Football League: Athletic warrant respect in League One’s derby duel

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FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from Saturday’s EFL card.

Brentford v QPR | Saturday 15:00

Both Brentford and QPR reached the magical 50-point mark on the same mid-March Saturday ahead of the international break but whilst Rangers have put their feet up and began pre-season preparations early, the Bees have kept the pedal to the metal.

Dean Smith’s hosts were irresistible when swatting aside Derby 4-0 in their last Griffin Park outing and were assured, composed and bloody brilliant when beating both Bristol City and Leeds ‘to nil’ in their two prior encounters here.

Brentford are as good as any second-tier side when on-song and their attacking fulcrum as certainly come to the fore in recent weeks. The home side have scored in all bar one of their last 16 fixtures with Lasse Vibe, Sergi Canos, Romaine Sawyers and Jota all earning high praise for their performances.

Vibe is rated doubtful but Maxime Colin returns to the squad after missing the last few games with injury, with Andreas Bjelland also coming into contention. The game comes too soon for Josh McEachran, while Alan McCormack has been ruled out after a groin injury at Barnsley but the Bees will still boast a solid side.

With Rangers having kept only two clean sheets since October, it’s impossible to imagine the Bees not grabbing a goal or two here and also taking top honours at a generous 113/100 (Marathon) quote.

The match will be marketed as a West London derby and whilst no QPR fan wants to see their side lose at Griffin Park, this encounter pales into insignificance when compared to a showdown against real rivals Chelsea. In contrast, this is Brentford’s standout tie of the season.

This is the match that gets the blood boiling and this is the game that Bees fans want to win more than any other. The hosts will be highly-motivated to complete the double over the R’s and in fairness, I fully expect them to complete the job.

Ian Holloway’s effectively been picking his team out of a hat since survival was all but assured with a 5-1 tonking over Rotherham. Five successive losses have followed with an average of five changes made to the starting XI across each defeat.

It’s been mooted that the Rangers boss will revert to his best XI for this clash and although the R’s have been decent in patches against Brighton and Aston Villa of late, there’s no getting away from the fact we’ve lost eight of 13 away days since Holloway returning, including four of our most recent five.

There’s also added spice with Holloway in the away dugout. The Hoops supremo tipped Brentford to be relegated in pre-season and there’s little love lost between the former Sky Sports pundit and the Bees so the outspoken Bristolian should expect a hostile reception on Saturday.

I don’t often bet for or against my own club in these columns but Brentford warrant a little more respect in the market than they’re getting and that makes them a solid selection on Saturday.

Oldham v Rochdale | Saturday 15:00

Last season, Oldham were marooned in the drop zone on 21 points from 24 matches when John Sheridan returned to the club. The Lancastrian fashioned an unlikely charge away from danger with a 33-point haul from his first 20 matches to keep Athletic in League One.

Sheridan moved on in the summer and spent an unhappy spell at Notts County in League Two whilst the inexperienced Steve Robinson was given the gig at Oldham. Both were out of a job in January and the Latics came calling for Sheridan once more.

And once more, the pair have produced the goods. A point for Oldham against local rivals Rochdale on Saturday will guarantee survival should Port Vale lose at home to Bolton or Bury fail to beat Northampton at Gigg Lane.

Sheridan’s promised to go for the jugular to ensure the relegation fight does not go down to the final day of the season and we should be confident the Latics can continue their superb recent run at Boundary Park too.

Athletic have seen off Bolton, Fleetwood and Oxford here recently, as well as holding title winning Sheffield United to a draw. Since Sheridan returned, Oldham have W7-D3-L1 at home and kept seven clean sheets in those 11 outings.

On eight occasions Athletic have scored first and we should expect another blood-and-thunder effort here after the schedule worked against Oldham in their Easter Monday match at Bristol Rovers. With 24 hours less rest than their opposition, Sheridan was forced to ring the changes for the quick turnaround.

Oldham can be backed with a +0.25 start at 11/12 with BetVictor, a selection that will see us make money should the hosts avoid defeat. We’ll pocket a half-stakes profit from a draw with a full-stakes pay-out received if Oldham win.

Visitors Rochdale still have their sights set on the top-six. Keith Hill’s team overcame rock-bottom Coventry last time out whilst losses for Millwall and Southend left the door ajar in the battle for play-off positions.

It’s been another remarkable campaign for Hill and Dale with the visitors boasting one of the division’s lowest budgets. In truth, it’s been a topsy-turvy season and whilst victories ‘to nil’ against basement battlers Cov, Vale and Bury are a concern, the guests have been beaten in 10 of 16 away days.

Rochdale have lost five of seven games at the bottom-seven and have a 50% loss rate on the road since promotion to League One. Only a victory will do to keep their play-off dreams alive but don’t expect Oldham to rollover for their neighbours here.

Grimsby v Yeovil | Saturday 15:00

Yeovil’s 3-0 Easter Monday win over Crewe earned a precious three points to move the Glovers seven clear of the drop zone and almost certainly assured of League Two football next season.

It was only the West Country outfits first triumph in seven (W1-D3-L3) and third since early December (W3-D12-L9) and at least allows manager Darren Way and his players to relax a little. Town weren’t coping particularly well with the pressures of battling relegation.

However, Yeovil haven’t won back-to-back league games since October and although goalkeeper Artur Krysiak is the only player absent for the visitors on Saturday, I’m keen to oppose them as they head for Cleethorpes.

The Glovers have netted in each of their past four away days but claimed only three wins on the road all season, two of which came against clubs currently below them in the League Two table.

Grimsby may have underwhelmed for large swathes of the season and their Blundell Park record (W8-D5-L8) isn’t entirely convincing but the Mariners are under new management once more so you’d assume the squad will be hell-bent on impressing Russell Slade.

The hosts beat in-form Cambridge on Good Friday and also overcame Blackpool not so long ago so whilst the shock announcement of Marcus Bignot’s sacking took us all by surprise, there is quality in the ranks and Slade might be the right man to get the best out of the Mariners squad.

It’s been suggested the board are demanding a promotion push next season so there’s still plenty to place for in the Grimsby ranks and I’m stunned to see them marked up at the same price as Yeovil to win this fixture.

I’ll happily take the 39/40 (Bet365) on the home side off a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap line here. We’ll get our cash back if the game ends all-square.

Best Bets

Brentford v QPR – Brentford to win (113/100 Marathon)

Oldham v Rochdale – Oldham +0.25 Asian Handicap (11/12 BetVictor)

Grimsby v Yeovil – Grimsby 0 Asian Handicap (39/40 Bet365)

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About Author

Profile photo of Mark O'Haire

After starting his career in newspaper journalism, Mark soon found his way into the online betting world, forging a career in content, social media and marketing production. With a huge passion for stats, the Football League and European football, Mark’s other interests include playing rugby, following his beloved QPR and travel.

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