MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) has delivered five profitable weekends from six to kick-off the Football League season. Can he continue his hot-streak here?
Birmingham v Sheffield Wednesday | Saturday 17.30 | Sky Sports 1
Having suffered a deserved 3-1 defeat at home to Wolves nearly a month ago, the knives were out for Birmingham boss Gary Rowett. Claims were made around St Andrew’s that Blues had stagnated, been found out and were on their way to a campaign of regression.
Birmingham had hardly been suffering – City had W1-D2-L1 in their opening four, including that Wolves loss – but bounced back in spectacularly fashion, dispatching recently-relegated Norwich 3-0 in front of their home fans with a impressively dominant display.
Blues have since pressed Fulham into submission to pick up a 1-0 success at Craven Cottage before enjoying the better opportunities in a goalless game at Reading in midweek. Across those two recent fixtures Rowett’s men have enjoyed an average of just 32.5% possession but won the shot count in both fixtures by a total 39-22.
Rowett’s worked wonders at St Andrew’s since taking over from Lee Clark. The Blues have returned W33-D28-L24 – an average of 1.49 points-per-game that would have the club conclude a campaign with 69 points over a full season.
When welcoming league opposition, City have W19-D11-L12 – an average of 1.62 points-per-game – and suffered just a solitary loss in 11 games as hosts when including the back end of 2015/16.
Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday came from two goals down to see off Bristol City 3-2 in a thrilling Tuesday night clash. The three points ensured the Owls collected their first back-to-back league victories of the season and move back into the top-half.
Sam Hutchinson saw red in midweek and will now be suspended for Saturday – club captain and centre-half Glenn Loovens is in the frame to make his first competitive start of the season. Head coach Carlos Carvalhal will also be without left-back Daniel Pudil, meaning two of the visitors’ first-choice back-four is absent.
The midweek win represented the first time in 13 years that Wednesday came from two goals behind in a league game, demonstrating the mental toughness around the club, but sloppy defensive errors continue to frustrate with the guests shipping nine goals in their past five outings.
The Owls haven’t tasted success in eight matches on their travels and their W6-D11-L9 return in away fixtures under Carvalhal leaves a lot to be desired – seven of those nine defeats came at clubs outside of the top-six.
I’m a huge fan of Rowett – he’s a bloody cool customer, eh? – and his side will relish their return their preferred approach here; sit back, soak up pressure and wait for the away team to overcommit. With that in mind, I have to find a positive play on the hosts.
Interestingly, the Blues have broken the deadlock in 12 of their past 16 Championship outings at St Andrew’s and last season City opened the scoring against eight of the nine teams who ultimately finished above them in the standings.
In fact, across the 42 fixtures that Rowett has presided over at St Andrew’s, Birmingham have scored first in 25 (60%) with their opponents grabbing the first goal on just 13 (31%) occasions.
Wednesday have fallen behind in each of their last five Championship matches, as well as in 11 of their last 19 games as guests. Overall, the Owls have shipped the opener in 12/26 (46%) of their away days under Carvalhal so I’ll happily back a repeat at 19/17 (Marathon).
Sheffield United v Peterborough | Saturday 15.00
The fourth time in five seasons Sheffield United began their League One campaign as ante-post favourites with a wave of optimism sweeping Bramall Lane following the appointment of Blades supporter Chris Wilder in the summer.
But nobody foresaw United picking up just a solitary point from their first four fixtures, including a 3-0 humbling at home to Southend. Nevertheless, a come-from-behind triumph against Oxford and a switch to a 3-5-2 formation appears to have given the group the stability to pick up two further wins on the spin.
Now with three consecutive victories under their belts, the Blades are a more confident bunch but Wilder admitted to local media he’s still searching for more from his talent-laden squad, starting defence.
Individual errors have been blamed for United’s backline being breached on 13 occasions in nine outings although the switch to wing-backs has coincided with a marked upturn in their defensive performances.
Daniel Lafferty and Ethan Ebanks-Landell, signed on loan from Burnley and Wolves respectively, are expected to feature against Peterborough while Jake Wright, Kieron Freeman and Jack O’Connell have all impressed after being recalled to the starting XI. Goalkeeper Simon Moore’s arrival from Cardiff has also bolstered the defence.
The red side of Sheffield have also improved in the final third. Across their first five matches they managed just eight efforts on-target but in the aforementioned wins against Oxford, Gillingham and Wimbledon, the Blades landed 15.
This Saturday United welcome the third tier’s perennial goalscoring kings Peterborough to Bramall Lane and although claims can be made – on price and form – for either side to take top honours, I prefer to enter the goals markets.
Posh have made an encouraging start to life under Grant McCann’s watch this term (W3-D2-L2) but have been left to rue a pair of 2-2 draws against Port Vale and Swindon in the past fortnight having been the superior side in both. Had the visitors picked up maximum points in those fixtures, the guests would be sitting top of League One.
New loan signing George Moncur was the star of the show against Vale last weekend, scoring twice and dictating play from his attacking midfield role and will again be Posh’s main port of call. However, with Marcus Maddison already providing four assists and McCann’s charges notching 15 goals, there’s plenty of offensive threat in the ranks.
Only Scunthorpe have scored more goals than the visitors whilst only Bury (44) have landed more efforts on-target than Posh (43). It’s true, no third-tier side has faced fewer shots-on-target this season but two key performers will be absent for the visitors this weekend.
Jermaine Anderson’s season-ending injury robs Peterborough of a quality central midfielder but highly-promising 17-year-old Leo Da Silva is expected to be given the gig alongside captain Chris Forrester, whilst Jerome Binnom-Williams should cover for suspended left-back.
Anyhow, it’s goals we’re after and encouragingly these two teams have been solid performers in all the key metrics. In this instance, the even-money from Coral for Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score it what appeals most.
Both side’s have seen five of their seven league matches feature Over 2.5 Goals whilst the Both Teams To Score side has also copped in five of their seven outings thus far. Meanwhile, the hosts have failed to keep their sheets clean this term whilst Posh have only collected a solitary shutout.
The Blades have netted seven goals in their past three games and the visitors Peterborough have fired just one blank in 2016/17 – that came against arguably the division’s best defence, Bradford.
And if we include last season’s results, these two clubs have only failed to score in 12/52 (23%) home/away encounters collectively with Over 2.5 Goals banking on 30/52 (58%) occasions.
Finally, head-to-head fans will be pleased to hear that BTTS has proven profitable in four of the last five league meetings.
Doncaster v Newport | Saturday 15.00
Quite often in football, results don’t tell you the full story.
Match reports, highlights and performance data all highlighted Morecambe’s major overachievement to start the season with W4-D1-L0 in League Two, so seeing the Shrimps stuffed 5-1 at home to Doncaster last weekend didn’t cause too many ripples in the stats community.
If Morecambe were picking up results whilst being considerably second-best in their opening exchanges, Donny failed to make their dominance pay across the first fortnight of 2016/17 (W0-D1-L1). Darren Ferguson’s troops have since collected W4-D0-L1 to sit just two points off the peak and Rovers are certainly there on merit.
Doncaster have out-shot their opponents 103-46 since demotion, convincingly winning the shot count in six of their seven matches and it’s a similar tale in the shots-on-target standings (51-24) with no League Two outfit landing more on-target attempts this term.
Unsurprisingly, Rovers’ 69% shot ratio figure is easily second best in the division behind Portsmouth and the layers have taken notice too, chalking Ferguson’s men up as skinny 1/2 favourites to swipe aside Newport County this weekend.
Newport have W1-D3-L2 from their first six with Warren Feeney’s troops seeing their contest against Barnet abandoned at half-time with the Londoners leading due to a waterlogged pitch.
Unlike their hosts, County have only one convincingly won the shot count this season – last weekend’s 2-2 draw against Cheltenham – and worryingly for Exiles supporters, only Cambridge (16) have fired in fewer on-target efforts (18).
Only eight League Two clubs have posted a lower shot ratio figure than Newport’s 46% whilst only Wycombe and Cambridge are worse off in the shots-on-target ratio standings (35%), meaning the bookies are right to expect a one-sided contest.
The Exiles have W1-D6-L10 in their last 17 league matches and having already shipped at least two goals in four of their six games this term, I just can’t find the faith in the guests getting anything from their trip to the Keepmoat here.
But rather than get involved in slim quotes on the hosts, I’ll back Doncaster to win and Over 1.5 Goals at 17/20 (BetStars) – we’ll collect should Donny win the match by any correct score other than a 1-0 scoreline. With Rovers averaging better than 2.00 goals-per-game since relegation, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Birmingham v Sheffield Wednesday – Birmingham to score the first goal (19/17 Marathon)
Sheffield United v Peterborough – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (1/1 Coral)
Doncaster v Newport – Doncaster to win and Over 1.5 Goals (17/20 BetStars)