FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's 3pm kick-offs in the EFL.
West Brom v Millwall | Saturday 22nd September 2018, 15:00
West Brom produced a clinical counter-attacking display to beat Bristol City 4-2 at The Hawthorns in midweek and move to within touching distance of the automatic promotion places.
Darren Moore’s men were out-shot 11-23 and 7-8 in on-target attempts as the visitors put on an adventurous away display, but were ultimately undone by three goals in eight first-half minutes from the in-form hosts.
Victory was the Baggies’ third success on the spin at their West Midlands base since a shock and unjust opening-day defeat to Bolton. The contest also took their tally to 13 goals scored across those three triumphs, marking Moore’s men out as the division’s deadliest strikeforce.
Albion’s attacking arsenal is comfortably the league’s most threatening, with Dwight Gayle, Jay Rodriguez, Matt Phillips and Harvey Barnes combining to devastating effect. And it’s just as well they are as WBA’s offensive output continues to paper over cracks at the back.
No team in the top-half have conceded more than Albion and only Bolton (128) have faced more shots (127) with Moore’s insistence on playing it out from the back causing particular problems. Saturday’s hosts have yet to record a clean sheet and it’s those issues that push me away from a punt on a home win here.
Instead, I’m delighted to take the 9/10 (Betfair) available on the Baggies to score Over 1.5 Goals. Millwall may provide slightly more stubborn opponents than QPR and Bristol City, but for the second game running Albion have an extra day than their opponents to prepare.
Moore may be tempted to keep the same team that put four past the Robins, but fatigue may play its part, particularly for 37-year-old Gareth Barry. Sam Field and Chris Brunt will be favourites to replace him in the engine room but that delightful attacking quartet should remain untouched.
West Brom are averaging 1.29 Expected Goals per-game from open play, and only Wigan (77) and Brentford (84) have fired in more attempts from inside the penalty area (70). Therefore, the West Midlanders should be more than capable of grabbing at least two goals.
Millwall are set to ring the changes following their midweek London derby loss to QPR. Manager Neil Harris admitted he picked the wrong team for that encounter – the Lions’ fourth loss in five (W0-D1-L4) – and felt his team were out-worked by the R’s. He’s promised to pick a line-up more ‘Millwall-like’ here.
That Wednesday night reverse was Millwall’s third on the spin on their travels and the likes of Mahlon Romeo, Jiri Skalak and Steve Morison are all expected to be called into the starting XI to arrest an alarming slide in results and performance levels from the Lions.
Bury v Carlisle | Saturday 22nd September 2018, 15:00
I had my doubts whether Bury could bounce back from a haunting relegation campaign at the first time of asking but the early signals suggest Ryan Lowe’s troops could mount a serious promotion tilt.
The Shakers collected their first away win last weekend when stand-in striker Byron Moore scored twice in a 2-1 triumph – his first goals since arriving at the club in the summer. The Greater Manchester men were in full control during an impressive first-half performance and could easily have been home and hosed.
Swindon were forced to change their tactical system to deal with Bury’s control and command, and although the hosts improved after the interval, the Shakers were clear and deserved winners. Moore, Nicky Adams, Chris Dagnall, Danny Mayor, Jay O’Shea and Neil Danns all displayed their obvious quality.
Lowe’s charges now return to Gigg Lane on Saturday, eager to extend their excellent home record this term (W3-D1-L0) and the hosts are an attractive 6/5 (Ladbrokes) to pick up maximum points in a match involving Over 1.5 Goals.
Only Forest Green (82) have fired in more attempts from inside the penalty box than Bury (79) with the Shakers’ 68% shots in the box ratio a divisional-best. The home side are also operating off an impressive 62% Expected Goals from open play ratio and averaging a chunky 5.63 on-target attempts per-match.
Bury’s past six League Two outings have produced 22 goals, with the Lancashire outfit scoring 11 in their most recent four fixtures. Across the campaign as a whole, the Shakers have seen Both Teams To Score on six occasions as the home side have recorded a sole clean sheet in their first eight encounters.
Carlisle’s three-match winning streak has come to a close with two defeats in their past three games. The Cumbrians have already won twice on their travels but it’s noticeable that John Sheridan’s visitors have W0-D0-L3 when taking on teams in 15th and above, compared to W4-D1-L0 when meeting the lesser lights.
The guests were expecting Mike Jones and captain Danny Grainger back from injury but both remain unavailable, while Jason Kennedy also remains sidelined. It means Sheridan will select from the same pool of players that went down 2-0 when welcoming Tranmere to Brunton Park last time out.
Carlisle had their moments seven days ago with Richie Bennett most guilty of profligate finishing, and Jamie Devitt saw a penalty saved, but season-long numbers suggest the Cumbrians could struggle to match their hot hosts.
Only four fourth-tier teams are facing more shots per-game and the away side prop up the standings for shots in the box ratio (38%), xG ratio (37%) and xG from open play ratio (33%).
Northampton v Notts County | Saturday 22nd September 2018, 15:00
Both Northampton and Notts County are failing to match their pre-season market expectations in League Two with the pair returning a downright horrendous collective W1-D5-L10 record from their opening eight games each.
The Cobblers were relegated from League One last season, and despite boasting some impressive performance data numbers, continue to toil. Town have won just once this term (W1-D3-L4) – an excellent victory away at Colchester – and head into this encounter following wretched back-to-back defeats.
Northampton were utterly abysmal in their most recent Sixfields outing when suffering a 3-1 loss to Cheltenham and under-fire boss Dean Austin was left seething by the decision to send off key centre-half Aaron Pierre during last weekend’s dour 2-0 defeat at Port Vale.
Pierre will now sit out Saturday’s contest as the Cobblers bid for only a second home win in 14 matches across all competitions (W1-D5-L7). With Junior Morais, Daniel Powell and Shaun McWilliams all rated doubtful or unavailable, Austin said he was prepared to shake things up for the visit of County.
Unhappy manager Austin has admitted he may have been ‘too loyal’ to one or two of his misfiring team, and it is now down to him to ‘find the formula’ to turn the Cobblers’ form around. But whatever XI the novice boss opts for, goals are likely to feature prominently between two teams shipping goals regularly.
Rock-bottom Notts County have leaked three or more goals in every League Two match they’ve played since their opening day 0-0 draw with Colchester. The winless visitors were pegged back three times by Stevenage last weekend during a 3-3 draw and have conceded 24 goals across their opening eight games.
Left-back Dan Jones serves the last game of his three-match ban, while Richard Duffy and Ben Hall are again expected to be unavailable, with new signing Jamie Turley is rated doubtful after retiring early on his debut. It means Harry Kewell’s options to change his backline are limited.
The guests are without a shutout on their travels in 14 fixtures and may have to wait a little while longer before major improvements are made. Considering the state of the two clubs’ defensive strength, I’m happy to get involved with 4/5 (Marathon) quotes on Over 2.5 Goals at Sixfields.
Collectively, these two teams have seen league matches average 3.44 goals per-game with 11/16 (69%) paying out for Over 2.5 Goals backers. The same figure has provided profit for Both Teams To Score punters with a combined one clean sheet recorded between them in 2018/19.
What’s more, the duos have also combined to deliver a chunky 3.45 Expected Goals from open play average per-game.