HAVING scooped five winners from his six Football League selections last week, Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) puts his faith in League Two on Saturday.
Northampton v Bristol Rovers | Saturday 15.00
The champagne is on ice and Northampton supporters are flocking to Sixfields on Saturday, eager to see their heroes win promotion.
The Cobblers are a full 14 points clear of second-placed Oxford and 16 points ahead of fourth – they’ll seal promotion if they beat Bristol Rovers and they can win the title if they do succeed on Saturday and Oxford fail beat Crawley.
Manager Chris Wilder might joke that his side are in a “terrible position” but the express service that delivered W19-D1-L2 between October and late February has stalled slightly with the line in sight.
Of course, Northampton are unbeaten in 18 since 19th December but the hosts have drawn five of their last eight (W3-D5-L0) and needed to come from behind to take something in games against Stevenage, Mansfield, Notts County in three of their last four outings.
Chairman Kelvin Thomas has pleaded for patience from home supporters with pessimistic supporters suggesting the Cobblers could be getting the jitters but Wilder appears more relaxed, knowing the job is 99% complete.
He said, “With six games to go we can be the first team to win promotion in the Football League and it’s a great situation to be in.
“We’ve never changed our attitude, we’ve never changed our style and we’ve gone for games, whether that’s been home or away. That’s been our philosophy over the last 10 games.”
He’s right, too. Northampton’s front-foot approach has led to plenty of high-scoring encounters; their last two fixtures both finished 2-2 and four of their most recent six matches have featured four or more goals. It’s been fun.
No side has scored more goals in English football than Town’s 73 and with the likes of Ricky Holmes and 15-goal top scorer Marc Richards in fine form in the fourth tier, you’re bound to go well. But the hosts’ clinical nature also deserves recognition.
Deploying out-and-out wingers in a 4-4-2 system, seven League Two sides have actually fired in more on-target attempts but the Cobblers’ superior finishing significantly stands out from the crowd – Town have netted with nearly 19% of their shots and a whopping 41% of their shots-on-target – two seriously strong trends.
So Saturday’s encounter with Rovers promises plenty and rather than pick or chose how the game will unfold, I’d rather get with the goals once more. 888 have chalked Both Teams To Score up at 10/11 and that looks a generous offer, too good to turn down.
The Pirates are the form team in League Two – no team has taken more points (24) than the visitors across the last 10 games – and seven wins from eight has catapulted Daryl Clarke’s charges into the automatic promotion mix.
The Gas have plundered 12 goals in their last four games, notching at least three in three of those fixtures, with 24-goal striker Matty Taylor hogging the headlines and Billy Bodin coming close to double figures too.
Only Oxford and Wimbledon have landed more shots-on-target when playing away and the visitors have been silenced on just four occasions in 27 since mid-October. However, they’ve kept their sheets clean on only six outings in 20 on their travels so could I count on them to enhance that record here? No.
The pair have both posted 10/20 (50%) BTTS winners in their respective home/away games but in those 40 cumulative encounters, they’ve failed to net in only 6/40 (15%).
It’s a clash that will showcase the division’s two best counter-attacking teams and I reckon we’d be mad to turn down an enticing price on goals delivering our own champagne moment this weekend.
Carlisle v Mansfield | Saturday 15.00
Back-to-back home victories have propelled Carlisle back into play-off contention and the Cumbrians look a touch underrated at 5/4 (SkyBet) to secure a third successive Brunton Park success on Saturday.
Hallam Hope scored the only goal as United ended Hartlepool’s seven-match unbeaten streak in midweek. It was a keenly contested encounter and a draw would have arguably been a fair result so Keith Curle’s charges will have been delighted to take maximum points.
Sitting just a point and a place behind seventh-placed Wycombe, Carlisle have now W2-D4-L1 in their last seven but renewed confidence and a strong Brunton Park record should prove a winning combination here.
The Cumbrians have W10-D6-L4 as League Two hosts this season and that return looks even stronger when viewing their efforts against bottom-half visitors (W8-D1-L2).
Curle’s men are the division’s second-top scorers on home soil and their attacking capabilities were epitomised in a ding-dong 4-3 triumph over in-form Bristol Rovers just a fortnight ago. The sharpshooters have found the back of the net with 33% of their on-target attempts in 2015/16.
If Carlisle are smooth operators when hosting the league’s lesser lights, Saturday’s visitors Mansfield are anything but when taking on the division’s elite. The Stags have W14-D1-L3 when taking on clubs in 15th and below but managed a pathetic 10 points (W0-D10-L12) from a possible 66 when faced with sides in 14th and above.
Manager Adam Murray has seen his side’s top-seven dreams fade but has urged his players to see out the season in style, targeting 60 points – they currently have 53 – which would represent Town’s best points return for 12 years.
Mansfield have managed just W0-D2-L5 despite a series of promising performances and with the unexpected play-off push all but extinguished, attention has already turned to next season. Murray admitted he may “bring in a few kids” between now and the end of the campaign.
Midfield general Jamie McGuire and striker Adi Yussuf are back from bans – the latter available after a five-match suspension for urinating in public at Plymouth – but powerful centre half Krystian Pearce begins his own three-game ban and influential midfielder Chris Clements is out with a hamstring injury.
Taking all the available information into account, Carlisle look a cracking selection on Saturday with their guests scoring just four goals in seven and only once in five on the road. But the raw data also points to value in the home price.
Carlisle’s 50% home win rate and Mansfield’s 45% away loss rate implies a 47.5% chance of the Cumbrians taking maximum points and odds a smidgen over even-money. The best-price 5/4 suggests the SkyBet traders have given the hosts just a 44% chance of claiming victory.
Notts County v Stevenage | Saturday 15.00
I appreciate my final selection might require a leap of faith but I’m confident enough to include it in my favourite three Football League bets.
Firstly, I should say that I’m not a fan of Mark Cooper. I felt he was a little fortunate to get the Swindon gig originally and he’s always struck me as a smug so-and-so on the sidelines.
After failing to win promotion through the play-offs last season – arguably through his own lack of tactical nous and rigid set systems – Cooper appeared to be angling for a move away from the County Ground. I’m not sure he realised the privileged position he was already in.
Robins chairman Lee Power had been using the loan market to bring in exciting and talented youngsters to the club and Cooper was barely touching any sort of financial strife that’s often a bane of a Football League manager’s life.
In fact, current Swindon boss Luke Williams has been credited for much of the last season’s success with the Robins hierarchy owing much gratitude towards the novice boss for his outstanding training sessions. With Williams taking training, Power in charge or recruitment, was Cooper just the positive public face? It’s possible.
Anyhow, Cooper’s been given the head coach’s role at Notts County now until the end of the season and it’ll be a world away in change from what he became accustomed to in Wiltshire. The Magpies have hugely underperformed in recent seasons and a lack of clarity of vision from the top has pushed the club backwards.
Notts have apparently set a confidential points tally as a target for Cooper and after a 4-0 bashing at Portsmouth in his debut game in charge, fans must have been fearing the worst. The 1894 FA Cup winners have lacked stability, experience and confidence for the majority of the campaign but there have been a few encouraging signs.
Cooper is an attack-minded coach by nature; he encourages expansive, possession football that might not be totally suitable to the current climes but last weekend’s 2-2 draw with champions-elect Northampton showed character, intent and a will to win, often absent.
County out-shot the Cobblers 10-7 at Sixfields and when holding play-off candidates Wycombe 0-0 in the second of three games under Cooper’s watch, the Magpies again enjoyed success on the shot-count 13-11. Small steps of progression, no?
I reckon so and I’m willing to give Notts County my faith and hard-earned cash this weekend with the 8/9 from BetVictor on Notts with a 0 start on the Asian Handicap line making most appeal. This punt works in exactly the same format as a play on the Draw No Bet market, just at a much more appealing price.
A huge 71% of Notts County’s points total (W10-D3-L3) has been accrued against clubs in 14th and below and at Meadow Lane their record against the same sample is an impressive W5-D2-L0. The hosts have struck at least twice in five of those outings.
If Notts have shown signs of life, Stevenage need to be careful when looking over their shoulders. The club’s decision to part-ways with Graham Westley in the summer seemed ludicrous at the time and laughable at the time of writing.
Boro have been ambling through an ugly campaign with a lack of backbone, grit, tenacity or work-rate so associated with Westley. Defensively they’ve appeared unwilling to track back, close down crosses or players in possession. No wonder they’re shipping goals left, right and centre.
Teddy Sheringham’s been and gone and now Darren Sarll’s in temporary charge. Back-to-back wins against Hartlepool and Cambridge lifted spirits but the side seems to have downed tools since and their W1-D2-L0 return from their last three games masks some serious flaws.
Oxford (1-1) were down to 10 men for well over half of their encounter a fortnight ago as Boro scored with their only attempt on-target. Their 1-0 win at Luton saw Stevenage out-shot 5-2 in on-target attempts and in midweek they failed to land any attempts on-target in a 0-0 with Yeovil on home soil.
In the visitors’ last eight matches they’ve managed just 16 shots-on-target (W1-D2-L5) whilst facing 34 for a shots-on-target ratio figure of 32%. So no surprise they’ve scored just four goals in that run, eh?
The visitors have lost half of their 20 away days (W4-D6-L10), recording a solitary shutout. Do they look capable of turning over Notts County this weekend? I don’t think so. So I’m getting the Magpies onside, knowing a draw will see my stake returned.
Northampton v Bristol Rovers – Both Teams To Score (10/11 888)
Carlisle v Mansfield – Carlisle to win (5/4 SkyBet)
Notts County v Stevenage – Notts County 0 Asian Handicap (8/9 BetVictor)
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