FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) has nailed 16 winners from 22 EFL selections in 2018. Here he shares his favourite fancies from Saturday's coupon.
Oxford v Plymouth | Saturday 17th February 2018, 15:00
The best-kept Football League secret is out of the bag. Plymouth’s incredible exploits have made headlines in the past week as Argyle have continued their remarkable ascent up the League One ladder.
As if you needed reminding, Derek Adams’ newly-promoted outfit sat rock-bottom as recently as December following a rotten start (W1-D2-L9). But the Greens have shot up to eighth after a stunning run of results (W12-D6-L3) that began way back in mid-October.
The Home Park club scored only eight goals in their opening 12 outings but have since averaged 2.00 goals per-game during a 13-match spell since December, never failing to score in that sample. We’ve covered the team extensively in this parish over recent weeks but it’s hard not to drool over their recent displays.
This weekend they travel to Oxford aiming to avenge a 4-0 thrashing by the U’s in Devon in mid-November. Following that chastening reverse, Argyle were 12 points and 16 places below United – three months later, the Greens are six points ahead of Saturday’s opponents with their sights set on the play-offs.
Having recorded four successive victories, put four goals past Wimbledon in midweek and with no new injury concerns, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Pilgrims can continue their rapid rise. And with the visitors looking up, I’m happy to back them in 188BET’s unique Double Chance and Over 1.5 Goals market at 20/21.
If Argyle are looking up, goodness knows what the powers that be are thinking in Oxfordshire. The U’s are still searching for a new manager, a situation that’s hardly going to help caretaker boss Derek Fazackerley arrest an alarming drop-off in performance levels and results.
Sure, United secured a memorable come-from-behind stoppage-time success at Charlton a fortnight ago but that’s been Oxford’s only ray of sunshine in five League One fixtures. Six defeats in 10 have seen the Yellows slide nine points off the top-six and a promising campaign is slipping out of reach.
Defensively, the hosts struggled throughout the campaign. Although seven clean sheets in 30 suggests they’re capable of keeping out their divisional rivals, only two teams have shipped more than their 50-goal tally. The U’s have leaked 23 during their most recent 10, including at least twice in each of their last five.
Jonathan Obika, Mike Williamson, Rob Hall and Cameron Brannagan all returned to full training this week to provide Fazackerley a welcome boost but buoyant Plymouth should have enough to secure at least a point at the Kassam on Saturday.
Scunthorpe v Northampton | Saturday 17th February 2018, 15:00
Scunthorpe have hit a sticky patch since New Year’s Day, bagging a solitary success in seven outings (W1-D3-L3). The Iron’s drop-off has all but ended their automatic promotion hopes and now the aim is to secure a top-six finish.
The club made the conscious decision to reduce the wage bill during the January transfer window seeing strikers Paddy Madden, Simon Church and Kevin van Veen all depart Glanford Park. Van Veen left for Northampton so will have an opportunity to impress against his ex colleagues should he overcome a dead leg.
Despite seeing a clutch of quality third-tier forwards leave, Scunny have continued to impress in the final third. The likes of Ivan Toney, Lee Novak and Duane Holmes are all in fine form and the Iron have now managed to net in each of their last 12 outings.
The hosts are also a competitive beast when taking on the lesser lights of League One. Despite arguably deserving more than a point in their midweek 2-2 draw with Peterborough – twice seeing their lead cancelled out – Graham Alexander’s outfit have tasted defeat just three times out of 27 matches against opponents below them in the league standings.
However, the normally robust Scunny have come up short defensively in recent weeks. The Iron have shipped at least two goals in five of their last six fixtures and eight of their previous 12 league outings. That’s led to 11 encounters featuring Both Teams To Score winners and nine producing Over 2.5 Goals.
A BTTS repeat has been chalked up at 10/11 (Paddy Power) and that’s a price too good to turn down. Northampton have provided profit in the same market in six of their most recent seven matches, as well as eight of their last 10 games as guests.
The visitors had secured four wins from six before a disappointing defeat to Gillingham at Sixfields in midweek, leaving Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's side only a place and two points above the relegation zone. The Cobblers will also be without the suspended Hildeberto Pereira whilst Aaron Pierre and Aaron Phillips remain sidelined.
Having triumphed on only four occasions on their travels, victory this weekend isn’t expected although Town do boast the artillery to cause a few concerns to their hosts. Ex-Iron star Matt Grimes will partner danger man, John Joe-O’Toole in a formidable midfield partnership.
O’Toole has been the club’s best player this season and the statistics back that up. The visitors have only managed two victories all season when he has been missing from the side (W2-D7-L15) but the Cobblers have W8-D3-L4 in 15 matches with their talisman starting – a 53% win ratio.
Since the break for the FA Cup 1st Round, these two clubs have collectively seen Both Teams To Score bets bank in 21/26 (81%) of their League One games and I’m happy to support a repeat at attractive pre-match odds.
Swindon v Port Vale | Saturday 17th February 2018, 15:00
Swindon will be aiming to secure a fifth successive home success at the County Ground for the first time since March 2012 when they entertain Port Vale this weekend and the Robins appear excellent value to do so at 27/25 (Marathon).
A tough recent schedule saw David Flitcroft’s men face four successive fixtures against sides currently occupying top-seven berths, including Tuesday night’s trip to Wycombe. The Wiltshire club struggled to cope with the physical threat of Chairboys striker Adebayo Akinfenwa and went down 3-2 at Adams Park.
That’s an obvious concern for Swindon backers on Saturday with the Robins coming up against a Port Vale side spearhead by 16-goal forward Tom Pope but Flitcroft is confident his charges will be good enough to match their direct visitors and put their promotion push back on track.
Captain Olly Lancashire is set to receive an injection in order to play and although fellow central defender Matt Preston is almost certainly out, there’s still plenty of promise to support a punt on Swindon here.
Only four League Two teams boast a better shots on-target ratio return whilst Town’s goalscoring threat has seen them fire blanks on only five occasions all season.
Port Vale pitch up following a shambolic, error-ridden reverse at Cheltenham last weekend. The Valiants were thrashed 5-1 and weren’t given the chance to recover in midweek with their match at Exeter postponed due to the adverse weather conditions.
Boss Neil Aspin says his players have to show some bottle to get the club out of relegation trouble – they remain only seven points clear of the drop zone – and may make a number of changes to his XI following last weekend’s horror show, their fourth defeat in seven winless games this calendar year.
Anthony Kay begins a two-match suspension and full-backs Kjell Knopps and Adam Yates are still sidelined whilst the visitors’ road record is far from encouraging. Vale have lost nine of their past 15 on their travels, including each of their most recent four.
Nine of Port Vale’s 10 tussles with top-seven sides have ended in defeat this term and with only Forest Green firing in fewer on-target attempts, it’s difficult to see the Valiants returning to Burslem with anything other than a whimper.
Oxford v Plymouth – Plymouth double chance and Over 1.5 Goals (20/21 188BET)
Scunthorpe v Northampton – Both Teams To Score (10/11 Paddy Power)
Swindon v Port Vale – Swindon to win (27/25 Marathon)