NEWLY-CROWNED Tipster of the Year Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the big League One clash between Wigan and Gillingham on Thursday night.
Wigan v Gillingham | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 1
In four of the last seven seasons a side relegated from the Championship has bounced back as League One champions and Wigan’s big-spending summer had many Football League pundits believing the Latics would follow suit.
Athletic were chalked up as 7/1 second favourites – odds equating to a 12.5% chance of topping the standings – and were touted as title material in the Racing Post’s big pre-season pull-out.
But just past the midway stage, Gary Caldwell’s men are 10 points off the pace in fifth and now rated 10/1 shots to finish top of the tree. So why aren’t they fulfilling their August ambitions?
For starters, the 2013 FA Cup winners have been on a real rollercoaster of a ride in the past 12 seasons and entered the campaign after a disastrous 12 months. It’s easy to overlook the trauma that relegation brings with CEO David Sharp chasing 15 new signings in the off-season in the hope of an immediate promotion. With a rookie manager and so many fresh faces, of course it takes time to gel.
Next, Wigan’s attack has yet to really fire. In the last eight matches, the Latics have either failed to net or notched just once on five occasions and in four home games they’ve fired blanks. Both Blackpool and Burton left West Lancashire with 1-0 wins in the past six weeks whilst Southend held firm to collect a 0-0 draw in the same passage.
Caldwell’s charges have opened the scoring in seven of their last 10 at the DW – going on to win six – so stunting the hosts often leaves the team frustrated.
The Scot in charge of Athletic has admitted that his side’s passing in recent games has been poor and their quality in the final third has let them down. The same issue came back to haunt the Latics last weekend as they monopolised possession and territory against Scunthorpe but were unable to find a cutting edge in attack.
What’s more, Yanic Wildschut’s loan has expired and although a deal is in place to make the player a permanent signing, it’s unlikely to be done in time for Thursday. The Middlesbrough man ‘s pace and creativity saw him contribute four goals and several assists in 17 appearances and he’ll no doubt be missed.
It’s a different story for Gillingham. Chairman Paul Scally sent a congratulations text to manager Justin Edinburgh following Saturday’s 3-0 success over Bradford as the Kent club achieved their first target – 50 points and League One safety. But those at the Priestfield would be kidding themselves if they didn’t believe they had a cracking chance at promotion now.
The Gills opened the season as 33/1 rags – equivalent of just 3% chance – to win top honours but are now no bigger than 6/1 – the bookies believe the guests have a 14% chance of winning the league.
Edinburgh’s up for manager-of-the-month having guided the club to wins over Millwall, Swindon and Colchester in December and Gillingham can leapfrog table-toppers Burton with a win here. It would mark a staggeringly successful (almost) year in charge for the ex-Newport boss.
Since Edinburgh pitched up at the Priestfield, Gillingham have W22-D11-L9 from their 42 league fixtures – a points-per-game average of 1.83 – with the side scoring at least twice in 24/42 (57%) of games. Only Coventry have scored more goals than Thursday’s travellers this term with their longest winless streak standing at just two games.
In a division dominated by northern clubs and Gillingham facing the longest away journeys, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see Edinburgh’s charges proving very profitable in front of their home supporters (a league best W10-D2-L1). But back-to-back road successes have bolstered their away record to W5-D3-L4.
The big negative surrounding the Kent raiders is their inability to keep the goals out. The Gills have kept just two clean sheets on their travels and are conceding on average 1.50 goals-per-game away. It’s true too that goalkeeper Stuart Nelson has saved them on more than a few occasions.
Edinburgh praised centre-half Max Ehmer’s contribution after last weekend’s victory but the German hasn’t been first-choice this season. Harry Lennon and then Deji Oshilaja were brought in on-loan, performing superbly, before their deals expired. Elmer will continue at the back here however, midfielder Jordan Houghton has also seen his loan deal expire, although Reading forward Dominic Samuel has extended his.
So what to make of this tussle? These two teams have floundered when taking on the league’s best – Wigan have W2-D6-L3 against top-14 teams, without beating a top-half team at home (W0-D3-L1), whilst Gillingham have W1-D2-L3 when facing top-seven sides, losing by a margin of three goals against both Coventry and Burton.
There are huge contradictions all over the park – Wigan are built on a mean and sturdy defence, Gillingham delivering the best shot conversation rate (21.8%) in the league and looking to out-gun opposition with, at times, a rather uncompromising approach – so picking a confident angle certainly isn’t easy here.
But I’m going to overlook various performance data pointers that suggest the Latics are the better bet and take Gillingham with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start at 39/40 with Bet365, as well as a bit of an interest on the Gills with a +0.25 start on the first-half Asian Handicap at a weird 1.775.
Edinburgh’s men have lost just 6/21 (29%) of away League One games under his tutelage and trailed at the interval in just 8/21 (38%). Wigan have won 6/11 (55%) on home soil and led at the break in five (45%) but as we’ve already touched on, there are enough warning signs to steer clear of the hosts this midweek.
Wigan v Gillingham – Gillingham +0.50 Asian Handicap (39/40 Bet365)
Wigan v Gillingham – Gillingham +0.25 First-Half Asian Handicap (1.775 Bet365)
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