MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Saturday’s Football League coupon, picking out his three favourite bets.
Bury v Colchester | Saturday 15.00
When you’re in a wretched slump in form, you question everything. Your belief, your system, your knowledge, your selections and, occasionally when Daniel Beddingfield accidently appears on your headphones, your existence.
Following a few Football League shockers and arguably the worst punting week of my life (nods to you chaps at Fulham, Gent, Valencia and Basel in particular), I’d have no qualms if you ran for the nearest exit to avoid the suicidal murmurings of a morale-extinguished punter. Now’s your final chance…
Still here? Fantastic. I owe you a beer or six, just for staying with me.
For starters, I’m bypassing the Championship and heading straight into League One. This first selection has killed me a little inside but it just has to be done – I can’t believe I’m actually typing these words out – I’m opposing Colchester.
For weeks and weeks I’ve remained a loyal and fervent supporter of the Essex boys, eager to find ways of supporting them. That might sound like madness but they’ve actually been pretty decent, especially since Kevin Keen took charge.
ColU gave Southend a serious test on Boxing Day then Gillingham too just two days later. Sheffield United were fortunate to escape the Community Stadium with maximum points and bar the return fixture at rivals Southend and a trip to Scunthorpe, the U’s have had more shots and shots-on-target than their opponents.
Only Peterborough, Coventry and Walsall have fired in more efforts on-target and their 52% shots-on-target ratio figure – their share of the total shots-on-target in Colchester games – ranks them 11th in League One. But Keen’s men are rock-bottom and eight points from survival.
So what’s going wrong? Well, the Essex raiders just seem incapable of keeping the goals out. Colchester have conceded 73 in their 31 league outings – that’s the worst return from the top four tiers at this stage of a season since 1997/98 – and a huge 50.34% of the shots-on-target they’re facing are resulting in goals (Blackpool’s is 20.77% by comparison).
The visitors have W0-D1-L9 in their last 10 away days and been beaten by at least a two-goal margin in eight of those nine losses. They’ve accumulated a horrifying -28 goal difference in their 15 League One road trips this term, shipping at least two goals in 12 of those encounters.
Colchester are winless in 17 league fixtures now, taking just three points (W0-D3-L14) from a possible 51. And going back to the start of last season, the guests have lost 21/38 (55%) of their away matches at this level.
In midweek, the U’s took a 69th-minute lead against fellow strugglers and 10-man Chesterfield only to be pegged back three minutes later. Keen admitted post-match his side are struggling mentally and I’m not sure they’ll have the mind-set to go at it again on Saturday against a buoyant Bury.
When considering the results and goals conceded stats above, seeing Bury at odds-against quotes certainly makes plenty of appeal. But I’ll chuck Over 1.5 Goals into the equation too to boost the odds to a healthy 6/4 with Paddy Power.
The Shakers were humiliated 6-0 at Coventry last weekend but bounced back with an impressive performance at home to Sheffield United in midweek. The Gigg Lane were 2-1 winners and although that was only a fifth league triumph in 19 (W5-D3-L11), they now have the perfect opportunity to bank back-to-back victories.
David Flitcroft brought his experienced campaigners back into the fold in midweek and the confidence in the camp was flowing in the aftermath of that overdue win with players and coaches suggesting a play-off push isn’t yet out of the equation.
Bury have scored in all bar two of their home games this season, nothing twice or more in 6/14 (43%). I’ll count on the Shakers piling more misery on Colchester here by backing them to win with Over 1.5 Goals thrown in on top.
Chesterfield v Crewe | Saturday 15.00
The bookmakers are confident Chesterfield won’t be going down – SkyBet are still offering 2/1 on the Spireites suffering relegation – but Danny Wilson’s side are just a point above the drop zone in 20th with Fleetwood (21st) and Oldham (23rd) both having two games in hand over the Derbyshire men.
Wilson arrived as Dean Saunders’ replacement with Chesterfield sitting in 20th and after a huge initial bounce – beating Shrewsbury 7-1 at the Proact and Rochdale 3-2 away – the Spireites have reverted to their rotten ways.
Admittedly a tough run of fixtures has followed but the strugglers have now collected just a solitary point from a possible 15, scoring just three goals. In midweek they ground out a point at Colchester despite playing with 10 men for over 70 minutes and in fairness, Wilson’s made them harder to beat.
But should Chesterfield be trading at miniscule odds of 8/11 considering they’ve returned W2-D2-L11 since October and won just three of their 15 (W3-D3-L9) fixtures at the Proact? I wouldn’t be backing them with stolen money, folks.
Both Lee Novak and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake are back in the selection picture this weekend and Declan Jones and Jordan Slew are in-line for debuts but defensive leader Ian Evatt and Dan Jones remain on the long-term injury list and that won't aid their prospects of keeping a first clean sheet in 15.
Crewe are bigger than 4/1 to win here but a wiser option is to enter the Asian Handicap market and back The Alex with a +1 start at 7/10 (BetVictor). It’s a ridiculously big price for a Football League team who sit just three points behind their hosts and arrive unbeaten in six.
With this selection, we’ll see our stake returned should Chesterfield win by a solitary goal but bank a winner should the match end all square or the Railwaymen pocket the points. The only way in which we’ll lose is if Chesterfield run out winners by two or more goals – a feat they’ve managed in just four of their 31 League One matches this term.
Crewe rode a Walsall storm recently but avoided defeat and came back from two goals down at Rochdale in midweek to pick up a point. They’ve also held Millwall and Wigan since late January and despite their recent injury issues, boss Steve Davis is continuing to keep the show on the road.
Loan signing Semi Ajayi has formed an excellent understanding and partnership with Ben Nugent in defence and across the Railwaymen’s mini six-game revival, the visitors have only leaked more than the odd goal once.
Since mid-November, Coventry are the only club to beat The Alex by two goals or more in 13 fixtures; the travellers look to be written off by the bookmakers at the pre-match quotes and that’s just not fair. Crewe +1 on the Asian Handicap, please.
Bristol Rovers v Morecambe | Saturday 15.00
One of my fabulous recent forecasts came last weekend when I suggested Bristol Rovers were good value to avoid defeat at Portsmouth.
I didn’t really expect highly-rated boss Darrell Clarke to take an attacking approach to Fratton Park but fair play to him and the Gas for going to the League Two giants with such a mind-set and system.
Unluckily for the Pirates, Pompey were in the mood and dished out a 3-1 humping on the south coast that could easily have been more. In doing so, Rovers slipped to back-to-back defeats for the first time since November.
The performance invoked plenty of criticism from supporters and the manager with Clarke admitting post-match he was “hurt” by his team’s no-show. It’s made the side doubly determined to produce the goods at the Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
The Gas have been one of League Two’s strongest teams since promotion – their 58.57% shots-on-target ratio is only bettered by four divisional rivals with only five clubs firing in more on-target efforts on average this season.
I’m not convinced league losses to high-flying Accrington and Portsmouth will derail their promotion bid and beginning the weekend just one point and one place outside the top-seven, they remain firmly ensconced in the promotion battle.
So I’m counting on the Pirates bouncing back with a victory on Saturday. Having picked up just four points from their first seven home games, Clarke’s charges have won 16 from their following seven, suggesting they’ve found the right balance at the Memorial Stadium.
However, I’m prepared to add Both Teams To Score into the mix with 888 Sport offering 14/5 quotes on a home win with BTTS.
Defensive stability has been Rovers’ foundation for the past couple of seasons but they’ve now gone five games without a shutout and despite facing the second fewest shots-on-target as hosts, the Gas have recorded just four clean sheets in 15 on home soil.
Only league leaders Northampton (56) have scored more goals than away-trippers Morecambe’s tally of 52. But the Shrimps have shipped a league-high 57 themselves meaning their 31 matches have produced an eye-watering 109 goals.
Jim Bentley’s boys have netted in each of their last 14 with the most recent eight of those outings rewarding Both Teams To Score backers whilst the earlier season meeting between these two ended in a 4-3 Rovers victory.
Morecambe have seen three or more goals scored in 10 of their 15 away days (W5-D4-L6) with the same figure true of winning BTTS bets. The visitors have W4-D3-L10 against top-half teams but only failed to net in four of those 17 fixtures, so the stats are certainly in our favour.
Unfortunately for the Shrimps, they’re suffering on a number of hurdles coming into this clash. Luke Conlan’s loan from Burnley ended in injury and Lee Molyneux also limped out of action in their last encounter against Oxford whilst top scorer Shaun Miller was sent off in that 4-2 defeat – he’ll be suspended here.
League Two’s leading assist-maker Jamie Devitt will return but Aaron Wildig, and Laurence Wilson will need to be assessed ahead of the trip south. It’s left Bentley short in numbers and the Morecambe boss admitted adverse weather has meant they’ve been unable to train on grass for two months.
I love getting the Shrimps onside but with one point from a possible 18 and defeats to high-flying Oxford, Mansfield (twice) and Northampton in the past two months, Bristol Rovers should be capable of clinching victory here.
Bury v Colchester – Bury to win and Over 1.5 Goals (6/4 Paddy Power)
Chesterfield v Crewe – Crewe +1 Asian Handicap (7/10 BetVictor)
Bristol Rovers v Morecambe – Bristol Rovers to win and Both Teams To Score (14/5 888 Sport)
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