FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) delivered four winners from six EFL fancies this week. Can he continue his good form on Saturday?
Aston Villa v Bolton | Saturday 30th October 2017, 15:00
Aston Villa boss Steve Bruce has urged his squad to rise to the challenge and keep their good run of results going when rock-bottom Bolton arrive at Villa Park on Saturday afternoon.
On the back of arguably the Villans most impressive performance of under Bruce’s watch – the 4-0 destruction of Burton at the Pirelli Stadium in midweek – the home manager is keen to guard against complacency but eager to kick-on and extend Villa’s current seven-match unbeaten streak (W4-D3-L0).
Despite firing blanks in two of those seven matches, Bruce’s boys have plundered 14 goals in their upwardly mobile recent run that’s included three consecutive triumphs. Four of Villa’s past five opponents have been silenced with the Second City side climbing from just above the relegation zone to on the verge of the play-off positions.
Robert Snodgrass has been a standout star since arriving on-loan, Jonathan Kodjia fit and firing plus the emergence of Keinan Davis, the hosts have plenty of options and ability in their ranks to dispatch hapless Bolton. Indeed, Mile Jedinak and Henri Lansbury are Villa’s chief injury concerns.
The Bolton board have insisted Phil Parkinson still has their full support, despite the club currently in the midst of their worst losing streak since 1907. The Trotters have lost each of their last seven league games ‘to nil’ and already six points adrift of safety.
With the transfer embargo limiting recruitment, it's hard to see the Wanderers’ plight improving before January. And with Derik, Josh Vela and Filipe Morais confirmed absentees here – with Jem Karacan a major doubt – the visitors are looking a little short in key areas.
The guests last four away days have all ended in defeat by an aggregate 11-0 and with Bolton failing to grab a goal since mid-August – a drought that has extended past the 10-hour mark – it’s difficult to see the Trotters causing a defensively capable Villa side too many problems.
Obviously, Villa are too skinny to back in the Match Odds market but a punt on Bruce’s boys to be leading at half-time and full-time appeals at 11/10 with Ladbrokes. Villa have opened the scoring in nine of their past 13 Championship clashes on home soil and led at the break in all four of their triumphs this term.
What’s more, the Villans boast a very positive 9-1 goal supremacy when viewing the first 45 minutes of league football this season, compared to a negative 1-12 for Bolton. The visitors have fallen behind in nine of their first 10 tussles and trailed at the interval in seven of their eight losses.
Preston v Sunderland | Saturday 30th October 2017, 15:00
Simon Grayson makes his first return to his old stomping ground on Saturday as out-of-form Sunderland travel to Preston. The Black Cats boss has struggled to arrest the Wearsiders’ worrying decline and with a solitary point picked up from a possible 21, the guest find themselves second from bottom.
Tuesday’s 5-2 thumping at Ipswich incensed supporters and serious questions are now being asked of Grayson’s ability to put Sunderland back on the straight and narrow. I’m still certain he’s the right man to stem the bleeding but it may take time to put the Black Cats show back on the road.
Injuries have played their part but Grayson’s tinkering hasn’t helped. In midweek the Wearsiders’ number one made five changes with Aiden McGeady and Callum McManaman amongst those returning to the fold. The 4-2-3-1 is a system that should get the best out of the players available but once again Sunderland looked like an unorganised mess.
The Black Cars are regularly being outfought and outplayed by younger teams with momentum and confidence. And Saturday’s visitors have been found to be alarmingly wanting in wide areas and through the centre of midfield. They’re areas Preston will attempt to control.
The visitors are yet to keep a clean sheet this season and Tuesday’s injury to Marc Wilson means veteran John O'Shea might be recalled to the defence. meanwhile, Lewis Grabban and Duncan Watmore remain sidelined, giving Grayson few quality options going forward.
Preston should be well capable of taking advantage of Sunderland in their current guide and I’m happy backing the hosts at 10/11 (Bet365). Alex Neill’s charges have picked up 19 points from their opening 10 outings despite a difficult fixture list.
Eight of the Lilywhites’ 10 Championship duels have come against sides forecast to finish in the top-14 (according to pre-season bookmaker odds) and they’ve performed with aplomb. Only Cardiff boast a better Expected Goals supremacy return whilst North End rank third when viewing open play Expected Goals data.
Progress has been built on a wonderful defensive record. The hosts have shipped just once goal at Deepdale this term (W3-D2-L0) and their average of 0.94 xG against per-game is comfortably a divisional best. No side has faced fewer attempts and Preston are only conceding 2.20 on-target efforts per-match.
Neil’s overseeing an exciting, young and very hard working squad but deserves credit himself. On Tuesday night he made two attacking substitutions that helped the Lancashire outfit collect a 2-1 triumph at Hull and should his side continue these exemplary displays, Preston can be considered as promotion candidates.
Coventry v Crewe | Saturday 30th September 2017, 15:00
Mark Robins is looking to capitalise on Coventry’s feel-good factor by taking another three points when Crewe arrive at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.
The Sky Blues came from behind to beat Swindon in midweek to make it four wins from five (W4-D0-L1) and move to within a point of the automatic promotion places. With Stuart Beavon and Peter Vincenti both absent, Robins was delighted with his team’s efforts.
Both are expected to return this weekend and striker Marc McNulty may also play a more prominent part having fully recovered from his own injury. But with Duckens Nazon and Max Biamou impressing on Tuesday night, Robins has a nice conundrum to solve in his striking positions.
City boast the league’s best central midfield pair Liam Kelly and Michael but it’s been their supreme defensive efforts that have really caught the eye. Cov have already kept six clean sheets this term and they’re conceding only 2.20 shots on-target per-game – easily the division’s best figures.
Looking at Expected Goals numbers, Coventry convincingly top the table. Robins’ hosts boast a 70.61% xG ratio return – their share of the total xG across their 10 matches thus far – that’s a +0.82 supremacy per-game. Put simply, the Sky Blues have almost been a goal better than their opposition thus far.
At home, Coventry have claimed four wins – including beating the top-two Notts County and Exeter – whilst only one goal has been shipped. Over their past 10 Ricoh Arena dates in Football League action, the home side have W8-D1-L1 and silenced seven visitors to their East Midlands base.
I was hot on Crewe’s promotion chances pre-season but a promising start has since disintegrated with the Railwaymen sinking from fourth to 18th on the back of five defeats in six. In four of those five losses, the Alex have failed to score.
David Artell said last Saturday’s 5-0 home defeat to Carlisle was the worst he’s ever felt in football but Tuesday night’s gut-wrenching late loss at Wycombe (2-3) will have sickened the Crewe boss and means the guests have now conceded 11 goals in their last three outings.
That’s probably unsurprising when the Alex are facing almost five on-target efforts per-game, whilst their Expected Goals per-game against stands out a worryingly high 2.20. Crewe’s data has them returning a negative 0.69 xG per-game this season and I don’t see it improving here.
Injuries had been subsiding but Ryan Wintle's now suffered a long-term injury and Artell appears to be plugging round holes with square pegs across his defence and midfield.
The Railwaymen’s road record provides precious relief. Crewe have W1-D0-L6 in their last seven away days – during that sample they’ve leaked three goals on four occasions – and if we extend that run of results, it’s 10 defeats in 15 on their travels.
The cash has come for Coventry this week but even at the current 3/4 (Ladbrokes) there’s value in backing the home win.