TEN winners from his past 12 weekend Football League fancies for Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire). He’s back with two more to follow on Saturday.
Newcastle v Cardiff | Saturday 15:00
Not since 2001/02 have the Championship favourites taken top honours but the shortest-priced market-leaders in second-tier history look on course to bust that record by the time May rolls around.
Newcastle were chalked up as slim 15/8 shots ante-post and after back-to-back losses in their first two fixtures, it took Rafa Benitez’s boys time to adjust to life below the Premier League. However, the Magpies have W11-D1-L1 since and finally hit the summit in mid-October.
Toon now hold a six-point advantage over third-placed Huddersfield and with 14 triumphs in 16 across all competitions, it would take a brave man to bet against the Newcastle bus pitching back up in England’s elite league next season.
On Saturday, the Magpies welcome Cardiff to St. James’ Park as they bid to extend their current winning streak in the league to seven – not since promotion from this division in 2010 have the Toon enjoyed such a profitable run of results – and their head-to-head record against the Bluebirds is also ridiculously strong.
Cardiff have lost 16 of their past 17 trips to Newcastle, being beaten in each of their past eight meetings home or away. Their most recent two away days in the Toon ended in an aggregate 8-1 reverse and last weekend Neil Warnock’s men were turned over on home soil by managerless Wigan (0-1).
The Bluebirds have bagged two wins from their most recent three away days – as many as they’d won in the 13 prior to this run – and their long-term road record leaves a lot to be desired. The capital club losing 13/30 (43%) games as guests since the beginning of 2015/16.
I looked a little closer at Cardiff’s return when travelling to the Championship’s best and it doesn’t make for pretty reading. City have lost seven of their last 11 at top-six sides with five of their latest eight trips to teams in the play-off positions ending in defeat by at least a two-goal margin.
Rickie Lambert remains a major injury doubt for the Bluebirds, meaning Anthony Pilkington could continue up front on his own, or Marouane Chamakh may come in to Warnock’s XI. Either way, it’s difficult to see the underdogs really making an impact this weekend.
Newcastle are averaging over 18 shots per-game in their past nine Championship outings with 10.66 attempts from inside the opposition penalty box whilst creating nearly 2.50 golden opportunities per-game. They’re trends that suit their position as potential runaway league winners.
Winger Matt Ritchie is suspended and top scorer Dwight Gayle might not be risked but Benitez has so many options, neither should be missed here and I’d fancy Newcastle to complete a relatively comfortable victory at St. James’ Park.
The Magpies are averaging their opening goal in the 26th minute this season and having plundered 12 goals in their past three home outings, I’d expect the home side to start strongly.
Coral are offering 5/4 on Newcastle/Newcastle in the Half-Time/Full-Time market, a nice price considering it’s copped in seven of their last 12 in the Championship.
Norwich v Leeds | Saturday 15:00
Football is a fickle industry and there’s probably no better example of that than the current goings-on at both Norwich and Leeds.
The Canaries were top of the Championship in mid-October having churned out seven wins from eight games – manager Alex Neill was even rewarded with September’s Manager of the Month award. But City’s wings have been clipped in recent weeks and the knives are most certainly out with a kill in sight.
Norwich fell apart in last weekend’s 5-0 defeat at fellow promotion-chasers Brighton, leading Neill and captain Russell Martin to question the players’ professionalism and spirit. Many at the game felt the Canaries surrendered in the second-half, a crime that sounds unforgivable in Neill’s world.
The City boss insists his patience has run out but fixing a toxic dressing room and the problems that dogged the Norfolk outfit in the space of seven days appears unlikely. Remarkably, local media have suggested the 35-year-old in charge is now fighting to save his job.
Neill is of course responsible for Norwich’s performances and his insistence for playing 4-2-3-1 has been called into question for much of the season. Last weekend neither Alex Tettey nor Graham Dorrans provided the discipline or balance in the holding roles as the Canaries were easily cut open.
Tettey is now suspended for Saturday’s encounter, giving Louis Thompson his chance to shine. However, I’m not for a minute believing those defensive woes will be solved – Norwich have already shipped 24 goals and even backline leader Timm Klose was a major culprit for the Brighton debacle.
Norwich have only lost once in 11 against Leeds (W7-D3-L1) at Carrow Road and have recorded W5-D1-L1 in front of their home fans during Championship action this term. But with no clean sheet in 12, it’s hard to find the faith in the hosts picking up a positive result here.
Leeds overcame the Canaries on penalties in the EFL Cup 10 days ago but I can’t see that contest having any bearing on this encounter. Still, I do fancy the Whites to depart with at least something to show from their efforts on Saturday afternoon.
Garry Monk’s position was under threat after a lacklustre start to life at Elland Road (W1-D1-L4) but a W6-D2-L1 run has pushed United up to a point off the play-off positions. Only two clubs have amassed more points over the same nine-match sample that’s included triumphs at Cardiff and Wolves.
The Whites’ 23-point tally is actually their second-best start after 15 games to a Championship season since relegation from the Premier League as Monk’s men have mastered the art of shading games; rarely cutting loose or going to town but so often in a position to make the most of a 10-goal striker in Chris Wood.
Leeds’ line up is likely to be unchanged from their victory over Burton last time out and with only 11 (37%) away losses in 30 road trips since the start of last season, the visitors have history in picking up points on their travels.
With that in mind, the 21/20 (188BET) on the Whites with a +0.50 start on the Asian Handicap appeals. We’ll be paid out if Leeds avoid defeat.
Newcastle v Cardiff – Newcastle/Newcastle (5/4 Coral)
Norwich v Leeds – Leeds +0.50 Asian Handicap (21/20 188BET)