FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's 3pm kick-offs in League One and League Two.
Portsmouth v Shrewsbury | Saturday 8th September 2018, 15:00
Nearly 19,000 people piled into Fratton Park last Saturday to see Portsmouth run out cushy 3-0 winners over Plymouth to extend their excellent unbeaten start (W5-D1-L0) to the new League One season.
Kenny Jackett’s side – put up in our ante-post column for a title challenge – have performed with aplomb thus far, particularly in offensive areas. Ronan Curtis and Jamal Lowe were again unplayable as Pompey made light work of Argyle’s defensive resistance.
Curtis is away on international duty this weekend but with Andre Green and David Wheeler waiting in the wings, the Hampshire outfit can hardly complain about a lack of options. The hosts aren’t shy of invention either, with only Barnsley, Fleetwood and Gillingham generating a larger xG from open play average.
Portsmouth made 10 changes for their midweek EFL Trophy tussle with Gillingham and the reserves proved they’re equally adept at stepping up to the plate, putting the Kent club to the sword with a 4-0 victory. And so I’m happy to again invest my faith in a home win at appetising odds of 21/20 (Unibet).
At Fratton Park, the Blues have six shots on-target this term and with Pompey having won 15/26 (58%) of their League One outings here under Jackett’s watch, they make plenty of appeal against a Shrewsbury side struggling for confidence in front of goal.
Salop are winless since Paul Hurst moved on in the summer and the majority of their leading lights left for pastures new. John Askey has overseen a series of competent displays but Town remain winless and were frustrated to be held to a 1-1 draw by 10-man Bristol Rovers last time out.
The visitors have been unable to turn positive approach play into three-pointers despite not facing a side currently operating in the top-six. Askey has bemoaned his team’s lack of cutting edge and such profligacy could be made to pay when they travel to a Pompey side well versed in keeping opposition outfits quiet.
Town have have netted just the four goals in six league games, including a penalty, Lee Angol’s bizarre goal at Luton and an own goal. Angol has been starved of service when starting alone so the returning Aaron Amadi-Holloway could be asked to form a two-man strike pairing as Askey rolls the dice.
Forest Green v Port Vale | Saturday 8th September 2018, 15:00
Unbeaten Forest Green Rovers are flying a little under the radar in League Two having shared the spoils in four of their opening six encounters. But the Gloucestershire minnows are well capable of collecting a third league victory of the campaign on Saturday when Port Vale pitch up in Nailsworth.
The Green Devils have been playing teams off the park in their opening six outings returning a league-high 73% xG from open play ratio. However, the hosts have been let down by poor finishing and a few dubious refereeing decisions.
Three of Rovers’ five goals against in 2018/19 have arrived via penalties. Mark Cooper’s men appear to have solved their defensive concerns from last season by limiting their opponents to a measly 0.40 xG from open play per-game and should they continue at their current rate, a promotion challenge beckons.
Last week FGR lost long-term top scorer Christian Doidge but the side shrugged off the sale by completing a comprehensive 3-1 win over 10-man Notts County at Meadow Lane. And in midweek, Cooper made seven changes but oversaw an outstanding 4-0 success over rivals Cheltenham in the EFL Trophy.
The squad is strong enough to handle the departure of Doidge with Cooper tinkering with his team’s system, moving towards a 3-5-1-1 formation with Carl Winchester supporting Reuben Reid. There’s certainly no lack of offensive threat there and Rovers should be backed to enhance their excellent home record.
Over their past 19 fixtures at The New Lawn, Forest Green have bagged W9-D4-L6 on League Two duty and the 21/20 offering to make that 10 triumphs from 20 shouldn’t be sniffed at with Port Vale winless on their travels since December 2017.
The Valiants have been beaten in 10/20 (50%) away days under Neil Aspin’s tutorship with nine reverses arriving in their most recent 15 road trips. The visitors head to Rovers on the back of three successive League Two losses, as well as a pointless return across their three games as guests thus far.
Vale have scored only two goals from open play in 2018/19 despite boasting the relative riches of Tom Pope and Ricky Miller in attack. Eight clubs are averaging a lower xG from open play average, although Aspin’s troops have been giving up far too many opportunities to keep opponents out.
Only Grimsby and Crewe have faced more attempts at goal, while only Cheltenham are conceding a larger xG from open play figure at this early stage. The absence of Manny Oyeleke in midfield is proving problematic and with Cristian Montano possibly absent, Vale will be forced into a reshuffle at full-back.
Northampton v Cheltenham | Saturday 8th September 2018, 15:00
Cheltenham are reeling and this midweek could prove pivotal in their quest to preserve their Football League status.
The Robins were sliced and diced by their near neighbours Forest Green in midweek EFL Trophy action. The 4-0 thrashing was their sixth loss in nine outings across all competitions and was as humiliating a defeat as Town have suffered in recent memory.
Gloucestershire’s premier club are rapidly losing their mantle as county chiefs and the club appear rudderless despite Andy Cox arriving as chairman way back in mid-May to take over from long-term leader Paul Baker.
Manager Gary Johnson was disposed of five games into the season with caretaker boss Russell Milton picking up the pieces. The club interviewed six candidates for the vacant position on Wednesday and their next appointment has to be spot on if Cheltenham are to avoid sliding out of the EFL.
The Robins have fallen behind after some bizarre summer recruitment decisions, the faith shown in Johnson and the subsequent flux that’s been left following his departure. Of course, the sale of top goalscorer Mo Eisa hasn’t helped, particularly without an obvious replacement sought, leaving the club desperately short in the final third.
Town have been comprehensively outplayed in nearly all of their matches. Only some fine goalkeeping from Scott Flinders along with an admirably dogged defensive display at Cambridge have prevented an even worse start in terms of points and goals conceded.
Viewing the xG numbers makes for particularly awkward reading and across all the major shot metrics, Cheltenham are performing under a 42% ratio figure – that’s far from ideal considering the average current position of their opponents has been 14th.
In their current climes, I’m more than happy to oppose the guests with Northampton holding plenty of appeal at 4/5 (Ladbrokes) quotes.
The Cobblers boast a strong squad, and although they’ve made a mediocre start in terms of results (W1-D3-L2) since relegation, there’s evidence to suggest the hosts aren’t far away from clicking.
Dean Austin’s outfit have fired in 33 on-target efforts thus far – second only to Mansfield (36) – and no fourth-tier team have attempted more (63) shots from inside the opposition penalty box. Likewise, no League Two club are returning a better xG from open play figure (1.33) from their first six fixtures.
Defensively too, the Cobblers are better than what we’ve seen already. Three of their eight goals conceded have come via shots from outside the box, suggesting the hosts have been a touch unfortunate in the opening stanza of the season.
Northampton were beaten 1-0 by Wycombe in the EFL Trophy in midweek with Austin opting to field an entirely different starting XI. The performance was poor but last weekend’s effort against Tranmere (1-1), particularly in the second-half, showed enough promise to suggest victory form isn’t far away.