FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Sheffield United v Hull | Saturday 6th October 2018, 15:00
Three consecutive Championship triumphs have lifted Sheffield United to joint-top of the second-tier. Billy Sharp’s double earned the Blades an emphatic 2-0 win at Blackburn in midweek, a performance full of poise, style and swagger.
Rovers – previously unbeaten at Ewood Park since September 2017 in league football – were supremely swatted aside and the margin of victory would have been greater but for home goalkeeper David Raya. Chris Wilder’s troops fired in seven on-target efforts and generated 2.08 Expected Goals on the night.
The United boss was understandably delighted by his team’s display, saying post-match: “When we were in possession we looked like we could score and even though it took until the second half to get in front, we would have been bitterly disappointed not to win.”
The Blades were unchanged for the third game running with David McGoldrick partnering Sharp in attack, after both were on the scoresheet at Millwall in their prior encounter. Few major alterations are expected this weekend, although home supporters will have been delighted to see Paul Coutts make his first-team return in midweek from the bench, 11 months ago after breaking a leg.
United are rated as short as 4/7 to overcome Yorkshire rivals Hull here and there’s little argument with such quotes. The Blades are operating inside the top-six for all the major performance data metrics after a quarter of the campaign, while the Tigers aren’t outside the bottom-eight in the same segments.
However, a more attractive punt is supporting the home side to score Over 1.5 Goals at handsome odds of 8/11 (Betfair). Only three Championship clubs are averaging a higher xG from open play per-game figure than United’s 0.94, while only Brentford have fired in more attempts from inside the penalty area.
The Blades have won 15 (54%) of their home league games since promotion, scoring at least twice on 13 (46%) occasions, and have plundered 10 Bramall Lane goals across their opening five fixtures against Aston Villa, Norwich, Preston, Swansea and Birmingham.
Nigel Adkins’ guests offered little to convince they’ll be avoiding a relegation battle following their 1-0 home defeat to Leeds. City were forced into errors by Leeds’ relentless pressing game, while countless attacks limply broke down inside the visitors’ half, ensuring goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell was not asked to make a single save of note until the 85th minute.
Defeat was the Tigers’ fifth in their last seven outings (W1-D1-L5), and although Adkins hopes Jackson Irvine will be fit enough to take part despite being withdrawn early, Hull will still be without Evandro, Jordy de Wijs, Ondrej Mazuch, Angus MacDonald or James Weir again on Saturday afternoon.
Since relegation to this level, the Humbersiders have lost 50% of away days, keeping only five shutouts on their travels. The Tigers have shipped at least two goals in each of their past four on the road, averaging 1.71 goals per-game against since the start of last season, and are look unlikely to stem the bleeding here.
This selection has proven profitable in 13/22 (59%) of the two clubs’ combined contests this term and is a great value angle to get behind this weekend.
Millwall v Aston Villa | Saturday 6th October 2018, 15:00
Little under six months ago, Aston Villa were 90 minutes away from a return to the Premier League. The Villans suffered play-off final heartache at the hands of Fulham and almost imploded in the summer as financial irregularities caught up with the club during a treacherous off-season.
The Claret & Blue eventually sailed through those choppy waters and confidence remained reasonably high around Villa Park that Steve Bruce could guide the Second City giants towards another promotion push. However, a series of second-rate displays have seen the former European champions suffer.
Supporters in the Holte End chanted “We want Brucie out” after watching Villa chuck away a 2-0 lead, and then missed an injury-time penalty in a thrilling 3-3 home draw with rock-bottom Preston in midweek. A cabbage was also thrown at Bruce from the stands as incensed fans demanded action from above.
Villa had won just one of their previous 10 tussles and Bruce had reportedly been given two games to save his skin. Nevertheless, the Claret & Blue hierarchy stepped in to remove the beleaguered boss with Kevin MacDonald given caretaker charge ahead of Saturday’s trip to Millwall.
The temporary manager has a tricky task on his hand. Firstly, Villa have won just 11/28 (39%) of their away days since the start of last season, and secondly the guests are in the midst of a major selection crisis in defence.
James Chester's red card against Preston rules out the Villa skipper, while Mile Jedinak is also unavailable through injury. Chester and Jedinak had been Bruce's first choice centre-back pairing this season and the Claret & Blue concluded their midweek match with a back-four made up of full-backs.
Ahmed Elmohamady, Axel Tuanzebe, James Bree and Alan Hutton were the makeshift men and if Jedinak doesn't recover in time, the mix and match backline will be forced to fend off the feisty Londoners with rookie centre-back Jacob Bedeau next in line to fill the void.
Such concerns should encourage a Millwall side that valiantly fought back to pick up a well-deserved point at Nottingham Forest. The Lions were trailing 2-0 at the City Ground but a stoppage-time leveller by Lee Gregory saw them bank their first Championship point on the road since early August.
Neil Harris hailed the spirit in Millwall’s camp and admitted he was gutted not to head home with maximum points. Tom Bradshaw had a goal disallowed, Gregory hit the bar and also had a very strong penalty claim for handball turned down. The Lions won the xG count 0.27-2.81 and fired in 15 shots from inside the area.
Harris said: “We have had 15 shots, seven on target, hit the woodwork twice and scored two goals and the keeper has made some saves. We have not been clinical enough. That’s not having a go at my players, that’s just reality.”
Jed Wallace returns from suspension for the hosts here and Harris must decide whether to stick or twist having made four changes to his starting line-up in midweek. Shane Ferguson, Tom Elliott, Jiri Skalak and Murray Wallace were all given starts and may have earned themselves a berth in Saturday’s side.
I’d fancy Millwall to score – they’ve done so in all bar four of their 28 home outings since returning to the Championship and their muscular, direct approach has the potential to cause Villa plenty of problems. Even so, defensive flaws continue to dog the Lions and so Both Teams To Score appeals at 4/5 (10BET).
The home side has seen BTTS bank in 16/28 (57%) encounters at The Den and have recorded a solitary shutout in their opening 11 fixtures. All five contests in front of their supporters have seen this selection pay-out this season, and the same can be said of 10 of Aston Villa’s 11 showdowns in 2018/19.
For all their woes, the visitors have scored in every Championship clash this term, while only Brentford and Bristol City have hit the target more often.
Southend v Oxford | Saturday 6th October 2018, 15:00
Southend made it three League One wins on the spin after coming from behind to beat Burton 2-1 on Tuesday night. Tom Hopper and Simon Cox secured the victory for the Shrimpers, who had seen goalkeeper Mark Oxley twice push Albion efforts onto the woodwork in a lively first half.
Blues boss Chris Powell said he “couldn’t be any happier” post-match but admitted Burton should have been out of sight by half-time, and suggested some sharp words were exchanged at the interval, before a much-improved United effort after the break.
Powell rested Sam Mantom in midweek with Dru Yearwood returning to the fold, giving the Southend manager options that weren’t available to him only a matter of weeks ago. The Shrimpers faced a mightily tough run of fixtures whilst in the midst of a major selection crisis through September, culminating in a poor run of results.
Oxley, Michael Kightly, Harry Bunn and Yearwood have overcome suspension and/or injury woes, and Powell’s switch to a three-man defence prior to the 1-0 triumph over Fleetwood also appears to have steadied the ship. The Essex outfit strolled into a three-goal lead against Wycombe (3-2) thereafter, before seeing off Burton.
Going forward, the home side pack enough punch to pose any League One side problems. Cox and Hopper have combined to score 10 of their 15-goal tally, whilst the bullocking Theo Robinson’s selfless efforts and hold up play give the hosts variety in the offensive third.
Southend have W5-D1-L1 when taking on bottom-half dwellers this term – compared to W0-D0-L4 against the top-10 – but United rank amongst the top-six in League One for shot ratio, shots on-target ratio, shots from inside the box ratio and xG ratio, suggesting they’re worthy 10/11 (Blacktype) favourites here.
Opponents Oxford have lost 10 of their past 14 fixtures against Southend and are winless at Roots Hall in their past 10 trips dating back to 2003. The Yellows are winless since August and the second-from-bottom side slumped to their eighth league loss in 11 when conceding a 98th minute goal against Luton on Tuesday.
Star winger Ricky Holmes suggested all 23 squad members could be sold considering their performances across the campaign, and confessed the Luton loss opened the side into the realisation that they're now in the midst of a relegation battle.
Manager Karl Robinson echoed such sentiments when saying, “Right now you're looking down a dark tunnel with no light at the end of it”. However, he has been attempting to change the scenery in the hope of producing a different on-field outcome. Ian Wright visited the club on Monday and a proposed day off was scrapped in favour of a bonding session.
It remains to be seen whether the team react positively on Saturday. In truth, performances have largely been better than results with issues in both boxes proving Oxford’s downfall. And the visitors will head to Essex without their 20-year-old skipper Shandon Baptiste through suspension as they look to enhance a sorry road record under Robinson’s watch (W1-D2-L7).
Since the start of last season, the Yellows have lost 15/29 (54%) road trips and this term no League One side has conceded more often than the guests. Meanwhile, Southend boast a 50% home win rate since the beginning of 2017/18, with a W8-D2-L4 return at Roots Hall under Powell’s tutelage.