FLEETWOOD and Walsall kick-off the weekend’s domestic action on Saturday and EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his best bets.
Fleetwood v Walsall | Saturday 17th November 2018, 12:30 | Sky Sports
If this match was played in early September, when these teams sat proudly inside League One’s embryonic top six, it would have been billed as a clash of potential dark horses.
Both however, have won just three of their last 11 league matches, a run which lends their seasons some context.
After Fleetwood and Walsall were embroiled in relegation trouble last season, a year of stabilisation remains the primary target.
The Saddlers need to merely avoid defeat on the Fylde coast to amass half of last season’s tally in just their 18th game, while the Cod Army can stay well on track for a top half finish with a victory.
Fleetwood’s average Expected Goals For (xGF) record reads 1.13 per-game in League One, whereas they are averaging 1.41 actual goals per-game.
This would suggest, firstly, that they have players who can be productive in the final third; namely Paddy Madden and Ashley Hunter.
Just behind him is Ashley Hunter, who has been Fleetwood’s main creative spark over the last two years.
Hunter has already managed double-figures in terms of assists and has earned lavish praise from manager Joey Barton.
On the other hand, they are as short as evens with some bookmakers to win this match: do they control games reliably enough to justify those quotes? Possibly not.
Jason Holt, on loan from Rangers, has linked play well in sporadic patches but is perhaps yet to find consistency
Utility man Nathan Sheron, who has benefited from three loan spells in non-league produced a promising FA Cup performance at Alfreton last week but, with just six EFL starts to his name, is at an early stage of his development.
While Dean Marney still working his way back from injury, James Wallace has only started back-to-back games once for various reasons and while Ryan Taylor can bring Premier League knowhow, his versatility stops him from nailing down a central spot.
With uncertainty in that area and question marks over the defence not helped by the 3-0 loss at Gillingham in their previous league outing, this is not yet a team that has proved dependable.
Should they be available to back at a price shorter than the one Arsenal are to win at Bournemouth?
Walsall boosted by cup triumph
Walsall’s run of four league defeats in five had dampened the mood around the Black Country club, with question marks over performances.
The 3-2 FA Cup victory over Coventry however, represents a timely boost.
The Saddlers looked more like the dogged, aggressive, fast-paced side we saw in the early weeks of the campaign.
Zeli Ismail appeared rejuvenated on the wing, Liam Kinsella got fans onside due to his local roots as well as his ability next to George Dobson, who remains one of the most complete young midfielders in League One.
Fearless target man Andy Cook scored in a Man of the Match display before Nicky Devlin furthered his claims to start regularly at right-back by scoring a special winner.
Fitzwater to return?
Jack Fitzwater, who Dean Keates said trained well prior to the Coventry game, could be in with a chance of returning to the starting line-up, after managing 90 minutes against Port Vale in the midweek EFL Trophy clash.
The West Brom loanee unquestionably improves the Saddlers. Jon Guthrie, a no-nonsense centre-back who loves to attack the ball, is at his best when he is partnered by a more composed defender like Fitzwater, who holds his position well and uses the ball intelligently.
Russ Martin, although a very strong character, unfortunately seems past his best and is, perhaps, too similar in style to Guthrie for them to work as a duo.
Fitzwater’s return to league action would, therefore, be a massive boost.
The betting angles
Walsall have won avoided defeat in nine of their 11 games against teams below them in the table; that’s 82% of those encounters.
The odds on them avoiding defeat at Highbury are as big as 5/6 with Bet365, quotes which imply a probability of only 55%.
The distortion of 27% is partly based on the fact Walsall are playing this match away.
However, the Saddlers’ points return improves by 43% on the road and while Fleetwood are slightly more productive on familiar soil, they have also conceded five more goals there than they have away.
In fact, in five of their eight home league games under Barton, they have allowed an opposing centre-forward to score.
Given that Cook, who has bagged three in his last four in all forms, is almost certain to start up top, he might appeal in the anytime goalscorer market at 12/5 with Betway.