MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) assesses Thursday night’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Area Final first leg from The Den.
Millwall v Oxford | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
There’s Thursday night football to get our teeth into this week as Swansea’s FA Cup slayers Oxford travel to Millwall for the first of a two-legged Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Southern Area final.
Barnsley or Fleetwood await the winners at Wembley in April so there’s plenty of incentive from both sides to come out on top over 180 minutes and it’s the visitors who represent the better betting opportunity in the opener.
The U’s go into the game on the back of being in the national spotlight following Sunday’s superb 3-2 success against Premier League Swansea. It was not an upset rooted in soaking up pressure and making the most of good fortune when they got forward.
The League Two side underdogs enjoyed more shots-on-target and almost twice as many corners as their illustrious visitors with manager Michael Appleton in doubt the more dominant side had progressed. The Oxford boss was full of pride for the way his United side performed, highlighting their effective passing and high pressing.
Appleton and a number of players have publicly stated they’re doubly determined to ensure the mental emotion and physical excursions of Sunday won’t play their part in an FA Cup hangover. It is common to see teams struggle to hit the same heights after pulling off such an impressive result, but the visitors reckon their track record of handling big occasions this season stands them in good stead.
Oxford have now beaten teams across all four divisions of the English professional system this season and with the Wembley carrot dangling in front, Appleton also believes there are no concerns about players struggling to find the same level of motivation which saw them knock out Swansea.
Of course there’s a possibility this contest could easily prove to be a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ for Ox but I reckon they should be given the benefit of the doubt here. They’ve W11-D4-L1 in their last 16 and scored in all bar three of their 34 outings in 2015/16; weekend goal hero Kemar Roofe is also as good as any League One striker.
The U’s may look to try and keep things tight with the second leg to come at the Kassam Stadium on 3 February so although their shot data suggests they’re more than good enough to pinch a first leg lead, I’d like to keep the draw onside. With that in mind, the 8/9 (BetVictor) on Oxford +0.25 in the Asian Handicap appeals.
Backing this selection means, half our stake is place on Oxford +0.50 (essentially a Double Chance bet) and the other half on Oxford 0 (essentially, Draw No Bet). So if the game ends all square, we’ll see half of our stake returned and the second half deemed a winner; if Oxford win we’ll pocket full profit and so the only way we end up with a loss is if Millwall come out on top.
The Lions have W4-D0-L6 in their last 10 and been beaten in each of their last three at The Den. Unusually, Neil Harris’ men fare better on the road – picking up 57% of their points tally away – they’ve fired blanks in half of their home league fixtures whilst only five clubs have fired in fewer shots-on-target in front of their home supporters.
Aiden O’Brien signed a new deal this week, Shane Ferguson extended his loan and Jed Wallace joined on a temporary deal but Millwall were far from convincing when turning struggling Oldham over 2-1 at the weekend. The Lions again lacked a killer instinct and their performance levels have really suffered since late November.
If the hosts do fall behind, don’t expect them to bite back with any major force. Not since the opening day have Harris’ charges come from behind to win and in six of their last nine fixtures they’ve fallen behind, going on to lose in each.
Oxford’s spies won’t have seen anything from Millwall to fear and with 1,000 travelling supporters roaring on the visitors at the hostile Den, the atmosphere should aid an enjoyable and intriguing match-up.
Millwall v Oxford – Oxford +0.25 Asian Handicap (8/9 BetVictor)
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