There’s no slowing down this week in the Championship as Benjamin Bloom has dived into the numbers to get one step ahead of the midweek action, with odds from Betfair throughout.
THE GOAT – Billy Sharp
There will likely be no more heavily publicised Championship stat this season than the fact that Billy Sharp is now the all-time Championship goalscorer. The Sheffield United legend spun and shot low and early into the corner in classic fashion at Peterborough last weekend to score his 122nd goal in the second tier. It was an eighth goal of the season for 36-year-old Sharp, who immediately set about pulling away from his competitors at the top of the list with goal number 123 in the following game at Birmingham.
The record of course relates to the Championship and goals scored after the renaming of the second tier back in 2004/05. Sharp actually debuted for the Blades that season in the division he’d come to dominate, but had to go away and score 53 goals in League 1 for Scunthorpe before returning to Bramall Lane and starting his Championship haul. Just eight Championship goals came in two seasons during Sheffield United stint number two, with a move to Doncaster opening the floodgates and 49 going in during the next few seasons. The final nine of those goals came for Southampton as Sharp moved away and won a first promotion to the Premier League.
Of course he would return and added another 21 goals as he bounced around Forest, Reading, Doncaster and Leeds, before finding his way back to Sheffield United. Sharp now reached the most prolific period of his career, registering 87 league goals in four seasons, 36 of them in the Championship and 23 in 2018/19 as he secured a second Championship promotion, this time for his home town club. On his return to the division this season, breaking the record was always on the cards. Goal 121 came from the spot at Preston to equal David Nugent’s tally and the record was all Sharp’s down at Peterborough.
Billy Sharp to score first – 9/2 (Betfair)
THE xG FILES – QPR
QPR are having an excellent season, they are fourth in the table and have a genuine chance of automatic promotion with 18 games to play. Only two teams have scored more goals than Rangers’ 44 and after looking shaky at the back in the first portion of the season they look much improved defensively. The improvement is quite something as QPR conceded 20 goals in their first 12 games at a rate of 1.67 per game and just 11 in the following 16 at a rate of 0.69 per game.
In terms of the magical xG table QPR are currently posting quite the overperformance, with the usual reminder to any highly emotionally led readers that this is not a criticism and in the right context is a huge compliment. Rangers’ goals total of 44 means they have savagely outscored their attacking xG of 36.4 by 7.6 goals, while they have conceded only 31 goals from an xG of 34.9. In other words it’s an overperformance at both ends of the pitch.
It will come as absolutely no surprise that we’re about to discuss Illias Chair and Chris Willock, the creative jewels in the crown of the QPR attack. Forget the creative side, these two are in the main responsible for the goal scoring overperformance with a fantastic 12 goals between them from a combined xG of 6.77. Willock comes in third in the division for assists with 9 and Chair’s average of two key passes per game is only bettered by five current Championship players. Interestingly the oft criticised Lyndon Dykes has an xG over-performance of 1.17, and fellow frontman Andre Gray plus 1.77. Strangely only Charlie Austin is not finishing at the rate one would expect, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to put the QPR striking performance down to having good attackers playing well.
At the back we need to look at that uplift after mid October. It could be the side growing into the season or perhaps the fact Rangers faced three parachute teams in that opening run and conceded eight goals in those games. Or could it be Jimmy Dunne settling into the back three around that time after signing in the summer? Dunne is getting rave reviews of late and leads the Rangers squad for clearances with 3.9 per game.
For Rangers it’s fairly straightforward – whatever they’re doing they need to keep doing and continuing the trend does point in the direction of automatic promotion. Chair and first choice keeper Seny Dieng will be back from AFCON and the run-in starts to come into view very soon. As usual from an xG point of view the tension between chaos and order is very real and perhaps Mark Warburton would prefer the xG number to be slightly closer to the number of goals. However, when the over performance seems to track directly to two very good creative players, providing they’re fit and firing there’s probably not too much to worry about.
QPR to beat Middlesbrough – 13/8 (Betfair)
AERIAL PROWESS – Kyle Bartley (West Brom)
Sometimes we learn more when stats surprise us, but it’s always good to have the status quo affirmed by some predictable findings. When we look at the players winning the most Championship aerial duels per game we expect to see three things in the list; tall centre-backs, tall strikers and the dominance of teams who prefer a direct approach. In this sense it would appear that all is well six to eight feet above ground in Championship land.
Coming in fifth place with 5.8 aerial wins on average per game is perennial Championship giant Jake Cooper of Millwall, he’ll probably still be on this list in 2050. Centre-forward battering ram Gary Madine has 6.1, he often plays with a striker partner at Blackpool and there will always be a job for the big guy to service his closest colleague. Cardiff’s Aden Flint is third with 6.4, and probably the shortest player on this list is Bristol City’s forward Chris Martin who ranks second with 6.5.
Out in front in a league of his own is West Brom centre-back Kyle Bartley with 7.6 aerial duels won on average per game. Bartley ticks every box here as a big powerful centre-back playing under Valerien Ismael, perhaps the most direct manager to work in the Championship this season. But Ismael is gone and Steve Bruce has taken over, will the style drastically change and will Bartley concede his position at the top of the list of Championship aerial kings? I wouldn’t bet on it.
West Brom to beat Sheffield United – 2/1 (Betfair)
Odds correct at the time of publication. 18+ Please Gamble Responsibly. Visit begambleaware.org
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