FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) kicked-off the campaign with a full house of EFL winners. Can he follow it up this weekend?
Brentford v Nottingham Forest | Saturday 12th August 2017, 15:00
The cash has come for Brentford and it’s no major surprise. The Bees were available to back at odds-against quotes for early value hunters and although the early bird prices have been snapped up, there’s still juice in the 9/10 (BetStars).
It’s never ideal to make neither sweeping assessments nor kneejerk reactions after the first weekend of action but it must be said, Nottingham Forest were ridiculously fortunate to walk away with maximum points against Millwall in their opener.
The Tricky Trees made have monopolised possession with 68% of the ball but Mark Warburton’s men lost the shot count 21-11, the shots in the box count 18-5 and were significantly second best in the expected goals count of 0.5-3.3.
Forest struggled to cope with the capital club’s direct approach and although Brentford won’t be anywhere near as rugged as the Lions, I do fancy Dean Smith’s side to right the wrongs of their curtain-raising loss at Sheffield United.
If Forest were fortunate, Brentford were luckless. The Bees definitely deserved at least a point from their trip to Bramall Lane, reducing the Blades to just two on-target efforts and putting the newcomers under the cosh in a domineering finale in Yorkshire.
Again, xG data pointed towards Brentford being the better side and with contract rebel Harlee Dean back available, the Bees will only be stronger for Saturday’s encounter at Griffin Park. Dean may have lost the captaincy but he’s remained committed to the cause, for now.
Brentford made 10 changes in midweek for their extra-time success over AFC Wimbledon so should be fresh and ready to fire coming into this clash. Having returned a W12-D3-L6 record when welcoming bottom-half clubs under Smith, I’m more than happy to invest my faith in the straight home win.
Forest managed just one point from 12 trips to the top-half last term and although Warburton only arrived during the latter stages, the visitors suffered 16 defeats in games as guests, shipping 42 goals along the way.
Goalkeeper Jordan Smith produced a Man of the Match display against Millwall and I’d imagine he’ll be called into plenty of action again here, even if Sergi Canos fails to shake-off an injury for the hosts.
Blackburn v Doncaster | Saturday 12th August 2017, 15:00
Ante-post League One favourites Blackburn fell to a deserved 2-1 defeat at Southend last weekend but there appears to have been an overreaction to that result.
Rovers have been eased to 11/2 from 9/2 for third-tier glory and the 10/11 (William Hill) available for Tony Mowbray’s men to succeed in their Ewood Park opener just seems too big to ignore.
Blackburn rarely threatened Southend, firing in just two efforts on-target – Charlie Mulgrew’s wonderful free-kick and an Elliott Bennett strike from distance. The Lancashire outfit failed to gain control of the midfield and were far too direct, often leaving Danny Graham isolated.
With Dominic Samuel operating from a wide right role, Rovers struggled to find any width and of the two goals conceded, one arrived from a set-piece and the second saw the Blackburn miss several opportunities to clear. Mowbray was deeply dissatisfied with his team’s performance and made sure they knew.
In midweek, Blackburn made only four changes – two of which were enforced – for their tie with Coventry and Rovers produced a much more accomplished performance. Beating the Sky Blues 3-1, the Red Rose could easily have won by more having rattled in 20 efforts and dominated two-thirds of the ball.
This weekend, Bradley Dack and Darragh Lenihan look likely to be absent once more but Ben Gladwin and Craig Conway should be available and Mowbray’s spoken about his wish to add another midfielder to the rank.
So having been a little taken aback by the intensity at Roots Hall last Saturday, I’m expecting a much meaner, focused and driven display from Blackburn.
Doncaster recorded a 0-0 draw with Gillingham in their first game back at this level following promotion. Darren Ferguson said it was two points dropped post-match having seen his side do everything but score in a frustrating encounter.
Donny bossed proceedings but were still indebted to goalkeeper Ian Lawlor for one exceptional save but quite understandably, the Rovers manager was concerned about his side’s lack of a finishing touch. With Andy Williams and Alex Kiwomya missing, Doncaster are a little light up top.
The visitors were beaten in four trips to fellow top-seven sides in League Two last term and whilst they look well adept at competing at this level, I’m not sure the market is right on this one.
Blackburn should be solid favourites – not hovering around a smidgen of odds-on.
Crewe v Newport | Saturday 12th August 2017, 15:00
Crewe manager remarked that Alex had made a “half-decent start” to their 2017/18 campaign despite holding hot pre-season favourites Mansfield to a 2-2 draw at Gresty Road with a makeshift defence and midfield.
The well-educated Artell has set high standards in Cheshire so was irked by the goals the Railwaymen allowed. With Crewe creating the better chances and opening up Mansfield on three separate occasions late on, it’s easy to see why the man in the dugout wasn’t singing from the rooftops.
Alex fielded three of their four debutants in a defensive trio with Brad Walker filling in at the back. Neither George Ray nor Zoumana Bakayogo were available – they’re not back this weekend – whilst tiny Tommy Lowery and Ryan Wintle came together in an inexperienced central midfield partnership.
Last season’s soft centre hasn’t yet been completely overwritten but Crewe’s battling qualities deserve credit. In typical Steve Evans style, Mansfield were aggressive across the park and the Railwaymen withstood the barrage well.
Artell might have been dissatisfied by the result but supporters, local media and players were enthused by the team’s opener and I – like many Football League fanatics – believe Crewe could go well. Season ticket sales have increased by 10% and there’s a buoyant atmosphere around Gresty Road.
Still, they remain short at the back and a little light in midfield coming into the weekend and having made no changes in their Wednesday night cup exit to Bolton, you’d assume there might be a touch of tiredness still in the legs. There’s no doubts about the attack, mind – Chris Porter’s settled in superbly.
Newport pulled off the great escape in May and the Exiles produced another Houdini act on the opening weekend, rescuing a point in the fourth minute of stoppage-time at Stevenage having trailed 3-1 with 20 minutes to play.
Boss Michael Flynn wasn’t best pleased with the final result having seen Scott Bennett gift two goals away whilst numerous gilt-edged chances were unfinished. New signing Frank Nouble was largely poor in front of goal and County required Bristol City loanee Shawn McCoulsky’s intervention to grab a share of the spoils.
McCoulsky followed up his promising cameo by bagging two goals as Newport knocked Southend out of the League Cup – he could and should have netted a hat-trick – as Flynn switched formation and made four changes to his side for the midweek cup contest.
The Exiles boss sill wants to add to his options in midfield and attack but early signs suggest Saturday’s visitors have plenty of punch in attacking areas at their disposal. However, another away day trip is hardly ideal with the new Rodney Parade pitch still undergoing work back in Wales.
This fixture features plenty of ingredients for an open and entertaining encounter and I’m keen to get with the goals. Both Teams To Score can be backed at 13/17 (188BET) and makes particular appeal having landed in eight of 13 away days for Newport under Flynn.
Elsewhere, it’s worth noting that 18 of Crewe’s 22 outings under Artell have produced Over 2.5 Goals winners – including nine of 10 at Gresty Road – whilst Newport have followed suit with 13 of their most recent 17 games as guests.
Brentford v Nottingham Forest – Brentford to win (9/10 BetStars)
Blackburn v Doncaster – Blackburn to win (10/11 William Hill)
Crewe v Newport – Both Teams To Score (10/13 188BET)