FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Thursday's televised League Two contest between Doncaster and Portsmouth.
Doncaster v Portsmouth | Thursday 19:45 | Sky Sports 1
Bank Holiday Monday defeats for Carlisle and Plymouth allowed Doncaster to return to the top of the League Two table thanks to their seventh victory in nine (W7-D1-L1) when squeezing past Stevenage 1-0 at the Keepmoat Stadium.
But Darren Ferguson’s charges certainly weren’t at their best. Rovers are developing a knack of winning games regardless of their performances but the lack of fluency in their display has to be a concern coming into Thursday’s contest.
Donny were forced to wait until the 85th minute before Tommy Rowe’s shot was diverted into his own net by Fraser Franks. Beforehand Mathieu Baudry had an effort cleared off the line and Andy Butler had a header turned onto the bar.
In fairness to Rovers, Ferguson reverted to a back three, employing Rowe and Matty Blair as touchline-hugging wing backs, up against Boro’s narrow midfield, and it worked. James Coppinger was a constant threat from the flanks and on-loan Conor Grant again stood out in midfield.
Doncaster’s attack dipping
But Doncaster again lacked incision in the final third, too often lacking a killer pass or effort on goal and their fluency going forward has to be questioned following a third 1-0 win in four outings.
No fourth-tier team has picked up more points at home (W9-D3-L0) and whilst Donny have limited their Keepmoat guests to just 7.36 shots, the hosts aren’t troubling opposition goalkeepers often enough for my liking.
Twelve League Two clubs are averaging more efforts at goal and that could present problems against the league’s joint-best defence on Thursday evening.
Pompey finding their stride
Portsmouth pitch up in South Yorkshire knowing a win could close the gap on third-placed Carlisle to one point and four points on leaders Doncaster. And Paul Cook’s charges arrive on the back of a sole reverse in 10 (W6-D3-L1).
The visitors are unbeaten away from Fratton Park for three months – spanning eight games (W5-D3-L0) – and the Blues backline has produced numerous near-faultless performances with a settled back-four holding firm.
Christian Burgess, Gareth Evans, Matt Clarke and Enda Stevens have combined with goalkeeper David Forde for three clean sheets in their past four fixtures and season-long Pompey have kept 11 shutouts in 23 matches.
No side are facing fewer efforts at goal and the confidence gained from a bad-tempered 1-0 triumph against fellow promotion-chasers Luton on Bank Holiday Monday will have only added more gusto to Cook and his troops.
The Portsmouth boss switched to a lone front man in Michael Smith against the Hatters, reverting to his tried-and-tested 4-2-3-1 system. The extra man in midfield allowed the Blues to control proceedings, as they have done in almost every encounter this term.
Portsmouth make Asian Handicap appeal
Of course, games aren’t won on stats alone but the way in which Portsmouth are dominating the performance data in League Two has to be respected. Their 67.27% share of the shots is comfortably the division’s best ahead (ahead of Doncaster on 57.73%) with no team firing in more attempts at goal.
What’s more, the Hampshire outfit boast an outstanding record when travelling to top-seven sides in league action under Cook’s watch. Pompey have W7-D2-L0 of those nine showdowns, scoring at least twice in six of those nine outings.
Both Carlisle and Wycombe have departed the Keepmoat with 2-2 draws this term and Donny sneaked a 1-0 success over seventh-placed Cambridge when the U’s were struggling in August.
So I believe there’s plenty of evidence in our favour to support Portsmouth with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at 8/11 (BetVictor). This selection will see us make money should the visitors avoid defeat with a half-stakes pay-out occurring should the game end all-square.
Doncaster v Portsmouth – Portsmouth +0.25 Asian Handicap (8/11 BetVictor)