FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns to share his favourite fancies from Saturday's coupon.
Brentford v Sunderland | Saturday 21st October 2017, 15:00
I had a frustrating conversation with a ‘traditional football man’ in midweek. Talking up Brentford as potential top-six material, the individual scoffed and told me to take a look at the Championship table. The fact Dean Smith’s side had only won twice in 12 (W2-D6-L4) was apparently evidence enough to close the case.
If anybody hadn’t noticed, football is a low-scoring sport. Consequently, variance and luck play a major role, and the league table often lies. At the risk of offending Reading supporters, the Royals run to the Championship play-offs last season was a fine example of such outliers.
Having played 12 rounds, the second-tier table is starting to take shape. The bulk of the sides in the top-six are there on merit and nobody would argue with current table-toppers Wolves as the league’s best team at this stage. But it’s Brentford that break the mould.
Having dominated the performance data metrics, the capital club should be vying for a place in the early season play-off positions. The Bees boast the division’s best shots ratio return and are ranked second in both xG and xG from open play – positions that should see the capital club puncturing the top-six.
I’ve seen Smith’s side semi-regularly this season and on each occasion they've passed the eye test as I’ve come away feeling confident and happy with my pre-season outlays on Brentford winning promotion and finishing in the top-six. Admittedly the former wager appears unlikely at this stage but there’s still 102 points to play for.
Having failed to clinch maximum points in their first eight outings (W4-D4-L0), Brentford have since won twice in an unbeaten five-match streak (W2-D3-L0). Performance levels have remained strong throughout the campaign and unsurprisingly the tide is beginning to turn in their favour.
Last weekend the Bees rode their luck but pocketed a vital 1-0 victory over London neighbours Millwall and with last season’s top goalscorer Lasse Vibe returning to the fold for the first time since August, the hosts could have the striker available they’ve so badly missed in recent weeks.
Saturday’s guests Sunderland head to Griffin Park without a triumph in 10 (W0-D4-L6) and the Black Cats were a touch fortunate to hold QPR to a 1-1 draw at the Stadium of Light last time out with boss Simon Grayson coming under increasing pressure on Wearside.
Centre-half Lamine Kone will make a welcome return from injury but the visitors remain short on bodies at the back and unappealing at the prices on offer. No Championship club has faced more on-target efforts and a defence that’s yet to keep a clean sheet is likely to come under serious strain.
Considering 11 of Sunderland’s 12 tussles have featured more than a solitary strike, I’ll boost the odds on a Brentford win from 4/5 (Bet365) to even-money with Betfair by adding Over 1.5 Goals to the equation.
MK Dons v Oldham | Saturday 21st October 2017, 15:00
Clarence Seedorf and Paul Scholes was apparently in the running but eventually the Oldham hierarchy saw sense and appointed Richie Wellens as the Latics’ new boss following a hugely impressive caretaker stint at Boundary Park.
Athletic took just four points from their opening nine games of the season to sit rock-bottom in League One, resulting in John Sheridan’s sacking. But Wellens has won four of his five games in charge in all competitions, including a creditable 1-1 draw against Bradford on Tuesday, to held restore order at Oldham.
Against the Bantams, Athletic impressed in a thrilling end-to-end encounter with their 4-5-1 system working well. Goalkeeper Johny Placide played a starring role – with his feet in possession rather than his hands – to help create the Latics’ leveller with the Lancashire outfit more than holding their own.
Arguably the most impressive aspect of Oldham’s upturn has been the standard of opposition. Thus far, the visitors have only faced two bottom-half teams – Walsall in 16th and the lowest-lying club they’ve met – with three victories claimed against the likes of Blackburn, Portsmouth and Peterborough of late.
So I’m happy to keep the Latics onside when they head to Buckinghamshire to face an MK Dons side that’s struggled to get in the groove at Stadium:MK. Robbie Neilson’s group have only twice bagged top honours in front of their home supporters this season, against out-of-form Rochdale and Gillingham.
Those two triumphs are the only Stadium:MK victories in nine outings for the Dons now and they head into this contest with a solitary point from their past three matches (W0-D1-L2), suffering convincing defeats against the aforementioned Portsmouth and Bradford.
The hosts will be without Osman Sow while Chuks Aneke is unlikely to start so soon after playing a full match in midweek, meaning a loan striker role for last season's top scorer Kieran Agard. That’s hardly ideal for a MK team that’s performing poorly in the major attacking data metrics.
Backing Oldham with a +0.50 start on the Asian Handicap is a fair angle of attack but I’m going to bolster the odds and take the bulbous 17/10 available on Athletic double chance and Both Teams To Score, one of my favourite new markets which is being offered at 188BET.
The Latics’ games have featured 10/13 (77%) BTTS winners this term, including all seven of their games as guests. It’s been a similar story in four of the last five encounters at Stadium:MK so supporting a repeat holds plenty of appeal.
Barnet v Yeovil | Saturday 21st October 2017, 15:00
Barnet’s eye-catching start to 2017/18 (W3-D1-L2) has long since dissipated with Rossi Eames’ outfit failing to record a victory in their last eight (W0-D3-L5) to slide down the League Two standings from seventh to 20th.
The Bees boss was reasonably pleased with their midweek performance at home to ante-post favourites Mansfield but again, the Londoners were a little too soft and lacked the belief to down their rich rivals at The Hive despite a late onslaught.
Having Shaquille Coulhurst back in the side provided an overdue boost. The summer signing grabbed his eighth goal of the campaign and has proven a wonderful addition with John Akinde still crocked. Elsewhere, Jamal Campbell-Ryce is relishing his playmaking role and Barnet have impressed in possession.
The hosts have scored in 10 of their 14 league encounters thus far but it’s at the back where they’re struggling to make progress. Only two clean sheets have been kept and so Both Teams To Score has proven a prominent winner – 10 (71%) Barnet games, including nine of their last 10, have copped.
That’s my selection for Saturday when Yeovil arrive. The 7/9 (188BET) available appeals having also landed in five of the Glovers’ seven away days with the visitors shipping at least two goals in all seven games as guests.
Darren Way’s charges were beaten at Cambridge on Tuesday night. Town were atrocious in the first-half but improved after the break, grabbing a goal and seeing another shot cleared off the line in stoppage-time.
Striker Francois Zoko returns from suspension for Yeovil here and with the Somerset side also scoring in 10 (71%) of their League Two battles this term – averaging 1.43 goals per-game – I’ve plenty of faith in the Glovers grabbing the goal to bag another winning Both Teams To Score bet.