FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his selections from Saturday's EFL card.
Brentford v Huddersfield | Saturday 15:00
Huddersfield earned their first victory over Aston Villa since 1969 on Tuesday night thanks to a second-half Tommy Smith strike direct from a training ground corner move. The victory cemented the Terriers position in third just six points behind second-placed Brighton with a game in-hand.
Town dominated the game but were stifled in front of goal by a well-structured Villa backline but don’t expect Brentford to follow a similar pattern at Griffin Park on Saturday. The Bees open nature should lead us towards a goal-heavy encounter in the capital.
Visiting boss David Wagner was named Championship Manager of the Month for February thanks to an unbeaten run that brought five wins and a draw, including impressive victories over promotion rivals Brighton, Leeds and Reading.
But only one of those six outings saw Town keep their sheets clean sheet and the high-flyers haven’t always impressed at the back when playing away from their John Smith’s Stadium base this season.
Huddersfield have shutout only four of their 17 hosts this term – three of which came against three of the league’s lowest scorers – and Wagner’s men haven’t blanked their opposition in their own back yard for over two months.
Town have W5-D2-L1 of their most recent nine Championship games as guests, five of which featured Both Teams To Score winners with the last five produced 20 goals in total. It’s a promising start for a punt on Over 2.5 Goals at 23/25 (Marathon).
This selection really comes alive when viewing Brentford’s recent trends. Last weekend the Bees were held to a 1-1 draw at Portman Road with Mick McCarthy in no doubt that the Londoners deserved all three points for their attacking intent.
Dean Smith’s side followed that impressive display with a 3-2 triumph at Nottingham Forest in midweek. That victory means Brentford have now netted 20 goals in eight matches since losing 14-goal top scorer Scott Hogan with returning Spanish winger Jota particularly hogging the limelight.
The hosts have struck in each of their last 11 league outings – averaging 2.30 goals per-game – with 10 of those fixtures breaking the Over 2.5 Goals barrier. Go back a little further and the Bees have delivered profit for this punt in all bar two of their past 15 encounters.
Harlee Dean returned from suspension in midweek but fellow centre-back Andreas Bjelland remains a doubt for the Bees whilst Josh McEachran and Alan McCormack are also likely to miss out her, robbing the Londoners of vital defensive stability.
But they boast enough in the final third to make their mark in a fixture that traditionally features goals galore – the last eight have all seen Over 2.5 Goals bank with an average of 5.00 goals per-game across all eight encounters.
Gillingham v Scunthorpe | Saturday 15:00
At the start of February, Scunthorpe were in a commanding position at the top of League One. The Iron boasted a one-point lead on second-placed Sheffield United with a game in-hand and an eight-point cushion on third-placed Bolton.
But Graham Alexander’s men made hard work of beating a wretched Port Vale side 3-2, fuelling the suspicion that standards are slipping. Scunny have since taken only three points from a possible 24 (W0-D3-L5) to slide outside of the automatic promotion places.
The Iron fell to their third successive loss on Tuesday night at Charlton with Alexander’s charges struggling to create anything worthwhile in the final third. The visitors now trail in-form second-placed Fleetwood by three points despite playing a game extra.
It’s far too early to dismiss Scunthorpe’s prospects of automatic promotion but you wouldn’t be rushing to back United at skinny odds this weekend. The away side have claimed eight wins from their last 10 trips to bottom-half clubs but Gillingham have suffered a sole reverse in 11 at the Priestfield Stadium.
So instead focus your attention on goals and the Both Teams To Score market. It’s proven a profitable path in eight of Scunthorpe’s past nine away, as well as each of Gillingham’s last 10 League One fixtures anywhere.
Since Justin Edinburgh left the Kent club, the Gills have slowly slipped down the third-tier standings. The hosts have W2-D6-L3 under Adrian Pennock – the two triumphs arriving in their last three matches – but shown few signs of arresting an awful defensive record.
Pennock’s posse were boosted by their crucial win against relegation rivals Bury last time out but the boss continues to be plagued by injury casualties and late withdrawals. Scott Wagstaff, Deji Oshilaja, Ryan Jackson and Chris Herd are all struggling, leaving the home side potentially short at the back.
Gillingham have mustered just two clean sheets all season in League One, last picking shutting out their opposition in December. A massive 28/36 (78%) of their fixtures this term have rewarded BTTS backers with 14/17 (82%) Priestfield outings seeing goals for both sides.
Overall, Scunthorpe have followed suit in 12/18 (67%) on the road, making the 4/5 (888) for a repeat on Saturday far too big to ignore. The guests expect top scorer Josh Morris to shake-off an ankle gash to play but Conor Townsend and Sam Mantom will be missing once more.
Luton v Stevenage | Saturday 15:00
“I feel like my heart’s been ripped out if I’m honest.
“It was heartbreaking coming back to 2-2. We had made some real positive substitutions, so we were having to readjust again and then to concede in the manner we did so quickly after, I feel like my heart’s been ripped out, I really do.
“I’m gutted, absolutely distraught.”
Those were the words of Luton head coach Nathan Jones after seeing his side miss out on a trip to Wembley last Wednesday night when conceding a late goal to Oxford in the EFL Trophy semi-final at Kenilworth Road.
So I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who presumed an immediate hangover could effect their trip to Yeovil only 65 hours later. But the Hatters produced a domineering display to spank the Glovers 4-0 at Huish Park, keeping their automatic promotion hopes alive and well.
Top scorer Danny Hylton netted twice to keep Town in contention – Portsmouth’s midweek win has pushed Pompey two points clear of Jones’ charges but the Hatters have a game in-hand as we enter the final stretch of the season.
Saturday’s encounter – a Herefordshire derby – with Stevenage promises plenty. The hosts have scored in all bar one of their 2017 League Two outings and with only Danny Green and Cameron McGeehan absent, Luton should have enough to make their mark on the scoresheet here.
However, I wouldn’t be backing a home success. Stevenage have just celebrated a superb February by winning both the Manager and Player of the Month awards following a W5-D1-L0 run of results, including six goals for hot-shot Matt Godden.
Darren Saarl’s side are now unbeaten in eight (W7-D1-L0) and despite losing the shots on-target count against Notts County last weekend, still managed to win the fixture 3-0. It means Boro have now notched at least twice in 13 of their last 18 league matches.
Godden has netted 20 for the season – 18 of which have arrived in his last 23 games, including a hat-trick against Newport and seven in his last seven games. At odds of around 2/1 to score, the Stevenage striker is a nice price here.
Instead I’m plumping for the vastly overpriced Both Teams To Score market where Yes can be backed at 10/11 with William Hill.
Only four clubs have found the net more often than free-spirited Stevenage with 22/35 (63%) contests paying-out for punters to have backed Both Teams To Score. A healthy 21/34 (62%) of Luton’s games have followed suit, including 13/17 (76%) at Kenilworth Road with the hosts keeping only three clean sheets.
Josh McQuid will be unavailable for Boro due to the terms of his loan deal and ex-Luton defender Ronnie Henry is an injury doubt but the raw stats suggest neither will be major losses in another game that should feature goals galore this weekend.
Brentford v Huddersfield – Over 2.5 Goals (23/25 Marathon)
Gillingham v Scunthorpe – Both Teams To Score (4/5 888)
Luton v Stevenage – Both Teams To Score (10/11 William Hill)