Nottingham Forest vs Bristol City | Saturday 3rd October 2020, 15:00
We successfully backed Bristol City on the Asian Handicap last weekend against Sheffield Wednesday and I see no reason why we shouldn’t follow the same formula again on Saturday when the Robins travel to ailing Nottingham Forest.
Strangely, Bristol City actually went off as outsiders against the Owls at Ashton Gate. Despite starting slowly – Dean Holden’s outfit didn’t manage their first shot on-target until the 56th minute – the West Country club concluded the contest strongly, displaying defensive resolve, as well as the style and substance demanded by the BS3 supporters.
The 2-0 triumph means City have made their best start to a second-tier campaign since 1927/28 and it’s 19 years since the Robins opened their account with three successive victories as they have here. Fans have been impressed by the front-foot approach and Holden’s managed to achieve it all without a plethora of key players available.
Bristol City have set-up in a 3-5-2 system thus far with Chris Martin leading the line alongside the clinical Nakhi Wells with Andi Weimann thriving in a deeper role alongside the tireless Jamie Paterson. Tyreeq Bakinson has earned rave reviews in holding midfield with new addition Alfie Mawson slotting straight in at centre-half and even taking the captaincy.
It's back-to-back shutouts for the first time since the beginning of February and Holden has endeared himself to the locals by spending last Saturday afternoon drinking cider with Robins supporters in the pub, and playing pool.
So whilst the mood is entirely positive around the red side of Bristol, the same can’t be said for the Trentsiders in Nottingham. Forest’s loss to Huddersfield last Friday night means Sabri Lamouchi’s men are without a win – and without a goal – this term, having been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Barnsley and beaten in all three of their opening three league games.
It was very much a new-look Forest side at the John Smith’s Stadium, with seven changes from the team which lost to Cardiff, including four debutants. Lamouchi went with a 4-3-3, rather than his favoured 4-2-3-1 although the change in system still produced the same end result with the Tricky Trees lacking final-third punch with Lyle Taylor often isolated.
The Frenchman has hinted he’s keen to play Taylor alongside Lewis Grabban in a two-man attack once both are fully fit but time is tight for under-pressure Forest (and Lamouchi) to turn the tide. Bedding in three new faces in the back-four is far from ideal, even if centre-back duo Scott McKenna and Loic Mbe Soh showed plenty of promise.
Forest posted W2-D2-L4 when welcoming top-nine teams last term, and managed only five triumphs against the top-17 at the City Ground, thrice scoring more than a solitary strike. The hosts may well bounce back here but I’m happy siding with Bristol City with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start at 3/4 (Red Zone) knowing we’ll make money should they avoid defeat.
Oxford vs Crewe | Saturday 3rd October 2020, 15:00
Oxford celebrated their first league win of the season with a 4-1 victory over 10-man Accrington last time out. Last season's play-off finalists started strongly, crashing a header against the crossbar before seeing an effort cleared off the line, eventually breaking the deadlock right on half-time.
The Yellows traded blows with Accrington after the interval, with a red card for Stanley tipping the balance in Oxford’s favour. Karl Robinson’s men scored three goals in the final quarter to secure a morale-boosting victory, securing the U’s first points of the campaign.
Oxford now look undervalued for Saturday’s contest with Crewe at the Kassam Stadium. The hosts bagged 11 wins from 17 on home soil in 2019/20 with a W7-D1-L0 return against bottom-half outfits. Robinson’s troops are led by Matty Taylor – one of the finest finishers at League One level – and recorded 11 clean sheets in their past 18 outings here.
The U's are set to welcome back the likes of Josh Ruffels, Alex Gorrin, Jamie Hanson and possibly new signing Sam Winnall this weekend, giving Robinson a major boost with selection for Saturday.
Newly-promoted Crewe picked up a cushy success against struggling MK Dons last time out, although the Alex were outclassed by both Charlton and Hull in their first two fixtures and may come unstuck here. The Railwaymen managed just W0-D3-L4 away at top-11 teams in the fourth-tier last term, winning just three times home or away against the top-10.
The bulk of Crewe’s business was done against the lesser lights of League Two and the newcomers are likely to fall short of the standards required to keep Oxford in-check.
Crawley vs Southend | Saturday 3rd October 2020, 15:00
Beleaguered Southend have been beaten in all five of their fixtures in 2020/21 across all competitions and for the most part, it’s quite literally been men against boys. The cash-strapped Essex outfit have been operating from a bare-boned squad lacking experience with crippling financial concerns putting their sheer existence in doubt.
New boss Mark Moseley has been working under a transfer embargo, only able to bring new faces into club once players have departed. Last week’s arrival of veteran Alan McCormack raised spirits although the tenacious midfielder has since picked up an injury and missed the home defeat to Morecambe, and he'll be absent for Saturday's clash too.
Elsewhere, Emile Acquah started against Morecambe but the forward also went off injured, whilst Isaac Hutchinson and Charlie Kelman are being courted by Championship clubs and on their way out. With injuries piling up, plus further sales on the way, Moseley is desperately short on quality as Southend aim to post their first points on the board.
The Shrimpers’ only goal of the season thus far came from an own goal, the strugglers are averaging fewer than six attempts per-game (2.67 from inside the box) and posting just 1.30 shots on-target per-game. Morecambe could and should have dispatched the Essex outfit by a wider margin, whilst Carlisle hosed up when recommended in this same position.
Crawley lost a couple of key players in the summer and manager John Yems appeared to be questioning his future and the direction of the club during the opening week of the new season. However, the Red Devils have knuckled down, churning out two hard-earned victories against Scunthorpe and Oldham to raise spirts and morale once more.
Ashley Nadesan and Tom Nicholls appear to have forged an interesting attacking partnership for Crawley, Tarryn Allarakhia has caught the eye also, and the hosts have tended to be tough operators at their Sussex base. Town have taken top honours in 11 of their last 20 home League Two tussles, losing just four times, and should be well capable of clinching maximum points against Southend.
With the Red Devils now no bigger than 4/6 to win the clash, we can take the 17/20 (Bet365) on the home side with a -0.75 Asian Handicap hurdle instead knowing money is made if the hosts take top honours.