FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's 3pm kick-offs.
Preston v Bolton | Saturday 1st September 2018, 15:00
After opening their account with an ugly 1-0 home victory over QPR, Preston have struggled to put points on the board. The Lilywhite have W0-D1-L3 in their following four games and arrive at the weekend having been beaten in back-to-back Championship outings against Derby and Norwich.
Boss Alex Neil has remained upbeat about his side’s fortunes and his faith was rewarded in midweek as PNE secured an overdue 2-0 victory in the EFL Cup away at Leeds. Daniel Johnson and Brandon Barker scored to cap impressive displays although Ryan Ledson’s red card rules him out of action here.
North End’s issues thus far have come in the final-third. Admittedly, goalkeeper Declan Rudd was at fault for both goals in defeat at Derby seven days ago but Preston lacked genuine threat going forward despite Callum Robinson fluffing an opportunity to give the guests a first-half lead.
Overall, Neil’s troops fired in just six attempts at Pride Park and their paltry offensive efforts have proven to be their Achilles heel. Only Ipswich (0.34) are averaging a lower xG from open play figure than PNE (0.48) and with Sean Maguire and Billy Bodin sidelined, the hosts may continue to lack cutting edge.
Nevertheless, the Lilywhites continue to operate from a firm base. Only Millwall (0.42) are giving up a lower xG from open play figure than North End per-game and their solid foundation should stand the home side in good stead for their return to Deepdale on Saturday against north-west rivals Bolton.
The Trotters only survived in the second-tier on the final day of last season but sit third in the early stanza of the season thanks to tabling 10 points from their first five fixtures. Wanderers have been quick out of the blocks but hit their first minor stumbling block in last week’s 3-0 home defeat by Sheffield United.
Phil Parkinson’s side never recovered from a nightmare start that saw Bolton concede twice in the first 22 minutes. The Trotters registered a sole shot on-target in defeat and the boss has said he wants his side to be more “Bolton-like” when they make the short journey this weekend
. The truth is, Wanderers have probably rode their luck a little this term. The visitors have been out-shot 45-86 across their five outings and returned just a 39% xG from open play ratio in those fixtures – the fifth lowest tally in the division.
So my angle here is to oppose Bolton but take the added insurance of the Double Chance market – the Trotters have won three (12%) away trips since the start of last season, while PNE were beaten on only six (24%) occasions in the same 25-match sample on home soil – as well as adding in Under 2.5 Goals.
Betfair’s Same Game Multi market bumps the odds to 5/6 here – a punt that holds plenty of appeal when you consider the two teams have scored just nine goals between them in 10 matches thus far. Meanwhile, the duos collectively 50 home/away fixtures since the start of 2017/18 have produced 32 (64%) Under 2.5 Goals winners alongside an average of only 2.26 goals per-game.
Portsmouth v Plymouth | Saturday 1st September 2018, 15:00
Portsmouth boss Kenny Jackett wasn’t a happy man after seeing his side lose their 100% record with a 0-0 draw at Doncaster last weekend. The early pacesetters recovered from a slow start and were denied a victory after an improved second-half performance at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Jackett slammed his troops for their early efforts, admitting his team never got going in a first period that was dominated by Rovers, saying “I could’ve made a number of changes at half-time. We needed more energy, more life and more football in midfield.”
Having had a full week to stew over the performance, Portsmouth return home on Saturday for another tussle with Plymouth at Fratton Park. The pair have been engaged in some pivotal meetings in recent seasons and there’ll be no love lost between the two clubs when they lock horns.
Nevertheless, Pompey have been chalked up as 4/5 (Bet365) favourites to take top honours and it’s a price well worth taking. We put the hosts up as potential League One champions in our pre-season previews and the early signs suggest Jackett is getting his group in the grove ahead of a sustained promotion tilt.
Portsmouth were a little fortunate to overcome Luton on the opening weekend and followed that result up with triumphs against Blackpool, Oxford and Bristol Rovers thereafter. Pompey weren’t particularly convincing away at the Seasiders or Gas but a return to home comforts should evoke an improved effort.
There’s plenty of quality at Jackett’s disposal. At the time of writing, the club are looking to bring in a goalscorer, although earlier this week Andre Green joined recent loan additions David Wheeler and Ben Thompson at the Hampshire outfit; with Nathan Thompson expected to return from injury, the hosts are in decent shape.
In the away dressing room, Plymouth are still hunting for their first League One win of the new campaign. Argyle will be doing so with manager Derek Adams in the stands and a squad that saw a 2-1 advantage away at Millwall eviscerated with seven minutes to play in Wednesday night’s EFL Cup contest.
The visitors were shredded 5-1 at home to Peterborough last weekend and Adams pulled no punches when asked about his team’s efforts. The Greens were poor in possession and passive in defence and must improve on their early showings with only two sides publishing a worse xG from open play ratio.
This will be another tough test for Plymouth and I’m happy to get against the guests here. Argyle are averaging just 0.52 xG from open play per-game and are coming up against a Pompey side that’s conceded just three goals thus far, one of which was a penalty, as well as arriving on the back of a Wednesday night game.
Portsmouth have won 14/25 (56%) of their past League One outings here and I’m happy to invest in a repeat this Saturday.
Notts County v Forest Green | Saturday 1st September 2018, 15:00
Kevin Nolan said Notts County couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the foot after seeing the Magpies lose 3-1 at Lincoln. Less than 24 hours later, Nolan was sacked by the Meadow Lane club.
It’s been a surprising turn of events for County, who started the season amongst the leading candidates for the title following a lavish summer spending spree. A goalless draw against Colchester kicked off their campaign but four consecutive defeats followed as the Magpies shipped 13 goals.
Nolan wasn’t dealt a kind hand by the footballing gods, either. Both Richard Duffy and Matt Tootle were forced off in the first half at Lincoln last weekend, while the opening goal against League Two’s front-runners came via a spectacular volley.
Even so, County’s performances – particularly defensive – raised enough alarm bells around the club to make an early move. Harry Kewell agreed to takeover and was announced as the club’s new boss on Friday and Magpies fans will now hope to see an immediate improvement when Forest Green arrive.
Truth be told, this punt is based on price than any circumstantial evidence, but I’m happy to back the hosts at 19/20 (Ladbrokes) in the Draw No Bet market. County have been strong performers at Meadow Lane over the past 12 months, losing on only three occasions (W14-D8-L3).
If Kewell can lift spirits and the first XI can eliminate elementary defensive errors then County absolutely have the individual quality to shine against a much-improved Forest Green side, but one that also lacks a little steel when away from their Nailsworth base.
The Green Devils have shipped three of their four goals from penalties and boast a strong 65% xG from open play ratio thus far. However, Mark Cooper’s troops are winless since the opening day, drawing each of their last four outings.
Christian Doidge and Reuben Reid form a strong partnership in attack but Rovers have struggled to create too many clear-cut opportunities for the pair in recent encounters and with the guests returning W4-D7-L14 in their 25 away days at this level, I’m happy to oppose them here.
We’re almost getting even-money on a selection that would have seen our stake lost in only 7/50 (14%) league matches since the start of last season – chuck recent form and events out the window, that’s too good a price to ignore.