Football League – Go against the goal grain in Saturday’s Championship

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FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns to share his favourite fancies from Saturday’s coupon.

Brentford v Fulham | Saturday 2nd December 2017, 15:00

Brentford surrendered a two-goal lead in stoppage-time against QPR on Monday but the Bees will have the opportunity to right those wrongs with a second successive West London derby on the horizon at Griffin Park on Saturday.

Dean Smith’s side have now dropped 18 points from winning positions this season – had they held onto those points they’d be comfortably in second place in the Championship table – had they managed to pocket half of those points they’d be sitting pretty in the play-off positions.

However, poor game management, a lack of physical presence in midfield and a haphazard defence has proven Brentford’s Achilles heel this term.

The hosts must also rue their own missed opportunities – the Bees have fired in more on-target efforts than their league rivals but only 26% of those shots have found the back of the net – the sixth worst conversion rate in the Championship.

Smith – celebrating 100 games in charge on Monday – will want an immediate bounce back but with Neal Maupay and Florian Jozefzoon missing through injury and suspension, the Bees will be without two key attacking components, as well as full-back Henrik Dalsgaard.

Brentford, like their visitors, tend to prefer a neat and tidy passing game. The pair are amongst the top four in the league’s average possession standings and the expectation from the outset is for the duo to serve up a feast of attacking football.

The bookmakers tend to agree with Over 2.5 Goals chalked up as short as 4/9 – implying a 69% chance there’s three or more goals in this game. And there’s good reason to believe such estimations have gone a touch too far.

Fulham will be without Floyd Ayite and Lucas Piazon whilst key defensive players Tim Ream and Kevin McDonald are both expected to return having missed last weekend’s 1-0 triumph over Millwall, settled by Oliver Norwood’s first-half penalty.

The Cottagers managed their first clean sheet since August but rarely looked too comfortable on their way to back-to-back win and Slavisa Jokanovic claimed there’s still plenty of work to be done if Fulham are to continue their upwards trajectory.

And despite their poor backline performances, it’s worth noting that only seven of their 19 encounters have broken the Over 2.5 Goals barrier already this season, and only 15/32 (47%) on the road since the start of last season. Indeed, with goals so heavily fancied, we’re actually able to oppose a high-scoring contest by backing Under 3.5 Goals at a generous 7/10 (Sportingbet).

That 7/10 quote implies there’s a 59% chance of this selection paying-out but long-term trends suggest the likelihood is much, much higher. Collectively, 43/64 (67%) of the West London duos respective home/away Championship games since the start of last season have produced three goals or fewer, implying odds of around 1/2 would be more acceptable for Under 3.5 Goals.

Expected Goals stats for both teams are very high but if you view the xG data from open play, the pair are collectively averaging a total of just 2.40 Expected Goals – another tick in the right box for opposing goals here.

With strong stats and poor finishers on show, I’m more than happy to swim against the tide on Saturday and support Under 3.5 Goals at 7/10 (Sportingbet).

Derby v Burton | Saturday 2nd December 2017, 15:00

Derby welcome Burton to Pride Park for the A38 derby and again, I’m not expecting a goal-heavy game with Under 2.5 Goals standing out at 66/67 (188BET). I’m going to bolster the odds by supporting the Rams in the Double Chance market alongside Under 2.5 Goals at 23/20 with 188BET.

Sixth-placed County were chinned 1-0 at home to Ipswich in midweek and despite dominating the performance data, never really convinced. Derby’s decision-making and quality was lacking as they fired only a third blank in 19 league fixtures this season.

I’d fancy the Rams to return to winning ways this weekend and with Sam Winnall and Bradley Johnson returning to the fold, Gary Rowett has sufficient options in his squad to shake things up against the resolute visitors.

The hosts should have had plenty of practice when trying to breakdown stubborn defences. Both Ipswich and previous guests QPR arrived at Pride Park looking to frustrate County and Rowett’s admitted his team may have to be patient in their approach as they seek a ninth home in 14 under his watch.

Burton were beaten 2-0 at home by Sunderland last weekend and the Brewers could be without key trio Lloyd Dyer, Sean Scannell and John Brayford here. All three remain major doubts leaving Nigel Clough with very limited resources.

Albion are a world away from their 23 Championship rivals in the performance data metrics, returning just a 27% Expected Goals from open play ratio thus far. Clough’s charges are averaging just over two on-target attempts per-game and eight shots per-game so it’s easy to see where they are faltering.

Nevertheless, Burton’s outstanding organisation ensures they often remain competitive. Indeed, 14 of their last 16 away days have featured fewer than three goals, as have 21/32 (66%) since arriving in the second-tier.

Derby have also delivered 21/32 (66%) successful Under 2.5 Goals selections at Pride Park since the start of last season and since Rowett arrived, the Rams have paid-out in this market in 9/13 (69%) of their home contests.

Last season’s fixtures between the two produced just one goal and with only two of Burton’s nine hosts scoring more than twice against them this season, I’m not anticipating Derby notching three or more goals here.

Best Bets

Brentford v Fulham – Under 3.5 Goals (7/10 Sportingbet)

Derby v Burton – Derby double chance and Under 2.5 Goals (23/20 188BET)

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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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