FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the fourth weekend of the new 2019/20 season.
Fulham v Nottingham Forest | Saturday 24th August 2019, 15:00
Fulham enjoyed a remarkable 84% of possession and completed 934 passes – both Championship records since 2013/14 – on Wednesday night as they thrashed Millwall 4-0 at Craven Cottage. Scott Parker’s charges have now racked up third successive victories to move into a position of strength following their shock opening day defeat at Barnsley.
The scoreline did not flatter the Cottagers, who outmatched Millwall in every department and produced a real statement performance as they seek an immediate return to the Premier League. Parker was naturally delighted post-match, saying, “It was good to watch. Everything we have worked on over the last 10 weeks since pre-season came to fruition.”
Despite their obvious dominance of the ball, Fulham only fired in 11 attempts at goal – seven on-target – in their midweek triumph, although their four attack-minded gems all displayed their obvious quality in forward areas. Ivan Cavaleiro, Anthony Knockaert and Aleksandar Mitrovic were all on the scoresheet, whilst Tom Cairney excelled again.
The introduction of Harry Arter over the past week into the starting XI appears to be just the tonic Fulham were looking for. The Irish international provides a perfect platform for the team’s most destructive offensive stars to cut loose, covering plenty of ground and offering a firm foundation ahead of a back-four which still has plenty to prove this term.
Back at the Cottage on Saturday, it’s difficult to dismiss Fulham at the quotes on offer. However, a more appealing play could be to support the hosts scoring Over 1.5 Goals at 3/4 (Royal Panda). Parker’s posse have produced profit in this market in each of their past three Championship outings, with only Sheffield Wednesday landing more on-target efforts.
Nottingham Forest boss Sabri Lamouchi admitted his Reds outfit were “lucky to get one point because they played much better than us” as the Tricky Trees picked up a 1-1 draw draw at Charlton on Tuesday evening. Aro Muric made a series of early saves for Forest, who struggled to deal with Athletic’s free-flowing attack for long periods of the first-half.
It was the second smash-and-grab point earned on the road by the Reds after Lamouchi’s men shared the spoils at Elland Road a fortnight ago. The visiting boss will be hoping to have Joe Lolley available again after his injury absence forced Forest into something of a reshuffle with Matty Cash moving into midfield and Carl Jenkinson debuting at right-back.
Michael Dawson and Joe Worrall were Forest’s stand-out performers at The Valley, but Lamouchi must decide whether Dawson, at the age of 35, can play another challenging 90 minutes, his third in a week. Similar question marks surround Ben Watson, who struggled during the first half on Wednesday as the Reds were overrun in the middle of the park.
The visitors’ defensive process has improved in 2019/20, although a solitary clean sheet from four league games, plus a pair of concerning displays on the road, as well as a couple of concerns over the conditioning of key players, could prove problematic should Fulham come close to the standards they set here on Wednesday night.
Rochdale v Blackpool | Saturday 24th August 2019, 15:00
Blackpool are the surprise early pace-setters in League One, topping the table with 10 points from their opening four fixtures (W3-D1-L0). The Tangerines beat Bristol Rovers, Southend and Oxford in their first three outings before coming back from two goals down to pick up a share of the spoils against Gillingham in midweek.
Seasiders boss Simon Grayson reckons his side have found the right balance between attack and defence so far this season, and paid tribute to his team’s clinical finishing. No Football League side have scored more goals (9) thus far with Pool's ruthlessness in front of goal in stark contrast to last season, when Blackpool managed to notch just 50 league goals in total.
The club have already sold 1,200 tickets for the trip to Spotland on Saturday as the feel-good factor has returned in waves to the Lancashire coast. However, despite the positivity burgeoning around the Bloomfield Road club, I’m keen to oppose Blackpool this weekend who are possibly occupying a false position at this early stage of the season.
Of course, having the likes of Sullay Kaikai, Liam Feeney, Nathan Delfouneso and an in-form Armand Gnanduillet have given the group a major boost, but there’a case to be made that Pool’s current output is unsustainable. The Seasiders are averaged just 3.25 shots on-target, and only four League One clubs have managed fewer attempts at goal so far this season.
What’s more, only Bolton have faced more opposition shots than Blackpool with Grayson’s outfit convincingly second-best in their most recent two outings, losing all the key performance data metrics. Delfouneso is also rated doubtful for the short trip to Rochdale with the side also sweating over the fitness of injured duo Matty Virtue and Joe Nuttall.
Rochdale are rated 2/1 shots, which looks far too big. We can dig a little deeper and take the unfancied and undervalued hosts at 9/10 (Blacktype) with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start. This selection would see us make money should Dale avoid defeat, earning a half-stakes profit from a draw with a full profit paid-out should the home side take top honours.
I still have my doubts over Rochdale’s long-term ability to keep their heads above water in League One, although early signs of 2019/20 suggest Brian Barry-Murphy’s men can be competitive operators. Dale’s efforts when going down 2-1 at home to Sunderland should not have gone unnoticed with the Greater Manchester club putting in a sterling display.
Rochdale dominated possession for long spells and were the better side during the first-half. The promotion favourites took the lead against the run of play and were able to pocket the points despite Dale managing six efforts on-target in front of their home supporters. It was further encouragement for Barry-Murphy that last term’s revival was no fluke.
The Spotland side concluded last season with only three defeats in 11 – all against top-six teams – and after an impressive 3-2 success at Tranmere in their opener, have held Doncaster and Shrewsbury to respectable stalemates before their midweek reverse. There’s precedent enough to believe the hosts can pick up another positive result.
Cheltenham v Swindon | Saturday 24th August 2019, 15:00
Another underrated home team on Saturday are Cheltenham. The Robins played out a dour goalless draw at Morecambe last weekend, but a return to their Whaddon Road fortress in midweek saw Town enhance their fine home form under Michael Duff’s watch with a routine 2-0 success against Carlisle.
During Duff’s reign, Cheltenham have suffered only three defeats in 22 League Two outings here, two of which arrived against promotion-winning teams. The Robins have claimed maximum points in 12 (55%) of those 22 tussles with the Robins grabbing at least two goals in 13 (59%) of those fixtures.
Scott Flinders made one superb save on Tuesday against Carlisle, but Cheltenham were the better side by a considerable margin as they made it seven points (W2-D1-L1) from four games, six more than at the same stage of last season. Jacob Greaves made a promising home debut, whilst loan signing Gavin Reilly opened his goalscoring account.
Cheltenham – unfashionable in footballing terms – are often undervalued and underrated at Whaddon Road and look worth siding with at 20/21 (BetVictor) with a +0.25 start in Gloucestershire this weekend in arguably the team’s toughest test yet this season.
Only three fourth-tier teams have attempted more shots than Swindon, with no side facing fewer. The Wiltshire outfit are also towards the top of the on-target tables and I’m pleased with the progress made by our ante-post recommendation for promotion. That’s despite the Robins’ surprise home loss to Northampton on Tuesday.
Richie Wellens blasted the ‘inept’ levels of officiating in the County Ground contest with the Cobblers winning goal appearing offside in the build-up. Nevertheless, the Swindon boss was frustrated by his side’s sluggish forward movement, stating his players’ passing in the first two-thirds of the pitch must improve ahead of their short trip west this weekend.
Lloyd Isgrove and Keshi Anderson are rated doubtful and Jerry Yates continues his suspension on Saturday, limiting Town’s attacking options. I’ve no qualms with the visitors being chalked up as favourites here, although best-priced quotes of 13/10 are tight, and that gives us the opportunity to keep the hosts onside with a generous handicap start.
Last season only 29% of League Two tussles ended in an away win and with Cheltenham’s resolute home record also taken into account, I feel we’re in a solid position to make some money from this clash.
Fulham v Nottingham Forest – Fulham to score Over 1.5 Goals (3/4 Royal Panda)
Rochdale v Blackpool – Rochdale +0.25 Asian Handicap (9/10 Blacktype)
Cheltenham v Swindon – Cheltenham +0.25 Asian Handicap (20/21 BetVictor)