MARK O’HAIRE’S (@MarkOHaire) landed three Football League trebles in the past fortnight. Can he repeat the trick on Saturday?
Sheffield Wednesday v Rotherham | Saturday 15.00
When wealthy Thai businessman Dejphon Chansiri bought Sheffield Wednesday last year he spoke confidently about securing promotion to the Premier League by 2017. And Chansiri has backed up his brags by putting his money where his mouth is.
Not since the late nineties have the Owls splashed the cash so extravagantly but the big-spending ways have been backed up by on-the-field success with Wednesday sitting sixth as we approach the final quarter of the campaign.
Head coach Carlos Carvalhal continues to play down the club’s promotion prospects and a run of W2-D4-L2 across all competitions has probably ended any lingering hopes of a top-two finish. But don’t read too much into those results.
For starters, five of those fixtures were on the road whilst the Owls have also had to face tough encounters with fellow high-flyers Burnley and Hull plus a resolute Preston and QPR. Wednesday were dominant against the R’s and really should have bagged an 11th home league success this season (W10-D6-L1).
The Portuguese boss has a fully fit squad to choose from but suspension keeps Fernando Forestieri out of action as they prepare to face local rivals Rotherham. Nevertheless, the hosts have enough talent and quality in depth to negotiate their latest outing.
For the first time in 20-odd years, there’s a serious feel-good feeling back around Hillsborough and I’m keen to jump on the bandwagon once more with quotes of 3/4 from William Hill standing out on Saturday’s Championship card.
Only Middlesbrough have managed to defeat Wednesday in their own backyard and that came back in August. Carvalhal’s charges are now unbeaten in 14 when welcoming league opposition – their best streak at any level since 1997.
Scoring at a rate of almost two goals-per-game on home soil, the hosts have enjoyed a 61% share of the total shots-on-target in their Hillsborough outings and have W10-D2-L0 when hosting teams below them in the Championship standings. It’s fair to say they look underrated in the pre-match markets.
Neil Warnock has gone back-to-basics with Rotherham since arriving. He’s looked for leaders, drilled the Millers to a tee in organisation and defensive shape and it’s no major surprise to see they’ve only leaked four goals across their first four fixtures of his reign.
However, I’m not sure even wily old Warnock can create a master plan to stop Wednesday from winning. Rotherham have returned dreadful W2-D2-L13 figures on the road, have shutout just two of their 17 guests and accumulated a goal difference of -17 when playing away having shipped at least two goals on 11 occasions.
During their first season back at second-tier level under Steve Evans’ guidance in 2014/15 the Millers were beaten 11 times with two points from a possible 30 taken at top-10 clubs. Carry that return into this season and the visitors have picked up just W1-D3-L13 against the same calibre of opposition.
Even going on their more recent results, Rotherham have W0-D1-L7 in their last eight away from the New York Stadium, leaking at least twice on six occasions. And should they fall behind, don’t expect a comeback – the Millers have conceded the first goal on 21 occasions in 2015/16 and going on to W0-D2-L19 of those Championship encounters.
Anyhow, going purely on the home/away results of both sides this term, the home win should be trading around the 1/2 mark, so I’ll happily snap up the generous 3/4 on offer.
Wigan v Peterborough | Saturday 15.00
This might well be the first time I’ve featured Wigan in my Football League columns since their relegation last year.
There’s a reason for that – Athletic were a League One club in 2003, a Premier League side for eight years, FA Cup winners in 2013, Europa League contestants a year after and now back in League One – that’s one hell of a rollercoaster ride for fans and officials involved.
For me, there were too many changes at the DW Stadium in the space of 12 months for the Latics to be serious title challengers. Uwe Rosler and Malky Mackay came and went before Gary Caldwell was given the gig and a remit to bring about an immediate return to the Championship.
Outspoken chairman Dave Whelan handed his role over to young grandson David Sharpe who immediately set about portraying himself as the biggest bell-end in the game. Sharpe suggested Wigan’s playing budget would be around seven times greater than the division’s next biggest, before unhelpfully suggesting he expected Caldwell to rack up 100 points on the way to the title.
I assumed the sheer size of turnover in their playing staff would prove too detrimental to mount a top-two challenge and I just wasn’t endeared to backing the Latics until I knew what was happening on the pitch.
Unsurprisingly, Athletic started slowly. A W4-D5-L3 return from their first 12 games had the side perched in 10th as we entered the depths of September but gradually Caldwell began to build a picture of his squad and slow progress followed.
Since mid-September, Wigan have W14-D11-L2. That run of results includes an unbeaten streak of 13 on their travels – their best slice of away form since 2000 – and they head into this weekend’s meeting with Peterborough unbeaten in 13 (W8-D5-L0) – not since 2004 have they lasted longer without defeat in the league.
Take out their results against top-six rivals and the hosts have W9-D3-L1 when welcoming clubs from 10th downwards with nine clean sheets alongside those 13 fixtures. In nine of their 17 home matches they’ve scored at least twice.
I’m sure you can tell I’m pro-Wigan this weekend but their pre-match odds aren’t good enough to able to suggest a bet so we’ll add Over 1.5 Goals into the mix at 11/10 with Paddy Power. Only three of the Latics’ 17 triumphs have arrived by a 1-0 scoreline so I’m happy to take odds-against on a repeat.
Visitors Posh have spectacularly imploded since Boxing Day. A stunning run of results brought Graham Westley’s group as high as fifth in the table but W2-D1-L8 since Christmas has seen the London Road club plummet to 16th and just nine points above the drop zone.
Westley’s fielded 26 players in Peterborough’s last five matches as he searches for answers to stop the rot. Posh have leaked at least twice in eight of those aforementioned 11 games and head to the DW on the back of five successive losses.
The sale of Conor Washington plus a heavy list of injuries and suspensions across the past 12 weeks hasn’t helped Westley’s cause but the majority of Posh supporters have angrily lost faith in their manager. I get the impression an early Wigan goal could see the visitors collapse like a stack of cards.
Barnet v Hartlepool | Saturday 15.00
Since winning promotion back into the Football League, Martin Allen’s made Barnet a traditional tough to beat outfit. They’re not necessarily pleasing on the eye but they’re organised, fit, strong, direct and bloody efficient, especially on home soil.
The Bees have comfortably consolidated in lower mid-table and built their campaign around their fantastic Hive home. In 17 fixtures as hosts, Barnet have W10-D3-L4 including nine clean sheets – five of which were achieved in their most recent six outings.
Had you placed a £10 bet on the Bees in each of those 17 home games, you’d be a cool £94 in profit with Allen’s troops having already beaten four of the current top-six whilst keeping their sheets clean.
But the Hertfordshire club are just as effective when welcoming bottom-half dwellers to The Hive. Barnet have W6-D1-L0 at home to sides in 13th and below, scoring at least twice on six occasions. So I’m snapping up odds of 11/10 (Ladbrokes) on the Bees extending that record on Saturday.
Hartlepool make the long journey south and since starting their season with three successive victories, have slipped perilously close to the drop zone.
Ronnie Moore was dismissed and Craig Hignett has taken charge but Pools have claimed just W5-D4-L19 from 28 games – 0.68 points-per-game – and W2-D1-L10 on their travels.
All three of the Monkey Hangers road wins have come against bottom-three sides and they’ve managed a solitary shutout in 18 when playing away. Those 18 games have seen Hartlepool concede 37 goals at a rate of 2.05 goals-per-game. It’s seriously bleak.
There’s little respite in the performance data – only four sides have accumulated a lower shots-on-target ratio figure as guests – and although Hignett could provide the spark to turn their campaign around, I can see Barnet bullying them on Saturday and continuing their fine home form with a win.
Sheffield Wednesday v Rotherham – Sheffield Wednesday to win (3/4 William Hill)
Wigan v Peterborough – Wigan to win and Over 1.5 Goals (11/10 Paddy Power)
Barnet v Hartlepool – Barnet to win (11/10 Ladbrokes)
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