MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his best bets from the Easter Monday card from the Football League.
Port Vale v Barnsley | Easter Monday 15.00
A quick turnaround on the Football League scene over Easter so with family commitments getting in the way, I’ll have to keep thoughts brief this weekend.
Port Vale were stunned 4-0 by Burton in their last outing in Burslem but that scoreline didn’t reflect the 90 minutes at Vale Park with the table-toppers scoring four goals from just five shots-on-target.
It was the first defeat in 15 as hosts for Rob Page’s men and only second in 19 in front of their home supporters this season (W10-D7-L2). Nevertheless, the Valiants dusted themselves down to pick up a deserved point (1-1) at a rejuvenated Shrewsbury on Good Friday.
Vale fans may still harbour outside hopes of a top-six push but sitting in 10th and five points adrift of an in-form Bradford, the likelihood of the Burslem boys piercing those play-off positions appears slim. However, they’ll fancy their chances against Barnsley here.
Alongside that rock-solid record at Vale Park, Page’s troops are unbeaten at home to the Tykes since 1996. And the Yorkshire visitors make the journey with a number of first-choice players absent through injury and international call-ups.
Top goal-getter Sam Winnall is joined on the sidelines by fellow forward Marley Watkins whilst striker Ashley Fletcher, winger Lloyd Isgrove and right-back Callum Connolly are all away on national team duty.
Barnsley have been one of the division’s standout sides since December (W13-D2-L3) and in 2016 alone, Paul Heckingbottom’s charges have claimed six victories on their travels, leaking only four goals in eight games.
The Tykes have shutout nine of their last 14 opponents, including Scunthorpe during Good Friday’s uneventful 0-0 draw, but that solid backline may well meet its match here. Barnsley didn’t manage a shot for the first 70 minutes against Scunny and with a Johnstone's Paint Trophy final on Sunday, could minds be elsewhere?
For all the positivity surrounding Port Vale in this piece, I’m not totally convinced Page’s men possess the nous in their 4-4-1-1 formation to open Barnsley up. So with 13/19 (68%) of Vale Park matches featuring fewer than three goals, including 12 of the most recent 15, I’m happiest opposing goals.
Barnsley are short of options in attack and in the eight matches that Watkins has missed, the Tykes have failed to score on four occasions. It’s also worth noting that, in the 18 matches that Isgrove has been absent, the visitors have scored just 21 goals. Tie that alongside their new watertight defence and Under 2.5 Goals looks a solid option at 13/15 (Marathon).
The 13/15 fractional odds at 1.87 in decimals so when comparing it to the 1.67 (4/6) on offer at some firms elsewhere, we’ve real value on our side here.
Mansfield v Northampton | Easter Monday 15.00
No major science or explanation required here, eh? Northampton at 11/8 (Bet365) is a bet.
The Cobblers looked jaded and weary on Good Friday when seeing off Newport 1-0 at Sixfields – understandably so given the emotions and effort that has been invested into this season – but they managed to grind out three more valuable points.
Bullish boss Chris Wilder claimed he was ‘not bothered’ by Town’s performance because his side ‘will be playing League One football next year’. And the Northampton manager will be freshening things up here with plenty of options to do so.
Marc Richards, Nicky Adams, Sam Hoskins and Rod McDonald are all pushing for a start, while Danny Rose is likely to come in for Joel Byrom who picked up a knock in Friday’s win over Newport.
The Cobblers need just eight points from their remaining eight games to win promotion – they picked up 21 points from the revere eight matches this season – and only nine points to secure the League Two title, so there’s plenty still to play for.
Avoid defeat at Mansfield and Northampton will make it 13 away league games unbeaten – equalling the club’s all-time record – and it will also be the 17th game unbeaten in all, four short of another record.
You have to go back to 1986/87 when the Cobblers won the old Division 4 for the last season in which they won as many as their current tally of 26 league games and the visitors have only conceded more than a solitary goal once in their past 16, keeping eight clean sheets.
The Good Friday success made it W20-D4-L1 from their past 25 League Two encounters so it’s incredible hard to dismiss the 11/8 quotes as they come up against a free-falling Mansfield side who’ve gone from play-off contenders to mid-table obscurity in double quick time.
With one point collected from their last 15 available, the Stags have found themselves rapidly tumbling down the table over the past month or so, going from sixth and right in the mix for a play-off spot to 14th, eight points adrift of the top-seven.
That downturn in form reached a new low point on Good Friday when they failed to register a single shot in their 1-0 defeat to Wycombe Wanderers.
Incredibly, despite maintaining a promotion push for so long, the Stags are yet to beat a single team in the top half of the table this season. And their record against clubs in 14th and above reads W0-D9-L12 – that’s an average of just 0.43 points-per-game.
Adam Murray's men have lost four of their five games 1-0 and failed to find the back of the net in five of their most recent seven. Now isn’t really the ideal time to face the Northampton juggernaut.
Plymouth v York | Easter Monday 15.00
York manager Jackie McNamara was understandably frustrated with his side’s failure to pick up maximum points from their Good Friday game with Crawley with the Minstermen once more giving away stupidly soft goals.
The visitors scored from their only two efforts on-target, both from set-piece situations, and although the Scotsman isn’t giving up the fight, he’s right in his assessment that it was a ‘massive opportunity missed’.
Seven points from safety, you have to feel York’s survival prospects are all but over now and a return to the National Leagues is on the cards. With morale amongst supporters and playing squad at an all-time low, a long Easter Monday trip to Plymouth will hardly inspire.
York have played 10 matches against the top third and returned a W0-D0-L10 record. The fact the Minstermen have only played 10 matches in that spot shows what a tough run Monday’s visitors have on the cards with Argyle, Leyton Orient, Wycombe, Portsmouth, Accrington and Bristol Rovers still to come.
York’s away form certainly doesn’t give the visitors too many crumbs of comfort, either. McNamara’s men have W0-D3-L12 of their last 15 games as guests, are the league’s lowest away scorers (14), have failed to net in nine of their 19 on the road and shipped 37 goals.
Plymouth haven’t been at their best of late but a solid three points picked up at Morecambe on Good Friday has put the Green Army back on track. Having W10-D2-L1 when taking on teams in the bottom-third, Derek Adams’ group enjoy taking on the league’s lesser lights.
Argyle have W8-D0-L0 at Home Park against clubs in 14th and below, leaking in just three of those encounters. With another victory on the cards and the pre-match odds too short to back, chuck in Over 1.5 Goals into the equation and Betfair will offer 17/20 on the home success.
Thirteen of Plymouth’s 19 home games this season (68%) have beaten the 1.5 goals line, as have 14/19 (74%) of York’s away fixtures with the Minsterman leaking at least twice on 10 occasions.
Port Vale v Barnsley – Under 2.5 Goals (13/15 Marathon)
Mansfield v Northampton – Northampton to win (11/8 Bet365)
Plymouth v York – Plymouth to win and Over 1.5 Goals (17/20 Betfair)
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