MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) highlights the best betting opportunities from Saturday’s Football League action.
Blackburn v Burton | Saturday 15.00
We might only be three games into the new Football League season but the shot standings are already fascinating viewing, especially in the Championship.
Wigan (51) and Burton (50) have fired in the most efforts in the second-tier thus far – an interesting narrative. But why’s that of note? Well, 20 of those Wigan shots came against Blackburn last weekend and Burton take on Rovers this weekend.
The Latics took Blackburn apart in their 3-0 triumph and following a 4-1 thumping as hosts to Norwich and a 2-1 Tuesday defeat at Cardiff, Rovers are rock-bottom of the Championship with Owen Coyle rumoured to be one game away from the sack, already.
The former Premier League champions have been out-shot 23-45 in their three defeats and although they’ve never suffered four straight losses at the beginning of a new season, they look decidedly vulnerable for the visit from Burton.
Shane Duffy’s nightmare week –three own goals, a red card and a rejected new contract – mean the Irishman is unavailable and with Adam Henley, Elliott Bennett and Cory Evans also out, the hosts are looking very stretched in the defensive department.
The mood and morale in the camp looks awful too. As well as Duffy, star winger Ben Marshall snubbed a new deal and Anthony Stokes appeared unhappy as he headed straight down the tunnel after being substituted in Cardiff. Things look bleak at Ewood Park.
The picture is a lot rosier in Burton. The Brewers bagged their first victory at this level on Tuesday night with an impressive 3-1 success over Sheffield Wednesday. Post-match Nigel Clough reaffirmed to his players that they’ve nothing and nobody to fear in the Championship.
Record signing Jackson Irvine grabbed his first Albion goal and despite enjoying around 40% of possession, Clough’s charges looked the better side with the ball at their feet and could have added more than the three goals they managed.
Burton began life with a ding-dong 4-3 loss at Nottingham Forest and suffered a one-goal loss at Bristol City. But in both fixtures the newcomers gave as good as they got and arguably deserved a little bit more.
The visitors remain a bloody good team with an outstanding work-ethic. Expect Chris O’Grady and Stuart Beavon to hassle and harry the Blackburn defence here and I really wouldn’t be surprised to see the Brewers’ attacking adventure rewarded handsomely here.
However, the Match Odds are a little too skinny for me but I’m more than happy to snap up the 13/16 (Marathon) on Burton with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start – this selection would see us collect profit should the guests avoid defeat.
A draw would see our selection return a half-stakes win with an away triumph returning a full-stakes pay-out.
Bury v Oldham | Saturday 15.00
There was very little love for Bury heading into 2016/17 with many pundits suggesting the Shakers could be in for a long hard season fighting relegation.
Last season’s top goalscorer Leon Clarke was sold in the summer whilst Player of the Year Peter Clarke also departed Gigg Lane. But David Flitcroft’s men have made a solid start to the season.
Bury deservedly overcame Charlton 2-0 on the opening weekend before returning a 2-1 loss at Gillingham and holding Coventry to a 0-0 draw. Reasonably unremarkable results on the surface but dig a little deeper and the Shakers have impressed.
Flitcroft’s men restricted high-flying Gillingham to just two efforts-on-target – both goals – in Kent, firing in four on-target efforts themselves. Indeed, Bury also won the shot count (14-11) as well as enjoying more possession in a positive performance.
But what’s most eye-catching is Bury’s defensive stability. Flitcroft’s men have reduced their three opponents to a total of just three shots-on-target – a Football League best – whilst hitting the target on 13 occasions themselves.
The Shakers are back at Gigg Lane this weekend and I fancy them to put on another solid show. Exclude last term’s top-10 and Bury W8-D4-L1 as hosts and they should be capable of keeping Oldham quiet.
The Latics arrived at pre-season training with only six senior professionals and new management duo Steve Robinson and Ian Baraclough only arrived in the first week of July. The pair had to work overtime just to fill the squad.
A convincing opening day defeat at Millwall was expected but Oldham have bounced back with goalless games at home to both Walsall and Northampton. Although Athletic now have two points on the board, they’ve yet to score.
Goalscoring has been an on-going issue for Oldham. The Latics fired nine blanks on their travels in 2015/16 and only relegated Blackpool scored fewer league goals. They’ve managed just eight efforts on-target this season and just five clubs have attempted fewer shots.
If Bury and Oldham continue where they left off, a home clean sheet looks more than likely. Therefore, backing the 5/3 (Marathon) on Oldham scoring Under 0.5 Goals makes plenty of appeal with the 12/5 from Paddy Power on a Bury win ‘to nil’ also standing out.
Accrington v Exeter | Saturday 15.00
The pressure on Paul Tisdale at Exeter reached new heights on Tuesday night.
The Grecians manager has been under-fire for some time from staunch supporters who believe the hipster head coach has overstayed his welcome – ring any bells Arsenal fans?
Exeter are pointless from their first three fixtures and haven’t lost their opening four games since 1969. Defeat for Tisdale at Accrington could spell the end to the Football League’s longest-serving boss but I’m holding out hope for the Grecians here.
Why? Well… injuries, profligate finishing and the woodwork have all played a damaging role in Exeter’s awful start. And for the most part, Saturday’s visitors have been as good (if not better) than all three of their opponents.
For example, on Tuesday night City dominated the first-half against Crawley, hit the woodwork and spurned golden opportunities before succumbing to a smash-and-grab finale with six minutes to play.
On the opening day they hit the woodwork twice and were denied by a wonder save from Blackpool goalkeeper Sam Slocomb in defeat. And against Hartlepool, the Grecians led, hit the woodwork twice again, before falling to two second-half goals in 90 seconds.
Injuries resulted in 15-year-old centre-back Ethan Ampadu playing alongside veteran Matt Oakley in midweek – the two players 23 years apart. But players are slowly edging their way back to fitness with Troy Brown available again and Tisdale hopeful that one or two of David Wheeler, Joel Grant and Troy Archibald-Henville be fit here.
Losing at home is never ideal but City have been reversing their fortunes and picking up results on the road since they arrived at League Two level. The guests have claimed just four wins at St James’ Park in the past year but they’ve returned 11 triumphs in 24 away days since the start of last season.
In fact, Exeter boast a wonderful 42% win rate from their 93 games at this level across the past five years and I reckon they can put in a worthwhile performance at the Crown Ground, a venue they’ve won at in three of their past five visits.
Reports suggest a flu bug has done the rounds at Accrington this week and with Billy Kee still unavailable to lead the line, Stanley are a little light in attack. Of course, Josh Windass and Matt Crooks are long gone but I wouldn’t dismiss their chances of at least grabbing a goal.
John Coleman’s men like to play on the front-foot and two teams that are more adept in possession than the standard argie-bargy League Two stuff should lead us towards an aesthetically-pleasing encounter.
Both Teams To Score has been chalked up at 9/11 with Marathon and it’s well worth a wager. It was a profitable formula in 19 of Accy’s Crown Ground encounters last term with 11 of their most recent 19 featuring Over 3.5 Goals winners.
Combine the two clubs’ relative home/away record from 2015/16 and the pair managed only 11 clean sheets in 46 fixtures but did manage to grab a goal in 38 outings, again strengthening the claims of a BTTS bet.
And yes, having given Exeter the big build-up and Tisdale my faith, I just cannot ignore the 13/2 available on the Grecians to win and Both Teams To Score at Bet365.