BILLY BUNTER

Weblog: The football punter

Five things we learned from the weekend

1 Beaten Boro need to go for broke

Rock-solid defence was the hallmark of Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough but caretaker boss Steve Agnew must throw caution to the wind if Boro are to escape relegation.

They had plenty of ineffective possession in yesterday’s 3-1 defeat to Manchester United yesterday but only landed a blow when Alvaro Negredo – an isolated figure for most of the season – was joined by Rudy Gestede up front.

Gestede, assisted by a Chris Smalling gaffe, ended Boro’s eight-and-a-half-hour goal drought and Agnew surely has to send his team out in a more positive formation as they battle for survival.

2 Top-flight leaders grinding it out

Antonio Conte’s reign at Chelsea started with late winning goals in 2-1 victories over West Ham and Watford and the Blues’ trip to Stoke followed a similar pattern.

Defender Gary Cahill scored an 87th-minute winner for the title favourites, rewarding punters who backed Chelsea to win by a one-goal margin.

That has been a profitable trend this season, with Conte prizing control over flashy wide-margin wins, while backing Chelsea to win and under 3.5 goals is another sound betting strategy.

It has copped in 15 of their 19 games against teams in the bottom 12 and, with home fixtures to come against Watford, Crystal Palace, Middlesbrough and Sunderland, a conservative approach to the goals markets could pay off for bettors.

3 Armstrong stretching Scottish defences

Celtic edged closer to their inevitable triumph in the Ladbrokes Premiership with a 2-1 win at Dundee and the only surprise was that Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair weren’t on the scoresheet.

The pacy pair are the leading scorers in the top flight but Stuart Armstrong deserves credit for his tally of 11 from midfield. He got Celtic’s second at Dens Park to make it ten goals in his last 18 domestic games, including a sweet strike to put the Bhoys 1-0 up against Rangers on March 12.

Armstrong still goes off at backable each-way prices in the first-scorer market – 15-2 against Rangers and 7-1 at Dundee – and the 24-year-old has caught the eye during Celtic’s cruise to the title.

4 Struggling Rovers are reliable goalscorers

Blackburn remain in the Sky Bet Championship relegation zone after Preston’s late equaliser in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Ewood Park.

The game was symptomatic of their season – 12 of their 38 matches have ended either 1-1 or 2-2 – and they need to start converting draws into wins.

Rovers have failed to score only once in their last 24 league matches but have won just six of those games. That’s good news for backers of both teams to score but not such a boost to Blackburn’s chances of staying in the division.

Tony Mowbray clearly has some quality in the squad – loanee Lucas Joao scored three of Rovers’ four goals in their recent draws at Norwich and Fulham – but scruffy victories rather than entertaining score draws are required now.

5 Cambridge worth a punt away from home

The Sky Bet League Two playoff race is a tight heat with Cambridge United, in 12th, just six points behind fifth-placed Luton and Cambridge’s fine away form is keeping alive their hopes of a top-seven finish.

Saturday’s 1-0 success at Cheltenham was their third straight away win to nil and nine of their 15 league victories have come on the road.

Results at home are poor – they’ve lost four of their last seven at the Abbey Stadium – but they are well worth supporting on their travels.

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Match in Focus

17:00 TODAY ITV

England v Lithuania

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • England have been level at half-time in two of their four qualifying matches
Expert verdict
Bookmakers can’t see past England when they host Lithuania in this World Cup qualifier and even the most pessimistic Three Lions fan would find it hard to make a case for the Baltic nation. Gareth Southgate’s men may need time but should ultimately win and the value could lie with anticipating a draw at half-time with England striking late.