FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) has bagged six winners from his last nine EFL selections. Here's his take on Saturday's Championship card.
Barnsley v Birmingham | Saturday 4th November 2017, 15:00
Barnsley head coach Paul Heckingbottom has reaffirmed his commitment to the Tykes amid reports suggesting he is in the frame to succeed Simon Grayson as Sunderland’s manager.
Heckingbottom – Barnsley born and bred – found his name linked with the Black Cats post for the second time in five months after Grayson’s short-lived reign at the troubled north-east club came to an end on Tuesday night. But supporters of the South Yorkshire side will be delighted to hear the Reds number one turn his nose up at the vacancy on Wearside.
Heckingbottom’s star has risen after winning promotion and helping the Tykes survive in their first campaign in the Championship after just 18 months in the job. Despite losing a number of key players in the summer, he has managed to keep Barnsley competitive and his reputation is enhancing by the week.
His Tykes team are also beginning to string a consistent run of positive performances together. Tuesday night’s 4-2 triumph at Burton was hard-earned – the Reds were twice pegged back from winning positions – and have now suffered only three defeats in 10 Championship outings.
Heckingbottom’s displayed outstanding adaptability and versatility, often switching between 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 variations mid-match whilst Barnsley’s collection of eye-catching youngsters are also coming to the fore, in particular Harvey Barnes and Joe Williams.
All four of the Oakwell outfits victories this term have arrived against bottom-half opposition and Barnsley’s goalscoring ability should put the Reds in a strong position to pick up maximum points when struggling Birmingham visit on Saturday.
The visitors have made their worst start to a season on their travels since 1978/79 having picked a solitary point from a possible 21 on offer (W0-D1-L6). Considering the Blues have claimed only five triumphs in 30 away trips since the start of last season, I’m happy to oppose them here.
It’s been a case of more of the same from City since Steve Cotterill's arrived at St Andrew’s. An impressive initial 1-0 win over Cardiff has been followed by three games without a goal with Birmingham bagging a sole point against rivals Aston Villa, as well as convincing defeats against Millwall and Brentford.
Striker Isaac Vassell remains sidelined and he’ll be joined by Maxime Colin plus the injured Emilio Nsue, David Stockdale and Carl Jenkinson with Cotterill now planning major changes ahead of a third fixture in the space of six days.
The Blues have scored just five goals in their last 11 league matches and have posted shot and xG data amongst the bottom four in the division, as well as firing in the third-fewest efforts on-target.
With all things considered, Barnsley are too big to ignore at 17/20 (Marathon) in the Draw No Bet market.
Ipswich v Preston | Saturday 4th November 2017, 15:00
Ipswich slipped to a fourth defeat in five Championship outings in midweek and it was a seventh reverse in 10 tussles since the Tractor Boys began their campaign with maximum points from their opening four encounters.
Never short of a sound bite, Blues boss Mick McCarthy said his side took conceding soft goals to a ‘whole new level’ following their 3-1 loss at Cardiff. The Town manager was particularly frustrated by the Bluebirds’ second goal 35 seconds after half-time, which he believed was the game's pivotal moment.
Although Ipswich have offered much more going forward this season, they’ve also suffered at the back from alarmingly poor performances. The Blues have shipped 22 goals in 14 league games – it took until mid-December and 21 fixtures for that figure to be reached last term.
In midweek, Dominic Iorfa was caught out of position too often, Tommy Smith was ring-rusty in only his sixth senior start of 2017, while skipper Luke Chambers had too many sluggish moments. It’s fair to say, the Tractor Boys are looking anything but solid defensively.
Some supporters bemoaned McCarthy’s decision to make six changes in midweek but Ipswich lined up reasonably offensively with Grant Ward and Bertrand Celina pushed forwards in a 4-3-3 set-up. There were no square pegs in round holes and the Tractor Boys competed well going forward.
However, they came up short against a leading Championship light once more. Ipswich’s seven victories this season have all arrived against clubs currently operating in 16th or below whilst their seven defeats have come against sides in 15th or higher.
With five central midfielders still sidelined, plus a creaking defence, few fans will be backing their boys to pull out a three-point performance when Preston pitch up at Portman Road this weekend.
Nevertheless, there should be opportunities for Town to penetrate PNE. And for us punters, backing Both Teams To Score at 7/9 (Unibet) has to be advised with the visitors heading to Suffolk in the midst of a defensive injury crisis.
Alex Neill will be without six defenders here. Captain Paul Huntingdon will return to centre-half alongside Andy Boyle with Kevin O’Connor getting the nod at left-back. O’Connor came on for crocked Josh Earl in Wednesday’s defeat against Aston Villa with Alan Browne ending up in an unfamiliar centre-half role.
The Lilywhites are now winless in five (W0-D2-L3) and have conceded at least twice in each of those five fixtures. But North End have notched twice or more themselves in their previous four road trips with eight of their last 12 games as guests featuring Over 2.5 Goals.