FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Boxing Day's EFL action.
Birmingham v Stoke | Wednesday 26th December 2018, 15:00
I’m surprised to see Birmingham available at almost 2/1 on home soil against Stoke.
The Blues bounced back to winning ways with a convincing 3-0 triumph at Wigan on Saturday, allowing the Latics a sole shot on-target at the DW Stadium. Three points lifted Garry Monk’s men to within four points of the top-six and City should be backed to avoid defeat here on Boxing Day to stay in touch with the play-off places.
Birmingham have been beaten just five times this term – two of which arrived in August. The Blues have suffered a sole league loss at St Andrews since March and head into this showdown with the Potters boasting a better shot, shots on-target, shots in the box, Expected Goals and xG from open play ratio ranking than their visitors.
Stoke may have only lost twice since the September international break (W7-D8-L2) but five of those triumphs came at the Bet365 Stadium and the Potters’ high draw count has stalled progress. Gary Rowett’s troops have claimed top honours only twice on their travels, conceding twice or more in seven of 11 games as guests.
What’s more, Stoke have registered only four shots on-target in two of their past three outings despite facing struggling Ipswich and Millwall, whilst the Potters are shipping 1.77 xG on average outside of their Staffordshire base.
I’m therefore keen to keep Birmingham onside and I’ll dip into the Bet Builder market from Bet365 to support the Blues in the Double Chance market alongside Over 0.5 Goals for a very attractive 8/11 poke. We’ll make money should the home side avoid defeat by any scoreline other than 0-0.
The pair have seen an average of 2.82 in their collective home/away games with only three of those 22 ties featuring zero goals as 15 have seen both sides score.
Scunthorpe v Luton | Wednesday 26th December 2018, 15:00
I’m returning to two teams that have made us a small fortune in recent weeks. The approach remains the same as ever – oppose injury-stricken Scunthorpe and get with League One’s most in-form side, Luton.
Luton are hot odds-on favourites to triumph here but I’m bolstering the odds on offer by backing the Hatters to win in a match featuring Over 1.5 Goals. Nathan Jones’ have W11-D1-L1 in League One action since October, scoring at least twice in 12 of those encounters.
On Saturday the Bedfordshire boys brushed Burton aside with minimal fuss, restricting the Brewers to zero on-target efforts. That victory enhanced Town’s record to W14-D1-L0 when taking on teams in 10th and below, with Luton now averaging over nine shots from inside the box per-match and generated 0.97 Expected Goals from open play.
Scunthorpe boss Stuart McCall made no excuses for his side’s poor defending against Bradford on Saturday, and was scathing in his assessment of his side’s performance during their 2-0 defeat – only a string of fine saves from Jak Alnwick kept the score down to two.
To add insult to injury, the Iron have been dealt another huge injury blow with the news that Matthew Lund faces an extended spell on the sidelines. With the likes of Ryan Colclough and Josh Morris amongst a savage list of absentees, Scunny are easily opposed.
Selection problems were heighted by the fact Cameron Burgess was sent off after only coming on as a substitute at half time against Bantams, a match that saw the hosts’ losing streak extend to six. Scunthorpe have now W1-D1-L10 over their past 12, conceding at least twice on 10 occasions.
The hosts are giving up 1.95 xG per-game, concede 1.12 xG from open play, face the third-most shots, fourth-most on-target attempts and second-most shots from inside the box in the division. Scunny are attempting to ride out 2018 and invest in January but there might be plenty more pain to come, starting on Boxing Day.
Newport v Forest Green | Wednesday 26th December 2018, 15:00
Newport did the business for Both Teams To Score backers on Saturday, losing out in a 3-2 thriller at table-topping Lincoln. The Exiles were the better team on the day and will be looking to bounce back when they face a tough test from Forest Green at Rodney Parade.
The most obvious selection is to support BTTS once more at an appetising 5/6 from Sportingbet. Mike Flynn’s men have kept their sheets clean once since September and that’s led to 12 Both Teams To Score winners in 13 League Two games, with that 13-game sample including a 2.92 goals per-game average.
County have scored in all bar two of their 22 outings this term, notching twice or more in six of their 10 fixtures in Wales. Despite facing only two top-half teams, Newport have delivered BTTS profit in six contests as hosts with an average of 3.60 goals per-game.
Saturday’s win over Crewe pushed Forest Green above the home side and into the final play-off place in League Two as the Green Devils scored for the 19th game in 22 this season. A huge 17 of those matches have seen both sides score, including all 11 away from The New Lawn, as Mark Cooper’s men have kept just three shutouts in 2018/19.
As you can already tell, this is a stats-based selection. Collectively, Newport and Forest Green have scored in 39/44 (89%) contests, recording eight (18%) shutouts and seeing Both Teams To Score pay-out on 32 (73%) occasions, suggesting there’ll be plenty of goalmouth action again.
Birmingham v Stoke – Birmingham double chance and Over 0.5 Goals (8/11 Bet365)
Scunthorpe v Luton – Luton to win and Over 1.5 Goals (19/20 Ladbrokes)
Newport v Forest Green – Both Teams To Score (5/6 Sportingbet)