A FOURTH winning Football League treble for Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) in 2015/16 last weekend. Can he continue his wonderful form this weekend?
Walsall v Sheffield United | Saturday 15.00
Walsall were rated 40/1 shots to take the League One title back in August but it’s time to give the Saddlers the love and praise they deserve after a remarkable first 16 games (W9-D5-L2). Dean Smith’s side are averaging two points-per-game and now we’re into the second third of the campaign, one of the unlikely pace-setters need to be considered serious challengers.
The Saddlers were given a rest during the international break, ideal when taking into account Smith’s used a joint-league low of 20 players this season – four players (Tom Bradshaw, Romaine Sawyers, Paul Downing and Adam Chambers) have started all 16 matches – and so you’d expect Walsall to be refreshed and ready for a contest against 5/1 pre-season favourites Sheffield United.
Top scorer Bradshaw was an unused substitute for Wales against Holland following a first international call-up last week whilst left-back Rico Henry played twice for England U19s during the past fortnight. Both players are rumoured to be interesting clubs higher up the Football League pyramid and should return with plenty of confidence for Saturday’s clash. Goalkeeper Neil Etheridge and Romaine Sawyers are also back from international commitments with Smith able to call upon almost a fully fit squad.
There are a number of factors that deserve showering the hosts in compliments. Firstly, sitting third in the table the Saddlers have a game in hand over those above them which, if won, would be good enough to send Walsall top. And despite playing a game less than their rivals, the Reds have fired in the third most shots in the league and averaging the second-highest on-target efforts.
While it was Bradshaw who carried Walsall through their first few matches, others are starting to impress and the Saddlers hold more goal threats than most teams in the division. With a total of eight goals in their last three league games, none of which were scored by Bradshaw, Smith’s men have proved there’s more than one dangerman.
George Evans’ loan spell from Manchester City is likely to be extended after a number of eye-catching performances whilst defensively, the Saddlers have shutout their opponents on seven occasions already this term. Their strength in both boxes has led to each of their top three rivals being beaten at the Bescot this season and it’s true too, Smith’s record against top-six sides in the third tier deserves plenty of respect.
Since taking charge at Walsall, Smith has overseen the Saddlers to W19-D21-L15 when playing top-six rivals with their home return in those fixtures reading W10-D10-L7 – that’s a 27% loss-rate overall and 26% loss-rate when hosting the league’s big guns. You don’t need me to tell you, that’s a fantastic return for a club with a budget dwarfed by the bigger fish in the league.
Yet Walsall are rated 6/4 pokes to beat an inconsistent and paranoid Sheffield United side this weekend. The large price allows us to investigate more cautious angles and I’m delighted to be able to back the Saddlers at 1.80 in the Draw No Bet market with Favourit – remember that loss-rate above? Yeah, it’s a serious value price.
The Blades have taken five points less after 17 games this season than they had at the same stage last year under Nigel Clough with three wins from their previous 12 League One encounters piling the pressure on Nigel Adkins. The visitors have only kept one clean sheet in their last seven and are seven points adrift of their hosts having played a game more.
United’s road record is far from convincing too. Since the start of last season, the big spenders have W11-D10-L10 on their travels – that’s a win-rate of 35% – with only six shutouts kept across those 31 fixtures. The visitors are winless away since August and have W0-D4-L1 in their last five against Walsall as well as losing three of their five trips to the Bescot since dropping down to this level in 2011.
Adkins insists his side must ‘go back to basics’ to find the winning formula but with Billy Sharp unable to find his scoring boots and an alarming run of recent results, I just can’t ignore the impressive Saddlers at the odds on offer. Walsall 1.80 in the Draw No Bet market, please.
Wigan v Shrewsbury | Saturday 15.00
At the start of the season I had no love or interest in Wigan. Yes, they had the parachute payments behind them and a squad good enough to romp to the League One title but with an inexperienced manager and fresh-faced CEO behind the scenes, I expected the Latics to take time to consolidate before looking at promotion.
It has taken time but I’m still surprised to see Athletic fine-tuning their form so soon. Wigan are beginning to look a little ominous in their recent run and a 2-0 success at Lancashire rivals Rochdale last weekend impressed on many levels.
Gary Caldwell’s squad now look the real deal in the promotion battle having W5-D5-L0 in their last 10 matches – their best run of form since 2004. And at the DW Stadium, the hosts have W5-D3-L0, leaking just three goals all season.
Going further back, the Latics have lost just twice in 16 outings and three clean sheets in their most recent five suggests the defensive solidity their Scottish boss craved has finally been found. In attack, 13 different players have found the net whilst the magic of on-loan Yanic Wildschut has helped to make the side a force on the counter-attack as well as in dominating possession.
I expect Wigan to continue their fine form on Saturday and at 1.79 (Favourite) are well worth taking to beat Shrewsbury. The visitors have lost four successive away games in this tier for the first time since 2013 and been beaten in five of their last seven.
Micky Mellon’s men appear to be suffering from the departures of two of last season’s four key performers. Centre-half Connor Goldson was snapped up by Brighton with defensive midfielder Ryan Woods joining Brentford before the end of the transfer window. Key striker James Collins has failed to fire consistently and left-back Mat Sadler has admitted his form hasn’t been good enough.
During their League Two promotion campaign last season, the Shrews lost nine times on their travels including each of their six visits to top-seven rivals and looking at their previous 54 away matches at this level since 2012/13, Salop have been beaten on 26/54 (48%) occasions. I’ll bank on a repeat.
Newport v Yeovil | Saturday 15.00
The axing of Terry Butcher and subsequent appointment of John Sheridan could and should be a masterstroke by the supporters running the club at Newport County. Former Irish international Sheridan guided Plymouth into the top-seven last season but also worked wonders on a shoestring budget with the Pilgrims when finances were tight at Home Park.
Sheridan now faces a similar situation at Rodney Parade but his arrival has coincided with an excellent upturn in on-field performances and results. It took three games for the Exiles to notch a first victory under his tutorship but since then, Newport have W3-D3-L0 and netted 16 goals along the way.
On-loan Zak Ansah and Scott Boden have been inspired by the new head honcho and suddenly there’s an air of optimism surrounding the south Wales club. No side has scored fewer goals this season than Newport (17) in League Two football but County have netted at least twice in each of those aforementioned six contests and I’m going to back them to repeat the trick at 23/20 (Coral) on Saturday.
Second-from-bottom Yeovil head to Newport winless in nine (W0-D3-L6) League Two games and have conceded two goals or more in 11 of their 17 league fixtures. The Glovers have W1-D1-L6 on the road with five of those matches adhering to this angle so at odds-against with County on a roll, I’m happy to be involved.
Walsall v Sheffield United – Walsall draw no bet (1.80 Favourit)
Wigan v Shrewsbury – Wigan to win (1.79 Favourit)
Newport v Yeovil – Newport to score Over 1.5 Goals (23/20 Coral)
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