FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite selections from the weekend's EFL action.
Luton v Wigan | Saturday 7th December 2019, 15:00
Two of the Championship’s most under-fire managers and out-of-form teams meet at Kenilworth Road in what’s already being described as a relegation six-pointer. Victory will most probably give Graeme Jones in the Luton dugout, or Paul Cook in the visitors’ dressing room, a stay of execution. However, defeat could prove fatal to either of their futures.
Hatters boss Jones admitted there had been plenty of real soul searching amongst his squad after last weekend’s 7-0 thumping against Brentford. The Town chief could only watch on in horror as his side conceded four times in 15 first half minutes at Griffin Park, trailing 5-0 at the break, before shipping another two penalties in the second period.
It saw Luton fall to their heaviest league defeat since December 1966, and Jones knows his job is on the line if the Bedfordshire boys don’t arrest an alarming slide soon. The Hatters have now been beaten in seven of their past nine outings (W2-D0-L7) with their only success since mid-October arriving against a depleted Charlton outfit here.
Town are shipping goals at a distressing rate – leaking twice or more in 12 of their 19 encounters since promotion – and must also overcome injuries to Izzy Brown and Brendan Galloway in their quest for second-tier survival. But with 11 of their 18-point tally collected at ‘The Kenny’, the hosts will fancy their chances against a travel-sick Wigan side.
The Latics arrive having claimed only two triumphs in 33 on their travels stretching back to last summer with Cook even labelling the second of those – the 2-1 victory at Leeds on Good Friday – a ‘freak result’ given the circumstances, which saw Athletic play for 75 minutes with 10 men against a side closing in on promotion. It’s been bleak for travelling supporters.
Wigan have often relied upon their ‘Fortress DW' home form to keep heads above water but panic is beginning to set-in following three straight defeats as hosts. It’s now seven games without success (W0-D2-L5) as they’ve conceded at least two goals in all bar one of those matches. That slump since mid-October has seen the Latics drop into the bottom three.
Saturday’s showdown pits together the worst two teams in the division for Expected Goals (xG) from open play ratio ,thanks largely due to their abominable efforts at restricting opposition attacks. The duo are also amongst the league leaders for shots faced from inside the penalty area and two dodgy defences often leads towards high-scoring encounters.
Over 2.5 Goals is surprisingly available at 4/5 (Bet365) considering it’s landed in each of Luton’s last eight, as well as Wigan’s most recent six. The hosts have actually seen this selection land in all bar three of their 19 Championship dates this term – the largest figure in the EFL – as they’ve also managed to keep a solitary shutout since their return to this level.
Wigan haven’t proven quite so prolific in the goals markets. Nevertheless, the Latics have notched in their last three road trips, have shipped two goals or more in seven of 10 road trips this season and also delivered Over 2.5 Goals profit in 19/33 (58%) fixtures in games as guests since the beginning of 2018/19 as those matches averaged 2.82 goals per-game.
Blackpool v Fleetwood | Saturday 7th December 2019, 15:00
Both teams have scored in the last three Fylde coast derby clashes between Blackpool and Fleetwood and that’s the angle of attack I’m keen to support on Saturday (4/5 Betfred) when the Tangerines take on the Cod Army at Bloomfield Road.
League position dictates the latest match-up between the regional rivals will be a big occasion for the natives; the duo are locked on 29 points and only outside of the League One play-off positions on goal difference. Both are eying up a top-six berth come May and know victory over their nearest neighbours could prove pivotal.
Blackpool have doubts surrounding leading scorer Armand Gnanduillet. The striker – with 12 goals in 20 games this season – has missed the last three matches for the Seasiders with boss Simon Grayson claiming he won't be rushed back to action. Nevertheless, the hosts have proven capable of getting amongst the goals, even without their talisman in attack.
The Tangerines stuck twice at miserly Ipswich in their last league outing and should be given opportunities against a Fleetwood side that’s recorded only three shutouts across the League One campaign. Joey Barton’s guests have leaked at least twice in five away days already, including shipping five goals at cellar dwellers Southend and Bolton.
Even so, few third-tier clubs are generating as many open play chances as the Cod Army. The Highbury outfit – currently enjoying a five-game winning streak – have only twice fired blanks this term, and generate the division’s largest xG from open play figure on average.
Only Wimbledon have seen BTTS bank more often than Fleetwood (69%) and collectively the two teams have seen both sides score in 11/16 (69%) of their respective home/away games. With that in mind, I’m happy to take the 4/5 (Betfred) available on a repeat.
Exeter v Northampton | Saturday 7th December 2019, 15:00
Neil Hair has been handed the whistle for an intriguing contest between Exeter and Northampton. The Grecians have lost their way since mid-September despite topping the xG charts in League Two, whilst resurgent Northampton have climbed into the promotion picture with an inspired set of results since a shocking defeat at Scunthorpe in October.
The hosts’ impressive underlying data marks them out as fair favourites for this fixture, although I’m uninterested in the outcome here. Instead, I’m happy to focus on the cards markets with the Cobblers an eye-catching 4/5 (SkyBet) to collect at least 20+ Bookings Points in the St James’ Park showdown.
Hair might be only averaging slightly above three cards per-game in Football League action since the start of last season, but few EFL teams have proven as consistent at compiling the cards than Northampton on the road. Town have delivered in this market in all nine away League Two games this term, as well as 30/32 (94%) since the beginning of 2017/18.
Looking purely at the current campaign, Keith Curle’s charges have averaged 24.21 Bookings Points per-game and are amongst the top-six for fouls committed. And the Cobblers play outside of Sixfields, the visitors average 2.89 cards and 32.32 Bookings Points. Meanwhile, all nine of Exeter’s guests have accumulated at least 20 Bookings Points this season.
If you’re new to Bookings Points – 10 points are awarded for a yellow card, 25 for a straight red card and 35 points if a player is shown two yellow cards and a subsequent red.