FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the weekend's EFL action.
Preston v Blackburn | Saturday 26th October 2019, 15:00
It’s derby weekend in the Championship and Lancashire neighbours Preston and Blackburn cross swords at Deepdale with the hosts appealing even-money favourites at Betway.
Lilywhites boss Alex Neil hasn’t shied away from the importance of Saturday’s showdown and is eager for his PNE team to make a major mark in the sand following Tuesday night’s 1-1 home draw with promotion favourites Leeds.
North End completed the double over Rovers last season and have been beaten just five times in front of their home supporters since the beginning of 2018/19. This term alone, the home side have W5-D2-L0 against Championship opposition, scoring at least twice on six occasions and accumulating a hefty 19-goal tally in seven Deepdale outings.
Preston’s positive displays have been backed up by their underlying performance data. The Lilywhites are ranked inside the top-six for both Expected Goals (xG) ratio and xG from open play, whilst also amongst the leading divisional leaders for limiting opposition shots from inside the penalty area after 13 rounds of action.
Blackburn have tabled two triumphs since August with their four victories this season arriving against teams occupying 15th or below. The Ewood Park outfit are operating off a bottom-six Expected Goals (xG) from open play ratio and have posted W8-D5-L16 on their travels since returning to the second-tier at the beginning of last season.
Tony Mowbray’s under increasing pressure to turn the Rovers tide and blamed a ‘lack of fight' in the first half as his team were beaten at Birmingham in midweek. Blackburn managed a solitary shot on-target at St Andrew’s with Lewis Holtby now joining Darragh Lenihan and Greg Cunningham on the treatment table with options stretched.
The absence of Lenihan could prove pivotal. With the Irish defender on the field for an hour or more, Rovers have W18-D11-L14 since the start of last season, including 15 (35%) shutouts in 43 fixtures. However, that record drops to a worrying W2-D4-L10 without him as Blackburn have leaked an average 1.81 goals per-game, picking up a sole clean sheet.
Fleetwood v MK Dons | Saturday 26th October 2019, 15:00
Fleetwood boss Joey Barton criticised his players’ decision-making after seeing the Cod Army surrender a one-goal advantage against Coventry on Wednesday night. The Fylde coast club dominated proceedings for almost an hour at St Andrew’s and could have been out of sight before gifting the Sky Blues a route back into the League One encounter.
Defeat was a painfully frustrating experience for Town, although Barton’s boys should be backed to deliver an immediate reaction when returning to their Highbury base on Saturday for the visit of MK Dons. Fleetwood have been efficient and effective home boys in 2019/20, racking up five triumphs from their opening seven showdowns.
However, the Cod Army have excelled in the underlying performance data, generating one of the EFL’s highest xG from open play averages (1.28), as well as a chunky +0.71 supremacy differential when viewing the same metric . If the Fisherman can come close to the standards on Saturday, out-of-form Milton Keynes will be heading home pointless.
Dons manager Paul Tisdale admitted his team are in desperate need of a reset after suffering a sixth defeat in seven winless games at Rochdale on Tuesday evening. MK have nosedived after a promising opening stanza, failing to score in six of those seven recent encounters, whilst also being beaten nine times in 14 League One fixtures since promotion.
Tisdale’s troops were garbage at Coventry last weekend and comfortably second-best against bang-average Rochdale in midweek, and head to Fleetwood having suffered five losses in six road trips. Only beleaguered Bolton have conceded more shots from inside the penalty area this season and MK have scored twice or more in four of 14 fixtures.
With Fleetwood racking up at least two goals in all bar four of their 13 League One matches, a cushy home success should be on the cards. To bolster the odds on offer for the hosts, chuck in MK Dons to score Under 1.5 Goals alongside a Cod Army victory for a more palatable 4/5 (Bet365) shout.
Crawley v Swindon | Saturday 26th October 2019, 15:00
Crawley are quickly becoming this column’s regular contributor. Few will have fancied Gabrielle Cioffi’s charges to have taken such a gung-ho approach to League Two this term considering the evidence available to us in the summer, although the Red Devils’ attack-minded efforts are difficult to ignore.
No fourth-tier team has fired in more attempts at goal than the Sussex side, the same can be said for shots taken from inside the penalty area, whilst only Crewe and Plymouth have landed more efforts on-target. Town also feature towards the upper echelons of the xG and xG from open play output tables following a thrilling first 15 fixtures in 2019/20.
Unfortunately for Cioffi, his team also rank amongst the divisional leaders for shots conceded, shots in the box given up, and top the table for on-target strikes faced. Likewise, Crawley aren’t a million miles away from the leading candidates for xG concessions and that’s the real reason why on-field progress has been rather stagnant (W5-D5-L5).
Nevertheless, I’m happy to continue to support goals-based angles at fair prices when the Red Devils are in action. Saturday’s contest with Swindon looks just the ticket with Both Teams To Score trading an enticing 8/11 (William Hill). It’s already returned winnings in 12/15 (80%) Town tussles, with the hosts managed to score in every encounter thus far.
Swindon haven’t proven quite so profitable in the same market but the Wiltshire raiders have delivered BTTS success in five of seven games as guests. Ritchie Wellens’ outfit have notched in all bar three outings this term – including in all seven away days – with the Robins silencing their opponents only three times since the opening day of the campaign.
Crewe showed last weekend that Swindon can be opened up with a slick, offensive system and should Crawley follow their familiar blueprint, an entertaining contest should play out.
Preston v Blackburn – Preston to win (1/1 Betway)
Fleetwood v MK Dons – Fleetwood to win and MK Dons to score Under 1.5 Goals (4/5 Bet365)
Crawley v Swindon – Both Teams To Score (8/11 William Hill)