FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from Tuesday's card.
Fulham v Reading | Tuesday 10th April 2018, 19:45
Fulham’s relentless assault on the automatic promotion places since November’s international break shows no sign of abating with the Cottagers collecting 49 points from their past 19 outings (W15-D4-L0), 10 more than any of their Championship divisional rivals.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s troops made Cardiff pay for their two stoppage-time penalty misses on Friday night by clinching a 1-0 success at Sheffield Wednesday less than 24 hours later. That triumph brought the Londoners to within two points of the top-two coming into the midweek round of matches.
The scoreline from Hillsborough suggested it was a close encounter and whilst Fulham weren’t at their slick best, the Cottagers were convincing winners. The visitors won the shot count 19-5, reduced the Owls to zero shots on-target and concluded the clash with an xG dominance of 2.61-0.20.
No less than maximum points will be accepted again on Tuesday night and it’s no great surprise to see the Whites chalked up at odds around the 1/2 mark. With the market making Fulham firm favourites, finding value in a home success isn’t easy although I’m happy to take the 6/4 (Boylesports) on the win ‘to nil’.
Jokanovic mentioned how happy he was with his team’s defending on Saturday as they recorded a third successive clean sheet. With Marcus Bettinelli between the sticks and a standout season from Tim Ream, the Cottagers backline exploits are producing the backbone to their exciting attacking displays.
At Craven Cottage, the Whites have returned W10-D2-L0 in their past 12 contests, silencing their opponents on eight occasions. In fact, the hosts have faced an average of just 2.50 on-target efforts across their last 10 outings at any venue despite coming up against the likes of Wolves, Aston Villa, Preston, Bristol City, Sheffield United and Derby during that 10-game streak.
Reading ground out a second successive 1-0 home win under Paul Clement’s tutelage on Saturday as Preston were beaten by Modou Barrow’s strike. However, you have to wonder how far the Royals’ new defence-first attitude can carry them when travelling to teams of Fulham’s calibre.
Out-of-sorts Aston Villa vanquished the Berkshire boys last midweek and with Reading losing the shot count 13-69 across Clement’s first three games, as well as the shots on-target count 19-2 and xG supremacy 1.01-10.19, you start to have valid concerns for the Royals here.
The visitors do welcome Dave Edwards back from a ban, have certainly played with more spirit and togetherness in recent weeks, whilst the partnership of Tiago Illori and Liam Moore continues the blossom. But there’s no doubt the visitors have really rode their luck under Clement and their away record leaves a lot to be desired.
Reading have W2-D1-L10 at teams in 15th and above this season, failing to score in six of their 10 losses. And viewing their results against top-six teams reveals the Royals have been beaten in seven of their past 10 trips, five of which were by a margin of two goals or more.
Bristol City v Birmingham | Tuesday 10th April 2018, 19:45
Bristol City boss Lee Johnson claims the Robins’ fate this season will be decided over the club’s next two matches – beginning with the visit of Birmingham on Tuesday evening.
Having been turned over by play-off rivals Millwall on Saturday, City have now fallen to back-to-back defeats and drifted to four points behind sixth-place. With top-six dreams apparently in tatters, and Johnson struggling to arrest the slide, conditions might be right for the relegation-haunted visitors to take advantage.
Johnson suggested his players hadn’t “shown the Bristol City badge enough respect in the last four or five weeks” before revealing that his team had been working hard on defensive structure and organisation. All good sound bites from the Robins supremo but it doesn’t explain everything.
The hosts have managed just three triumphs in 20 across all competitions and managed just W3-D6-L8 since Boxing Day. Over the past 16 matches, the Robins are ranked slap-bang in mid-table in terms of xG ratio whilst their past two outings have brought about no shots on-target and only three attempts from inside the opposition’s penalty area.
Callum O'Dowda did make a welcome return to action on Saturday but Johnson is searching for answers and so could reintroduce Famara Diedhiou and potentially revert back to a flat 4-4-2 system in a bid to find that elusive winning formula. Either way, I’m happy to back Birmingham with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start at 9/11 (188BET).
The Blues dropped valuable points at home to rock-bottom Burton on Saturday, requiring a late equaliser from Lukas Jutkiewicz to pinch a point. In truth though, the match should have long been settled in Brum’s favour at St Andrew's.
Garry Monk’s men out-shot Burton 23-5, 12-2 on-target and won the xG count 5.13-0.51 in a dominant performance. Profligate finishing is all that cost Blues and they’ll again have to do with Che Adams and Sam Gallagher here so of course, a repeat could be possible.
However, where Birmingham have improved immeasurably under Monk is at the back. Prior to the Burton stalemate, Blues had overcome Hull, Ipswich and Bolton alongside clean sheets – across those four encounters, the visitors have conceded only six on-target attempts.
The guests have beaten Bristol City in six of their last seven meetings, silencing the Robins in each of the previous four head-to-heads, and evidence suggests they could be capable of repeating the feat here on Tuesday night.
Wimbledon v Charlton | Tuesday 10th April 2018, 19:45
Charlton’s resurgence under Lee Bowyer has impressed many with the Addicks delivering three impressive consecutive victories over Plymouth, Rotherham and Northampton before Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Bristol Rovers.
The South London side out-shot the Pirates 18-11 and won the xG supremacy count 3.11-0.89 at the Memorial Stadium to suggest a fourth triumph on the trot wouldn’t have been unjust. Jason Pearce’s error saw Charlton fall behind but Ben Reeves levelled before half-time as the capital club impressed again.
Assisted by Johnnie Jackson, the displays under Bowyer have really resonated with supporters. Under Karl Robinson, selection, tactics and approach were questioned but since his departure, Athletic have played with two up front and are no longer being bullied physically.
Reeves is finally finding his best form and on Saturday, the talented Sullay Kaikai showed glimpses of his quality. With Tariqe Fosu still out, Bowyer will be demanding more from both key men in the coming weeks as Charlton look to rubberstamp a place in the top-six.
With Jay Dasilva a doubt and Ahmed Kashi already ruled out for Tuesday night, the visitors have a few selection concerns but with Josh Magennis, Ezri Konsa and Stephy Mavididi pushing for starts, there’s enough quality in reserve to suggest the Addicks are decent 8/11 (Betfair) Draw No Bet material.
The visitors have won five of their past eight trips to teams in the bottom-six and having fired in 41 shots and racked up an xG return of 6.41 in two away trips under Bowyer, that forward-thinking mind-set should stand them in good stead for the short trip to Kingsmeadow.
Wimbledon were frustrated to only draw 1-1 with Scunthorpe on Saturday, keeping the Dons entrenched in the relegation battle in League One. Neil Ardley’s team led after only five minutes when Will Nightingale headed them in front but AFC shipped the equaliser just five minutes from time.
The Dons limited Scunthorpe to very few opportunities and Ardley was pleased with the way his side attacked and felt they could have had more as they dominated the first half. But his side seemed to tire in the second period and the Wimbledon boss felt he did not have enough options off the bench.
The hosts fire plenty of balls into the opposition box but their finishing has often let them down this season. AFC have scored just 20 home goals, failing to notch more than a solitary strike on 13 occasions and so with a W1-D2-L5 return when welcoming top-nine teams, it’s difficult to have the faith in the home side.
The Dons have been beaten in five of their past seven at home against top-six clubs and will again be without Darius Charles and Kwesi Appiah.
Fulham v Reading – Fulham to win ‘to nil’ (6/4 BoyleSports)
Bristol City v Birmingham – Birmingham +0.50 Asian Handicap (9/11 188BET)
Wimbledon v Charlton – Charlton draw no bet (8/11 Betfair)