FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Sunday's final round of Championship action.
EFL: The Final Day
I loathe the final round of Football League fixtures. With 24-team divisions, more teams than normal arrive with little left to play for and it makes punting the EFL a complete minefield. My stakes are significantly lower and I’m more prone to chuck in a big-priced trixie where opportunity arises.
Your first task when attacking this weekend should be, identifying which clubs are involved in matches that actually matter. If a side with something to play for is taking on a team with no chance of promotion or relegation, historical trends suggest the teams in-need actually table triumphs 20% more often than in earlier fixtures in the campaign.
That discovery won’t make a huge amount of difference to your approach as bookmakers react by pushing such clubs into artificially short quotes for the most part. So we have to be a little bit more inventive, do our due diligence and look at how teams approached the penultimate fixture, as well as trying to get into the psyche of the managers in question.
The latter part of that previous paragraph means, checking to see did any sides make sweeping changes to their starting XI’s last week, perhaps fielding a few youngsters? Or simply just noting that two EFL managers were on the booze in Barcelona less than 72 hours before their team complete their league campaign back home.
There’s a whole realm of equations to consider, along with the odds on offer, before settling on your weekend selections ahead of the final day. Hopefully the few points above will give you a bit of insight in how to attack things. My selections below are my strongest plays from Sunday's Championship games.
Sheffield Wednesday v QPR | Sunday 5th May 2019, 12:30
Only Sheffield United (51), Norwich (47), Aston Villa (43) and West Brom (41) have earned more points than Sheffield Wednesday (40) since the Owls sacked Jos Luhukay before Christmas. The hosts have W10-D10-L3 since his departure and W7-D8-L2 since the beginning of February when Steve Bruce officially arrived in the role.
It was a remarkable turnaround that propelled Wednesday from a potential relegation scrap to having an outside chance of a play-off place. Success was built on their Hillsborough record with the Owls returning W7-D3-L1 in as hosts following Luhukay’s departure and their W10-D5-L0 record when hosting teams outside seventh commands respect.
Of course, there’s little left to play for here but Bruce’s boys appeal against a QPR side that’s desperate to see out the season. Rangers fielded a few fresh faces in last weekend’s home defeat to Nottingham Forest – their third straight defeat and 14th loss in 19 since New Year’s Day.
The R’s have picked up two points from a possible 21 (W0-D2-L5) on the road in that sequence and if we exclude the five clubs below them in the standings, the manager-less guests have W1-D4-L12 on their travels, leaking at least twice in 12 of those 17 outings. it makes back Wednesday to win and Over 1.5 Goals (23/20 Coral) quite straightforward.
Brentford v Preston | Sunday 5th May 2019, 12:30
Brentford’s record at Griffin Park is no secret. The Bees boast the fourth-best figures in the Championship (W13-D4-L5) and even dating back to the beginning of last season, the West Londoners can claim a 49% win ratio in front of their home supporters.
Immediately, that marks Brentford out as appealing 20/21 (Betfred) shouts on Sunday. However, it looks even more eye-catching when we dismiss the home side’s record against sides in ninth and above in 2018/19 (W11-D2-L0). Thomas Frank’s men scored at least twice in 11 of those games and are worth supporting here against 12th-placed Preston.
North End have endured a frustrating season. A desperately slow start gave way to a campaign of promise before any lingering play-off flame was extinguished by a capitulation of results over the past six weeks. Alex Neil’s troops have W1-D1-L5 as they prepare to close the curtain with their only victory arriving at home against rock-bottom Ipswich.
The visitors have lost half of their away days already, are in the midst of more miserable injury issues, and are easily opposed at the prices this weekend.
Wigan v Millwall | Sunday 5th May 2019, 12:30
I’m a little perturbed with Paul Cook being out on the lash in Barcelona in midweek so I’ll be keeping stakes on Wigan short on Sunday but the Latics are too big to ignore at 6/5 (Betfred). Athletic are assured of their place in the Championship thanks to a marvellous effort at the DW Stadium (W10-D8-L4).
If the Wigan players turn up for the party, they should have the tools to dismiss a demoralised Millwall outfit that were on the wrong end of Neil Harris’ wrath following Tuesday night’s home defeat to Bristol City. The Lions are safe but the club’s supremo pulled no punches when hanging his players out to dry, suggesting major changes are on the way.
If any Millwall player was already thinking about his summer holidays, Harris’ words may have brought Marbella and Dubai further into focus and the Lions’ W3-D5-L14 figures in games as guests mark them out as one of the division’s worst teams to follow on the road.