MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has delivered four profitable weekends from four to kick-off the Football League season including a full house last weekend. Can he continue his hot-streak here?
Peterborough v Swindon | Saturday 12.15 | Sky Sports 1
League One football gets its first live airing on Saturday as Peterborough welcome Swindon to London Road in what’s expected to be an enjoyable and entertaining encounter.
It’s been a topsy-turvy week for Posh. Manager Grant McCann hailed the ‘perfect’ away performance as his side saw off MK Dons 2-0 last weekend with an impressive and controlled 90-minute display.
However, McCann reacted furiously to his side’s Checkatrade Trophy 6-1 capitulation at the hands of Norwich on Tuesday, labelling his side’s efforts as ‘embarrassing’ and accusing his players of ‘arrogance’ post-match. It was Peterborough’s joint-biggest margin of defeat at home since 1960.
Posh put their humbling loss behind them on Wednesday when announcing the arrivals of George Moncur and goalkeeper Luke McGee on deadline day and McCann confirmed that both were in the running for starts on Saturday.
Right-back Michael Smith is away on international duty but Posh have enough in their locker to give Swindon a good game. The hosts conceded plenty of chances to MK Dons but McCann was pleased with his team’s solid and organised defence whilst in attack, the home side continue to trouble opponents.
Peterborough were 2015/16’s top home goalscorers and have kicked-off the current campaign with 11 goals in five league fixtures. That includes five during a 5-1 hammering of promotion favourites Millwall at London Road as only Bradford have stopped the side scoring.
Swindon were on top in last weekend’s clash with Bristol Rovers before torrential rain forced the match to be abandoned. Still, Luke Williams’ visitors will have been reasonably pleased with their seven-point haul from their opening four fixtures.
The Robins endured a difficult summer with the likes of Nicky Ajose leaving but the talented young coach has worked hard to find a system to suit his squad during the early weeks. Due to small numbers and injuries already biting, Town have had plenty of players playing out of position.
Swindon’s last 90-minute match in League One saw them hold Gillingham to a 1-1 draw at the Priestfield as Williams sent his side out without a recognised striker. And that lack of offensive threat – the Robins have scored just four goals in four games – will be reduced further on Saturday with playmaker Yaser Kasim away on international duty.
Sean Murray’s arrival from Watford should at least ensure Town play with at least one up front but I’m not convinced they have the tools to down Posh this weekend.
The visitors W6-D7-L10 on their travels last term and have already failed to record maximum points in three games as guests across all competitions in 20161/7. They’re likely to adopt a defensive stance here but that could prove fatal against the swashbuckling style employed by Posh.
Peterborough have only failed to score in 5/25 (20%) home League One matches, scoring twice or more on 13 (52%) occasions and no third-tier team has fired in more efforts on-target this term.
Swindon have kept two clean sheets in 11 under Williams’ watch so I’m happy to invest faith in a home success on Saturday at 10/11 with William Hill.
Mansfield v Cambridge | Saturday 15.00
The fixture list hasn’t been kind to Cambridge – they’ve faced four of the current top-six and no side below 13th – but even so, Shaun Derry’s men will be bitterly disappointed with their two-point from the opening five fixtures.
I tipped the U’s for a real promotion push this term but they’re in major danger of derailing any possible encouraging campaign with another slow start. Last season is cost Richard Money his job and now Derry’s position is under the spotlight.
Derry guided Cambridge to within seven points of the play-offs last season but the former midfield terrier has seen his troops struggle to make any inroads at either end of the field, a worrying combination for U’s followers.
Saturday’s visitors have shipped nine goals in their five fixtures – five have arrived in the last two games – and only Stevenage have faced more shots-on-target at this stage of the season.
Going forward, Cambridge’s tally of three goals is the joint-lowest in the division and no club has fired in fewer attempts on-target than United’s paltry 11.
The U’s have returned a shot ratio figure – their share of the total shots in Cambridge games – of just 39% whilst their shots-on-target ratio figure resides at a very concerning 27.50%.
Sure, they were unlucky and performed especially well in the first-half of their 3-0 defeat to Luton last week but confidence is likely to be at rock-bottom now.
Meanwhile, Mansfield continue to make steady progress under the impressive Adam Murray.
The Stags have W3-D1-L1 to sit happily in fifth and since the start of last season the hosts have lost just 6/25 (24%) games at their Field Mill base.
Town’s defensive stability deserves credit too. Only Portsmouth and Crewe have faced fewer shots-on-target this term to continue their 2015/16 trend as boasting one of League Two’s stingiest backlines.
Goals have often been an issue but Murray brought in Pat Hoban, Danny Rose and Ashley Hemmings to support Matt Green in attack to complement the settled core the Stags already boast. There’s now a nice blend and balance in the Town ranks and it wouldn’t at all surprise to see a top-seven push this season.
Last weekend’s win at Leyton Orient was well deserved with Mansfield carving out a number of excellent opportunities and if the hosts can continue those high standards here, they should have enough to pile more misery on underperforming Cambridge.
Gillingham v Sheffield United | Sunday 14.15 | Sky Sports 1
Sheffield United are playing in the third-tier for the sixth successive season – the longest amount of time outside the top-two tiers in their history – and the Blades were rated ante-post favourites for the fourth time in five seasons to finally end their stay in League One.
The appointment of United fan Chris Wilder was supposed to galvanise the club and a strong promotion challenge was expected. But in 14 years of management, Wilder’s never bossed at this level or higher and the new man in the dugout is already coming under pressure after a poor start.
The Blades picked up a solitary point from their first four fixtures, including a 3-0 humbling at home to Southend. United were then trailing 1-0 to Oxford at half-time of last weekend’s Bramall Lane encounter but fortunately managed to turn the tie on its head to collect a much-needed 2-1 triumph.
However, the result looks to have papered over fairly large cracks. Sheffield United failed to have a shot in the first half hour of their Oxford win and across 450 minutes of League One football, the Blades have only landed eight efforts on-target – that’s just one every 56 minutes. Awful.
Billy Sharp’s clinical finishing gave United the points last weekend and Wilder acted decisively on deadline day to enhance his squad with the additions of defenders Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Daniel Lafferty plus forward Caolan Lavery.
Nevertheless, I’m not convinced the visitors are ready to turn on the style when they travel to Kent on Sunday to face Gillingham.
Justin Edinburgh’s hosts have been a little Jekyll and Hyde in their opening month but a 10-point return deserves credit as the Gills’ 3-5-2 formation has continued to provide opposition sides with plenty of problems.
Last weekend’s 3-2 triumph at Shrewsbury was far from vintage and Edinburgh’s outfit were probably fortunate to come away with maximum points but they remain a robust outfit with the firepower to trouble any League One side.
QPR loanee Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has made a significant impact in attack as the Gills have scored at least twice on three occasions already whilst the addition of promising young Bournemouth defender Baily Cargill this week suggests the Gillingham boss still craves improvement at the back.
Jamie O’Hara, Bradley Dack, Ryan Jackson and Scott Wagstaff are all back in contention following their return to training and with a strong head-to-head record in tow, it’s hard not to fancy Gillingham getting something from this contest.
The Kent club have kept clean sheets in each of their last three meetings with the Blades and with no League One club landing fewer attempts on-target, Gillingham just have to be favoured here.
We can back the home side at 11/13 (BetVictor) in the Draw No Bet market and that appeals. The Gills have won 18/33 (55%) of their Priestfield Stadium outings under Edinburgh in league football whilst United have claimed just seven (28%) away successes since the start of last season and kept six (24%) clean sheets along the way.
Peterborough v Swindon – Peterborough to win (10/11 William Hill)
Mansfield v Cambridge – Mansfield to win (13/10 Coral)
Gillingham v Sheffield United – Gillingham draw no bet (11/13 BetVictor)