THERE are a couple of Football League fixtures to get your teeth into on Tuesday night. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts.
Colchester v Fleetwood | Tuesday 19.45
Colchester manager Kevin Keen has set his side a target of 30 points from their remaining 20 games if they’re to survive relegation. The U’s boss says his side may have to win the equivalent of 10 more to reach 50 points and get out of trouble, following their home defeat against Sheffield United.
The Essex outfit conceded a late goal to lose 2-1 to the Blades at the Community Stadium, extending their run without a league victory to 12 matches. The result left the club five points adrift of safety but there are certainly chinks of positivity around Colchester.
Keen’s charges deserved at least a point on Saturday and the gaffer was upbeat despite the disappointment of another pointless return, saying:
“It was very much a kick in the teeth but we have to take the positives from the second-half performance which was absolutely fantastic and just keep going – that’s all we can do.
“At some stage, we have to pull the cat out of the bag and win a game but I’m still very confident. We just need to tighten up and find a little bit of magic and we’ll start winning games.”
Keen was appointed four days before Christmas but the effect the ex-West Ham coach has had on the side is easy to see. ColU hadn’t avoided defeat since 24 October bar an FA Cup success against non-league Altrincham but managed to end a nasty nine-match losing streak with a well-earned 1-1 draw at fellow League One strugglers Oldham.
The U’s were beaten by both Southend (2-0) and promotion-chasing Gillingham (1-0) under Keen’s watch previous to that stalemate but both losses were harsh. The Shrimpers’ highly-rated stopper Daniel Bentley produced a Man of the Match display in the derby whilst the Gills were very fortunate to walk away with maximum points.
In fact, in all three fixtures Colchester have fired in more shots, more efforts on-target and only last week lost the corner count Sure, the U’s boast the worst goals against record in the Football League but they’ve looked tighter at the back as a switch from their familiar 4-2-3-1 style to a 4-4-2 formation has given the side more balance.
Colchester deservedly dumped Charlton out of the FA Cup on home soil before their weekend reverse and again, both fixtures saw the side come out on top in all the key performance areas. They might be sitting just one place off the bottom but I’m confident they’re on the straight and narrow with Keen in charge.
Colchester are 39/40 (BetVictor) off a scratch 0 Asian Handicap in midweek – that’s the equivalent of a punt on the Draw No Bet market and I believe they’re worthy of a wee wager.
Fleetwood saw their weekend game at Rochdale postponed, arguably a positive for boss Steven Pressley, whose side is down to the bare bones through injury and illness.
Forwards David Ball and David Henen were confirmed absentees on Friday with Nathan Pond and fellow defender Amari’i Bell major doubts. Pressley said he’d need to fill the bench with kids and confirmed he’s looking for a number of reinforcements to bolster his wafer thin squad.
Nevertheless, the Town number one heaped praise on his midfield, suggesting they’re the best in the division, hailing their work rate. The Scot has been impressed by the way Eggert Jonsson, Jimmy Ryan and Antoni Sarcevic have adapted to his three-man midfield approach, with the latter duo crucial for kick-starting counter-attacks.
However, I’m never comfortable trusting the Cod Army on the road. Since the start of last season they’ve W11-D5-L19 on their travels, failing to even score in 14/35 (40%). And this term that record reads W2-D2-L8 with five blanks and a solitary clean sheet tot heir name.
I’m prepared to oppose Fleetwood here and put my faith in Keen’s Colchester claiming a vital victory in this relegation six-pointer. We’ll get the draw onside and take that 39/40 on the hosts off a 0 Asian Handicap start.
Accrington v Hartlepool | Tuesday 19.45
Accrington haven’t hosted a game since 14 November and with Saturday’s clash with Portsmouth the fourth successive fixture at the Crown Ground to be postponed in two months, forgive me for not expecting their midweek match with Hartlepool to go ahead.
Stanley’s owner Andy Holt revealed the postponements have cost the club more than £100,000 in lost matchday revenue and manager John Coleman admitted his players are “straining at the leash” to get back to work on home soil. And that was before the Pompey showdown was shelved because of the weather.
So the Reds have now played six away games on the spin, five in League Two, and collected 10 points from a possible 15 to stay in the top-seven mix, defying pre-season predictions of relegation, again. And Accy are certainly up there on merit.
Stanley have W11-D6-L5 of their 22 fixtures in 2015/16 and are returning a very impressive 63.55% shots-on-target ratio figure – only Oxford and Portsmouth are posting better figures.
And although they’ve only managed W4-D3-L2 at the Crown Ground, again they’re averaging 63% of the total efforts on-target – the fourth best figures in the fourth tier.
Hartlepool are this midweek’s visitors and like their hosts, have seen their fixture schedule disputed due to the weather. Pools returned to action against Derby in the FA Cup and produced a sterling display despite losing 1-0 before beating Wycombe 1-0 at the weekend in their fist League Two match for a month.
Manager Ronnie Moore and match-winner Scott Fenwick both suggested it was a “fresh start” as the Monkey Hangers collected maximum points for the first time since November. It was a backs-to-the wall victory as Pools were forced back for the final 25 minutes and it needed an incredible defensive effort to hold onto the win.
The triumph lifts Moore’s men six points above second-bottom Yeovil, lifting the gloom around Victoria Park. Hartlepool had started the campaign with nine points from nine but slipped dangerously close to the relegation zone with W3-D2-L13 from their next 18 outings.
I’m not convinced the Monkey Hangers are out of the woods just yet, mind. Tuesday night’s contest promises to be a real tester for a side that have W1-D0-L9 against the division’s top-10 this term and returned W5-D4-L14 in away fixtures under Moore.
Billy Paynter is yet to return from injury and although Accy have a penchant for giving goals away at home – Both Teams To Score banking in 11/12 and 16/20 further back – the hosts are rightly strong favourites.
Only four clubs are averaging a lesser share of shots-on-target on the road than Hartlepool’s 39% and it’s difficult to see the visitors stamping their authority on this match, especially against an Accrington team chomping at the bit.
By my estimation, Stanley should (or could) be closer to 8/13 to claim maximum points and so the 8/11 (William Hill) holds value appeal. However, I’m happier taking a more prominent price with Paddy Power offering evens on an Accrington win and Over 1.5 Goals as it covers the potential BTTS angle too.
Colchester v Fleetwood – Colchester 0 Asian Handicap (39/40 BetVictor)
Accrington v Hartlepool – Accrington to win and Over 1.5 Goals (1/1 Paddy Power)
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