FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) has delivered W4-D2-L0 from his six fancies already this week. Here's his selections from Saturday's EFL card.
QPR v Cardiff | Saturday 15:00
He’s been labelled a dinosaur, unfairly brandished a long-ball merchant and rarely gets given the accolades his achievements deserve due to his outspoken nature but bloody hell, Neil Warnock!
Since the start of last season, everyone’s favourite pantomime villain has accrued a staggeringly strong 1.64 points per-game from 39 games in charge of Cardiff and Rotherham (W18-D10-L11). That works out as 75 points over a full campaign, enough for a top-six finish in 14 of the past 16 Championship seasons.
Impressed? You should be. They’re remarkable figures that saw Rotherham pull off the great escape with room to spare in 2015/16. Warnock then arrived at Cardiff in early October with the Bluebirds second from bottom following a W2-D2-L7 run of results – failing to even score in eight – under Paul Trollope.
The capital club have since W11-D5-L7 including a superb W7-D1-L3 effort this calendar year to climb into the top-half of the Championship. The club have kept clean sheets in five of their past 11 and scored 21 goals in the same sample.
Warnock has masterminded two away triumphs on the spin and it should be said, the Welsh outfit also put in two excellent displays when going down 1-0 at both Reading and Brighton in January. Cardiff allowed the promotion-chasers just 39 touches in their penalty area.
For those who aren’t yet convinced by the current Cardiff side just take a closer look at the performance data since the veteran boss took charge. The Bluebirds boast a 58.3% expected goals ratio, a 53.76% shots on-target ratio return and most eye-catching of all – a 61.38% shots in the box ratio.
A trip back to Loftus Road is always emotional for Warnock – manager when QPR took top honours in the second-tier back in 2011 – but don’t expect any room for sentiment here. The City supremo will be setting his side up for a positive result and odds of 13/18 (188BET) – 1.72 in decimals – on Cardiff with a +0.25 start look too good to turn down.
This selection will see us make money should the visitors avoid defeat – a half-stakes profit should the match end all-square with a full-stakes pay-out should Cardiff pocket the points in West London.
QPR aren’t quite clear of relegation concerns but Ian Holloway’s arrival has lifted the club. The R’s have impressed in patches throughout his reign but inconsistency continues to plague the Hoops (W4-D2-L4) in 2017.
The introduction of Luke Freeman and Ryan Manning in midfield has made a major difference to the hosts but the former is banned for this encounter whilst Kazenga LuaLua is crocked. Grant Hall and Conor Washington are also major doubts and I’m not convinced Rangers have the quality to cope in their absence.
Unlike their in-form guests, QPR have posted figures below 50% on all the relevant performance data metrics and have managed only five victories in 17 outings at Loftus Road this term. I’m happy to oppose the Hoops.
Shrewsbury v Coventry | Saturday 15:00
I’ve a question for you dear readers – when does admiration become an obsession? I’m asking for a friend…
Yes, Shrewsbury will appear in this column again because, well, bookmakers just aren’t addressing the wonderful upturn in fortunes that Salop have enjoyed under the stewardship of Paul Hurst.
The ex-Grimsby manager arrived with the Shrews rock-bottom. Fast-forward to today and Town are sitting pretty in 16th and five points above the drop-zone thanks to a 31-point haul from 20 games under Hurst (W9-D4-L7).
The hosts have been at their best when entertaining League One clubs at their Greenhous Meadow base and had you stuck £10 on Shrewsbury to win all nine of their home fixtures under Hurst (W7-D1-L1) you’d have made a tidy £130 profit.
The sole reverse in that nine-match streak came against in-form Fleetwood – Salop competed valiantly for large swathes of that encounter – and on Tuesday night Town made it five wins on the spin on home soil, seeing off Charlton in a 4-3 thriller.
Hot-shot Tyler Roberts missed last weekend’s loss at MK Dons but returned in midweek with the West Brom loanee receiving a standing ovation for his performance. The 18 year-old has scored three goals and assisted three more in five appearances in February in his preferred number 10 role.
Shaun Whalley and Louis Dodds deserve honourable mentions but there’s now competition for places as Hurst continues to get the best out of the group through old-fashioned principles of hard work, organisation, preparation and attitude.
Expect Salop to be bang on their game again this Saturday. Hurst has already demanded his team get their heads focussed for what should be a cushy home success against League One’s basement boys Coventry.
Last weekend manager Russell Slade claimed he “wouldn’t think it was possible” for the Sky Blues to survive following a 3-1 reverse at home to Swindon with City struggling to cope with the pace and power of the Robins’ attack.
Slade responded by fielding four centre-halves in a back-four against Bury on Tuesday night but was forced to switch to 3-5-2 at the interval with his defensive trial failing to reap rewards. Coventry slipped to a 2-1 defeat, extending their winless league run to 17 matches.
The visitors are now 14 points adrift of safety and have won only five games all season. Cov have been beaten in seven of their last nine and in nine of their past 12 away days, shipping an eye-watering 36 goals in games as guests.
Even if the Sky Blues were to win all of their remaining 12 games, they can only reach 61 points – eight below their 2015-16 tally – and attention is now turning towards planning and preparing for life in League Two.
I’m stunned to see Shrewsbury trading at odds as big as 13/10 (Betway) and will be taking full advantage of the overpriced offering once more. And if you needed any more encouragement that Salop are the real deal, the hosts are ranked 10th in terms of expected goals supremacy over the past 16 games, Coventry bottom.
Accrington v Barnet | Saturday 15:00
Accrington manager John Coleman was furious his side conceded two “stupid goals” that denied them a valuable three points against Wycombe on Tuesday night.
The Reds dominated the first-half and went in front through winger Sean Clare but were unable to take the majority of their chances. Chairboys striker Adebayo Akinfenwa netted twice in two minutes after restart, and it needed Matty Pearson to salvage a point for Stanley.
Coleman was seething afterwards that his side had not won and put more distance between themselves and the bottom-two, stating players had “switched off” to allow ‘The Beast' to bag his brace.
Accy have now conceded 11 goals in their last five games and Coleman admitted it’s an area of concern. Labelling the defending for the second Akinfenwa goal “pathetic” and bemoaning his team’s habit for conceding “stupid goals”, the Reds defence will need to raise their game for Saturday’s clash with Barnet.
The Bees arrive boasting the best current away goalscoring run in England. The visitors have notched in in each of their last 26 road trips, a run that started all the way back in January 2016.
The Londoners have grabbed a goal in all bar one of their past eight trips to Accrington and can also call upon the fourth-tier’s most feared forward, John Akinde. Barnet’s hot-shot scored his 100th league goal for the club during Tuesday’s 2-2 draw at Blackpool and has contributed 49% of the Bees’ goal-tally this term.
New boss Kevin Nugent was gutted to see his side squander a two-goal lead at Bloomfield Road in midweek, a result that saw Barnet slide six points off the play-off places. An unlikely charge at the top-seven has lost momentum but the Bees still deserve maximum respect.
I’ve talked Accrington up many times in recent weeks and the Reds have suffered only two defeats in 10 since Boxing Day (W3-D5-L2). However, failed to capitalise on their dominance in League Two matches has become an all too common occurrence so I’ll leave them be here.
Instead, I’m going to sink my teeth into the kind 5/6 (10Bet) quotes on Both Teams To Score as the trends in favour of a goal-filled game at the Crown Ground are rather overwhelming.
Stanley have netted at least twice in four of their past five home fixtures with Shay McCartan and Billy Kee finding their range. The hosts have only twice fired blanks in 16 matches in front of their supporters this season whilst also getting on the scoresheet in 36/39 (92%) since the start of last season.
We’ve already highlighted Barnet’s unbelievably strong record in front of goal when playing away but the Bees have silenced only five of their 17 opponents on their travels, leading to a very strong 12/17 (71%) encounters featuring profitable BTTS bets.
Accrington have returned 12/16 (75%) Both Teams To Score winners at the Crown Ground in 2016/17 so putting the two clubs’ respective home/away records together, BTTS has banked in 24/33 (73%) games. That 73% figure implies betting odds of just 4/11, making the 5/6 huge value.
If you required further convincing, since the beginning of 2015/16, this bet has proven profitable in 57/79 (72%) of the two clubs’ home/away matches with the pair scoring on 71/79 (90%) of those encounters. Woof.