FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns to share his favourite fancies from Saturday's coupon.
Derby v Millwall | Saturday 23rd December 2017, 15:00
Derby made a slow start to the new season, winning just three of their first 10 fixtures, and arrived at October down in 15th. But the Rams have claimed nine triumphs in their last 12 outings to charge into play-off positions with an automatic promotion berth within sight.
The squad’s been built on Gary Rowett’s supreme organisational skills from the back and his squad are beginning to look more and more comfortable with his preferred counter-attacking approach.
Centre-back pairing Richard Keogh and Curtis Davies are ably protected by Tom Huddlestone and Joe Ledley or Bradley Johnson, providing County with an outstanding spine. In attack, Matej Vydra is relishing his new number 10 role with the selfless David Nugent or Chris Martin supporting.
Derby are likely to name an unchanged XI for Saturday’s showdown with Millwall following their fifth victory in six last weekend against Aston Villa with Tom Lawrence and Andreas Weimann shaking off recent injury concerns. The home side have suffered only two defeats in their last 15 games and few will fancy Millwall pre-match here.
The Lions are without a success on their travels since promotion (W0-D6-L5) but the capital club have been mightily unlucky not to have picked up more points in games as guests. However, what’s almost guaranteed from Neil Harris’ outfit is a stern examination.
Millwall approach every match in their familiar 4-4-2 system and the Lions will be happy to cede possession to their hosts. The visitors have been extremely solid on the road – only Wolves have a better away defensive record – although Millwall have fired blanks in eight of their 11 contests outside of The Den, a frustrating trend that’s held the newly-promoted side back.
Collectively the two clubs average a total of 1.95 Expected Goals from open play this season, comfortably amongst the division’s lowest and that’s also been reflected in their respective home/away encounters; the pair have provided Under 2.5 Goals profit in 17/22 (77%) of such matches with 11/22 (50%) failing to feature more than a solitary strike.
With that in mind, backing Under 2.5 Goals holds plenty of appeal at 77/100 (Marathon) but for those looking for a bit more bang for their buck, Derby double chance and Under 2.5 Goals is available at better than even-money over on 188BET.
Rotherham v MK Dons | Saturday 23rd December 2017, 15:00
Rotherham caught many of us by surprise with their excellent start to life back in League One. By mid-October the Millers were flirting with the top-six and were demolishing sides at their New York Stadium home.
United struck five goals on three separate occasions on home soil as Paul Warne silenced his summer critics. However, recently progress has slowed and Rotherham have slid into mid-table following a return of only one league success in nine (W1-D3-L5).
Having sourced 19 of their 30-point tally at their South Yorkshire base, the Millers’ superb home form has also eluded them of late. Saturday’s hosts have pocketed a solitary point from their last four when welcoming League One opposition, shipping nine goals in the process.
Last weekend Rotherham required a last-gasp leveller to seal a point against struggling Plymouth here. Warne’s men were lacking spark and invention as Argyle sat deep and defended resolutely for the majority of the 90 minutes, frustrating their hosts.
What’s gone wrong? Constant forced (and unforced) chopping and changing to the defence hasn’t allowed any consistency or continuity to form at the back whilst there’s also a sense that teams are starting to work the Millers out.
Rotherham are one of the league’s lowest passers but they feature prominently in the crossing stats. Unsurprising then that over 25% of their attempts at goal have arrived via headers with in-form beanpole Kieffer Moore leading the line.
Moore is suspended for this weekend’s encounter and he’ll be joined on the sidelines by the banned centre-back and captain Richard Wood, hardly ideal for a team that’s managed only five clean sheets in 22 outings.
So I’m happy to oppose Rotherham here but I’m also keen to explore the goals angle. United’s last nine have all paid out for Both Teams To Score backers, as well as seven of their 11 at the New York Stadium, whilst the same number has banked for Over 2.5 Goals backers.
MK Dons arrive with only three shutouts to their name on the road this season and their last away success came in September against a diabolical Bury side. A healthy eight of their last 11 banked in the BTTS column and they’ve managed to notch at least once in all bar four of their 11 games as guests.
And there’s now a sense that the Buckinghamshire outfit could kick-on. The draw specialists were the better side in last week’s 2-2 draw at high-flying Scunthorpe even before the home team’s red card and much of that positivity stems from the recent return from injury of Osman Sow.
Sow’s now played back-to-back league games with Chuks Aneke and with Peter Pawlett and Kieran Agard supporting in a front-four, the Dons have enough firepower to trouble any League One team.
Robbie Neilson’s troops should have beaten Shrewsbury a fortnight ago and the visitors should be capable of picking up at least a point here. With that in mind, I’ll back MK Dons in the double chance market alongside Both Teams To Score at 7/4 with 188BET.
Notts County v Cambridge | Saturday 23rd December 2017, 15:00
Notts County’s 43-point tally from 22 games is their best return at this stage of a league season since 1987/88 and it’s nearly twice the total the club had collected at this stage last season. Great credit must go to Kevin Nolan for the turnaround at Meadow Lane.
Nolan’s proven the end to last season was no fluke although County’s lofty position in second does owe much to their early-campaign run of eight victories in 10. Since then, the Magpies have managed just four wins in their subsequent 12 tussles.
Nevertheless, most of Notts County’s troubles have come on their travels – four points from their last six road trips – and at Meadow Lane, the Magpies remain a force. Indeed, Nolan’s charges have dropped just six points from a possible 33 (W8-D3-L0) on home soil this season.
Go further back and the hosts have W14-D6-L1 here when welcoming League Two opposition under Nolan’s watch – a 67% win rate. In 13 of those outings County have scored at least twice and nine visitors have been silenced.
It’s also worth pointing out that this year Notts are comfortably positioned in the top five teams for all the major performance data metrics, including a very healthy 58% Expected Goals from open play ratio.
Visitors Cambridge arrive in Nottinghamshire under a cloud. Three triumphs in 12 have seen the U’s tumble down the table with Shaun Derry’s men failing to even score in seven of those matches. A late loss at home to Newport last weekend left the club six points adrift of the play-off positions.
But the bigger story from The Abbey was the departure of Dave Doggett as chariman after nearly five years in the role. Paul Barry intends to assume full ownership of the club in January but Derry’s long-term position is anything but secure with the club suggesting he’ll remain in situ for the festive period at least.
Such uncertainty is sure to have knock-on effects to the players and although Uche Ikpeazu returns from suspension here and Ade Azeez played the full 90 minutes last week, the U’s still look very short on numbers; indeed last week Derry could only name four substitutes on the bench.
Cambridge have W2-D3-L6 on their travels this term, failing to score on seven occasions and been beaten in four of their six away battles with sides currently above them in the table. Their 45% Expected Goals from open play ratio ranks the guests 19th in League Two and only two teams are facing more shots on-target per-game. I’ll be backing Notts County to win here at 17/20 with BlackType.