Oxford vs Hull | Saturday 5th December 2020, 15:00
Oxford landed their first League One clean sheet of the campaign in midweek as they held Ipswich to a goalless draw at the Kassam Stadium. The point keeps the U’s one place above the third-tier drop-zone and it’s fair to say that Karl Robinson’s charges needed some semblance of positivity following a desperately disappointing derby defeat to Swindon.
Regardless of the Berocca and paracetamol intake, last season’s play-off finalists have struggled to shake-off their Wembley hangover with eight defeats across their opening 14 league fixtures, including a W1-D2-L7 return against teams residing in 13th and above. And that alarming trend could continue when high-flying Hull arrive on Saturday.
Nine of Oxford’s 14 opponents have scored multiple goals, including four of six visitors to the Kassam, and that has to be of concern considering the attacking arsenal in the Hull squad. The Tigers are four points clear at the summit and have tabled six triumphs in eight away days since relegation, averaging a mighty 2.25 goals per-game on their travels.
Hull fired in 25 shots – 12 attempts from inside the penalty area – during a convincing victory at home to Doncaster in midweek and have registered 10 wins from 11 outings against sides outside of the top-10 in League One. Grant McCann's side rank third for shots in the box per-game and look well capable of extending their fine recent streak.
Only twice this term have the Humbersiders shipped two goals or more and their solid foundation should give the guests a platform to pick up a point at the minimum.
Oxford have fired blanks in seven of the aforementioned 10 tussles with top-13 outfits, including Tuesday night’s clash with injury-hit Ipswich, and the hosts average Expected Goals (xG) per-game output from open play is comfortably amongst the bottom-four in the division.
Harrogate vs Forest Green | Saturday 5th December 2020, 15:00
Forest Green have been one of League Two’s standout sides over the opening three months of the season and the Green Devils are worthy of support at 5/4 (William Hill) to enhance their fine road record with top honours at Harrogate on Saturday.
Rovers have posted a magnificent 50% win record on their travels dating back to the beginning of 2018/19, and this term alone the visitors are also operating around the same standard despite playing only eight times away from Nailsworth (W4-D2-L2).
Mark Cooper’s charges were at much for league leaders Newport in midweek and currently sit top of League Two’s Expected Points (xP) standings, boasting a series of strong underlying numbers across both Expected Goals (xG) and shots in the box with only Carlisle and Newport firing in more attempts at goal.
Harrogate’s early optimism has long since dissipated and the Sulphurites have slumped into the bottom-half of the table having earned a solitary success in eight (W1-D2-L5). Simon Weaver’s newcomers have failed to fire since returning home (W1-D2-L2) and arrive off the back of an alarming 5-2 defeat here when welcoming Scunthorpe on Tuesday night. Worryingly, the Town boss felt his players “sleepwalked to defeat” in midweek, suggesting a lack of energy and tiredness was the reasoning behind the reverse.
There’s no respite from the unforgiving schedule and Harrogate head into the showdown against high-flying Forest Green having been beaten in all five contests with top-half teams since promotion. The return of supporters could give the Sulphurites the necessary lift to bridge the gap, but at the prices, I’m happy to oppose the hosts here.
Bradford vs Carlisle | Saturday 5th December 2020, 15:00
Six defeats in eight, a severe injury crisis and occupying the club’s lowest league position since 2011, things aren’t particularly positive around Valley Parade right now.
Bradford boss Stuart McCall, who only this week signed a new deal, has promised supporters he’ll turn the tide in the long run, but there might be more pain before the Bantams fans experience any gain, particularly with sharp-shooting Carlisle in town on Saturday afternoon.
The Scot admitted he was “down to the bare bones” before Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Cheltenham which saw City drop to 22nd. Options will again be limited this weekend, specifically in forward areas with veteran Clayton Donaldson likely to shoulder the attacking burden once more with Billy Clarke, Kurtis Guthrie and Gareth Evans absent, plus Lee Novak won’t be risked as he continues his comeback.
All three of Bradford’s victories in 2020/21 have arrived against fellow bottom-six battlers and the Bantams have W0-D4-L6 against the rest of the division, whilst underlying performance data suggests the hosts aren’t far off projected ratings and so I’m happy to support the away side on Saturday with Carlisle trading at 6/4 (SkyBet).
The Cumbrians were deserved winners against Salford last time out to move within a point of the automatic promotion places in the fourth-tier. Chris Beech’s boys have posted W7-D2-L1 when taking on teams outside of the top-eight and sit amongst the front-runners for all the major data metrics with their attacking approach particularly standing out.
No League Two team has had more attempts at goal, or efforts from inside the penalty area, and the Blues are also amongst the top-three for Expected Goals (xG) generated from open play, simultaneously giving up the fewest. Beech has a plethora of exciting options available: Omari Patrick, Josh Kayode, Lewis Alessandra and Gime Toure have all excelled this term and Carlisle therefore looked primed to pile more misery on injury-ridden Bradford.
Oxford vs Hull – Hull to win (13/10 SkyBet)
Harrogate vs Forest Green – Forest Green to win 5/4 (William Hill)
Bradford vs Carlisle – Carlisle to win (6/4 SkyBet)