MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) has surveyed the Football League scene this weekend and picked out his three favourite bets.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Watford | Saturday 12.15 | Sky Sports 1
Hi world, Mr Contradiction here. One of my golden rules of Football League betting is ‘Never Back An Away Team At Odds-On*’ although those with beady eyes will have noticed the wee asterisk there. There are of course, a couple of exceptions to that rule and one of which comes into play on Saturday.
As we enter the final furlong of the season, I’m happier to throw this rule out the window. Intensity, pressure and need play a big part in how I try to structure my bets and Saturday’s early kick-off looks the perfect game to dip my toe back into the world of backing an away team at odds-on. It’s Watford at BetVictor’s 9/10.
The Hornets climbed to the top of the Championship ladder last weekend thanks to their 1-0 success at home to Birmingham. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t convincing but the winner certainly was. Centre-half Craig Cathcurt’s brilliant hooked effort proved enough as boss Slavisa Jokanovic explained his team “found it difficult to win”.
So can Watford take the pressure? Are the current table-toppers good enough to secure wins in their next two fixtures to secure promotion and the Championship title? I reckon so. The squad is awash with talent and have displayed both unmatchable attacking quality alongside a determined and steely defence to believe they can complete the job.
The Hornets head to the south coast having won 14 of their last 19 games, nine of their most recent 13 away and avoided defeat in their last eight road trips. No second tier side has matched Watford’s record of 12 away victories (W12-D4-L6) and only Bournemouth have scored more goals on their travels; they’ve notched at least twice in those eight unbeaten away matches (W6-D2-L0).
There’s also the small matter of their flat-track bully nature. Jokanovic’s charges have been deadly against the division’s lesser lights. In 17 previous outings against clubs in 16th and below, Watford’s record is an astonishing W16-D1-L0 with an aggregate score of 48-12!
I like Brighton but without sugar-coating things, it’s been a horrendous season for the Seasiders. More accustomed to challenging for a top-six place, Albion have looking over their shoulders for the most part of 2014/15. Relegation is almost certainly out of the question and summer planning can now begin.
The hosts have W6-D8-L8 at their AMEX home, the fifth worst record in the Championship, and that includes W2-D3-L6 against current top-half teams. It’s now four defeats in five for Chris Hughton’s men who have scored just one goal from open play in their last seven outings.
To make matters worse, on-loan Liverpool star Joao Teixeira broke his leg recently meaning Brighton’s current top-goalscorer is now defender Lewis Dunk with five. Without a goal in their last three at the AMEX and six losses in 11, it’s hard to find the faith to get the Seagulls onside. Watford are unbeaten in four trips to Albion’s new home and I fancy them to extend that record with three points on Saturday.
Scunthorpe United v Gillingham | Saturday 15.00
When I see Scunthorpe, all I want to do is dance. No, that’s not right. When I see Scunthorpe, all I want to do is back Both Teams To Score. Yeah, that’s the one. I do; it’s a really bizarre urge and I’d be happy to take BTTS in Scunny’s games completely blind too. It’s 8/11 on Saturday and whilst it appeals again, I’ve found a better alternative punt to be on.
The Iron all but confirmed their League One status in the past week and their Tuesday night 1-1 draw at home to Bradford left boss Mark Robins feeling “almost pleased”. Scunthorpe have used 41 players this season and Robins is already looking forward to pre-season as he looks to set down his own stamp on the squad for 2015/16.
But first they must negotiate their final league game at Glanford Park this term with Gillingham making the journey north. The Iron have coughed and spluttered over the finishing line and their return of W2-D7-L6 in their last 15 League One fixtures is far from inspiring. Robins has sent a few rockets up his players in recent weeks and although Scunny have W4-D4-L1 on home soil since Valentine’s Day, their defensive horrors mean siding with the hosts just isn’t an option.
We’re 44 games deep into the season and United have kept just three shutouts. It’s a staggeringly poor return and with that in mind, it’s no real surprise to see they’ve failed to record victories in 14/22 (64%) of their Glanford Park duels. Yet the hosts have been chalked up at 13/10 to claim maximum points on Saturday and so I just have to oppose them.
I’ve expressed my love for Gillingham previously in this column and although an unlikely play-off challenge eventually petered out, there’s no denying the impact that Justin Edinburgh has had on the Kent club. Since the former Spurs defender joined, the Gills have W6-D6-L3 to cement a place in ninth. It’s heady progress.
I’ve also been very impressed by the return on the road under JE – W3-D4-L1. The Gills have secured points at Preston and Bristol City and beaten Swindon and Peterborough during those eight games so I’m going to throw a bit of cash behind Gillingham +0.25 at the peculiar price of 930/1000 with Ladbrokes; that’s close to 20/21 in more familiar odds.
With this selection, our stake is split across two bets. Half our stake is placed on Gillingham 0 (effectively the Draw No Bet market) and the other half will go on Gillingham +0.50 (effectively the Double Chance market). This means that should Gillingham win, we’ll pocket a full pay-out as both parts of the bet were won. If the game ends in a draw, we’ll still collect half of that potential full-pay out with the second part of our stake returned. The only way in which we won’t make profit, is it Scunthorpe win. Boo.
With Scunny’s rotten clean sheet record, plus the fact the Gills have scored in 24/28 league matches, the home side may have to net two goals or more to have a chance of winning. With that in mind, I like the Kent visitors’ chances of coming away with at least a point on Saturday.
York City v Newport County | Saturday 15.00
For weeks and months I’ve been laying into York on social media. The Minsterman are continuously underpriced, regularly trading at odds-on quotes despite winning just 5/22 (23%) of League Two matches at their Bootham Crescent home. That was until now…Yes, I’m curious and a little excited to see Russ Wilcox’s charges as big as 17/10 (ToteSport) to see off Newport County on Saturday, in front of their home supporters.
Last weekend’s 1-0 defeat at Shrewsbury was their first reverse in seven and York gave as good as they got against the division’s big-spending promotion-chasers. Luke Summerfield hit a post as the Minstermen dominated large parts of that fixture in yet another encouraging performance.
Wilcox has said for weeks that his team’s impressive displays haven’t been reflected by their lowly position. It’s now just four defeats in 15 with seven clean sheets kept during that spell. And the York boss reiterated his demand for his team to be “good in both boxes” so he’ll be hoping to bring in a proven goalscorer this summer; the Minsterman are rated third in the League Two shots-on-target table and should they find a goal poacher, they’ll be a good runner next season.
Visitors Newport arrive somehow still in the potential play-off picture. I say somehow because I’m staggered to see the Exiles just three points adrift of seventh following their rotten run of results that stretches as far back as January. Yep, County have W4-D4-L11 in their past 19 league games, including defeats in their last four.
Last week Dagenham produced a smash-and-grab 3-2 win at Rodney Parade but the Londoners had stormed into a three-goal lead before late Newport goals gave the result a little more respect. Manager Jimmy Dack conceded the play-offs were probably out of touch for his out-of-form team but also stated his charges just “don’t have the quality in either penalty box”.
It’s quite an intriguing statement to make and there’s absolutely no doubt that the Exiles tend to struggle against the more disciple and well-organised clubs. They’ve failed to score in 10 of those aforementioned 19 fixtures and kept four clean sheets across the same games. Morale is low, the good feeling towards Dack is evaporating and I’d fancy York to revel in the occasion in their final fixture at Bootham Crescent this season.
Brighton & Hove Albion v Watford – Watford to win (9/10 BetVictor)
Scunthorpe United v Gillingham – Gillingham +0.25 (930/1000 Ladbrokes)
York City v Newport County – York City to win (17/10 ToteSport)
What’s your best Football League bet this weekend? Do you agree with Mark’s selections?
We’d love to hear what you’re backing so let us know in the comments box below.