MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) shares his pick of the best Championship bets from Saturday’s 3pm kick-offs.
Bolton v Cardiff | Saturday 15.00
I was pretty frustrated with Monday night’s Championship showing. Having suggested Bolton in the Draw No Bet market as well as a punt on Under 2.5 Goals, we ended the night in profit but the early Brentford goal killed Wanderers’ prospects of picking up just a second league win of the season.
The match ended 1-1, leaving the Trotters rooted to the bottom of the table. And despite the doom and gloom surrounding the Macron Stadium, I’m determined to again put my faith in Neil Lennon’s troops with plenty of reason to believe Saturday could be a good day for the Whites.
This week the club suggested they were optimistic they will stave off the threat of administration and could be given the green light to new ownership by end of the weekend. Great news.
On the pitch, Bolton are without a victory in 12 and have managed just W1-D9-L8 this term to sit four points from safety. Injuries have taken their toll – highly-rated youngster Zach Clough is on the long-term list and Arsenal loanee Wellington is also crocked – leaving the hosts relying upon old-stagers Emile Heskey, Shola Ameobi and journeyman Gary Madine in attacking areas.
And so you don’t need a rocket scientist to see it’s the final third where the Trotters are struggling and their 12-goal tally from 18 matches is comfortably the worst in the division. Lennon’s men have failed to net on 10 occasions already and scored more than once in only three outings.
But Bolton remain a tough nut to crack at the Macron, especially under the former Celtic boss’ watch. Since Lennon arrived in Greater Manchester, Wanderers have recorded W9-D13-L4 in front of their home fans – that’s a loss-rate of just 15%. Across those 25 fixtures, they’ve conceded more than one goal just four times.
In 2015/16, the Trotters home record reads W1-D7-L1 and I have to admit and they also boast an unbelievably good record against Saturday’s guests Cardiff. The hosts have scored 14 goals in their last six league meetings against the Bluebirds (W5-D1-L0) and beaten them in each of the last 11 encounters on home soil, dating back to 1973/74. Cardiff have failed to even score in five of their last six visits.
The Welsh side have seen their preparations hit by a virus that has swept through the camp this week. Russell Slade’s men saw nine players struck down by the illness and although the Cardiff boss has suggested most of the infected are nearing recovery and should be in contention for Saturday, it’s hard to believe they’ll be at full fitness.
Checks will be made on first-teamers Sammy Ameobi, Joe Mason, Aron Gunnarsson, Tony Watt, Stuart O’Keefe and Anthony Pilkington as well as back-up goalkeeper Simon Moore and young defender Declan John as the Bluebirds bid to banish the memories of last weekend’s late collapse at home to Burnley.
Cardiff were 2-0 up with just five minutes left at the Cardiff City Stadium but two late goals from the Clarets meant a dejected Slade and his men had to make do with just a single point instead. The visitors are now 10th and still only two points off the top-six but have failed to score in their past four on the road and won just 7/26 (27%) of away trips under Slade.
The capital club have kept just six clean sheets across those fixtures and in 2015/16 the visitors have W1-D5-L3 on their travels. I’m prepared to put my faith in Bolton here with 20/23 (Boylesports) holding plenty of appeal in the Draw No Bet market. Remember, they’ve lost just 15% of Macron Stadium duels under Lennon and the only way in which we’ll end up empty-pocketed is if Cardiff win.
Brentford v MK Dons | Saturday 15.00
It’s been an uncomfortable season for Brentford. The media spotlight was on Griffin Park from the get-go as they departed with Mark Warburton and took on Marinus Dijkhuizen in the off-season. The unheralded Dutch coach struggled to get to grips with the challenge and was shown the door following W1-D1-L6.
The Bees have since turned their form around full circle (W5-D2-L1) with their only loss in that sequence coming against top-of-the-table (at the time of the fixture) Hull. Caretaker boss Lee Carsley always insisted he didn't want the job but deserves plenty of credit for putting the ship in the right direction again.
The Londoners are now only three points shy of the play-off positions and earlier this week named Dean Smith as their new head coach. The former Walsall supremo takes charge of a confident side and a club that’s won exactly half of their 32 Championship fixtures at their Griffin Park base since promotion, of which they’ve W11-D4-LL0 when entertaining bottom-half dwellers.
The Bees have produced the goods consistently against the league’s lesser lights – winning 24 of their 25 points against sides below them in the standings (W7-D3-L0) compared to a W0-D1-L7 return against clubs in 10th and above this season and the hosts can welcome back Harlee Dean from suspension on Saturday.
I’m inclined to think the good times will continue to roll for the Bees and at 20/23 (Boylesports) they’re well worth a poke against a very ordinary MK Dons group on Saturday.
Having suggested a play on the Dons for relegation ante-post, seeing Karl Robinson’s team struggle isn’t of huge surprise. I’ll leave the personal digs aside for once and just reel off a few facts that highlight the need to oppose the Buckinghamshire boys.
MK are a point above the relegation zone and claimed just four victories in 18. They’re winless away since the opening day (W1-D3-L5) where remarkably poor Rotherham defending contributed to their success and in that time since they’ve managed just three goals on the road.
They’re stubborn, sure, but they’re also fairly easily run over – five of their last seven away have seen their hosts score at least twice. Home win.
Nottingham Forest v Fulham | Saturday 15.00
If you’re hunting a goals-based bet on Saturday, surely the City Ground is the place to be two of the the league’s sharpest shooters lock horns.
Nottingham Forest and Fulham sit proudly in the top three of the Championship’s shots-on-target table. The Tricky Trees are averaging 5.00 per-game with the Cottagers not far behind on 4.89 – the visitors also the league leaders when it comes to shots-on-target faced (5.61 per-game).
So it’s perhaps unsurprising to see Fulham have been involved in an incredible 21/25 Both Teams To Score winners since March. The manager-less guests have seen 26 goals (4.30 goals-per-game) across their most recent six and are the league’s top marksman with 31 (1.72 goals-per-game) – in eight of their league fixtures they’ve scored at least twice.
Forest netted three goals in a game for the first time this campaign in last weekend’s 3-1 success against Reading, their second on the spin at the City Ground. Dougie Freedman’s men have now W2-D2-L0 on home soil but must do without the suspended Jack Hobbs this weekend, weakening their backline.
The hosts have only managed 16 goals this season but only twice been shut out in front of their home fans and should be well capable of continuing a strong Both Teams To Score theme under Freedman’s watch. Since the Scot arrived, 12/18 (67%) have followed the BTTS path with 11/18 (61%) rewarding Over 2.5 Goals punters.
Fulham are two points clear of Forest, but have not won in four and their manager search is proving frustrating. They’ve managed just two victories on their travels but Ross McCormack’s continued to lead the line superbly and it’s worth noting they’ve recorded 18/28 (64%) of BTTS bets and 15/28 (54%) of Over 2.5 Goals winners on the road since Kit Symons was appointed.
So rather than just take a play on either Both Teams To Score or Over 2.5 Goals, I’m going to combine the two and take even-money from Bet365. Based on this season’s results alone, this bet should be a 4/5 shot as it’s holding a 55% success-rate between the two teams’ respective home and away records. I’m on.
Bolton v Cardiff – Bolton draw no bet (20/23 Boylesports)
Brentford v MK Dons – Brentford to win (20/23 Boylesports)
Nottingham Forest v Fulham – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (1/1 Bet365)
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