FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Brentford v QPR | Saturday 2nd March 2019, 15:00
This is a contest no QPR fan ever looks forward to with relish. Being housed in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham – along with Chelsea and Fulham – Rangers fans have bigger fish to fry than Brentford in search of rivalry and West London bragging rights.
For years, the two teams rarely met in the league pyramid, rendering any sort of ill-feeling or rivalry cold or insignificant from the QPR-side. However, in more recent times there’s no question Brentford have arrived on the West London scene, making their mark regularly against regional foes. The upstarts from Hounslow also have an axe to grind with Rangers…
Bees backers see the R’s as their arch-enemies. As well as being a short hop between the two clubs, the bitterness between the pair intensified in 1967, when Rangers failed in an attempted takeover of Brentford, a move which, had it succeeded, would have seen the Hoops move into Griffin Park and Brentford quit the Football League.
Understandably, that provoked a major reaction from Brentford supporters and like elephants, football fans never forget (or forgiven) their most hated neighbours for it. Therefore, meetings at Griffin Park are always feisty occasions with home supporters desperate to topple the R’s enemy.
No opponent motivates the Bees more than QPR, and more often than not it’s inspired a positive reaction from the hosts on the field. Since 1961, Rangers have won once here and each of the last three encounters at Griffin Park have ended in home victories. And I’m happy to back a repeat on Saturday with Brentford so reliable on home soil.
Last weekend’s 5-1 shellacking of Hull here was the Bees’ 10th triumph in 17 – a record that enhances to W10-D1-L1 when excluding the top nine teams in the Championship. In 10 of those 12 matches, Thomas Frank’s team struck at least twice and their recent W5-D1-L0 return here has seen Brentford rack up 16 goals.
The hosts are scoring well over two goals per-game at Griffin Park across the whole campaign, generating 1.75 Expected Goals (xG). Said Benrahma, Neal Maupay and Ollie Watkins are three of the division’s hottest offensive players and I wonder whether QPR’s backline will be capable of coping with such quality. I suspect not.
The R’s have leaked at least twice in seven of their most recent nine Championship games, silencing four sides since October – two of which are in the bottom-six of the division. Tuesday night’s unexpected, backs-to-the-wall victory over Leeds at Loftus Road lifted the visitors 12 points away from the relegation zone, although the squad has looked increasingly leggy with this match set to be Rangers’ 17th in 70 days.
The visitors have W1-D2-L8 away at teams above them in the table, and conceded twice or more in nine of 17 overall road trips under Steve McClaren. Indeed, 10 of the 16-point tally accrued in QPR’s games as guests came at the bottom-four, whilst only six clubs are returning a worse xG ratio on the road.
Brentford are available to support alongside Over 1.5 Goals at 23/20 (Ladbrokes) and that’s a price I’m happy to get onside with. QPR have netted in 20 of their past 24 league matches with 13 of their last 18 breaking the Over 2.5 Goals barrier. Meanwhile, only six of Brentford’s 33 league games have featured fewer than two goals.
Luton v Rochdale | Saturday 2nd March 2019, 15:00
This selection does not require too much fleshing out – Luton to win and Over 1.5 Goals is available to back at 7/10 (Ladbrokes) and I’m chuffed to be on at that price.
The Hatters – one of our ante-post recommendations – saw their six-game winning streak ended by Coventry in front of the Sky Sports cameras but the Bedfordshire boys were the aggressors in that game, winning the shot count 13-4 and the xG battle 1.57 to 0.68 at Kenilworth Road. It was only the fourth time this term Town have dropped points at home.
Yes, Luton have delivered a staggeringly good W13-D4-L0 in front of their home supporters, putting together an unrivalled 64% xG ratio here. No side comes close to matching their average 1.92 xG output at Kenny, whilst their 42-goal tally here is eight goals better than any other divisional rival.
Mick Harford’s kept the Hatters on-course and it’s very difficult to dismiss Town in their current guise. Since early September, Luton have collected 61 points from a possible 78 (W18-D7-L1), scoring at least twice in 20 of those 26 League One outings. If they find anywhere near their best range on Saturday, Rochdale could be eaten alive.
Rochdale have lost nine of their last 11 matches, conceded 14 shots on-target in their 5-1 thumping at Plymouth last time out and have shipped four or more goals on five occasions during that concerning streak. Keith Hill’s men hold the division’s worst defensive record, as well as conceding the largest xG figure from open play in 2018/19.
Dale are pointless in their four previous trips to the top-seven this term by an aggregate 13-3, and the visitors have shipped 27 goals in 10 home or away meetings with the same sample of sides. Things could get very ugly on Saturday afternoon.
Bury v Macclesfield | Saturday 3rd March 2019, 15:00
I’m sure regular readers are a little bored of reading about Bury in this parish by now. But whilst the Shakers continue to deliver the goods, there’s little reason to leave them alone.
Again, Bury to win and Over 1.5 Goals stands out on Saturday with Betway offering 31/40 on the outcome – an odd price that translates into decimal odds of 1.78, just a smidgen shy of a 4/5 shot. Great, eh?
Ryan Lowe’s men put local rivals Oldham to the sword here seven days ago, beating the Latics 3-1 and racking up 3.29 xG in the process. Bury fired in 18 shots, 12 of which arrived from inside the penalty area as their swashbuckling attack continued to cause divisional rivals a whole heap of problems.
The Greater Manchester club did suffer a damaging 3-0 EFL Trophy semi-final defeat to League One promotion-chasers Portsmouth in midweek but the final score didn’t do the Shakers’ efforts justice. Nevertheless, a return to league action this weekend should see normal service resumed with Bury enjoying a 10-game unbeaten run (W7-D3-L0).
Since September, the hosts have W17-D8-L4 – a 2.03 points per-game average – and at Gigg Lane the Shakers have W10-D4-L1 during that sample, scoring at least twice in 12 of 15 fixtures. In fact, Lowe’s men have scored three times or more in nine of those 15 outings and Bury’s xG figures mark them out as major automatic promotion contenders.
Newly-promoted Macclesfield arrive this weekend and after a brief renaissance following Mark Yates’ sacking in early October, Town have regressed to the average since Boxing Day. Sol Campbell’s side have W2-D4-L4 to remain entrenched in the League Two relegation places, losing three of their most recent five away days.
Across the whole campaign, Macclesfield have been beaten in 12 of 17 road trips, leaking twice or more in nine. The Silkmen were swatted aside 3-1 away at Mansfield at the start of February and a similar outcome is anticipated when they make the relatively short hop north to face Bury here.