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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Struggling hosts can make it a blue day for Wolves

Neves ban a blow for leaders at Birmingham

Che Adams scored Birmingham's winner against in-form Cardiff
1 of 1

Sky Bet Championship
Sky Sports Football, 7.45pm Monday

Local derbies can be a great leveller and it may be worth siding with the underdogs when Sky Bet Championship table-toppers Wolves take on struggling Birmingham at St Andrew's.

Big-spending Wolves have been the standout team in the second tier this season and probably deserve their status as long odds-on favourites to win the division.

They are the highest scorers in the Championship with 40 goals and average 2.11 goals per game, a remarkable achievement in such a demanding league.

Over the last 11-and-a-half seasons in the Championship only Bournemouth (the 2014-15 champions) have averaged more than two goals per game.

And the frightening thing is that this Wolves team are only likely to get better as they get more used to playing with each other.

However, there have been setbacks along the way and the match against Birmingham has been made much more difficult by the absence of suspended playmaker Ruben Neves, who is arguably the most important cog in the Wolves machine.

When Wolves are at their best, Neves is often at the heart of it with his willingness to get on the ball and play the killer pass.

The 20-year-old is the main reason Wolves have controlled so many of their matches and his composure will be missed in a physical, high-paced match where time on the ball will be at a premium.

Birmingham dropped into the bottom three after the weekend results and are having a difficult season but they have shown some positive signs in big matches since Steve Cotterill was appointed manager just over two months ago.

In his first two home matches in charge, Cotterill achieved a victory over Cardiff (1-0) and a draw (0-0) with Aston Villa.

And he steered the Blues to an unlikely 1-1 draw at Sheffield United nine days ago.

Cotterill still has a lot of work to do with a side who have managed just ten goals this season – the lowest in the division and exactly a quarter of the total served up by Wolves.

The opening of the January transfer window will give him the opportunity to bring in better attacking players, although there have been a few positive signs in November with Che Adams scoring a superb individual goal in the 1-0 victory at home to Nottingham Forest and Arsenal loanee Jeremie Boga netting a long-range screamer in the draw at Sheffield United.

Adams and Boga have plenty of pace and their energy will be handy as Birmingham look to press from the front and disrupt Wolves' passing style.

The home side's performance might not be a thing of beauty but it will be fully committed and might be enough to secure the point or three required to lift them out of the drop zone.

Draw or Birmingham double chance
1pt 11-10 bet365, Betfair

Bet on this match at

Team news
Carl Jenkinson is back in full training but Isaac Vassell is a long-term absentee.

Ruben Neves serves a one-match suspension but no fresh injuries are reported.

Key stat
Birmingham have lost one of their last five home fixtures.

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Adams and Boga have plenty of pace and their energy will be handy as Birmingham look to press from the front and disrupt Wolves' passing style
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