MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) is on the trail of a Halloween Football League treble. Here he explains his three favourite selections.
Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest | Saturday 15.00
Big love to Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls did the Football League proud in the Capital One Cup midweek with their fantastic 3-0 victory over Arsenal rewarding punters at 13/2. Progression to the quarter-finals has brought a buzz back to Hillsborough but the momentum has been building around the club for a few weeks now.
From having his credentials doubted, questioned and even being rather close to the exit door following a less than glorious start, head coach Carlos Carvalhal has moulded Wednesday into a confident, creative and cohesive team from a complex and confusing opening.
The Owls are now nine games without defeat that also includes a second-string XI taking Premier League Newcastle to the cleaners, also in the League Cup. The squad has settled, ideas and style changes have been implemented and understood, and the way in which the side out-played and out-worked the Gunners this week suggests lofty pre-season ambitions for a top-six finish could well be within their grasp.
This week the club snapped up Gary Hooper on a loan deal but firepower hasn’t been an issue thus far. Fernando Forestieri and Portugal U21 international Lucas Santos Joao are forming an impressive partnership up front and the Owls have now fired blanks in just two of their 13 Championship outings.
Carvalhal has encouraged the group to kick-on but also urged caution ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Nottingham Forest. The Portuguese boss said, “We don’t have time to celebrate as we have another game on Saturday. We must keep our feet on the ground. We are winning because we are doing very good team work. We have very good organisation and all the players are putting the team first and personal interests second. We can’t sleep or we will come down very quickly.”
So whilst there’s everything going in Wednesday’s favour right now and Carvalhal has highlighted the need to remain focussed, I can’t help but feel the potential for a hangover could count against the hosts this weekend. So instead of investing in Wednesday, I prefer to chase a goals-based bet with Both Teams To Score available at 1.91 (Favourit).
Forest recorded back-to-back wins at the start of September but since then the Tricky Trees have slumped to six games without tasting victory. Dougie Freedman’s squad has been stretched to the limit in recent weeks with over 10 players missing but that injury list has eased slightly.
Although skipper Henri Lansbury is banned, Matt Mills’ return from suspension should ensure the visitors have a strong leader in the XI while Ben Osborn and Kyle Ebecilio both have a chance of recovering from injury to bolster Forest’s midfield options.
The aforementioned poor run has seen Freedman’s troops score just four goals, one of which came in the 95th minute last Saturday that rescued a point against Ipswich, but they do possess enough attacking quality to grab a goal. David Vaughan, Liam Trotter and Jonny Williams can all justifiably say they’re creative and influential midfield players and now’s the time to stand up and be counted.
There’s a distinct gloomy feeling of apathy around the City Ground right now with many supporters questioning the direction of the club under the current owner. Progress has been limited under Freedman (W10-D9-L12) but Forest have been a decent team to follow for goals-based bets.
Since the Scot took charge, 21/31 (68%) of the Tricky Trees’ matches have featured Both Teams To Score winners with the side keeping just six clean sheets and failing to net themselves on six occasions. Their W4-D6-L5 return on the road has included 10/15 (67%) of successful BTTS bets and so I’m happy to get a repeat onside this Saturday.
Wednesday have followed suit, banking in the Both Teams To Score column in 10/13 (77%) of their Championship games this season including all bar one of their six Hillsborough dates. I expected a repeat to be shorter than the 1.91 on offer.
Scunthorpe v Barnsley | Saturday 15.00
I’m not ashamed to say, I backed Scunthorpe to win promotion at the start of the season. The Iron were 13/2 and with Mark Robins enjoying a full pre-season and plenty of strong investment in the squad, I felt Scunny could blast their way towards the top-six.
Things haven’t gone quite so swimmingly and only a matter of weeks ago, Robins’ position wasn’t being questioned. And not for the first time, either.
But 12 points from a possible 15 has seen the Iron slip under the radar and into a top-half position, just four points off the play-off places. Last weekend Scunny ran out 3-0 winners at Chesterfield – admittedly aided by a red card – but suddenly there’s an air of confidence and consistency floating around Glanford Park.
Saturday’s hosts have been lacking tactical consistency as Robins’ chopped and changed his starting XI from week-to-week to find the magic formula. However, the Scunny manager has now fielded the same side for four games on the spin and been the more dominant team in all four. Finally, they’re finding their feet.
This weekend’s clash with Barnsley will be Robins’ 50th in charge at Glanford Park and his W17-D15-L17 is enough to see the hosts hover around mid-table but their form in front of their home supporters is decent (W11-D7-L6). Blackpool were 1-0 winners earlier this season but that was a perfect example of a smash-and-grab and being beaten by the same scoreline when hosting high-flying Walsall is hardly a major blotch on their copybook.
Indeed, the Iron’s W4-D1-L2 return when welcoming League One opposition this term also includes four clean sheets and Murray Wallace’s partnership with David Mirfin also saw the home side record their first clean sheet on the road under Robins last week. Tommy Rowe’s been influential in the middle of the park too and with no fresh injury concerns, Robins may name the same starting line-up for the fifth successive match.
I also expected Barnsley to be featuring around the upper reaches of League One and although the Tykes have knocked Scunny out of both the Capital One Cup and the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy this season, the South Yorkshire are struggling to fulfil their potential this term.
Barnsley boss Lee Johnson will no doubt be coming under the spotlight following a spell of five successive defeats. The club haven’t lost six on the trot since 1997 but the talented young boss just hasn’t managed to get the former Premier League club on the straight and narrow since arriving earlier this year.
Under Johnson, the Tykes have W9-D8-L11 but their W4-D2-L8 return in 2015/16 has left the club in the bottom-four. The visitors have netted just once in five on their travels, have lost 12 of their previous 20 on the road (W3-D4-L6 under Johnson) and the manager admitted last weekend he’s made mistakes that have cost the club points.
Johnson suggested the side ‘looked like a schoolboy team’ in a 1-0 home reverse to Fleetwood last time out and what’s most alarming is Barnsley’s lack of a goal threat. In those aforementioned 28 matches, the visitors have scored two or more goals in a game just seven times. And their attacking output has been hit further by Dan Crowley’s return to Arsenal this week.
I have to side with Scunthorpe here but I’ll take the relative insurance of a Draw No Bet punt at 1.66 (Favourit). The hosts have suffered just six defeats in 24 at Glanford Park under Robins whilst the visitors have bagged three wins in 13 away days under Johnson, plus 15/29 (52%) defeats on their travels since the start of last season.
Leyton Orient v Accrington | Saturday 15.00
Leyton Orient started the season in emphatic fashion. Five wins on the spin sent the O’s straight to the top of League Two but Ian Hendon’s charges have struggled to find top gear in the receding 10 matches (W2-D5-L3). The Londoners sit just a point outside the automatic promotion places but things certainly aren’t hunky dory around Brisbane Road.
Fans remain split on Hendon’s ability to get Orient back into League One but from the outside, he’s doing a sterling job. Inheriting a right old mess after last season’s circus, the former West Ham coach has steadied the ship and at least put it in the right direction.
Last weekend’s 1-0 win at Morecambe ended a nine-match winless spell and also saw the O’s keep a first clean sheet since August. Hendon was delighted with his side’s battling qualities but it was a very poor game of football with Orient barely even notching an effort on-target – the winning goal was fortunate and Alex Cisak was much the busier of the two keepers.
Intriguingly, fans favourite Dean Cox was left out of the matchday squad and watched the match from the away stands. The League Two Player of the Month in August has rumoured to have clashed with Hendon and supporters have taken the Cox’s side. The boss has also even questioned the local paper’s support of the club.
In the visiting dressing room sits Accrington. Chalked up as 150/1 title dogs in the summer, John Coleman continues to defy the critics by nestling Stanley into the mid-to-upper reaches of the table on the league’s lowest budget. And the good news continued this week with Accy announcing ‘the most important in the club’s history’.
An investment deal which will see Accrington debt-free and cash rich was approved by shareholders and sees around £1.2m of debt cleared and an additional cash injection of around £600,000 into the club. It’s a fantastic story which will hopefully allow Coleman to kick the club on further.
Sitting in seventh, Stanley are just a point behind their hosts and enter Saturday’s clash in the better shape – W6-D1-L3 across their past 10. Coleman’s addressed their defensive woes and the visitors have already claimed four shutouts from their first 15 fixtures – they managed just five in the whole of 2014/15.
Accy have attempted the joint-most shots on-target this season, whilst only four clubs have faced fewer. Josh Windass and Billy Kee are getting amongst the goals whilst Matt Crooks is making a name for himself in midfield. And on their travels they’ve W3-D2-L1 in their past six – in contrast, Orient have taken just five points from their last 12 on offer on home soil.
Leyton Orient look overrated, to me. They’re second best in most performance data categories and look vulnerable odds-on favourites. I’ll back Accrington to avoid defeat at 2.05 (Favourite) with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start – we get paid out should Stanley win or draw.
Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest – Both Teams To Score (1.91 Favourit)
Scunthorpe v Barnsley – Scunthorpe draw no bet (1.66 Favourit)
Leyton Orient v Accrington – Accrington +0.50 Asian Handicap (2.05 Favourit)
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