MARK O’HAIRE’S (@MarkOHaire) been bang in form across his Football League fancies in 2016. Here’s his three favourite fancies this weekend.
Bristol City v Middlesbrough | Saturday 15.00
Did you see the video of Steve Cotterill swearing at supporters post-match in midweek? Bristol City were beaten 2-1 at home to Preston and clearly the pressure and frustration is getting to the fiery West Countryman.
It was the Robins’ sixth loss in nine (W1-D2-L6), their sixth reverse in 13 (W2-D5-L6) at Ashton Gate and left the club rooted in the bottom-three ahead of this weekend’s clash with table-topping Middlesbrough.
No side has conceded more goals in front of their home supporters than City – they’ve leaked at least twice in seven of their 13 outings – and that spells big trouble on Saturday if they’re unable to find the magic defensively formula.
Cotterill’s desperate to replenish a squad that’s short on numbers and struggling to stay afloat. Loan signings Simon Cox, Elliott Bennett, Liam Moore and Callum Robinson all departed Ashton Gate earlier this month leaving the Robins boss with just 18 senior players from which to select, three of which are goalkeepers.
City’s lack of options was apparent on Tuesday night. Preston boss Simon Grayson made six changes from the side that lost to Peterborough in the FA Cup three days earlier, while Cotterill started with the same 10 outfield players who had seen action at West Brom.
With confidence at rock bottom, optimism thin on the ground, players feeling the physical strain and deals for top targets such as Bolton’s Zach Clough breaking down, you can understand his disgruntlement.
With Middlesbrough available to back at even-money with BetVictor I just have to be involved. The Teessiders are cruising right now and although they weren’t anywhere near their best on Tuesday night, they ground out a 1-0 victory at Brentford.
That three points made it W8-D1-L0 in their last nine with clean sheets kept in each fixture – they’re now only the third second-tier side to keep nine successive shutouts – and you wouldn’t rule out another considering the hosts have scored one or zero goals in 20 of their 26 matches.
Boro’s Ben Gibson will need to be assessed have missed the midweek win that sent the club six points clear with a game in hand and right now it would take a brave punter to bet against the Middlesbrough juggernaut.
Since the start of last season, Aitor Karanka’s side have returned W17-D7-L11 on their travels – a 49% win rate with 13 clean sheets. When viewing their record away to bottom-half teams it enhances to W8-D3-L4 – A 53% win rate – giving us more than enough ammo to get stuck into the visitors.
*Piece submitted before Steve Cotterill's sacking on Thursday*
Peterborough v Southend | Saturday 15.00
Dave Robertson was sacked as Peterborough boss after winning just three of 17 games across all competitions. The decision to appoint Graham Westley as his replacement caused outcry amongst Posh fans but thankfully, the former Stevenage boss has transformed the club.
Now 17 League One fixtures into his career at London Road, Westley has overseen W10-D2-L5 to take the club into the top-six. In fact, only Burton are outperforming Posh’s 1.88 points-per-game average since the marmite man took the gig.
In front of his home supporters, Peterborough have W5-D1-L2 and whilst they’ve only taken two points from a possible 18 against their top-six rivals this term, W12-D2-L5 against clubs below them in the standings suggest this side revel against the league’s lesser lights.
Only Oxford are averaging more shots-on-target than Posh across English football and at London Road they’re firing in an average of seven efforts on-target – no surprise they’re the league’s top goalscorers and in 15 of their 25 games this season they’ve scored at least twice (in 13/17 under Westley).
A 3-2 away success at Sheffield United and an FA Cup victory over Preston make up their most recent two outings so I reckon there’s plenty in our favour to suggest a play on Posh this weekend is wise when Southend visit.
The Shrimpers made a slow start to life in League One with a win in the reverse contest their only triumph across their opening seven games (W1-D3-L3). But slowly Phil Brown’s charges found their groove and a fabulous W9-D4-L3 from their following 16 elevated the Essex boys from 20th to seventh.
However, three successive losses – 4-0 at home to Millwall, 3-0 at home to Doncaster and 4-2 at Swindon – have rocked the guests. Previously, Southend were fortunate to beat county rivals Colchester on Boxing Day.
In his weekly column for the local newspaper, Brown admitted he’s had his players in every day this week as they look to arrest this slide in performance levels – not since September 2013 have the Shrimpers suffered four defeats on the spin – suggesting they’ll go back to basics on Saturday.
Interestingly, Brown also said, “Their games have been very open but that’s not something I want to continue when we go there at the weekend”.
That may well be true but I’m just not convinced Southend (or most sides) are strong enough to compete with the flair, energy and intent shown by the hosts under Westley. Only Barnsley, Swindon, Blackpool and Crewe are facing more shots-on-target away than the Shrimpers and I’d be stunned if Posh don’t find their range.
Ben Coker’s missing for the visitors and although I don’t see them getting a spanking, I do think Posh can score at least twice here and therefore, I’ll take Peterborough to win and Over 1.5 Match Goals at 11/10 with Paddy Power – it covers everything from a 2-0 victory to a 2-1 home win and more and has won in all 12 of Posh’s league triumphs this term and five of Southend’s eight losses.
Plymouth v Stevenage | Saturday 15.00
The top-of-the-table clash between Plymouth and Northampton in midweek failed to live up to expectation as the two pacesetters played out a largely scrappy and uninspiring contest.
The match was settled in the Cobblers favour 2-1 with Argyle their own worst enemies at Home Park. Derek Adams’ troops conceded two uncharacteristically poor goals leaving the Pilgrims holding onto top spot in League Two on goal difference.
The manner of the loss will have hurt the Pilgrims, especially as 10,000 expectant home supporters were in attendance, and Plymouth had arrived on the back of a four-match winning streak.
There was good news, though. Striker Reuben Reid made his first start for almost three months in a 4-3-3 that included Ryan Brunt and Jake Jervis on either side; winger Gregg Wylde the unlucky player to miss out.
The league leaders will be looking to bounce back at the first possible opportunity and I’m happy to count on Argyle doing just that on Saturday when a depleted Stevenage arrive in Devon. Punters can back the hosts at 19/20 (BetVictor) – a hugely attractive price – but I’m boosting it to 29/20 by including Over 1.5 Goals.
Why are the Pilgrims close to even-money? Quite simply, their performance data doesn’t mirror that of table-topping club. On home soil they’ve W7-D2-L4 –W5-D0-L1 when hosting bottom-half teams – scored in their last 17 and taken 31 of their 52 points against clubs in 13th and below (W10-D1-L2).
But only five clubs have faced more shots-on-target when welcoming League Two opposition and both their shot and shots-on-target ratios (at home and across all matches) is no better than 55%. In contrast, Oxford and Portsmouth are posting between 65% and 70% consistently.
But this selection isn’t all down to stats. The major reason behind putting my faith in Plymouth is Stevenage’s selection problems on Saturday.
This week Teddy Sheringham’s side saw seven short-term loans expire and although Connor Ogilvie has extended his deal, Armand Gnanduillet, Lee Cox, Michael Crowe, Callum McFadzean, Jesse Joronen and Jamille Matt have returned to their parent clubs whilst highly-rated teenager Ben Kennedy was the latest to suffer a serious injury.
Already on the casualty list is Steven Schumacher, Dave McAllister, Jerome Okino, Dean Wells, Dean Parrett and Chris Whelpdale.
With the temporary signings no longer with Boro and the seven key players injured, Stevenage are without players who've totalled 144 appearances this season – almost half of their total players appearances this season – and 63% of their league goals this weekend. That’s serious.
The club are interested in extending a couple of the loans but at the time of writing, only Ogilvie has completed an extension and chairman Phil Wallace painted a disturbing picture when speaking to the official website in midweek saying:
“I said recently I’ve never seen an injury crisis like this and I can’t believe it’s got worse. Combined with various loan deals expiring it does leave the squad particularly thin.”
I’m keen to take advantage but simply adding the Over 1.5 Goals angle into the bet boosts the odds even more – just eight of their combined 52 fixtures have failed to produce at least two goals with Boro leaking at least twice in eight of their previous 13 (W2-D5-L6) road trips.
The visitors have failed to keep a clean sheet away from the Lamex, are facing on average over nine shots-on-target per-game away and are enjoying no more than 42% share of the shots and shots-on-target in their league outings under Sheringham.
Bristol City v Middlesbrough – Middlesbrough to win (1/1 BetViictor)
Peterborough v Southend – Peterborough to win and Over 1.5 Goals (11/10 Paddy Power)
Plymouth v Stevenage – Plymouth to win and Over 1.5 Goals (29/20 Betfair)
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