MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Bank Holiday Monday’s three televised fixtures from the Football League.
Walsall v Fleetwood | Bank Holiday Monday 12.15 | Sky Sports 1
Walsall’s impressive and unexpected promotion push has seen the Saddlers sit in the top-two places of League One until early February but their inconsistent 2016 form has threatened to derail their challenge.
The Midlanders are in third now and still harbour ambitions of an automatic promotion place but they’ll need maximum points from their final two fixtures and a few goals too to overhaul Burton’s superior goal difference.
In 2016 alone, Walsall have W8-D6-L7 and this mixed bag of results was evident in the past week alone as the Saddlers were hammered 4-0 at Bradford last Saturday before bouncing back with a 2-1 triumph against Shrewsbury on Tuesday night.
Manager Jon Whitney came out fighting against the critics in midweek following their commanding display in a 4-1-4-1 formation against Salop. Adam Chambers was asked to protect the back four with the likes of top-scorer Tom Bradshaw and creative forces Romaine Sawyers and Milan Lalkovic given freedom to attack.
The hosts play a high-tempo passing game and look most threatening when passing and moving at pace and so with minds and bodies focussed on the final furlong, I’m confident Walsall can show their teeth here and pick up a valuable three points.
The Saddlers haven’t always convinced when welcoming bottom-half teams (W5-D4-L2) but they’ve enough class to put a poor travelling Fleetwood side to the sword despite their tally of just two clean sheets in 11.
The relegation-threatened visitors are just two points off the relegation zone and the Cod Army are a better side than their league position suggests. No side should be fighting relegation at this advanced stage when posting shots-on-target ratio figures of 54.14% – the seventh best record in the third tier.
Fleetwood are dogged but their lack of goals and away wins have really hampered their progress. Steve Pressley's side have fired blanks in five of their last nine and recorded five goalless draws this calendar year alone.
On their travels, Town have W2-D7-L7 under the Scot and since promotion to League One it’s a similar tale of away woe with an uninspiring W12-D10-L23 record – that’s a loss-rate of 51%. When guests at top-six teams, Fleet have lost nine of their most recent 11.
If you like your head-to-head stats, Walsall have won the last five between the two teams ‘to nil’ with each of their three Football League contests ending in a 1-0 correct score. Indeed, the last six meetings have failed to feature more than three goals and neither have eight of Fleetwood’s last nine league games.
The trends are suggesting a low-scoring encounter but with both sides desperate for maximum points and a favouring towards a home success, I’m going to play the Correct Score Group market with SkyBet and back Walsall to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 at 15/8 – 10 of Fleetwood’s 12 away losses have come under this bracket, as have nine of Walsall’s 10 home wins.
Brighton v Derby | Bank Holiday Monday 14.30 | Sky Sports 1
As a holder of a Brighton ante-post promotion ticket, I’ve tried to remain calm and collected throughout the campaign, knowing it’s a 46-match marathon and the Seagulls were never really supposed to be competing at the top end of the table.
Now, just two games until the season concludes, Albion are in control of their destiny. Collect four points against Derby and Middlesbrough over the next week and they’ll be playing Premier League football in 2016/17 – what a fantastic achievement that would be for Chris Hughton.
The Seasiders have hit the final lap at pace, too. A fabulous W13-D4-L1 since their December-January slump has put Brighton back on track and the hosts are currently boasting a 12-match unbeaten streak (W9-D3-L0) that includes five successive wins.
In fact, the hosts have notched at least twice in their last seven league games – a record last achieved way back in 1964. And the goals really have been flowing; Hughton’s troops have notched 12 in their last three on the south-coast (admittedly against hapless London trio Charlton, Fulham and QPR) but they also netted eight times in the previous four games, including braces against Birmingham and Burnley.
At the AMEX, the Seasiders have W15-D4-L3 with only Hull scoring more often as hosts and five of their last six visitors have been shutout. But can we really justify backing Brighton at 7/10 quotes here against Derby?
The Match Odds have that horrible end-of-season whiff where the side that ‘need' the win are too short. At those odds, I just can’t give the Seagulls my support here and so we’ll have to look elsewhere.
Derby look all set to face Hull in the play-off semi-finals. A win here would take County level on points with the Tigers going into the final game of the season, while Sheffield Wednesday are now just three points behind.
The Rams won't want to drop down to sixth spot and face the third-placed team over two legs, while the chance to finish in fourth place, which would mean a second leg in front of their fans, should in theory ensure they are fully committed.
Darren Wassall's spoken about the importance of maintaining a positive vibe around the club following their recent W4-D1-L0 return – including back-to-back away wins – but as we saw with Hull at the weekend, keeping players fresh and focussed may take priority.
Despite Derby’s obvious progress over the past six weeks – the visitors have scored in each of their last eight – they remain a little untrustworthy when taking to the road. A W1-D1-L2 return at the top-six plus their record of shipping at least two goals in eight of their last 11 games as guests is hazardous here.
The pair have strong recent trends to suggest this could be a low-scoring encounter – seven of Brighton’s previous 10 at home to top-six teams and six of Derby’s eight at the same standard have fallen below the 2.5 threshold but I’m going to overrule and support a goal-heavy game.
Brighton’s last seven have featured at least three goals, as well as seven of their previous nine at the AMEX. Simply backing Over 2.5 Goals makes plenty of appeal at 20/21 (Matchbook) but I’ll be greedy and chuck a Brighton win into the equation and take the 8/5 from Betfair instead.
Burnley v QPR | Bank Holiday Monday 16.45 | Sky Sports 1
Burnley could be promoted back to the Premier League on Bank Holiday Monday if they win and Brighton don’t but as we’ve seen above, the first part of that equation may not come to fruition.
As mentioned above, silly season has well and truly arrived in the Football League with the Clarets chalked up at ridiculously skinny 4/11 odds – a price that is heavily influenced by the likelihood of Burnley’s greater desire.
Of course, it’s hard to scoff at that suggestion but it looks to me like bookmakers have gone a little too far with the Match Odds despite a home triumph looking the most obvious outcome.
Sean Dyche's side are unbeaten in 21 games (W14-D7-L0) – the joint-longest such run in the Championship this season but in recent weeks the results have started to be ground out – a last-minute equaliser at home to Middlesbrough in the huge midweek clash at Turf Moor was followed by last Friday's hard-fought 1-0 win in front of the cameras at Lancashire rivals Preston.
At Turf Moor, the Clarets are smooth operators – collecting 48 points from their 22 fixtures – and have W9-D1-L2 when welcoming teams from 10th and below in the Championship standings.
Andre Gray is the obvious threat. No second-tier play has been involved in as many goals as he (24 goals, eight assists) and Burnley’s record signing has struck 14 goals in 19 appearances at Turf Moor this season.
As for Rangers, we’re ambling towards the end of the season with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink testing, rotating and trying out new ideas with the R’s safely in mid-table after a particularly inconsistent campaign.
It’s just one success in seven – a last-minute winner at home to now relegated Charlton – whilst road form (as always) has been a let down and Rangers are winless in eight games as guests (W0-D6-L2). QPR’s last away outing ended in a humbling 4-0 shellacking at Brighton.
To be fair, that result was out of kilter with the results and performances under JFH but even so, it’s hard to ignore the fact the R’s have won just four times on their travels – only relegated Bolton and MK Dons have been less successful.
Goals have certainly been an issue too. Rangers have failed to net in nine of their 22 away days and only five teams in the league have managed less than QPR's 17 goals on their travels. Gosh, that’s ugly.
The visitors have W0-D3-L6 at top-nine teams and W1-D5-L5 against the current top-six when playing home or away and so with the above four paragraphs also engrained into our thinking, the case against the Hoops is quite strong, eh?
Burnley have won eight of their last 10 when hosting QPR but with those home odds still too short to interest, I’m going to include Under 2.5 Goals for a 23/10 shot from Sportingbet here.
The Under 2.5 Goals bet has banked in four of Burnley’s last five, as well as each of their most recent eight at Turf Moor. In fact, those eight outings have accumulated just 10 goals in total whilst eight of those aforementioned 10 head-to-heads with Rangers have also fallen below the goals line.
Prior to the 4-0 tanking at Brighton, QPR had seen their previous seven away days feature fewer than three goals, as well as 16/22 (73%) overall since relegation. The R’s have been level at the interval in 13 of their last 17 games as guests and could play their part in a low-scoring home success.
Walsall v Fleetwood – Walsall to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 (15/8)
Brighton v Derby – Brighton to win and Over 2.5 Goals (8/5 Betfair)
Burnley v QPR – Burnley to win and Under 2.5 Goals (23/10 Sportingbet)