MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from Saturday’s Football League coupon.
Rotherham v Nottingham Forest | Saturday 15.00
Rotherham have picked up 43% of their total points tally since the 27th February (W6-D2-L0), pushing the Millers nine points clear of relegation.
Counting results since Neil Warnock arrived at the New York Stadium, only the current top-three in the Championship – Middlesbrough, Burnley and Brighton (all 25) have picked up more points than Rotherham’s 21.
Last weekend’s 4-0 thumping away at MK Dons has all but assured survival for the South Yorkshire side and I just can’t ignore their blistering form this weekend – not when 6/4 (Bet365) quotes are being flashed about.
Warnock set his side a target of finishing the season unbeaten a few weeks back and told the local press this week he’s had to ‘hold the players back’ in training with new found confidence and belief around the club creating a vibrant atmosphere.
Brentford, Middlesbrough and Leeds have been dispatched at home whilst the hosts fought back from three goals down in the final 10 minutes to earn a point against Derby here. Sheffield Wednesday and Ipswich were beaten away with the Millers settling for a point at Bristol City. That’s form.
A victory for Rotherham this weekend will take them above opponents Nottingham Forest, so they won’t be lacking motivation or incentive and although Lloyd Doyley’s out for the season, checks will be made on Lee Frecklington’s calf injury before kick-off.
The hosts haven’t beaten Forest at home since 1956 and are winless in 16 league contests against the Tricky Trees (W0-D9-L7) but Rotherham won’t have a better opportunity to end that unwanted record than this weekend.
Forest were unfortunate to lose late on against Brighton at the City Ground on Monday night and caretaker coaches Andy Reid and Paul Williams are yet to enjoy the taste of victory since taking on the task of reviving Forest’s fortunes.
That Brighton defeat showcased the Tricky Tees’ campaign in 90 minutes; dreadful decision making, poor discipline, hard work, good football, terrible finishing, injuries and the classic sucker punch. And it’s left players, management and supporters at rock-bottom.
The visitors have won just once in 11, taken a solitary point from a possible 18 and lost four on the spin. No Championship side has scored fewer goals (13) away and although Forest can lay claim to the best defence on their travels – conceding just 19 goals – they’ve actually only kept their sheets clean on four occasions away from home.
Seeing as we’re nearing the end of the season, I’ll also fire an arrow at Rotherham to win and Under 2.5 Goals at 19/5 (Sportingbet). A huge 17 of Forest’s 20 away matches this season have featured fewer than three goals with half seeing no more than one goal.
Ten of Rotherham’s 13 successes this season have come alongside a clean sheet whilst seven of Forest’s nine away defeats have seen the visitors silenced.
Sheffield Wednesday v Ipswich | Saturday 15.00
Sadly, the Mick McCarthy-Ipswich Town marriage looks to be coming to a close this summer.
The stout Yorkshireman said he wants to win over any supporters that have lost faith in him but recent insipid home displays against Rotherham, Charlton and Brentford has seen criticism about entertainment value gather pace and fans are now making their displeasure known with their wallets.
Season ticket renewals are down by nearly 7% on this time last year and Town’s poor 2016 form means they’ll almost certainly be competing in the Championship for a 15th successive campaign in 2016/17.
The Suffolk side improved on their previous year’s performance for the fourth successive season in 2014/15 and McCarthy-managed teams have done likewise in eight of his last 11 full seasons at the helm – two incredibly strong trends.
However, times have changed at Portman Road and McCarthy conceded defiantly it might be time to move on come the end of the May, saying:
“I’m coming up for four years here. Maybe they are getting tired of me? The average tenure in this division is 10 months. Maybe people like a few changes in managers? The last place I left (Wolves) certainly thrived after I went didn’t they?”
Goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was named the Tractor Boys’ Player of the Season, perhaps an indication as to how Ipswich’s season has unfolded, and this weekend they travel to play-off chasing Sheffield Wednesday without key striker Daryl Murphy and midfield man Teddy Bishop, whilst Larsen Touré and Luke Varney are rated doubtful.
The visitors have W1-D3-L4 in their last eight on the road, failing to score on five occasions. Town’s calendar year form reads W5-D5-L7 as they’ve scored more than one goal in just four of those 17 contests, firing eight blanks.
So time to blow more smoke up Sheffield Wednesday’s arses then? Well, last weekend’s spectacular 4-1 thrashing at Bristol City brought Carlos Carvalhal’s troops down a notch or two but back at Hillsborough, I’d expect standard service to resume.
The Owls have W11-D5-L1 in their last 17 as hosts and they W12-D2-L1 when welcoming sides below them in the Championship standings. No side has scored more goals (38) on home soil than Wednesday and since mid-December they’ve returned W11-D5-L4.
Carvalhal, who normally protects his players from criticism, publicly admitted his team lacked their usual fight, heart and aggression in their Ashton Gate drubbing and will be keen to see his side bite back.
This fixture represents a great chance for the Owls to get their promotion bid back on track and I’ll have a bite on the home victory here at 17/20 (BetVictor) – a price worth taking.
Doncaster v Wigan | Saturday 15.00
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.
Young chairman David Sharpe suggested Wigan’s playing budget would be around seven times greater than the division’s next biggest, before unhelpfully suggesting he expected rookie boss Gary Caldwell to rack up 100 points on the way to the title.
After their relegation trauma and a busy summer of comings and goings, it wasn’t too surprising to see Athletic starting 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 W19-D13-L2. That run of results includes a current unbeaten streak of 20 (W13-D7-L0). The stats suggest the visitors are the best team in the league – no side is bettering their 61.95% shots-on-target ratio figure – and in budgetary terms, the Latics should streets clear of the pack.
But only at the beginning of April have Gary Caldwell’s charges hit top spot and now there looks to be no stopping Athletic from an instant return to the second-tier. The travellers have W6-D4-L0 in their last 10 away days and smashed 23 goals in those games – another success on Saturday looks on the cards.
Since the 17th October, Wigan (63) have picked up 36 more points in League One than Doncaster (27) – a 2.17 points-per-game average, compared to just 0.93 points-per-game an Darren Ferguson’s hosts now look doomed in their battle against the drop.
Sat eight points adrift of safety with just five games left, Ferguson’s job this week has been to convince his players that their survival bid is not yet over. But the Scot has overseen the side take just two points from a possible 42 (W0-D2-L12) including WO-D1-L6 at the Keepmoat.
Ferguson’s called his players’ character into question on numerous occasions and on Tuesday all but admitted the squad hadn’t been good enough whilst finding it difficult to produce reasons as to why Rovers have sunk this season.
The boat’s capsized, crew are overboard and despite the SOS calls, nobody’s coming to save Doncaster. I expect Wigan to put a nail in their coffin with a confident win on Saturday and will be backing the Latics at 28/29 (BetVictor) off a -0.75 Asian Handicap accordingly.
With this selection, we’ll enjoy a half-stakes win should Wigan win by exactly one goal and profit from a full-stakes return should the visitors win by a two goals or more.
Rotherham v Nottingham Forest – Rotherham to win (6/4 Bet365)
Rotherham v Nottingham Forest – Rotherham to win and Under 2.5 Goals (19/5 Sportingbet)
Sheffield Wednesday v Ipswich – Sheffield Wednesday to win (17/20 BetVictor)
Doncaster v Wigan – Wigan -0.75 Asian Handicap (28/29 BetVictor)
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