FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the weekend's EFL action.
Hull v QPR | Saturday 19th October 2019, 15:00
At the back end of July I was peddling perilous thoughts of my own side QPR suffering a difficult season and possible demotion. Despite being delighted by the appointment of Mark Warburton, a huge squad overhaul and the loss of the club’s only key players from the past two years looked (on paper at least) to be a tall ask to overcome.
However, in the space of a week, the R’s pulled off two major coups by bringing Nakhi Wells back to the club, as well as securing the loan signature of Jordan Hugill. Suddenly the landscape appeared far rosier and supporters started to look beyond a relegation battle. The pragmatist I am, I continued to preach caution with second-tier safety still paramount.
Fast forward10 weeks or so and few fans – or EFL pundits – could have foreseen the quite remarkable transformation of the Super Hoops. Warburton’s ability to totally transform the team’s on-field fortunes beggars’ belief, especially considering the sheer volume of player turnover at Loftus Road during the off-season.
Rangers are playing some of the Championship’s most eye-catching football. Slick, stylish, brave, ambitious and enterprising are adjectives that can be used to describe QPR’s approach in 2019/20, and quite frankly, we’re all in awe at the product that’s been delivered. Can we sustain it? Who knows, but we’ll most definitely enjoy it whilst it’s here.
On Saturday, the R’s travel to Hull, chasing a fourth away success in six outings. The visitors have posted top-six returns in the Expected Goals (xG) and xG from open play ratio rankings this term and should be confident of making their mark at the KCOM Stadium with Rangers generating the third-highest xG from open play average in the division.
QPR have only failed to score in three outings under Warburton’s watch, although their lack of clean sheets has caused concern amongst the West London faithful. Consequently, games involving the Super Hoops have tended to be thrilling affairs and it therefore makes the 9/10 (Betfair) available on Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score an appealing play here.
Hull have tabled only three triumphs under Grant McCann and the Tigers’ encounters have followed a similar pattern to their guests. The Humbersiders can call upon the class of Kamil Grosicki and Jarrod Bowen in attacking areas – the duo average 0.68 xG combined per-game – and the hosts have found the back of the net in all bar two tussles this term.
Nevertheless, Hull have silenced only two opponents during McCann’s reign and the home side have been handed a midweek blow with best centre-half Jordy de Wijs being ruled out of contention. There’s enough encouragement there for QPR to get forward and open this Tigers team up, and collectively the pair should put on a decent show for any neutrals.
The duo have seen 15/22 (68%) of their aggregated matches produce Both Teams To Score winners, whilst the same 15/22 (68%) figure has paid out for Over 2.5 Goals backers. Those contests averaged 3.05 goals per-game with their xG from open play combined total coming in at a bulbous 3.49.
Bradford v Crawley | Saturday 19th October 2019, 15:00
Pre-season League Two favourites Bradford are starting to purr. The Bantams are two points off the summit following a W5-D1-L1 return since August with the club’s only three losses since relegation arriving against fellow top-six clubs.
Gary Bowyer’s boys operate in the top-six for all major performance data metrics and will be confident of churning out a third successive triumph on Saturday when Crawley head to West Yorkshire having bagged W4-D1-L1 in their opening six Valley Parade outings.
Bradford have scored at least twice in four of those six home encounters and I expect the well-rounded hosts to find joy against a free-spirited Crawley outfit. Even so, don’t discount the Red Devils from making their own mark on proceedings here with Both Teams To Score a strong possibility.
Why? Well, Saturday’s showdown pits together the leading two League Two teams for shots attempted from inside the penalty area. The pair also feature prominently towards the top end for Expected Goals (xG) output and together a huge 18/26 (69%) of their matches have seen goals at both ends already this season; the duo firing blanks just twice in that sample.
No fourth-tier club has seen more goals per-game than Crawley (3.15) this season with Gabriele Cioffi’s ambitious Sussex side grabbing a goal in all 13 of their league fixtures thus far. And when Town take to the road, goals are always in high-demand with four of their six games as guests even beating the Over 3.5 Goals barrier at an average of 3.67 per-game.
Unfortunately for the visitors, they are unlikely to earn maximum points here having taken top honours only six times in 29 away days since the start of last season. Crawley have conceded at least two goals in five of their six road trips this term and shutout only six home teams across that aforementioned 29-game sample going back to the beginning of 2017/18.
That flimsy nature is unlikely to prove profitable for the Red Devils at Valley Parade. The strong home side welcome Ben Richards-Everton back from his ban, have Kelvin Mellor fit to return and new recruit Chris Taylor back in contention. With that in mind, siding with Bradford double chance and Both Teams To Score at (21/20 (Betfair) is worth consideration.
Colchester v Morecambe | Saturday 19th October 2019, 15:00
Colchester fell to their fourth league defeat of the campaign last weekend as the Essex boys surrendered a one-goal advantage at Crawley in a 2-1 reverse. The disappointed ColU players held an impromptu team meeting on the pitch in the aftermath of that defeat, airing grievances and frustrations from a feeble second-half performance.
Boss John McGreal believes his squad are now raring to go in a quest to right last week’s wrongs and Colchester are unlikely to get a better opportunity than this weekend’s match-up with lowly Morecambe. The rock-bottom Shrimps have tabled a solitary success in 13 (W1-D4-L8) and arrive on the back of a run of two points from a possible 27 (W0-D2-L7).
Morecambe have leaked at least twice in eight of those recent nine outings and no League Two team is giving up more Expected Goals (xG), xG from open play, or shots from inside the penalty area this season. In eight of their 13 outings, Jim Bentley’s boys have managed to register two shots on-target or fewer, whilst averaging only 6.31 attempts inside the box.
Last weekend’s display in defeat against Bradford deservedly won plenty of plaudits from Shrimps supporters and the Fylde coast club should welcome back Ritchie Sutton and Aaron Wildig to the fold here. But Andrew Tutte and Jordan Cranston remain unavailable as Morecambe look to improve a recent W2-D3-L8 return at top-half teams.
Colchester are consistent operators when welcoming bottom-half dwellers under McGreal, posting a 51% win ratio in these parts. The hosts hope to have Coutney Senior fit to feature after last week’s ankle knock, whilst Brandon Comley and Luke Gambin are back in the squad after returning from international duty.
The Essex outfit are worth supporting on Saturday and can be backed at odds-against when adding in Over 1 Goal to the equation. Seven of Morecambe’s eight losses have followed this pattern and Colchester have struck at least twice in over half of their meetings with bottom-half teams under McGreal.