FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Tuesday night's card.
Ipswich v Derby | Tuesday 19:45
Be careful what you wish for Ipswich Town fans.
The growing discontent, dissatisfaction and negativity surrounding Mick McCarthy’s management of the club could easily come back to bite.
The perception broadcast from Portman Road suggests Ipswich are a directionless outfit doomed in a battle against the drop. The reality is, Town are an equidistant 10 points between the Championship play-off places and the bottom-three.
McCarthy’s worked minor miracles to keep the Tractor Boys competitive on a shoestring budget since arriving in Suffolk and whilst the style of play can be attritional at times, the very fact Ipswich have always concluded the campaign nearer the top-six than bottom-six has to be applauded.
Perhaps the club’s malaise in the second-tier – 2017/18 would be Ipswich’s 15th season at this level – has finally started to grate but us punters shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Town are a lost cause this term. Far from it.
Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Preston was another tick in the box for all the basic ingredients McCarthy demands from his troops – organisation, hard work and character. These players believe in the Yorkshireman’s methods, values and ideas and more often than not, Ipswich benefit.
Tuesday night represents the beginning of a tough run of fixtures for Town as they take on Derby – the first of six games against teams above them in the standings – but I’m confident the Blues can hold their own in such situations.
Five players have arrived for pennies as McCarthy looks to flesh out his squad for the final six months; Toumani Diagouraga is arguably the most important addition and his role alongside Cole Skuse in central midfield will provide a rock-solid platform for Ipswich to play from.
Jordan Spence has already impressed at right-back whilst veteran Steven Taylor, Kieffer Moore and Danny Rowe will all have parts to play in the coming weeks. With Brett Pitman back fit and available plus Tommy Smith, David McGoldrick and Teddy Bishop all returning to full training, McCarthy has options again.
Town were excellent in their past two Portman Road fixtures against struggling Bristol City and Blackburn and should hold no fear about taking on a Derby side that’s flattered to deceive on their travels since December.
Steve McClaren’s men have W2-D1-L2 in their past five Championship away trips – the victories came by the same 1-0 scoreline at bottom-half teams QPR and Wigan with a 2-2 draw earned at Fulham alongside defeats ‘to nil’ at Norwich and Leeds.
On the face of it, such results probably seem about par for County. However, delve a little deeper and the data suggests Derby were far from convincing in those five games, losing the aggregate shot count 32-95, the shots on-target return 10-33 and the shots in the box tally 21-46.
Derby’s expected goals for figure across those fixtures was 0.79 per-game – their expected goals against figure across the same sample stands at 1.53 per-game. Unimpressive, huh?
On Tuesday, McClaren’s men will be missing key midfielder Will Hughes, as well as David Nugent. And having fielded arguably the strongest starting XI currently available to him against Leicester on Friday, the Derby boss will need to consider changes as County prepare for their first of four matches in 12 days.
Ipswich have been beaten only three times at Portman Road this season (W6-D5-L3) and boast a W2-D2-L1 record when welcoming top-10 teams. With Derby claiming only five away triumphs and recording W1-D2-L4 at clubs in 14th and above, I’m happy to oppose the visitors.
Town can be backed with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at 13/16 (188BET – a selection that will see us make money should the hosts avoid defeat.
Luton v Cheltenham | Tuesday 19:45
Victory for Luton on Tuesday night would lift the Hatters to within one point of third placed Carlisle in the battle for automatic promotion from League Two.
Nathan Jones’ troops turned down the chance to have today off in order to prepare for the contest at Cheltenham having seen off in-form Cambridge 2-0 at Kenilworth Road on Saturday.
Isaac Vassell’s fourth goal of the season gave Luton the lead before the Hatters were forced to weather a concerted spell of pressure in the second-half. However, Jordan Cook’s late penalty sealed a hard-earned success.
Jones was pleased as his team recorded only their second shutout as hosts in League Two action this season despite missing suspended centre-half Johnny Mullins, plus Danny Hylton and Cameron McGeehan – the pair responsible for 21 of the club’s 39 league goals.
All three will again be absent on Tuesday night and with Glen Rea stepping into Mullins’ void at the back again, I’m keen to jump on the 19/20 (William Hill) available for Both Teams To Score.
Visitors Cheltenham owed goalkeeper Scott Brown a pint or three after his match-saving performance delivered the Robins a point in their 0-0 draw with fellow strugglers Crewe on Saturday.
Gary Johnson’s men landed a sole effort on-target as the switch from a promising 3-5-2 formation to 4-4-2 failed to function. Strikers Danny Wright and Diego De Girolamo were short of service with Billy Waters and Carl Winchester ineffectual from wide midfield areas.
Expect Cheltenham to revert back to the wing-back system for the trip to Bedfordshire and a fully fit squad should give Johnson plenty of options to find a formula capable of hurting the Hatters.
The Robins chief has worked hard in January to remodel his squad against immediate relegation and in recent weeks Cheltenham’s new-look side have appeared leaner, meaner, fitter and more mobile in a string of encouraging performances against Leicester U23s, Accrington, Bradford and Plymouth.
The guests have scored in all bar six of their away days this term with 9/16 (56%) of those encounters paying out for BTTS backers.
Considering Luton have followed suit in 10/13 (77%) of Kenilworth Road outings and the Hatters keeping only 5/24 (21%) clean sheets under Jones, I fancy Cheltenham’s chances of getting on the scoresheet and causing the hosts a few headaches here.
Ipswich v Derby – Ipswich +0.25 Asian Handicap (13/16 188BET)
Luton v Cheltenham – Both Teams To Score (19/20 William Hill)