EIGHTEEN (69%) of Mark O'Haire's 26 weekend Football League columns have made us money this season. Here's his three to follow on Saturday.
Blackburn v Birmingham | Saturday 15:00
Blackburn are a strange team. Blackburn’s a strange place too, actually…
There’s a road not far from Ewood Park named Top O' Th' Croft. You what? And there always seems to be a mist or low fog surrounding the Lancashire venue whenever I make the trip.
Back to footballing matters and Rovers are a peculiar beast. Owen Coyle’s men have claimed only two Championship victories in nine and both have come against league leaders Newcastle. Four of Blackburn’s fixtures in that nine-game spell finished in 3-2 defeats too. Bizarre.
Rovers lost 3-2 at Ipswich last weekend, ending their three-game unbeaten run. But they not begin a run of four successive home games and Coyle’s determined to make home advantage count in the coming weeks, starting Saturday.
The strange Scot believes his squad is good enough to survive without reinforcements but he’s still searching high and low for improvements. No new faces will arrive before the weekend’s encounter, mind.
Injuries haven’t helped Blackburn’s cause this season and they remain without Tommie Hoban, Elliott Ward and Adam Henley long-term. Corry Evans remains a doubt but the hosts are hoping to have Anthony Stokes and midfielders Craig Conway and Danny Guthrie back in the fold for Birmingham.
Ben Marshall won’t be involved and has been absent from training amid ongoing talks with Wolves over a move but the team news isn’t enough to put me off a punt on Both Teams To Score here at 16/19 (888).
It’s a selection that’s landed in nine of Rovers’ last 12 Championship outings and nine of 13 Ewood Park encounters. Considering the hosts have conceded 43 league goals this term but can call upon in-form Danny Graham and Sam Gallagher in attack, I’m expecting goals.
Blackburn’s home fixtures are averaging 2.72 expected goals and overall that figure sits at a solid 2.75 expected goals per-game. They’re stats that tally nicely alongside Birmingham’s with the Blues expected goals per-game rate returning 2.72 and 2.90 on their travels.
The visitors have bagged only one win in their last 20 league visits to Blackburn (W1-D7-L12) and I certainly wouldn’t be punting them this weekend. Birmingham are winless under Gianfranco Zola’s watch, losing three of his first five Championship matches in the hot-seat (W0-D2-L3).
The Italian made six changes to his team for their FA Cup exit at Newcastle in midweek but Tomasz Kuszczak, Stephen Gleeson and Lukas Jutkiewicz are all likely to be recalled to the starting XI here with new signings Emilio Nsue, Cheick Keita and Craig Gardner all pushing for inclusion.
Striker Clayton Donaldson remains out while winger Jacques Maghoma is at the African Cup of Nations but Jutkiewicz’s has hit form at the right team when leading the line and although Blues have been nilled on four occasions since December, I’d still back them to get on the scoresheet here.
Zola’s team showed plenty of ambition at Barnsley in their last Championship away day on New Year’s Eve – firing in eight attempts from inside the penalty box – and Gary Rowett’s sacking came about because the new owners wanted to see a more aesthetically-pleasing and attacking structure from City.
Both Teams To Score has won in 7/12 (58%) of Birmingham’s road trips this term and has bagged profit in a combined 16/25 (64%) home/away games involving the two clubs. Alongside the expected goals stats, BTTS is overpriced this weekend and well worth supporting here.
Rochdale v Oxford | Saturday 15:00
A stoppage-time defeat at Southend halted a six-match winning streak for Rochdale last time out .The Lancashire outfit felt they deserved a point in the fiery encounter against the Shrimpers, suggesting decisions just didn’t go their way on the day.
So Keith Hill’s side will be doubly determined to get back on the winning wagon this weekend when Oxford pitch up at Spotland. And I can’t actually work out how the hosts are available to back at odds-against quotes (6/5 Bet365).
This is a Rochdale team boast the joint-best home record in the league alongside table-topping Sheffield United (W10-D1-L2). Dale have accumulated a +19 goal difference in those 13 fixtures are remarkably churned out 10 successive triumphs on home soil since mid-September.
Top-seven opposition Scunthorpe, Bolton, Southend and Fleetwood have all left Spotland empty-handed with hosts racking up at least two goals in eight of their magnificent 10 triumphs.
Hill’s troops are returning shot and shots on-target ratio figures of around the 62% mark when welcoming League One teams to their north-west base and only three third-tier clubs have faced fewer on-target efforts this term at home.
Home certainly is where Rochdale’s heart is, with Hill leading the unfashionable side to 33/59 (56%) home wins at League One level. That percentage success-rate implies betting odds of around the 4/5 mark and that’s the sort of price I was expecting to see here.
It should be said; Dale’s fabulous form isn’t restricted to Spotland. The club were winless in their opening seven games but have since recorded W14-D0-L5, keeping nine clean sheets and scoring in all bar four away days during that sample.
The hosts are without suspended midfielder Keith Keane so Donal McDermott, should feature for the first team since early December. Elsewhere, Steven Davies has been ruled out and Joe Thompson is set for a spell on the sidelines. But Peter Vincenti is available again and Scott Tanser has recovered from illness.
Visitors Oxford have perhaps been one of League One’s most underperforming sides since winning promotion. Last weekend’s 2-1 reverse at AFC Wimbledon saw the U’s drop into the bottom-half of the table with Michael Appleton’s men unable to cope with the physicality of Tom Elliott.
Although league results haven’t always gone Oxford’s way, the U’s are still competing in two cup competitions and face Bradford on Tuesday night in the EFL Trophy knowing victory would put t hem 90 minutes away from a Wembley appearance. Enough to distract on Saturday? Possibly.
Oxford’s performance data marks them out as a top-six side but there’s been an overreliance on Chris Maguire to produce the goods – he’s been directly involved in 13/30 (43%) of the U’s goals – and their inconstant away form has to be questioned.
The visitors have lost seven of their 13 road trips and have taken only four points from a possible 21 when travelling to teams above them in the standings (W1-D1-L5). With that in mind, I’m keen to keep Rochdale onside here.
Accrington v Carlisle | Saturday 15:00
A similar side to Oxford in far greater strife is Accrington. Stanley are fighting a relegation battle despite posting top-three results in key performance data metrics.
John Coleman’s charges were beaten 3-0 at fellow strugglers Cheltenham last weekend, extending their rotten run to just one victory in 12 and only two league triumphs since mid-September. It has to turn soon, surely?
Accy only lost the shout count at Whaddon Road 11-10 and were well in the game at 1-0 down. Unmarked defender Mark Hughes hit the Cheltenham crossbar from six yards with the goal gaping before midfielder Scott Brown was harshly sent off and Stanley fell apart.
Nevertheless, Accrington tend do produce their best work on home soil and Coleman will be pleased to return to the Crown Ground for what’s expected to be a bumper crowd against Carlisle on Saturday.
The hosts have already turned over promotion-chasing Portsmouth and Doncaster at the Crown Ground this term and whilst I won’t be backing them to pick up maximum points, I fully expect Accy to get amongst the goals.
Both Teams To Score has been chalked up at 4/6 (Bet365) but it makes perfect sense when you see how prolific these two teams are at this level.
Accrington have scored in all bar two of their home fixtures this term, keeping a sole clean sheet. Their 12 Crown Ground games are averaging 2.75 goals per-game with nine banking in the BTTS column.
Since Coleman took charge, Stanley have fired blanks in only 5/54 (9%) home outings with a huge 41 (76%) providing profit for Both Teams To Score backers – that percentage success-rate implies betting odds of just 1/3.
Carlisle are League Two’s great entertainers and only Luton have fired in more on-target efforts than Keith Curle’s charges this season.
The Cumbrians have scored in all bar one of their 26 league fixtures with a whopping 20 (77%) paying-out in our chosen market. The visitors have only kept five clean sheets – the last of which was in early October – with their 13 away days averaging 3.36 goals per-game.
If you put the two clubs’ respective home/away records together, the two teams have scored in 22/25 (88%), shutout only 3/25 (12%) opponents and been involved in 19/25 (76%) Both Teams To Score winners, suggesting that aforementioned 1/3 quote would be more accurate.