Football League: Bielsa’s boys to march on at the MadStad

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EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his thoughts on Tuesday night's best Football League fancies.

Reading v Leeds | Tuesday 12th March 2019, 20:00 | Sky Sports

Reading have conceded 33 second half goals this season – surprisingly only Preston have shipped more after the interval – but they have put the boot on the other foot in the last two games.

A late winner from Modou Barrow gave Reading a vital 2-1 victory at Ipswich recently, then the following week, a dramatic 97th-minute Yakou Meite strike gave them a 3-2 triumph over Wigan.

It may be fair to say they rode their luck for certain periods of those games, but the results were vital in terms of not only keeping them above Rotherham, but also dragging Millwall and Wigan into the mire.

Although Jose Gomes had not had an instantly transformative impact on the Royals’ results, he is certainly winning natives over.

The style of play looks more coherent than it was under his predecessor, he has shown a willingness to engage with fans and recruitment has been smart.

Chelsea loanee Matt Miazga has already settled in seamlessly next to the more experienced Liam Moore, while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez has proved an excellent shot-stopper along with the ability to distribute well.

Martinez is likely to be busy against Leeds United, who are prime contenders for automatic promotion.

The Whites showed what they can produce when at their very, very best in a recent 4-0 win over top six competitors West Brom; Pablo Hernandez produced one of the best individual performances of the Championship season so far in an outstanding team display.

However, 10 of their last 12 victories have come by a one-goal margin, the latest being Saturday’s 1-0 win at Bristol City.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side reduced their opponents to just one shot on target, with Kalvin Phillips protecting the back-four superbly and Kiko Casilla bringing a calmness between the sticks in what now looks a consistent, coherent rear-guard.

Over the last nine games, Reading have averaged 1.08 Expected Goals For (xGR) and 1.43 Expected Goals Against (xGA) meaning an Expected Goals Ratio (xGR) of 42.94%, which puts them 19th in a sample that has Leeds performing best with an xGR of 64.23%.

While it is good to see Reading fans buy into what Gomes is doing at the Madejski Stadium, therefore – and they have given themselves a favourable chance of staying up – the shot data does not look quite strong enough to suggest they can compete with one of the best teams in the division.

Walsall v Portsmouth | Tuesday 12th March 2019, 19:45

Walsall fans were fearing the worst during a run of five consecutive defeats, with only two goals scored in that sequence, but recent results represent stabilisation.

When they went a goal down against Bradford, after key target man Andy Cook had been sent off, the players showed remarkable strength of character to win the game 3-2, with Josh ‘Flash’ Gordon proving their saviour by scoring twice.

The following week, they drew 0-0 at Burton and, thanks to an encouraging second half display, they created the better openings with the opposing goalkeeper named man-of-the-match as Luke Leahy and Matt Jarvis came close.

They then continued their resurgence with a 2-0 win over Fleetwood; Morgan Ferrier’s return to full fitness and form looks a massive plus as Dean Keates has successfully embraced a fast-paced counter-attacking system in Cook’s absence.

Hosting Portsmouth is not something that will faze the rejuvenated Saddlers, who have avoided defeat in games with each of the other three automatic promotion contenders this term – Sunderland, Luton and Barnsley.

It looks a favourable time to play Kenny Jackett’s side, too.

Yes, they beat Bradford 5-1 but that was largely down to set-piece proficiency in the first half and counter-attacking in the second.

Although Pompey deserve credit for their ruthlessness in that match, it is becoming clear that teams can take points off them if they execute the defensive basics, which is not necessarily true of a couple of the teams above them.

Jackett will be concerned by the lack of urgency his side showed in a 2-1 loss at Charlton last time out and, although Ronan Curtis came very close to getting a touch on a big chance towards the end, creativity appears to be lacking in central areas when Curtis and Jamal Lowe are nullified.

Walsall should have enough to avoid defeat for a fourth game running.

Lincoln v Oldham | Tuesday 12th March 2019, 19:45

It has been a mixed start to life in the managerial hot-seat for Paul Scholes, who has overseen one win in his first six games in charge of Oldham Athletic whilst looking to implement stylistic tweaks.

Under Frankie Bunn, Oldham were a solid outfit which almost looked more comfortable on the back-foot than the front; they kept five clean sheets from their first six away games, despite coming under a lot of pressure at places like Mansfield.

Since Scholes has taken over from caretaker Pete Wild, the Latics have scored in every game and looked in their element in the final third; they appear to like to get the ball forward quickly and then initiate combination play from there through the likes of Gevaro Nepomuceno, Jose Baxter and Callum Lang.

The new regime faces it’s toughest test yet in a trip to Lincoln City, who sit top of League Two – the Imps can do a bit of everything.

With aerially dominant centre-backs in Michael Bostwick and Jason Shackell, as well as powerful midfielder in Mark O’Hara who scored the winner in Friday’s 1-0 win over Yeovil, they are unlikely to roll over any time soon.

However, their long-held reputation as one-dimensional long ball bully boys needs to be re-assessed.

Yes, the power of striker John Akinde gives them the option to go direct but they are also good on the deck.

Tom Pett has the technical ability to play in one of the roles behind the striker or slightly deeper, while dribbler Bruno Andrade has been able to threaten on either flank, along with Danny Rowe and others.

10 of the last 12 games at Sincil Bank has seen both teams find the net and we could see another example of that here, with the hosts ultimately victorious.

Best Bets

Reading v Leeds – Leeds to win and Under 3.5 Goals (6/4 Betway)

Walsall v Portsmouth – Walsall double chance (17/20 Coral)

Lincoln v Oldham – Lincoln to win and Both Teams To Score (17/5 888Sport)

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About Author

Gabriel discovered the betting world through his passion for English football; he had a mixed start in April 2014, landing a solid treble before being let down the week after by beleaguered Torquay winning at Bristol Rovers. Although he often follows his beloved Birmingham City, he also covers other teams in the Midlands and enjoys visiting new grounds further afield now and again. Quite likes sitcom Not Going Out, too.

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