FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns to share his favourite fancies from Saturday's coupon.
Northampton v Wimbledon | Saturday 14th October 2017, 15:00
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took to social media last weekend to apologise to Northampton supporters after their Sixfields horror show against Bristol Rovers. The Cobblers were eviscerated 6-0, losing the xG count 1.29-5.27, the shot count 12-24 and the on-target count 3-13.
On-loan goalkeeper Matt Ingram produced a Man of the Match display to limit the damage to six whilst a first-half injury to Brendan Moloney, second-half red card for Alex Revell and peculiar team selection from Hasselbaink all contributed to a deeply dissatisfying afternoon.
Town have now failed to pick up a victory in seven matches across all competitions and have fired blanks in each of their pat five League One outings. And Northampton struggled to make positive inroads against Rovers despite the visitors missing both of their first-choice centre-backs.
Hasselbaink’s now urged his deflated troops to ‘stand up and be counted’ against Wimbledon on Saturday as they play for their futures and I feel there’s been a slight overreaction to the last weekend’s result.
Sure, Northampton’s performance data plants the hosts firmly in the bottom-four and Revell will now be banned for this encounter. But Chris Long, Shaun McWilliams and Sam Hoskins are all available after injury and how often do we see a side react with a backs-to-the-wall performance after a recent shellacking?
I’m surprised to see the Cobblers chalked-up as underdogs. Town may have lost four of their six home League One games (W2-D0-L4) but all four losses came against current top-half clubs with Northampton actually returning an impressive W9-D3-L1 when welcoming bottom-half opposition since the start of last season.
Visitors Wimbledon sit one place and one point above their hosts and head up the M1 without a goal in their last four fixtures. In fact, the Dons have struck just five times in 18 hours of league action in 2017/18 whilst Kwesi Appiah – goalscorer of two of those five goals – out injured.
Include the backend of last term and the Londoners have failed to find the back of the net in 16 of their last 21 games. Chuck in Wimbledon’s recent road record of two triumphs in 21 and hopefully I’ve persuaded you to believe Neil Ardley’s men have been priced up as false favourites.
The visitors have been beaten in four of their five away days this term and although Jimmy Abdou has been passed fit, fellow midfielder Dean Parrett has been ruled out for three months, leaving their options limited.
I’m happy to support Northampton with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start at 6/7 (BetVictor), a selection that would see us make money should the Cobblers avoid defeat this weekend.
Bristol Rovers v Oxford | Saturday 14th October 2017, 15:00
Bristol Rovers produced the performance of the weekend in the Football League last time out as they destroyed Northampton 6-0 away at Sixfields. The result pushed the Pirates into the top-half of League One despite their inconsistent (W6-D0-L6) results.
Those 12 fixtures have featured a hatful of goals – 46 in total at an average of 3.83 per-game. In terms of xG from open play, the Gas are also prominent in the third-tier standings with an average of 2.61 per-game (1.35 for and 1.26 against).
At the Memorial Stadium, Rovers’ have W4-D0-L2 with 24 goals finding the back of the net at an average rate of four goals per-game and with Oxford in town on Saturday, I’m expecting those figures to be met once more.
The U’s actually top the tree when looking at total xG goals from open play. Pep Clotet’s charges have seen an average of 2.94 per-game (1.53 for, 1.41 against) and their away days have already produced 17 goals in nine hours (W2-D1-L3).
That road record might look unremarkable on the surface but a 4-1 thrashing of Peterborough in their last step outside of Oxfordshire shows what the visitors are capable of with much-maligned striker Wes Thomas even finding form.
Thomas has scored in four of Oxford's last five league wins- and he netted his fifth of the season in the 3-0 victory against AFC Wimbledon recently. His partnership with Jack Payne continues to flourish and the duo should fancy their chances of getting amongst the goals again this weekend.
Rovers will be without defender James Clarke whilst fellow defenders Daniel Leadbitter and Jonny Burn will be checked after missing recent games through injury. Top scorer Billy Bodin is a major doubt but Ellis Harrison came up with the goods last weekend and I’m hopeful he can repeat the feat here in what should be an enjoyable and entertaining encounter.
The two teams’ impressive goals and data trends suggest a high-scoring showdown should follow so I’m happy to back Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 10/11 (Boylesports). Rovers have seen this selection provide profit in all six of their home outings thus far.
Wycombe v Exeter | Saturday 14th October 2017, 15:00
Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth dedicated last Saturday's 3-1 win against Cambridge to Nathan Tyson and Michael Harriman. Harriman suffered a broken leg in the build-up to the game whilst Tyson suffered a knee ligament injury against the U’s, a game settled by on-loan QPR striker Ebere Eze’s two stunning strikes.
The result lifted the Chairboys to fourth in the table ahead of an enticing encounter with table-toppers Exeter at Adams Park on Saturday. These two teams make-up the division’s most potent shots on-target exponents this season and I’m happy to invest faith in a goal-heavy game.
Only Newport have fired in more shots than Wycombe in 2017/18 with Ainsworth focussing his attention on a attack that’s scored the most goals in the Football League this season. Tyson’s absence is a blow but Adebayo Akinfenwa and Craig Mackail-Smith remain in situ for the rugged hosts.
Wanderers’ direct approach has caused many opposition defence issues and their 2.25 average xG for per-game is a league-high. What’s more, only Coventry and visitors Exeter better Wycombe’s attacking xG figures from open play.
The Grecians weren’t expected to make such a strong start following their play-off heartache and the sale of last season’s leading scorers Ollie Watkins and David Wheeler. But boss Paul Tisdale has tweaked his team’s style to be a bit more direct and incisive in possession and it’s paid dividends.
Jayden Stockley and Reuben Reid are a physical tag-team that will test most defences and Tisdale has demanded his City squad to be more robust across the park this term. Such characteristics are bound to be tested in Buckinghamshire.
Exeter are averaging a league best 1.59 xG from open play so far this season but it’s true too the Grecians have been generous in offering opportunities to opposition sides with a 1.35 xG conceded from open play the sixth highest in the division.
The visitors are hoping defender Luke Croll will be available after limping off midway through the first-half of last weekend's win at Carlisle and his presence will be important as captain Jordan Moore-Taylor remains absent. Should Croll miss out, veteran Dean Moxey could switch to central defence.
Such data and team news only cement my initial view that this could be a high-scoring encounter with even-money on Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at Coral taking my fancy. In terms of raw numbers, BTTS has banked in 15/24 (63%) of the duos collective games with Over 2.5 Goals occurring in 16/24 (67%).
Northampton v Wimbledon – Northampton +0.25 Asian Handicap (6/7 BetVictor)
Bristol Rovers v Oxford – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (10/11 Boylesports)
Wycombe v Exeter – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (1/1 Coral)