FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) nailed a full house of winners last weekend. Here's his favourite three from Good Friday's EFL card.
Nottingham Forest v Blackburn | Good Friday 15:00
Nottingham Forest face arguably their biggest game in recent years when they welcome Blackburn to the City Ground in a relegation six-pointer.
A win for the Tricky Trees would effectively ensure their Championship survival against a Rovers outfit that would be eight points behind the Reds with an inferior goal difference.
I’m backing the hosts to clinch a vital victory here at odds of 32/25 (Marathon) – that’s 2.32 in decimals – having been really impressed by the impact made since Mark Warburton arrived as manager in Robin Hood county.
Forest played with style and verve for a good half hour against Derby in his first fixture in charge before losing their way and the Tricky Trees were superb for long period of their encounter with Preston.
The Reds weren’t at their best at Wolves and were wasteful in front of goal but last weekend the team produced arguably their most complete performance of the season having switched to a three-man defence.
Warburton was understandably delighted with Forest’s resounding 2-0 win over high-flying Huddersfield and hinted the new system may stay in place for Good Friday’s clash with Blackburn.
Young stars Ben Brereton and Zach Clough were particularly impressive, along with Jamie Ward in the new-look approach whilst David Vaughan is playing like a man reborn since Warburton’s arrival. Danny Fox is now back form a ban and Armand Traore is fit to resume his role at left wing-back.
Warburton has spoken frequently about the need to play with belief and confidence – and they were qualities Forest had in abundance against the Terriers as they took apart one of the sides chasing Premier League promotion.
Should Forest come close to last Saturday’s performance levels here they’ll surely prove too good. The hosts have claimed victories in eight of their last 11 when welcoming bottom-six opposition to the City Ground with the Reds also returning a 50% win rate across their 20 home Championship outings.
The final third threat makes backing the Tricky Trees to score Over 1.5 Goals at 13/10 (Coral) an appetising prospect too; Forest have scored at least twice in six of their last seven here, as well as 11/20 (55%) across the campaign.
Visitors Blackburn have been beaten in 12/20 (60%) away days this term, have leaked at least twice in five of their past six and 11/20 (55%) road trips whilst arriving without a victory in seven (W0-D4-L3) anywhere and 11 games as guests (W0-D5-L6). It’s bleak.
Boss Tony Mowbray believes the trip to the City Ground can offer “possible light at the end of the tunnel” for Blackburn but it’s hard to find faith in the Lancashire outfit considering centre-halves Charlie Mulgrew and Darragh Lenihan are out of action and striker Danny Graham is rated a major doubt once more.
Rovers have now used 12 different central defensive partnerships this season with Tommy Hoban and Wes Brown chosen for their woeful 2-0 reverse at Blackburn. The pair hadn’t played together before and it showed meaning a recall to the now fit Elliott Ward looks likely this weekend.
Mowbray made six changes for the Barnsley loss, keen to see a response from his side. But he was pulling his hair out after seeing his team ship the opening goal after only three minutes from a corner given that he spent a full morning working on set-pieces at the training ground last week.
Blackburn have conceded the first goal in each of their last seven games and rarely threatened a fightback against Barnsley. They’re four points from safety and another below-par display could seal their fate as the first Premier League champions to drop into League One.
Colchester v Doncaster | Good Friday 15:00
Both Colchester and Doncaster suffered League One relegation last season but the visitors have already secured an immediate return to the third-tier and the U’s impressive home record means the Essex outfit remain in the hunt too.
A huge 41 (68%) of Colchester’s 60-point haul has been collected at their Community Stadium home (W13-D2-L5) and head coach John McGreal deserves credit for overcoming a serious injury crisis to keep the U’s on course for a potential top-seven finish.
Last weekend ColU produced their performance of the season when sweeping aside Stevenage 4-0 here. A superb first-half display featuring goals from Brennan Dickenson and Chris Porter before own goals from Boro pair Josh McQuoid and Charlie Lee gave the hosts an unassailable half-time lead.
It was captain Porter’s 100th goal in English league football and his fourth in three games whilst on-song Reading man Tarique Fosu wreaked havoc in a Man of the Match showing that had McGreal cock-a-hoop.
The Colchester boss has revealed the prospect of Wembley glory is spurring his players on in their play-off pursuit and the Essex raiders might well be good enough to overcome chunky pre-match odds and beat already promoted Doncaster on Good Friday.
Rovers secured a top-three finish thanks to a 1-0 home win over Mansfield with five games to spare. Manager Darren Ferguson has moulded a team and squad that has grown in confidence, stature and unity as the campaign has wore on and the Yorkshire club are favourites to take top spot.
Ferguson insists he will have no problem making sure his players remain focused for the final furlong but Donny only returned to training on Wednesday following their weekend celebrations and could be vulnerable against a determined Colchester outfit.
James Coppinger remains an injury doubt and Liam Mandeville will certainly miss Friday's trip, making the 10/11 from BetVictor on Colchester with a +0.50 Asian Handicap a wonderfully attractive selection here.
The visitors have suffered only seven league losses since arriving back in League Two but their away record reads W11-D3-L6 with a W4-D1-L5 return at teams in 13th and above, keeping no clean sheets in that 10 game sample.
I’m also going to back the Over 2.5 Goals offering of 9/10 (Marathon) as it’s simply too big to ignore. It’s a selection that’s returned profit in 29/40 (73%) of the duos respective home/away encounters with Over 3.5 Goals banking in 19/40 (48%) matches from the same sample.
Luton v Leyton Orient | Good Friday 15:00
Luton head coach Nathan Jones hasn’t given up hope of chasing down Portsmouth to seal an automatic promotion place despite starting the weekend eight points shy of Pompey with only five fixtures to play. T
he Hatters boss was buzzing after seeing his side secure a second successive victory thanks to Olly Lee’s strike against Barnet last week. Town certainly weren’t at their best and were indebted to a number of quality saves from returning goalkeeper Stuart Moore.
Luton are now chasing a third win on the spin for the first time this season when doomed Leyton Orient arrive in Bedfordshire on Good Friday and whilst there are a number of prohibitive process about, I reckon I’ve found a nice slice of value to support a home success.
The Hatters haven’t always been fast out of the blocks but there’s no excuse for not taking the O’s to the cleaners here and the 4/5 (Coral) available on Luton/Luton in the Half-Time/Full-Time market holds plenty of appeal.
Town are just 1/4 to clinch maximum points, 13/18 – that’s 1.72 in decimals – to overcome a -1.5 Asian Handicap hurdle or 2/5 to win alongside Over 1.5 Goals so backing the hosts to lead at the break in a victories contest appears great value.
Luton have won nine of their last 14 Kenilworth Road encounters against bottom-six clubs, scoring the opening goal on 10 occasions and considering Orient have W2-D1-L15 in 2017 and trailed at half-time in eight of their past 10, I’m more than happy to get involved.
This isn’t the right place to go into major detail on Orient’s issues but the capital club are staring relegation into the National League from the Football League for the first time in their 112-year history.
Players and staff expect to be paid March’s wages on Thursday – the third different day they’ve been promised their pay packets this month – and are likely to field another youthful squad for their next away day.
Omer Riza – the O’s fifth boss of the season and tenth in less than three years – saw his team go down 3-0 at Cambridge last week in a men against boys contest. Only three of Orients players were over the age of 21 with 15 of their 18-man matchday squad consisting of academy players due to an extensive injury-list.
The visitors have shipped 45 goals – at a rate of 2.50 per-game – this calendar year, failed to score in five of their last six whilst losing their most recent six by an aggregate 1-20.
The half-time aggregate score in those last six outings is 1-10 whilst their shot ratio return is just 30.47% and their shots on-target ratio is as low as 25% across their last nine hours of action so the 4/5 from Coral should be a Good Friday gift.