FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday’s 3pm kick-offs in the EFL.
Hull v Middlesbrough | Saturday 29th September 2018, 15:00
Hull head coach Nigel Adkins believes the weekend visit of high-flying Middlesbrough offers an ideal opportunity for the Tigers to banish the disappointment of back-to-back defeats on the road.
The Humbersiders slipped to fourth bottom in the Championship after last Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Reading, a performance Mr Positive described as, “terrible” and “nowhere near the level” required for City to compete in the second-tier.
Five days earlier Hull suffered a 2-1 reverse at Wigan to make it six defeats in their opening nine matches. Blackburn, Derby and Aston Villa have all departed the KCOM Stadium with maximum points, while the hosts’ two triumphs arrived against fellow strugglers Ipswich and Rotherham.
It’s not a particularly pretty picture for the Tigers who now face Middlesbrough, the first of three games against the Championship’s current top four over the coming week. And that schedule begins to look even tougher with Evandro, whose form has been one of the club’s shining lights, unable to feature.
Saturday will also come too soon for Dan Batty but want-away Polish international Kamil Grosicki is being tipped for a recall. Nevertheless, the Humbersiders are in desperate need for a lift, especially in defence where the Adkins’ outfit have shipped at least two goals in six outings already.
Hull have lost five of their past seven KCOM encounters against top-six sides and picked up only three points from a possible 24 when welcoming top-eight teams last term. We put the club up for relegation in our pre-season previews and I can’t see the hosts picking up a much-needed win here.
I anticipated a strong promotion push from Middlesbrough despite the loss of a couple of key attacking players in the summer. Tony Pulis’ safety-first football has proven a successful formula in the past and early signs suggest the Teessiders will be edging their way into top-two contention.
Boro undeservedly scraped a 2-2 draw from two goals down at Millwall on the opening day but have found their range thereafter. The visitors have conceded just one goal in their following eight outings – 12 hours of league action – and that’s resulted in seven of those eight fixtures featuring fewer than three goals.
Pulis has rarely tutored a team renowned for offensive flair, although he may have to address the lack of invention and creation in the Middlesbrough ranks if they want to be serious top-two contenders. The visitors have fired blanks in three of their past four, and have struggled to open up opposition teams.
Goalscoring chances have been few and far between in recent matches. Sure, Leeds, Swansea, Norwich and Bolton are no easy meat, and Boro will win plenty of games simply by converting just one of their opportunities because their backline is so strong but it’s enough to put me off their win price on Saturday.
The Daniel Ayala and Aden Flint set-piece threat is unrivalled in the Championship but right now, the midfield is made up of work-horses and the creative burden is stacking up on Stewart Downing’s shoulders. That has to be a concern and means I’m more comfortable knowing I’ve the draw onside here.
Therefore, I’ll be digging into the 4/6 (Betfair) available on Middlesbrough double chance and Under 3.5 Goals. This selection sees us profit from a 0-0 or 1-1 draw, as well as a 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 or 2-1 away victory.
Walsall v Accrington | Saturday 29th September 2018, 15:00
Few fancied Walsall and Accrington to make a major impact on League One this season. In fact, the majority of pre-season predictions had these two teams towards the bottom reaches of the third-tier with bookmakers chalking up the pair as relegation candidates.
However, with October on the horizon, the duo lock horns on Saturday at the Bescot with just two combined defeats to their name from their collective opening 18 encounters. Both occupy a top-10 position and if their early season efforts are anything to go by, this contest could be an enjoyable watch.
Walsall secured a 2-1 win at Oxford at last weekend, a match that saw the Saddlers concede 17 attempts at goal. But that’s been pretty standard for Dean Keates’ charges, with the hosts conceding an average of 16 shots per-game – only Gillingham (16.11) and Peterborough (17.11) are worse off.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the West Midlands outfit are yet to keep their sheets clean, although crucially, Walsall are packing a mean punch when going forward. Summer signings Andy Cook, Morgan Ferrier and Zeli Ismail have made immediate impacts, averaging a goal every 200 minutes each.
I’m yet to be completely convinced Keates’ troops can sustain their top-six position and the underlying numbers suggest the Saddlers may regress as the campaign progresses. However, I’m more than happy to follow the early trends here and support a goal-heavy game.
The hosts have delivered profitable Both Teams To Score (7/9 188BET) selections in all bar one of their nine League One fixtures, a record matched by opponents Accrington. Therefore, collectively the BTTS bet has combined to provide pay-outs in 16/18 (89%) encounters and that’s difficult to ignore.
Newly-promoted Accrington have defied the doubters by stringing together an eight-game unbeaten run (W3-D5-L0) since the opening day, when they suffered stage fright against Gillingham. Stanley have scored and conceded in all eight of those matches as they’ve adapted supremely to their new environment.
It’s true six of the past seven League One goals scored by John Coleman’s team have arrived via set-pieces but the Lancastrians are created 0.91 Expected Goals from open play per-game – the fourth-highest in the division – and with Billy Kee and Sean McConville leading the line, the visitors aren’t short of firepower.
No third-tier has attempted as many shots from inside the penalty area as Accrington so there’s a decent case to be made for keeping them onside, or backing them in the goals markets here. However, I’m going to keep it relatively simple and support Both Teams To Score at a price bigger than 1.75.
Macclesfield v Forest Green | Saturday 29th September 2018, 15:00
Macclesfield’s 8-0 mauling in midweek by West Ham in the EFL Cup was their biggest-ever loss as a Football League club. The Silkmen – 24th in League Two – are without a win in 90 minutes this season with their previous cup victories coming on penalties.
Post-match manager Mark Yates said the result “wasn’t what we needed” after Town were beaten 2-1 in a crunch league contest with Morecambe seven days ago. Skipper Michael Rose was sent off in that defeat and completes his suspension on Saturday when the Cheshire club welcome Forest Green.
The events over the past week have seen Forest Green trimmed into odds-on territory, and while I’m disappointed to have missed the boat for this column, I’m still keen to find ways in which to support the unbeaten Rovers (W3-D6-L0) at Moss Rose.
On only three occasions since 2004/05 have a fourth-tier club survived the opening 10 rounds of action without defeat but the Green Devils look well set to enhance that streak on Saturday. The visitors are posting envious performance data figures and deserve maximum respect in the promotion stakes.
Mark Cooper’s men are operating off a 71% Expected Goals from open play ratio figure, giving up just 0.40 xG from open play per-game. No League Two side has faced as few shots on-target as Rovers thus far and the guests occupy the top-three in all the major metrics following an impressive opening.
Four of the seven goals conceded by Forest Green have been penalties (57%), suggesting luck hasn’t always been on their side. And even with Farrend Rawson completing a three-match ban, the trio of Paul Digby, Nathan McGinley and Gavin Gunning combined in central defence last week for a clean sheet.
There’s a lot to like about Forest Green and I’m going to back them to collect maximum points at Moss Rose, but to bolster the odds on offer I’m adding Over 1.5 Goals to the equation for a nice 7/5 (Betfair) offering.
Collectively, the pair have seen all 18 matches this term feature at least two goals with the average goals per-game standing at 2.50. Macclesfield have shipped two or more goals in six of their nine league outings since promotion, while despite their excellent efforts, eight of Rovers’ nine games have seen both sides score.