MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has scoured the Saturday Football League coupon to find his three favourite bets.
Leeds v Bristol City | Saturday 15.00
Is this the toughest, ugliest Championship coupon of 2015/16? I reckon it comes close. It’s a trappy card full of banana-skins and for that reason, I’m attempting to think outside the box for a best bet. So bear with me…
The Steve Evans revolution at Leeds has hit the buffers in recent weeks. Three points from a possible 15 (W0-D3-L2) have seen the Whites slump from top-half fixtures to 17th, although they do remain just a victory away from that top-12 position.
Back-to-back away losses to Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday were unfortunate, and at times, controversial. The Tractor Boys hit Evans’ men with a last-gasp winner whilst Leeds had a goal ruled against the Owls last weekend. Unsurprisingly, our rotund friend from north of the border went ballistic.
Anyhow, the Yorkshire outfit will be hoping to bounce back to form this weekend when manager-less Bristol City roll up at Elland Road.
I’m sure we all knew deep down the Robins were going to be last weekend’s coupon-busters when Steve Cotterill was sacked. John Pemberton took temporary charge and the Reds put in an excellent shift to defeat Middlesbrough at Ashton Gate.
Pemberton then gave youth a chance in their midweek battle with West Brom in the FA Cup. City were beaten 1-0 but gave a decent account of themselves with the new-look back four remaining reasonable solid throughout.
I get the impression former defender Pemberton is looking to build defensive stability with the foundations for his side from the back and he’s moved quick to bolster their thin squad with reinforcements. Alex Pearce and Ben Gladwin have joined this week but a move for Bradley Dack looks unlikely to materialise.
Stuart Pearce has been lined-up to takeover the gig, if you believe the bookies – a disastrous decision, if true. Nevertheless, I’d be surprised if Pemberton wasn’t in charge of their weekend trip to Leeds and so, for now at least, I’m happy to pursue this game from a punting perspective.
I won’t try and dress this selection up with make-up, heels and a clutch bag – like the Championship card, it’s as attractive as Caitlyn Jenner. But there’s legs to it (pardon the creepy pun) and therefore, it’s worthy of our attention.
Bar the Madjeski Stadium, Elland Road has seen the fewest shots-on-target in the second tier – an average of just 6.72 per-game. So no surprise to see Leeds’ home fixtures feature just 2.00 goals-per-game with 10/13 failing to break the Over 2.5 Goals barrier.
The hosts boast the second worst attack when welcoming Championship opposition (11 goals) and have only led at the interval once at Elland Road this season. In fact, the Whites have failed to even score before half-time in 10 of their 13 outings.
As for Bristol City, they’ve notched just nine goals on the road, failing to net in seven of their 13 away days. The visitors have seen six of those fixtures scoreless after 45 minutes as they’ve only leaked goals in four matches on their travels before half-time.
Only Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and Preston have seen fewer on-target attempts landed in away games than the Robins’ total of 100 (7.70 per-game on average) and so it’s difficult to see how this contest will capture the imagination.
With that in mind, Under 2.5 Goals and opposing Both Teams To Score are a little too skinny for my liking, so I’m going to give a new market a whirl.
Boylesports are offering 20/23 for ticking ‘No’ in the Goal In Both Halves option – basically, we’ll be paid out should either half finish goalless and that seems more than fair.
Gillingham v Peterborough | Saturday 15.00
Gillingham boss Justin Edinburgh pulled no punches when declaring his young squad must improve and learn faster if they’re to maintain their promotion push.
For the second match running, the Gills squandered a two-goal advantage, leaving the club with only a point from a possible six to show for their efforts at Wigan and Doncaster. Most galling for Edinburgh, the Kent outfit were in charge for the vast majority of both.
The Gillingham boss said, “We were in control and absolutely superb” when assessing last weekend’s point in Yorkshire. Goalkeeper Stuart Nelson saw his goal go untouched for almost an hour but Rovers struck from a free-kick and managed to equalise late on despite only landing three efforts on-target, including the set-piece goal.
I do expect a response from the Gills this weekend, especially as they return to fortress Priestfield. Since taking charge of the club, Edinburgh has guided Gillingham to W14-D4-L3 on home soil, scoring at least twice in 15 of those 21 matches. More recently, Saturday’s hosts have beaten 13 of their previous 16 visitors.
Much is made of Bradley Dack’s goalscoring exploits and Gillingham’s forward play but it’s also worth noting they’ve kept six clean sheets from 13 outings in Kent and only four League One sides have allowed fewer shots-on-target.
Their contest with Peterborough promises plenty but I do prefer the hosts here.
Last week I doubted Phil Brown and Southend’s ability to shut up shop and neutralise the streams of Posh attacks. But the Shrimpers successfully succeeded and deservedly took a point away from London Road.
For large swathes, Graham Westley’s men were flat and struggled to find their rhythm and although Gillingham won’t approach this match in the same manner as Southend, I’d actually hang my hat on the home side if it coms down to a shootout.
In midweek, bang-in-form striker Connor Washington completed a move to QPR and the 23-year-old was one of the stars of Westley’s work since taking charge. Prior to his arrival, Washington had scored just once this season. But the 23-year-old plundered 14 goals in 19 games under Westley’s wing.
Of course, Posh are averaging by-far-and-away the most shots-on-target in the division but without their talisman in attack, might they fail to convert so well? Possibly. And the guests are far from watertight too – just seven teams have faced more efforts on-target this term.
What’s more, ‘flat-track bullies’ is a label that’s starting to be attributed to the visitors. Peterborough performed very well at Walsall recently but a return of W1-D2-L5 against top-seven sides, tallied with last year’s W3-D0-L9 record against clubs finishing in the play-off positions, is of concern,
As I’ve said, I like Gillingham here but I reckon it’s worth adding Over 1.5 Goals into the mix. It’s an angle that’s proved profitable in 15/21 (71%) Priestfield Stadium matches since Edinburgh arrived as well as 30/36 (83%) of Posh’s road trips since the start of last season.
If we put the home win alongside Over 1.5 Goals, we’re getting odds of 2/1 with Paddy Power. That’s big, that’s attractive and that’s a great value bet.
Northampton v Morecambe | Saturday 15.00
My final selection(s) might take a leap of faith but hopefully the following few paragraphs will, not only explain my theory, but also bring you around to the same school of thought…
Northampton are League Two’s best performing home side (W9-D1-L3) and sit joint-top of the tree with a game in hand. Chris Wilder’s side have W15-D3-L2 since early September in league football but I’m opposing them.
For starters, the Cobblers are coming off the emotional and physical excursions of an FA Cup third round exit to rivals MK Dons in midweek. Not only did Town drop below their standards according to Wilder, they missed out on a £210,000 windfall for a TV date with Chelsea in the next round – huge money for the club in their current plight.
It was a big deal for Northampton fans too – 7,000 travelled to Milton Keynes on Tuesday night and so with two demanding dates against the Dons as well as big league fixtures with Plymouth and Dagenham in the space of a fortnight, you have to assume there’ll be lethargy in legs and minds.
I’m also going to make a bold claim and say, the Cobblers aren’t actually as good as their league position suggests. Viewing all the performance data available, Wilder’s troops are ranking around 6th-11th in the more valuable strands of stats.
Town are averaging just a 52% share of total shots-on-target in their league games and at Sixfields they’ve fired in only five more efforts on-target than their visitors. Overall, they rank just 14th in the shots-on-target ratio table when welcoming League Two opposition.
So how are they achieving their results? Put simply, a clinical attack has given them a huge helping hand. James Collins, Marc Richards, Lawson D’Ath, Alfie Potter, Nicky Adams and Ricky Holmes are as good as any players in the fourth tier but any flicker below their sky-high levels could see them downed on Saturday.
If any team knows how to upset the odds away from home, it’s Morecambe. The Shrimps are sitting smack bang in the middle of the division having recovered from a slump in results to take eight points from a possible 12.
Jim Bentley’s boys are now just four points off the play-off positions and have actually proven more successful on their travels than at their Globe Arena home – 54% of their points tally has been taken on the road – and the Shrimps are the league’s top away goalscorers with 25 in 13.
But the most outstanding angle comes in their record when visiting the league’s big guns. Since the start of last season, Morecambe have W8-D4-L3 at top-half teams, avoiding defeat in a hugely impressive 80% of outings. And had you put £10 on the Shrimps in all 15 of those fixtures, you’d be up £202.30!
There are a number of options I like here, for example Morecambe to score Over 1.5 Goals at 5/2 (William Hill). But I’ll take the Double Chance option at 23/20 with Bet365 – we’re paid out if they avoid defeat.
But there’s no way I can ignore the 8/1 on Morecambe to win and Both Teams To Score with Bet365. If Morecambe do win, they’re unlikely to keep a clean sheet – Northampton have scored in 28/31 (90%) home games since November 2014 – and circumstances seem in our favour for another road raid from Bentley’s boys.
Leeds v Bristol City – Goal In Both Halves ‘No’ (20/23 Boylesports)
Gillingham v Peterborough – Gillingham to win and Over 1.5 Goals (2/1 Paddy Power)
Northampton v Morecambe – Morecambe double chance (23/20 Bet365)
Northampton v Morecambe – Morecambe to win and Both Teams To Score (8/1 Bet365)
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