FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the weekends EFL action.
Plymouth v Oldham | Saturday 7th September 2019, 15:00
Plymouth received plenty of pre-season attention in the ante-post markets from punters and pundits alike. Argyle suffered a surprise relegation from League One last term with the spine of the side departing for pastures new, however, the arrival of Ryan Lowe in the managerial hot-seat, plus an influx of eye-catching arrivals, hit the headlines.
The Pilgrims have made a reasonable start to life in the fourth-tier, earning 10 points (W3-D1-L2) from a possible 18 to reside inside the top-seven at this early stage. Performances have largely been positive, although last weekend’s chastening 3-1 defeat at Northampton was a sobering reminder that Plymouth can’t afford to coast in their quest for promotion.
Lowe admitted his Argyle outfit weren’t at the races, suggesting his side were jaded. Plymouth paid for a slow start at Sixfields, but I don’t anticipate a repeat when they return to Home Park this weekend for a contest against an Oldham side expected to struggle.
The Pilgrims boss said there’s still plenty more to come from his team as they adjust to his style of play, and I’m looking forward to seeing the fruits of Lowe’s labour. Because, I’ve not been overawed by the opening weeks of the campaign with the Devon club proving particularly proficient in the final-third and goalkeeper Alex Palmer excelling.
Nevertheless, the Devon outfit should have enough in the tank to take top honours here. Antoni Sarcevic, Dom Telford and Joel Grant are the only absentees as Plymouth pursue maximum points, with Lowe relishing the problems that come with selection from a bulbous, talented squad. Expect Argyle to set-up with a strong XI in their preferred 3-5-2.
Oldham saw three managers leave under different circumstances during 2018/19 and the current incumbent, Laurent Banide, is bound to be feeling the heat after an inauspicious opening stanza with the Latics. The head coach, whose background is mainly in the Middle East, has guided the group to a solitary success from six (W1-D1-L4) in League Two action.
Sure, Athletic have had a tricky schedule but the lack of goals, and attacking flair is already being questioned by frustrated fans. Only three sides are averaging fewer attempts at goal, Morecambe are the only club to register fewer on-target efforts, whilst just three teams have generated a lower Expected Goals (xG) figure at this early stage of the season.
Losing the likes of George Edumundson, Peter Clarke, Jose Baxter and Dan Gardner was always going to be difficult when working towards a slim budget. The arrival of David Wheater has at least added leadership and the signing of Filipe Morais could add much-needed creativity, although the Boundary Park club still look quite short on quality.
With invention lacking, Oldham have at least limited the damage reasonably well in August and so I don’t expect Argyle to completely dismantle the lowly visitors. The odds on offer for a home triumph appeal but I’m keen to bolster the price and prefer the look of 21/20 (Betway) on the hosts to win alongside Under 4.5 Goals
With this selection, we’ll make money should Plymouth achieve victory by 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-0, 2-1 or 3-1 scorelines – results that have banked in 16 of Oldham’s past 20 league defeats.
Newport v Port Vale | Saturday 7th September 2019, 15:00
The price on Newport to win League Two has been slashed from 33/1 – as recommended in the WLB ante-post guide – to a current 12/1 after the Exiles hit the ground running to sit second in the early season standings. Michael Flynn’s men remain unbeaten (W3-D3-L0) having negotiated a tricky schedule that’s included largely positive displays.
The Exiles exceeded all expectations to reach the play-off final and won plenty of admirers for the second season running in the FA Cup after exiting at the 5th Round stage to all-conquering Manchester City last term. Operating off one of League Two’s lowest budgets, Flynn continues to make County a mightily tough, dogged and competitive opponent.
Newport aren’t interested in aesthetics. The Welsh club are experts in the basics, dominate from set-pieces and boast a formidable forward pairing in Padraig Armond and Jamille Matt. Star stopper Joe Day, left-back Dan Butler and dependable Regan Poole moved on in the summer but County have continued their upward trajectory regardless.
With Matt injured of late, Tristan Abrahams has stepped up, whilst the arrival of Dominic Poleon gives the group further options in attack. Elsewhere, full-backs Ryan Haynes and Dan McNamara add quality with Flynn’s tried-and-trusted 3-5-2 system evolving into a four-man defence and something more akin t a 4-1-3-2. In doing so, Newport have proven masters in picking up points when not performing to their maximum.
Chasing a first appearance in League One since 1987, County have restricted their opponents to just 14 on-target efforts, whilst conceding the fifth-fewest shots. Remarkably, the hosts have churned out five successive shutouts since an opening day 2-2 draw with Mansfield and those disciplined defensive efforts should stand the side in good stead here.
Port Vale head to Rodney Parade having suffered a sole reverse (W2-D3-L1) in the opening month’s action with ongoing gradual improvements being seen under John Askey’s tutorship. The visitors are a solid bunch with Richie Bennett and Tom Pope adept at causing opposing backlines plenty of headaches so I don’t foresee a walkover home win.
However, the Valiants were dismissed 5-2 at Grimsby in their most recent road trip, failing to deal with the conditions, approach and physicality imposed by the Mariners, and a similar no-show at Newport could prove fatal. Askey’s outfit have recorded just one shutout despite being handed a kinder opening six-game fixture list and I suspect those vulnerabilities will be exposed.
Vale won twice against teams in the top-11 of League Two last term and have failed to score in 12/26 (46%) away days since the start of 2018/19. Those latter contests rarely produced major entertainment – 21 (81%) featured fewer than three goals – and so backing a narrow Newport success on Saturday makes most appeal.
The Exiles can be supported at 6/4 (Betway) to win alongside Under 4.5 Goals. Fourteen of Newport’s 16 home triumphs since the beginning of last term saw this selection land, as have all bar one of Vale’s defeats.