Barnsley vs Bristol City | Saturday 17th October 2020, 15:00
Bristol City have been a regular (and profitable) contributor to this Football League column this season and, whilst Championship results (W4-D0-L0) haven’t necessarily reflected performances or underlying data across the opening month of 2020/21, I see no reason why we shouldn’t deviate away from the Robins this weekend.
Dean Holden’s side matched a 93-year record by claiming top honours in their opening four league fixtures of the campaign when overcoming Nottingham Forest before the international break, although it wasn’t exactly straightforward. Dan Bentley was forced into one of the saves of the season as the West Country men conceded 21 shots at goal and sustained pressure.
Only six of those strikes were on-target mind, and Holden himself was pleased with the resistance his Robins showcased at the City Ground. It was far from pretty but Bristol City proved they’re happy to roll up their sleeves and do things the hard way under the new man in charge, and that’s encouraging for those of us keen to support the side.
Nevertheless, Saturday’s selection – Bristol City Double Chance and Under 4 Goals (9/10 Bet365) – is more focussed on the hosts, Barnsley. The Tykes saw highly-rated head coach Gerhard Struber depart, plus a legal wrangling between ownership groups escalate that threatens the Reds’ potential to play at Oakwell in the future.
The South Yorkshire side have made a poor start despite high summer hopes (W0-D1-L3), promising forward Jacob Brown has left and leading goalscorer Cauley Woodrow is attracting interest from elsewhere. Of the XI who started at Middlesbrough in their last outing, only four had scored at Championship level before, with Luke Thomas and Callum Styles having one goal between them at that level.
A scattered recruitment approach also causes plenty of concern. Of the five signings brought in during the international transfer window by Barnsley, two have already left, one is yet to be named in a matchday squad, one was sent off in his first league game and another is a striker yet to score in seven appearances. It’s not looking pretty.
The Tykes have scored a solitary goal so far this season, kept a single shutout and could come up short once more when Bristol City arrive on Saturday. I’m backing the visitors to get on the scoresheet and avoid defeat at Oakwell at a price not too far from evens.
Bristol Rovers vs Burton| Saturday 17th October 2020, 15:00
The mood around Bristol Rovers has changed dramatically over the past fortnight. Back-to-back triumphs against Northampton and Lincoln have lifted spirits, whilst this week’s addition of Erhun Oztumer was particularly impressive from The Gas.
Rovers came from behind last weekend against Lincoln to earn maximum points – responding immediately to conceding through James Daly before Brandon Hanlan won and scored the winning penalty and head coach Ben Garner is adamant the best is still to come from his work-in-progress squad at the Memorial Stadium.
The market remains unsure about the Gas’ long-term League One prospects but I’m keen to keep the hosts onside for Saturday’s clash with Burton. The Brewers have posted only three points from five fixtures (W1-D0-L4) since Nigel Clough’s exit as manager, shipping two goals or more in all four losses. And Albion’s efforts have appeared very poor on reflection.
Two more defensive howlers gifted Plymouth victory last time out and two more injuries added to Jake Buxton’s problems as the harsher realities of football management continue to rain down on him. Captain John Brayford limped off with an injury after 13 minutes, causing the new head coach to have to shuffle his defence again.
Buxton has not yet been able to field a settled back three or four. Michael Bostwick returned from his injury, having missed four games, and looked in charge in the centre of defence – but he did not reappear after half-time. Both Bostwick and Brayford have now been ruled out for the foreseeable few weeks, leaving Burton light at the back.
Underlying Brewers data is also worrisome. The visitors have given away a league-high Expected Goals (xG) and xG open play figure thus far, and sit inside the bottom three for Expected Points (xP), xG, xG open play and shots in the box ratio following their first five performances, making them easily opposed here.
Burton have returned a 52% loss rate in road trips since the start of last season and so with Bristol Rovers beaten in only five of 17 home contests in the same sample, I’m happy taking the hosts at 4/5 (Unibet) in the Draw No Bet market on Saturday.
Harrogate vs Barrow | Saturday 17th October 2020, 15:00
History will be made at Harrogate on Saturday as the Sulphurites play their first-ever Football League game at their Wetherby Road ground. Simon Weaver’s side have been forced to play their first two home ties in Doncaster whilst Town re-lay their pitch from 4G to grass to meet EFL standards, and the hosts are gagging to get back to home comforts.
Weaver has spoken glowingly about their return to familiar surroundings, and despite the lack of fans in attendance, Harrogate are desperate to mark the occasion with a strong performance against fellow newly-promoted side Barrow. And I’ll be backing the hosts to pick up maximum points with 21/20 (SkyBet) quotes particularly appealing.
The Sulphurites have kept the bulk of last season’s side together and continuity certainly appears to have aided Harrogate’s early displays. Town have also been well-fancied by the market – going off favourites in Doncaster against ante-post jollies Bolton – but the home side have backed up support with some sterling displays, such as Monday night’s win.
Harrogate fired in 25 shots during their 1-0 success at Bradford, nine of which were on-target. The margin of victory could and should have been wider and Weaver’s troops have impressed on all the major data metrics too, sitting second on Expected Points (xP) and inside the top three for Expected Goals (xG) and xG open play ratio.
Harrogate’s high press and tenacious midfield has received plenty of praise in the early weeks of the EFL campaign and such attributes are likely to give Barrow issues here. The visitors lost manager Ian Evatt, plus midfielders John Rooney and Tom White, during the off-season and it’s taking time for David Dunn to stamp his authority on the newcomers.
Winless in their opening five (W0-D3-L2), the Cumbrians have had a man advantage for a combined 116 minutes of their last two games and still not been able to capitalise, losing 1-0 at Carlisle and drawing 1-1 with Leyton Orient. Both contests highlighted a lack of cutting edge in the attacking department, far from ideal against defensively-sound opposition.