MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite three fancies from the weekend Football League coupon.
Barnsley v Southend | Saturday 15.00
It’s another ghastly Championship card on Saturday but turn your attention to League One and there’s a treasure trove of goodies to choose from.
I’ll begin with Barnsley because, quite frankly, they’re playing the leading role in one of the most remarkable Football League stories of the season.
The Tykes were rock-bottom of League One on the 28th November and a club in crisis. Fast forward less than four months and a stunning run of W12-D1-L2 in the following 15 fixtures has pushed the South Yorkshire side into the top-six!
Last weekend’s terrific 3-1 victory at promotion-rivals Walsall featured three excellent goals from on-loan Manchester United man Ashley Fletcher, Josh Brownhill and Harry Chapman and shot the Reds clear of the play-off chasing pack.
Caretaker manager Paul Heckingbottom has continued the revival at Oakwell following Lee Johnson’s departure for Bristol City and the interim boss has churned out W5-D1-L1 during his stint as number one.
The Walsall win all the more laudable given that top-scorer Sam Winnall was absent and their previous home outing saw Coventry brushed aside without arguably their most impressive performer this season, Adam Hammill. Both should feature in Saturday’s bout with Southend.
So what triggered the turnaround? Well, Barnsley were playing reasonably well for large swathes of the campaign but combination of abysmal defending and a lack of clear identity held the Tykes back. Johnson seemed intent on Winnall up front alone but the side have floured since a switch to 4-4-2 following the addition of Hammill.
Marley Watkins’ goals have taken the pressure off Winnall with the duo benefitting from each other in the final third and at the back, centre-half Alfie Mawson continues to carve out a name for himself with a series of commanding displays and that’s without mentioning skipper Conor Hourihane.
The recent rejuvenation hasn’t gone unnoticed in the press. Both Mawson and Heckingbottom have nominated for the League One manager and player of the month accolades for February as the Reds aim for a clean sweep like January, when Johnson and Winnall took the gongs.
Barnsley are clearly in a good place right now and with six wins on the spin at Oakwell – their best run of form as hosts since 1994 – it’s hard not to like the look of the Reds this weekend at quotes of 37/40 (BetVictor). The home side have recorded seven clean sheets in 11 league outings and look capable of overcoming their next hurdle with flying colours.
Southend have dropped off the play-off pace having W1-D1-L4 and head north without injured winger David Worrall. Ryan Leonard remains sidelined with knee ligament trouble and since the turn of the year, the Shrimpers have W1-D1-L4 in their games as guests.
Phil Brown’s boys have suffered three successive road defeats – their worst run since April 2011 – and their 39% share of the total shots-on-target on their travels is only better than Shrewsbury, Chesterfield, Blackpool and Crewe.
In contrast, Barnsley boast a 60% share at Oakwell – only Coventry, Wigan and Burton can lay claim to a more dominant record – and if we were to purely take the two teams’ respective home/away shots-on-target ratio figures, the Reds would be closer to 4/6 here.
Swindon v Millwall | Saturday 15.00
Swindon appointed caretaker boss Luke Williams as their permanent head coach this week, offering the 35-year-old a five-year deal in charge of the County Ground club.
Williams stepped in to replace Martin Ling and is the fourth man to lead the Robins this season. But the former Brighton Under-21 and reserves coach has continued the upward momentum and built on Ling’s foundations to return an impressive W6-D2-L2.from his first 10 fixtures in charge.
Town’s comfortable 2-0 triumph over Doncaster a fortnight ago was their fourth on the trot and moved the Wiltshire raiders into the top-half. Last weekend’s postponement at Oldham saw the side slip back to 13th but sitting seven points outside the play-off places and a full 13 clear of League One’s bottom-four; a top-six finish appears unlikely but not yet out of the question.
Swindon now face three teams in the top-seven in their next three games, beginning with Millwall on Saturday. The results of which could make or break those lingering play-off aspirations.
Millwall head west having strung together a hugely impressive W8-D3-L2 run since Boxing Day to cement themselves in the top-six picture. Neil Harris’ troops have stayed under the radar for the bulk of the campaign and appear to have found greater defensive resolve alongside their free-scoring attack.
The Lions have regularly roared on the road since relegation and their W9-D4-L4 record is second only to Walsall in the third tier. But Millwall do boast the honours as the league’s best away offence as they’ve notched at least twice in 10 of those 17 matches on their travels.
The capital club have W4-D1-L0 in their most recent five away days and with two in-form teams locking horns at the County Ground, it’s difficult to split the two sides. So instead, I’m a happier camper taking a goals approach with the stats and trends overwhelmingly in our favour.
Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score is my weapon of choice with William Hill’s 11/10 standing out from the crowd. This is a selection that’s already proven profitable in 13/17 (76%) of Swindon’s home league outings and 10/17 (59%) of Millwall’s away matches – taking those stats alone, we should be looking at odds shorter than 1/2!
Nicky Ajose and Jonathan Obika have netted 15 of their 29 goals in the 10 games since Williams’ arrival and should spearhead a Swindon side’s attack that’s failed to score on just three occasions in Wiltshire this season, keeping a solitary clean sheet.
Millwall can call upon the twin-threat of Lee Gregory and Steve Morison with the Lions firing just one blank as guests this term. Harris’ men have shutout five of their hosts but on 12 occasions the Both Teams To Score bet has banked and the same figure has rewarded Over 2.5 Goals backers.
I’ll follow the goals trail again.
Yeovil v Notts County | Saturday 15.00
Yeovil dismissed Paul Sturrock on the 1st December and gave club legend Darren Way the job of picking up the pieces. The Glovers were bottom of the Football League and facing a third successive relegation.
But credit to the club; despite only taking a point from his first four fixtures in the Huish Park hot-seat, Yeovil have flourished under Way’s tutelage and continue to climb the League Two table.
From two points adrift of safety, the Greens have jumped nine points clear of the drop zone thanks to a superb run of results (W6-D6-L3). The Somerset side are picking up 1.60 points-per-game on average and in a league table based on 2016 alone, Yeovil would be level second with Accrington on 21 points, only behind runaway leaders Northampton (29).
Only 3% of an online poll at the local Western Gazette rag voted for Way to be given the full-time job but the ex-midfielder has won over the supporters thanks to his meticulous preparation, professionalism and positivity.
Anyhow, Yeovil prepare to welcome Notts County this weekend, aiming to enhance their 2016 record (W6-D3-L2) with another composed performance. The Glovers have kept their sheets clean in each of their last four league games and should relish the prospect of a visiting Magpies side that’s failed to net in each of their last three.
Since December, County have W4-D3-L8 and on the road since relegation they’ve W4-D4-L9 – two very bleak returns.
Jamie Fullarton’s group struggled to create many clear-cut chances against Bristol Rovers last week despite controlling possession for large spells and naming a two-man strikeforce. Notts’ last two fixtures have seen them lose the shots-on-target count 6-22 to rock-bottom Dagenham and Bristol Rovers.
The inflated squad at Meadow Lane only appears to be swelling with new arrivals and fringe players failing to find new homes elsewhere. What started as a season of hope, expectation and ambition has crumbled into gloom, despair and anger amongst loyal supporters.
So with all the above, I’m still kinda staggered the bookies have little faith in Yeovil here. Their performance data, results and displays have all improved greatly under Way’s leadership and the home side look massively underrated at 20/23 (BetVictor) to pile more misery on the Notts County circus in the Draw No Bet market.
Barnsley v Southend – Barnsley to win (37/40 BetVictor)
Swindon v Millwall – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (11/10 William Hill)
Yeovil v Notts County – Yeovil draw no bet (20/23 BetVictor)
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