscorer: Zlatan Ibrahimovic - 17 (released)
Manager: Jose Mourinho
Predicted Finish: 2nd-3rd

Let's start by looking at the numbers - 24 points adrift of the champions last term, 32 fewer goals netted than the highest scorers (Spurs), and only eight home games won across the entire top-flight campaign. That's a lot of gaps to be bridged this season if United are to challenge for the title.

The positives are that the Red Devils have signed prolific goalscorer Romelu Lukaku, but he's no given in this United line-up to repeat the 25-goal haul that he achieved with Everton last term. Victor Lindelof and Nemanja Matic will make United even harder to break down than they were last season, and Paul Pogba is sure to have a much better campaign, but I still have concerns about United going forward. They can be very pedestrian and I'd have all five of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and Spurs in a different league when it comes to creativity. Though the possible signing of Gareth Bale could change all that.

Best Bet: Lay Man Utd for a Top 3 Finish @ 1.76

 


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Tottenham - 8/1

Last season: 2nd - 86 points, 86 GF, 26 GA
Top Goalscorer: Harry Kane - 29
Manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Predicted Finish: 4th-6th

Tottenham remain the only 'top six' club not to make a major breakthrough in the transfer market this summer but we shouldn't be sounding the alarm bells just yet. As evidenced last season, Spurs' best XI can match any team in the Premier League, and yet it has so much potential to be even better given the average age, and therefore likely improvement, of their regular starters. Squad depth might become an issue, and the recent injury to right-back Kieran Trippier is untimely given the sale of Kyle Walker, but don't expect the Spurs hierarchy to sit on their hands if it becomes evident that some fresh faces are needed.

Perhaps a bigger worry for Tottenham followers is the 19 'home' games that they will play at Wembley Stadium this season. Given the way Mauricio Pochettino likes his team to play it shouldn't be a problem at all, quite the opposite in fact, but it clearly was an issue in European competition last term. A good early win at Wembley could work wonders for the season ahead, and who better to get it against than Chelsea in Tottenham's opening home game. In fact, I'm expecting Spurs to have a fine home record and an injury-free Harry Kane to run riot in the large spaces of Wembley's hallowed turf.

Best Bet: Back Harry Kane to be Top Goalscorer @ 4.60

 


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Liverpool - 11/1

Last season: 4th - 76 points, 78 GF, 42 GA
Top Goalscorer: Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane - 13
Manager: Jurgen Klopp
Predicted Finish: 4th-6th

Of all the 'big six' club Liverpool are the one that I'd be least surprised at, whether it's making a run at the title or finishing outside of the top four. You only have to look back at some of last season's results to see that they can be very unpredictable.

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For a team that likes to press and turn the ball over quickly Mo Salah looks an excellent signing; he has the pace and dribbling ability to turn counter attacks into very good goalscoring opportunities, and with Daniel Sturridge reportedly in the best shape he's been for quite a while then Liverpool could be set for a good season in front of goal. If it materialises, losing Phillipe Coutinho to Barcelona would be a devastating blow however. But based on what we know now I don't see any reason why Liverpool, who finished seven points ahead of Manchester United last term, should be 11/8 in a two-horse race.

Best Bet: Back Liverpool to finish ahead of Manchester United @ 11/8

 


 

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Arsenal - 12/1

Last season: 5th - 75 points, 77 GF, 44 GA
Top Goalscorer: Alexis Sanchez - 24
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Predicted Finish: 4th-6th

Arsenal commence the 2017/18 Premier League season with a home game against Leicester on Friday night and they'll be buoyed by their penalty shoot-out success over Chelsea in Sunday's Community Shield. But what realistically can they achieve this term?

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They finished 18 points behind Chelsea last season, outside of the top four for the first time in 20 years, and there is still uncertainly surrounding a number of their star players who are entering the last year of their contracts, not least Alexis Sanchez. French international striker Alexandre Lacazette - a near £50m signing from Lyon - has been brought in to help lead the line but he's unlikely to make an instant impact, and the gut feeling is that the Gunners will do tremendously well to finish above their north London rivals.

Best Bet: Back Tottenham to finish ahead of Arsenal @ 4/6

 


 

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Everton - 80/1

Last season: 7th - 61 points, 62 GF, 44 GA
Top Goalscorer: Romelu Lukaku - 25 (now at Man Utd)
Manager: Ronald Koeman
Predicted Finish: 7th

I'm liking a lot about Everton this season, none more so than their summer signings and the likelihood of Gylfi Sigurdsson joining them very shortly. The question is how best to profit from the Toffees?


The hugely talented Jordan Pickford, and the highly promising Michael Keane will add strength to an already strong backline, while the likes of Davy Klaassen, Sandro Ramirez, and Wayne Rooney offer plenty further up the field. The signing of Sigurdsson just puts Ronald Koeman's men in an even stronger position to challenge for the top six. We'll need one of the 'big six' to drop out of course, but I can easily see one of Arsenal, United, or Liverpool performing below expectations and the Toffees taking full advantage.

Best Bet: Back Everton in Top 6 Finish market @ 3.20


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Leicester - 250/1

Last season: 12th - 44 points, 48 GF, 63 GA
Top Goalscorer: Jamie Vardy - 13
Manager: Craig Shakespeare
Predicted Finish: 8th-10th

Leicester were a shadow of the 2015/16 title-winning team last season, only pulling away from the relegation zone when, bizarrely but ultimately as things turned out the correct decision, Claudio Ranieri was sacked and replaced by Craig Shakespeare.

The club have spent more than £50m on defender Harry Maguire, midfielder Vicente Iborra, and former Manchester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho so they've strengthened in every deparment, but it's likely that star man Riyad Mahrez will leave and there is even talk of Danny Drinkwater departing, although interest from Chelsea seems to have cooled. Last season's poor start was understandable so a 12th-place finish was in the end, creditable. Even without Mahrez I envisage an improvement this term.

Best Bet: Back Leicester in Top 10 Finish market @ 2.04

 


 

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Southampton - 250/1

Last season: 8th - 46 points, 41 GF, 48 GA
Top Goalscorer: Nathan Redmond - 7
Manager: Mauricio Pellegrino
Predicted Finish: 8th-10th

Southampton have finished 8th, 7th, 6th, and 8th in the last four Premier League seasons, and with, the exception of Everton, none of the clubs that are generally considered to challenge for those position standing out as massive improvers there isn't any real reason to suggest that they won't record yet another top 10 finish.

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A new manager - this time it's former Liverpool player Mauricio Pellegrino - hasn't stopped them in previous seasons, but perhaps a couple of reasons to oppose the Saints for a Top 10 Finish at the odds this time are the club's apparent lack of a prolific goalscorer (Nathan Redmond top scored last season with seven, which makes the sale of Jay Rodriguez a bit of a surprise), and the transfer request handed in on Monday by Virgil van Dijk. You have to strengthen at this level; Southampton appear to be doing the opposite.

Best Bet: Lay Southampton for a Top 10 Finish @ 1.68

 


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West Ham - 350/1

Last season: 11th - 45 points, 43 GF, 51 GA 
Top Goalscorer: Michail Antonio - 9
Manager: Slaven Bilic
Predicted Finish: 8th-10th

In contrast to Southampton I expect West Ham to improve on last season's 11th-place finish and I don't see any reason why Slaven Bilic's men won't finish in the top half of the table. Last season was always going to be a difficult campaign at their new home, the London Stadium, but the Hammers concluded with three clean sheets from their last four home games including a 1-0 win over then title-chasing Spurs.

Bilic has made four very eye-catching signings in Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautovic, and former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, suggesting they'll score more goals this time around as well as being more difficult to beat. An eighth or ninth-place finish should see West Ham finish above the Saints, and that's a bet I really like.

Best Bet: Back West Ham to finish ahead of Southampton @ Evs


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Bournemouth - 750/1

Last season: 9th - 46 points, 55 GF, 67 GA
Top Goalscorer: Joshua King - 16
Manager: Eddie Howe
Predicted Finish: 11th-15th

Having effectively selected nine clubs to finish in the top half of the table so far - the 'big six', Everton, Leicester and West Ham - there's room for one more. Don't be surprised one bit if it's Bournemouth, and don't be surprised if veteran striker Jermain Defoe stars on the south coast.

The former Sunderland striker scored 15 goals for the Black Cats in a team that scored just 29 times. If he plays regularly, and in a team that can often be involved in high-scoring games, then Defoe could easily net 20+ times. I know it contradicts our Harry Kane Top Goalscorer bet but I wouldn't put anyone off backing Defoe to be Top English Goalscorer at around 14.00, but for a bit of early season fun how about Defoe to be the first player to score a hat-trick. The Cherries start with games against West Brom and Watford; Defoe will be licking his lips, and at the thought of a 50/1 winner, so are we.

Best Bet: Back Jermain Defoe First Player to score a EFL Hat-trick @ 50/1

 


 

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Crystal Palace - 750/1

Last season: 14th - 41 points, 50 GF, 63 GA
Top Goalscorer: Christian Benteke - 15
Manager: Frank de Boer
Predicted Finish: 11th - 16th

It's been a very quiet transfer window so far for Crystal Palace and their new boss Frank de Boer, and the feeling is that they'll have to get a bit busier if they're to improve on last season and push for a top half finish.

But in Christian Benteke they have a 15-20-goal-a-season striker who has declared his happiness at Selhurst Park, and in Wilfried Zaha and Andros Townsend they have a couple of flair players who enjoyed a great finish to last term and who now should be approaching their peaks. I'm also a big fan of Jason Puncheon, and the loan signing of Ruben Loftus-Cheek is another plus. I have a good feeling about the Eagles, and I think the Sportsbook price of 3/1 about them finishing in the top 10 is a generous one.

Best Bet: Back Crystal Palace for a Top 10 Finish @ 3/1

 


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Newcastle - 750/1

Last season: Championship Title Winners
Top Goalscorer: Dwight Gayle - 23
Manager: Rafa Benitez
Predicted Finish: 11th-16th

The Sportsbook has priced Rafa Benitez up as the 7/2 favourite to be the first Premier League manager to leave his post, and I can understand completely the thinking behind that. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has never been afraid to pull the trigger, Benitez has equally never been afraid to walk away.

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Despite been given some cash to spend and bringing in a number of new faces the former Real Madrid boss doesn't exactly appear 100% satisfied with his club's transfer business. Just being a newly-promoted club means Newcastle are likely to be a bottom half team, and given their relatively kind fixtures in the first few months they'll be under enormous pressure to get off to a good start. If they don't then Rafa could well be out the exit door. 

Best Bet: Back Rafa Benitez to be First Manager to Leave Post @ 7/2

 


 

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Stoke - 750/1

Last season: 13th - 44 points, 41 GF, 56 GA
Top Goalscorer: Peter Crouch - 7
Manager: Mark Hughes
Predicted Finish: 11th-16th

Stoke have seen the likes of Glenn Whelan, Jonathan Walters, and more significantly Marko Arnautovic all depart during the summer, while their only big-name arrival is the loan signing of Kurt Zouma. Mark Hughes is cutting a frustrated figure, and although the Potters are trying desperately to bring in some fresh new faces they currently don't have a squad that screams goals.

Quite remarkably, Stoke's top goalscorer last term, with just seven goals, was veteran striker Peter Crouch, and the team themselves scored just 41 times. The departure of Arnautovic is a massive blow then, and for now Hughes' men look worth chancing in the Relegation market.

Best Bet: Back Stoke to be Relegated @ 6/1

 


 

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Swansea - 750/1

Last season: 15th - 41 points, 45 GF, 70 GA 
Top Goalscorer: Fernando Llorente - 15
Manager: Paul Clement
Predicted Finish: 1th-16th

Having lost one midfielder in Jack Cork to Burnley, Swansea can ill-afford to lose another, especially when it's the club's best and most creative player. But that's seemingly what's going to happen as Gylfi Sigurdsson's move to Everton draws ever nearer. So already Swansea's survival hopes could well depend on how they spend the incoming cash as they will desperately need to plug some gaps.

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Remember, Swansea were effectively embroiled in a relegation battle for 90% of last season and their squad, even with the addition of experienced Spanish midfielder Roque Mesa, will look considerably weaker with the departures of Cork and Sigurdsson. Another season-long relegation battle look almost certain.

Best Bet: Back Swansea to be Relegated @ 3.40

 


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Burnley - 1000/1

Last season: 16th - 40 points, 39 GF, 55 GA 
Top Goalscorer: Sam Vokes - 10
Manager: Sean Dyche
Predicted Finish: 16th-18th

Although Burnley would eventually finish one point and one place below Swansea last term they were never really in relegation trouble having secured their points early thanks to some magnificent home form. On the flip side, Sean Dyche's men were woeful on their travels and you sense that they'll need to be a more balanced outfit this term, or at least improve that away form considerably.

I don't expect it to be a comfortable season for the Clarets but I like the way Dyche gets the best out of what he has to work with. Jack Cork is an excellent addition, and Phil Bardsley and Jonathan Walters - both signed from Stoke - bring plenty of experience.

Best Bet: Lay Burnley to be Relegated @ 2.30

 


 

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Watford - 1000/1

Last season: 17th - 40 points, 40 GF, 68 GA
Top Goalscorer: Troy Deeney - 10
Manager: Marco Silva
Predicted Finish: 16th-18th

Of all the clubs that survived last season Watford had the worst goal difference so immediately they become a relegation candidate, but having selected Stoke and Swansea to be relegated at bigger prices, and - spoiler alert - Huddersfield for the drop a bit further down this page, I can't really recommend a fourth club to be relegated.

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So instead we have to look for positives, and who the Hornets could realistically finish ahead of this term. Marco Silva made an immediate impact on Hull last season and he looks a great capture for the London outfit, so while from the outset Watford look to have a similar strength squad to last term - Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah are decent, but that's about it - they do have the potential to do some good transfer business before the end of the month and/or in January. One of the clubs I strongly fancy to struggle is Swansea, so let's back the Hornets to finish above them.

Best Bet: Back Watford to finish ahead of Swansea @ 5/4

 


 

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West Brom - 1000/1

Last season: 10th - 45 points, 43 GF, 51 GA
Top Goalscorer: Salomon Rondon - 8
Manager: Tony Pulis
Predicted Finish: 16th-18th

After flirting in and around the top eight for large chunks of last season West Brom ended the campaign in very poor form, taking just five points from the last 36 available to them. So the inevitable question is do we judge the Baggies on what we saw for the first 26 games, or do we believe their dreadful finish is a better indication of how good Tony Pulis' men are.

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The answer probably lies somewhere in between; not good enough to challenge the top eight but easily better than at least five or six Premier League clubs, though the signing of Jay Rodriquez from Southampton has me thinking that another mid-table finish is easily achievable. The Baggies are rated as the joint ninth club most likely to be relegated which is about correct, though the team they sit alongside in that market is Stoke, a club I strongly fancy to struggle this term, hence the recommended bet.

Best Bet: Back West Brom to finish ahead of Stoke @ 5/6

 


 

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Brighton - 1500/1

Last season: Championship Runners-Up
Top Goalscorer Glenn Murray - 23
Manager: Chris Hughton
Predicted Finish: 19th-20th


There was barely nothing between promoted clubs Newcastle and Brighton at the death last season - the Magpies pipped the Seagulls to the title by a single point thanks to Chris Hughton's men taking just a single point from their last three games - so I'm not sure why there's such a discrepancy in prices between the two clubs in various markets ahead of the new season. 

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Brighton have brought in no fewer than eight new players ahead of Saturday's opening game against Manchester City so they're undoubtedly a stronger outfit, and I just have a hunch that they'll cause a few shocks at the Amex Stadium. Whether they'll be good enough to stay up is another matter but wherever they finish I expect Newcastle to be in a similar position. One place lower will suit us fine.

Best Bet: Back Brighton to finish above Newcastle @ 11/5

 


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Huddersfield - 2000/1

Last season: Championship Play-Off Winners 
Top Goalscorer: Elias Kachunga - 12
Manager: David Wagner
Predicted Finish: 19th-20th

I expect all three promoted clubs to be in and around the relegation places at some point in the season - two of the newly promoted clubs were relegated last term - and the difference between survival or an immediate return to the Championship could well depend on squad depth.

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Despite bringing in five or six new faces the Terriers' big-name signing remains Tom Ince, and their squad lacks a stand-out striker. Last season's leading goalscorer - Elias Kachunga with just 12 goals - has now been signed permanently for just over £1m, and I fear David Wagner's men will struggle to score the goals needed to survive.

Best Bet: Back Huddersfield to finish Rock Bottom @ 21/20
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The Championship 2017/18 Season Preview

 

 

The Title Favourites

- Aston Villa 7.80
- Middlesbrough 8.20
- Fulham 9.80

Just three clubs trade at single figure prices in the 2017/18 Winner market but it's quite surprising to see Aston Villa, and not Middlesbrough, trading as the early title favourites.

Villa were relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2015/16 season and were rated as second favourites, behind Newcastle, to make an immediate return to the top flight last term. They finished 13th!


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The general feeling is that a club's best chance of returning to the Premier League is at the first time of asking, and the statistics certainly bear that out. Since the Premier League's inception, 73 clubs have been relegated with 20 (27.4%) of them returning the very next season. Just seven clubs returned to the Premier League at the second attempt.

Admittedly Villa are potentially much better now than last season's 13th place finish suggests. But I don't see why they've suddenly been elevated to title favourites.

Villa got off to a bad start last term under Roberto Di Matteo, but even under Steve Bruce's guidance they were still no better than a top-eight side. Bruce accumulated 52 points from 35 matches at an average of 1.49 points per game. Over a 46 game season that average equates to around the 68-69 points mark. Norwich finished last season with 70 points, and that was good enough for just an eighth-place finish.

Of course, Villa have made arguably the most high-profile signing in Championship history by snapping up Chelsea legend John Terry on a free transfer. With his ability and experience there is no doubt in my mind that Terry would have been a tremendous squad player at any of the Premier League clubs competing in Europe, he's that good. So obviously he's going to be a huge asset to Villa.

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Bruce has also brought in defenders Ahmed Elmohamady and Chris Samba, plus defensive midfielder Glenn Whelan, so it looks at this stage that the Villa boss is putting a huge emphasis on making his side difficult to beat. But you have to have concerns about Villa's scoring ability at the other end.

Jonathan Kodjia was Villa's top goalscorer last season with 19 strikes, but no other player in Bruce's squad managed more than five goals. Surely this an area that Bruce has to strengthen. Kodjia is very capable of improving on last season's tally, but a few months out through injury, or a loss of form, and Villa will need another striker to step up to the plate.

In contrast, the goal-shy Middlesbrough that we witnessed in last season's Premier League promises to be a different animal in the Championship. Garry Monk - who has done very little wrong in his brief managerial career - is the man charged with getting Boro back into the Premier League at the first time of asking and with in the region of £40m spent already he looks to have strengthened in all the right areas.

If Middlesbrough can retain the services of Ben Gibson then they will practically have the same back line that had the best defensive record in the country during their promotion season two years ago, with George Friend among the best full-backs in the division and new addition Cyrus Christie on the opposite flank also possessing an attacking mentality.

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It's fair to say that Middlesbrough's foreign signings were a bit of a write off last term, but undoubtedly the one that shone was central midfielder Marten de Roon, and he should revel in this division, while Monk's attacking signings look to have plenty of goals in them.

Britt Assombalonga, proven at Championship level with 30 goals in two seasons at Nottingham Forest, has been brought in for a fee of £15 to lead the Boro attack, while £12 capture Martin Braithwaite, former Leeds and Norwich star Jonathan Howson, and recent £6.5 signing Ashley Fletcher can all play a number of roles in attacking midfield, wide, or striking positions.

And it's worth pointing out that Middlesbrough still retain the services of target man Rudy Gestede, proven Championship performer Patrick Bamford, and - at the time of writing - the hugely talented, if somewhat troublesome, Gaston Ramirez.

Middlesbrough possess a lot of similarities to Newcastle last term; recently relegated from the Premier League, a lot of their better players retained, a new manager at the helm, and £40m spent in the transfer market. Newcastle were no bigger than 3.00 to win the Championship, so Middlesbrough at 8.20 have to be the selection.

I called Fulham completely wrong last term, suggesting that they could be an outside bet to be relegated early in the season, so the fact that they finished sixth either says I was massively wide of the mark or that the Cottagers over-achieved somewhat.

I'm hoping the answer is closer to the latter as I'm dead against Slavisa Jokanovic's men again this term at what I believe to be a ridiculously short price. They've brought in a few players, defender Marcelo Djalo and midfielder Ibrahima Cisse, but their squad much resembles what it

 

was last term and I'm of the opinion it will fall some way short of being title contenders.


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The Next Wave

- Wolves 12.00
- Sheffield Wednesday 12.50
- Norwich 12.50
- Derby 16.00

Wolves were a huge gamble 12 months ago, being backed in from 100.00 to around the 20.00mark to win the title, and as I wrote at the time, I didn't understand that one bit. Thankfully I was proved correct as Wolves were never out of the bottom half of the table and eventually finished 15th.

Nuno Espírito Santo - often referred to as just Nuno - is the new man in charge at Molineux and he comes with a decent reputation having led Valencia to a fourth place finish in La Liga a few seasons back. However, he is out to repair a bit of damage to that reputation after he was sacked by Porto at the end of last season for failing to win any silverware.

Wolves have money to spend, evidenced by the near £16m capture of highly promising 20-year-old midfielder Ruben Neves, but for a club that was rated 20/1 shots to win the title last season I have little interest in backing them at almost half those odds this term.

Having finished sixth and fourth in the last two seasons, and only missing out on promotion when losing to Hull in the 2015/16 play-off final, Sheffield Wednesday look destined to be on the scene again this term.


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Carlos Carvalhal has retained much of the squad that he's worked with for the last two seasons, has made prolific striker Jordan Rhodes a £10m permanent signing from Middlesbrough, and also brought in highly experienced midfielder George Boyd from Premier League outfit Burnley.

Fernando Forestieri will once again be a pivotal player for the Owls, but if he performs consistently well then Wednesday look like a team that has the ability to contend at the top of the table. With my doubts about Villa and Fulham, and Wolves again looking too short in the markets, then backing Carvalhal's men in the Promotion market at 4.40 should provide a lot of interest throughout the season. Remember, finishing sixth in the table still gives you a chance of promotion.

At the prices, I much prefer Derby for a run at promotion than Norwich, and to a large extent it's because of the man in charge at the Ipro Stadium.

Gary Rowett was doing a fine job on a shoestring budget at Birmingham before inexplicably being sacked, but he wasn't out of work long and guided the Rams to four wins and three draws from his nine games in charge at the end of last season.

Derby were favourites to win the title two seasons ago and they were one of the market leaders last term, so even though they've lost their key player Tom Ince to Huddersfield - they've brought in Andre Wisdom from Liverpool and Tom Huddlestone from Hull - they make a bit of appeal at 5.40 to be promoted and/or at the 3.20 mark in the Top 6 Finish market.

It's hard to fancy Norwich given they've been far from busy in the transfer market so far and they've recruited a manager - Daniel Farke - with no experience of managing at this level. He was in charge of Borussia Dortmund's reserve side however, and we saw last season that recruiting a manager from that club worked wonders for Huddersfield Town when David Wagner led the Terriers to the Premier League.


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Best of the Rest


I feel like there's a lot of under-priced clubs in the Winner market, and while I'm not saying they won't perform well - Villa could easily finish third or fourth for example, but look too short to win the title, Fulham could have another solid season without getting into a position to challenge for automatic promotion etc - I do sense there might be some trading value a bit further down.

Eyes are instantly drawn towards the likes of HullLeeds, and Sunderland for example, all of which are available to back at around the 20.00 mark to win the title and at approximately 6.40in the Promotion market.

Even though neither have made any eye-catching summer signings, it's very rare that a relegated club from the Premier League trades at 20/1 to make an instant return, therefore the Tigers and the Black Cats must be considered.

Both will have money to spend should they get onto the coattails of the top six, and they have plenty of experience of Championship football being two of the clubs that have been promoted the most times from this division in the Premier League era. Either, or both, could easily trade much shorter in various markets throughout the season.

Leeds enjoyed a good finish to the 2015/16 campaign and looked set to finish in the top six last term but some poor end of season form cost them dear. They could easily contend again under new boss Thomas Christiansen.

Keep an eye out also for Brentford. They've performed with huge credit in recent seasons since coming up from League One and Griffin Park is always a hard place to take points from. Dean Smith's men have finished 5th, 9th, and 10th in the last three Championship seasons, they have a very good striker in Lasse Vibe, and attacking midfielder Jota looks to be a player who will get better and better.

The Bees look worth chancing in the Top 6 Finish market at anywhere around the 4.00 mark.

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Recommended Bets


Back Middlesbrough in Winner market @ 8.20
Back Sheffield Wednesday in Promotion market @ 4.40
Back Brentford in Top 6 Finish market @ 4.00

 

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League One 2017/18 Season Preview

 

The top of the market is dominated by two teams dropping down a level in Blackburn Rovers(4/1) and Wigan Athletic (7/1), whilst Portsmouth's price at 8/1 looks short enough.

Let's deal with Rovers first, who had a torrid time in the Championship last term. The worry is obviously the club's freefall current state, but manager Tony Mowbray has been backed in the transfer market in signing Bradley Dack for £750,000. The other major 'in' of note is Peter Whittingham from Cardiff. I've always enjoyed watching the silky midfielder and his cultured left foot - and he could be a cut above at this level. The goals should come from experienced striker Danny Graham

Mowbray wasn't a massive success at Coventry but at least he knows the division. Considering Sheffield United were 6.80 to win the league last year, the 4/1 Sportsbook price of Rovers offers no value. 

The same comments apply to Wigan at 7/1. Surely there are better bets around? 


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Former Portsmouth boss Paul Cook has taken over at the north west club despite guiding Pompey to the League Two title last term. His move took me by surprise, but as a former player, his understanding of the club ethos was important. As will be his knowledge of the lower leagues. 

Signings however of Terrell ThomasGavin Massey and Chey Dunkley are not exactly big names, and Cook will have a job in trying to fend off Championship interest in Sam Morsy and Max Power. 

If Pompey's price was around the 14 mark, I would be interested, as I like the appointment of Kenny Jackett. The 55-year-old has twice led sides to promotion out of this division and he knows how to manage a club with big expectations. A massive 14,500 season tickets have been sold at Fratton Park - and I for one am pleased they are back at this level. 

I've stated before that promoted sides do well and the gap isn't massive. Oxford and Bristol Rovers were solid last year but never really kicked into the play-off places. If they were 14/1 or more I would be interested, the price at 8/1, though, is too short. 

For that money we can have the same bet with Bradford - a rock solid, proven team at this level who were beaten in the play-off final last season. However, they have lost a couple of key players in Billy Clarke and James Meredith. It was a surprise they were allowed to leave. Manager Stuart McCall confirmed his commitment in staying at the club following a bit of speculation - but surely this summer should have been the time to strengthen rather than wave goodbye to big names. 

Their transfer dealings have been less than spectacular and they drew too many games last term (19). 


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Of the promoted sides, Plymouth Argyle are worth a punt at a big price 28/1. I've seen them a couple of times at Leyton Orient (ah those were the days!), and they were a big, physical unit. The best possible news was the new deal for Graham Carey - I like his creativity. 

The manager Derek Adams brings an air of stability and good team spirit, and I would never be put off by backing a promoted side - those qualities went a long way to Burton's success two seasons ago. Motherwell winger Lionel Ainsworth is an interesting addition, and it seems they have been written off before a ball has been kicked. They had 87 points alongside Pompey in League Two - yet we can back them at over three times the price.

 

Top Six Finish


Phil Brown's Southend United are definitely worth a poke at 20/1 as an outside bet for the title, but they represent a fair 3/1 price to finish in the top six.

They were not too far away last term and at several points were on the cusp of the play-offs. However, like so many teams at this level, when that talk airs itself, players tend to get nosebleeds and panic for some reason. Walsall and Rochdale have been classic examples in the past.

The Shrimpers played some decent stuff in patches last season, and I like the way Phil Brownkept at it despite a poor start last August. Their form in April when they needed to make a proper charge also tailed off, but generally they were a good side at home and they had a bit of presence up front with Nile Ranger. He hit eight goals in 27 appearances - and they always looked a better team when he started. 

Ranger was jailed for eight months back in May but will get the chance to relaunch his career looking at the latest quotes from manager Brown. 

Summer transfer activity has seen moves to bring in Michael Turner and Michael Kightly, and those additions look excellent business. We should see better from former West Ham left-back Stephen Hendrie too. I like them as a team. 

I am watching Peterborough closely over the next couple of weeks, as they are priced up at 5/2 for a top six finish. 

This is a big season at the ABAX and they need a fast start - which hasn't always been the case. However, I like watching Posh and always enjoy them for their entertaining football. 

The question is will they keep hold of Marcus Maddison? Chairman Darragh MacAnthony has said he won't leave for less than £1million, and on his day I agree with MacAthony that he is the best player in the division. 

My old favourites Rochdale didn't quite make the short list, but Keith Hill is a brilliant manager with the resources at his disposal. He's also one of the most entertaining with his quotes. He's a bit of a magician the way he conjures a top-half finish.

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Relegation Market


The surprising name at such short odds are Gillingham at 13/8. They were awful last term and only just survived by the skin of their teeth. Losing Bradley Dack was a blow - but the £750,000 should offset that. He wasn't quite the same player in the last campaign for whatever reason, but it was at the back where the Kent club had big problems.

New director of football Peter Taylor will work with head coach Aidy Pennock, and it will be interesting to see if they will spend any of the Dack cash. 

Bury are usually there or thereabouts in this market - although I did recommend laying them at around 6/4 for last term's preview. They survived, but it isn't the most exciting long term bet to tie up money for 10 months by laying 6/4 shots! 

The Shakers should be safe despite being 4/1 for this, as I'm a fan of their manager Lee Clark. I also like their strike force of Nicky Ajose and Jermaine Beckford - and I'll be looking at Over 2.5 Goals in their early matches. They need to replace James Vaughan's 24 goals last term, but I think they can do it. Vaughan was surprisingly signed by Sunderland.

My tentative selection here is Walsall at 5/2. I wasn't massively convinced by manager Jon Whitney last term, and a final position of finishing 14th was way down from reaching the play-off finals the season before. They finished with just one victory from their last ten games and I haven't exactly been blown away with their transfers so far.
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League One Ante-Post Recommended Bets

Back Plymouth Argyle @ 28/1 to win the title (Sportsbook price)
Back Southend United Top Six @ 3/1 (Sportsbook price)
Back Walsall for Relegation @ 5/2 (Sportsbook price)

 


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League Two 2017/18 Season Preview

 

Two teams occupy more than a quarter of the League Two outright book and a strong case can be made to say that's not enough.

Over the summer, a couple of chief executives referred to a document that did the rounds in May, showing last season's playing budget for all 24 clubs in descending order. The identity of specific clubs was protected but Portsmouth and Doncaster were immediately identified as the two standing head and shoulders above the rest, while conventional wisdom agreed that Plymouth and Luton were the next two on the list, bridging a sizeable gap between the haves and the have-nots.

 

Money makes Mansfield the rightful favourites


So basically, the top four spenders occupied the top four places and you don't need to be a private detective to work out that antepost favourites Mansfield are top dogs in the salary stakes this time around, while Luton have responded to their near miss by pumping most of the money received for Cameron McGeehan and Jack Marriott back into their wage bill. Both clubs clearly mean business.


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Not much is secret nowadays because agents are hardly renowned for their confidentiality when trying to cut the best deal for their clients. And once it became apparent what certain players were commanding, and that Mansfield were willing to pay it, everybody else effectively took a back seat and waited for Steve Evans to finish his business. There was no point even trying to compete.

By the end of May, the Stags had completed 11 incoming transfers, a cast of stellar namesbolstering a squad that would be on course for 72 points if they only maintained the standards set over the last 30 matches with Evans at the helm. Now, on any given weekend, the Glaswegian will name a bench that consists of seven players who would walk into almost any other team in the division, and maybe one or two outside of the 18 as well.

Ordinarily, this scenario might create its own set of problems but Evans is as ruthless as they come. He likes a variety of options and loves milking competition for places. Anyone spitting their dummy out runs the risk of humiliation - both in private and in public. They've all taken good money and when you dance with the devil, you wait for the music to stop.

So if you plan on trading the exchange market over the next nine months, you might want to keep Mansfield onside - they could walk it. But as an ante-post punt, Luton arguably represent the better title value at 8.00.

 

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Jones could make Luton spectacular


So far, Nathan Jones has underwhelmed in relation to his billing as a top-notch managerial prospect but he has made enough progress to suggest the Hatters will set the benchmark. Last season, they had everything but a cutting edge. They might have lost McGeehan and Marriott but they've gained bucketloads of experience in Marek StechAlan McCormack and Andrew Shinnie, plus a 20-goal striker in James Collins.

With Jones, much like Pep Guardiola, you get the impression his intensity can have a draining effect on unassuming players but his ideas are constantly building towards something bigger. If those ideas are now fully ingrained and Luton start to play off the cuff, the results could be spectacular. Ninety points wouldn't be a stretch.


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Stevenage a promotion selection with question marks over chasing pack


The case for the top two is only made stronger by question marks residing over the next three teams in the betting, all of whom are new to the division and must adjust to circumstances and surroundings. In the past decade, only eight out of 40 teams coming down from League One and four out of 20 teams coming up from non-league have finished in the top seven - a 4/1 shot in both cases.

Coventry might be a big name but operate on a shoestring under SISU and Mark Robins, although highly capable of steadying the rockiest of ships, has no prior experience of mounting a genuine promotion charge or any track record of top-end league success. The Sky Blues must also confront a potential home advantage problem, as most visiting teams will treat their trip to the Ricoh as a monumental event.


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Swindon have changed their ethos and start from scratch under David Flitcroft. The Robins have waved goodbye to three of their biggest stalwarts in Nathan Thompson, Yaser Kasim and Jonathan Obika, removing the spine on which an instant challenge might otherwise have been built, and the jury is out on nearly all of the new arrivals. Flitcroft spent big money in his last job at Bury but only sneaked automatic through the back door on the final day of the 2014/15 season.

Lincoln are building on much stronger foundations but their glorious FA Cup run might come back to haunt them, as the media exposure that came with it revealed so much about how they operate. Danny Cowley might be an impressive marginal gains exponent but he's about to encounter a level of tactical nuance he is simply unaccustomed to.

All of which means there's ample value to be found in the middle order and Stevenage look like the standout bet in the promotion market at 7.00. The Boro made giant strides under Darren Sarll last season, looking like genuine challengers for automatic when posting ten wins in 13 matches from late January before running out of steam.

Sarll is a shrewd operator. He has created a whole greater than the sum of its parts at Broadhall Way and he was crystal clear in his thinking going into the close-season that stamina was the issue. That clear focus should serve them well. If Stevenage can impose themselves sooner and sustain it for longer, they will be there or thereabouts.

 

Sliding Yeovil heading out of the division


Finally, stick a point on Yeovil for relegation at 4/1. The Glovers have been on a downward spiral for the past four years, dropping down two divisions and finishing in the bottom six of the basement for the past two seasons. Their win ratio in that time is just 22 per cent and they finished last season with just three wins in 27.
sours:betfair


Recommended Bets

1pt Luton to win the title at 8.00
1pt Stevenage to win promotion at 7.00
1pt Yeovil to be relegated at 5.00


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