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Thursday, 22nd December 2011
It's always a great day of football on Boxing Day and this year's live match is the Stoke v Aston Villa clash at the Britannia Stadium. This has a derby feel about it, just 40 miles up the M6 for Villa fans to the Britannia where you're always guaranteed a terrific atmosphere, turned up a notch perhaps on Monday with a little added Christmas cheer.
I can't really see past a home win here, after four wins on the bounce for Tony Pulis's side, the 3-0 defeat at Man City won't really feel like much of a blip. There were a few changes made for that match which makes me think Pulis is picking and choosing which games he knows he can realistically get points from and this home match against an out of form Villa will be seen as that.
It seems as though things are unfortunately coming true with regards to what everyone thought when the appointment of Alex McLeish was made at Aston Villa in the summer. I like him as a man and as a person but it's difficult to see why a club the size of Aston Villa hired a manager who had just got his team relegated from the Premier League. Add in the fact that he managed Villa's big rivals and it's no surprise that a large portion of the fans are unhappy with things at Villa Park.
Villa have always been competitive the last few years, especially at home and you knew what you were going to get, but they seem to be drifting along rudderless at the moment, with some flaccid displays against the country's top teams in recent weeks. I'd go as far as saying Villa were a blueprint for many clubs a few seasons ago, developing young, home grown talent and showing they could compete at the high end of the division without shelling out millions of pounds. Unfortunately, with Martin O'Neill leaving and then just the one season under Gerard Houllier things seem to be regressing for Villa and they don't really seem know what direction to take, something that can't be said of their opponents on Boxing Day, Stoke who have a set way of playing and look a good bet to win this game. They are odds on with some bookmakers for the three points, I'm tipping a 2-1 win at odds of 8/1 with Ladbrokes.
There are two live games on Tuesday, the first being Swansea v QPR from the Liberty Stadium in South Wales. These two promoted sides from last season have acquitted themselves well in the Premier League, especially the Swans who have been very strong at home. I've been surprised at how well Brendan Rogers' side have defended having stepped up a level, especially at home. In fact, the Swans have conceded ten goals fewer this season than Queens Park Rangers and the other promoted team from the Championship, Norwich.
QPR on the other hand let in some really sloppy goals in defeat to Sunderland on Wednesday and I'd imagine Neil Warnock will be looking to strengthen his back four in the January transfer window. Rangers have hit a sticky patch following a good start to Premier League life and they are now four without a win. I'm going to have a speculative bet on a 3-2 correct score in Swansea's favour here, as both sides go for three points in what could be a good match. Sportingbet are paying 33/1 on that outcome which could boost the coffers for the Christmas Sales.
Tuesday's second live match is Norwich versus Tottenham at Carrow Road. This is very much a watching brief for now until the teams are announced and Spurs face Chelsea at home on Thursday night. A win for Tottenham could see their match odds of 4/5 to beat Norwich plummet, but without knowing the teams first it's a risky bet. I used to love playing at Christmas, the more games the better, but manager's will rotate their squad as the teams play four games in twelve days. There's no problem with squad rotation if the players coming in are familiar with their positions. The issues tend to arise when managers start playing people out of position, as it doesn't take too much to upset the balance of the team.
Spurs can probably afford to lose certain players and still be strong favourites against a Norwich team who always give Paul Lambert 100%. Straight out of the Martin O'Neill mould, Lambert has a knack for getting the best out of his players, a shrewd operator in the transfer market, Lambert is tactically astute and I think Norwich will cause Spurs some problems.
My old Leicester side always used to get a result against Spurs, as our style of play really ruffled their feathers. This is a different Tottenham we're talking about these days mind, but I still fancy Norwich getting something out of the game, so will tip up a 1-1 draw at odds of 7/1 with William Hill.
I have a Boxing Day treble for you from League One this week, backing Tranmere to beat Rochdale, Huddersfield to beat Chesterfield and Charlton to beat Yeovil pays a shade under 11/2 with bookmaker Coral. Have a Merry Christmas and happy punting.
Steve Claridge's Boxing Day Football Tips
Tip #1: Stoke v Aston Villa (26th Dec 2011) - Stoke to win 2-1 @ odds of 8/1 with Ladbrokes.
Tip #2: Swansea v QPR (27th Dec 2011) - Swansea to win 3-2 @ odds of 33/1 with Sportingbet.
Tip #3: Norwich v Tottenham (27th Dec 2011) - 1-1 draw @ odds of 7/1 with William Hill.
Steve's Weekly Treble: Tranmere to beat Rochdale (Evs); Huddersfield to beat Chesterfield (2/5); Charlton to beat Yeovil (10/11). A £25 treble pays £133.64 with Coral.co.uk.
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