FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) has kicked-off the campaign with 10 winners from his first 14 EFL selections. Can he continue his hot form on the international weekend?
MK Dons v Oxford | Saturday 2nd September 2017, 15:00
It’s been a sorry start to the season for one of my ante-post fancies, MK Dons. Robbie Neilson’s charges have collecting just three points from four games (W1-D0-L3) with their only success arriving in unconvincing fashion, 1-0 against Gillingham.
Last time out, the Buckinghamshire boys were brushed aside 4-1 at pre-season favourites Blackburn with the Dons appeared short on attacking inspiration. Saturday’s hosts have notched just twice in league football this term and hold a 4.30 – 6.80 deficit when viewing Expected Goals data.
Sure, an opening day clash with Wigan and a trip to Blackburn is a tough introduction to 2017/18 but I can’t deny, I was expecting much more from MK, even at this early stage.
Neilson admitting he missed out on three of his primary transfer targets before deadline day but even so, the Dons moved to snap up midfielders Aidan Nesbitt, Alex Gilbey and full-back Scott Golbourne. All three are in line to make their debuts this weekend whilst Osman Sow and Joe Walsh miss out.
Kieran Agard is expected to be back in the squad but he’ll need his team-mates to find their range; thus far, MK have managed only 11 on-target efforts – only Wimbledon (10) and Portsmouth (10) have fired in fewer and the hosts’ sloppy home record at Stadium:MK is another reason why I’ll be opposing them here.
The Dons have claimed only eight triumphs in their 25 home outings since the start of last season – all of which arrived against bottom-10 opposition. That record improved dramatically under Neilson (W8-D2-L5) but all seven failures to record maximum points came against sides in 13th and above.
In May I’d outlined Oxford as my best bet to win promotion from League One this season but the loss of Michael Appleton and a collection of key players meant that selection died a death early doors. Or so I thought…
I’ve been surprised and impressed by the way in which the U’s have equipped themselves under highly-rated new head coach Pep Clotet despite the high turnover of quality players in the squad.
Star wideman Marvin Johnson is the latest to leave the Kassam Stadium but the club have recruited well with John Mousinho and Alex Mowatt arrived before the window closed. The former should slot straight in at centre-half alongside Mike Williamson with Curtis Nelson a major injury doubt here.
United have proven canny operators, particularly at the back under Clotet. Only Wigan (8) and Blackpool (11) have faced more on-target efforts than Oxford (13) as the visitors have recorded two shutouts and leaked just twice this term.
The U’s were convincing winners at Oldham on the opening day and followed it up by dominating Portsmouth at home. Clotet’s charges defended well for long periods despite going down 1-0 at Scunthorpe and settled for a fair 1-1 draw with Shrewsbury last time out.
So there’s plenty of encouraging signs and early indications show they’ll remain a real threat on the road. Oxford have won nine of their last 15 away days and look overpriced at 5/6 (BetVictor) with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start here.
We’ll earn a full-stakes return should Oxford win but also collect a half-stakes profit should the match end all-square.
Wycombe v Forest Green | Saturday 2nd September 2017, 15:00
Gareth Ainsworth might be rock ‘n ‘roll through and through but his Wycombe side have never really been top of the pops for entertainment. His 227 matches in charge of the Chairboys have returned an average of 2.31 goals per-game.
But four games into the 2017/18 campaign and Wanderers have seen Over 3.5 Goals bank in all four fixtures with each encounter seeing both sides score at least twice. Ainsworth believes his squad can compete for promotion but only if they tighten up their act at the back.
Wycombe were slow starters last season and the boss is keen to avoid a repeat this time around. But with the Chairboys keeping a sole clean sheet in their first seven games of 2016/17, shipping 10 goals in four outings already this campaign suggests there’s still plenty of bedding in to achieve at Adams Park.
Birmingham defender Dan Scarr, QPR forward Eberechi Eze and Charlton striker Josh Umerah have also joined on temporary deals as Wycombe look to bulk out their thin squad. All three are in contention for starts on Saturday with Nathan Tyson ‘touch and go' and Sam Saunders and Scott Kashket both absent.
Meanwhile, Forest Green have made an entertaining start to life in the Football League. ‘The Little Club On The Hill’ would have probably ceased to exist without the intervention of chairman Dale Vince in 2010 but after six years of trying, Mark Cooper led the side from Nailsworth into the big time.
It’s been a relatively steep learning curve for Rovers. On the road they’ve already been stuffed 5-1 at Colchester and convincingly beaten by ante-post favourites Mansfield 2-0. In those two contests the newcomers conceded 39 shots, 17 of which were on-target.
Their 4-3 triumph at home to Yeovil was slightly fortunate according to the available performance data whilst on the opening day they failed to hold a 2-0 lead at home to Barnet – Christian Doidge's double being pegged back. It means their opening four outings have featured 21 goals!
Wolves winger Will Randall has joined but I’m reasonably confident that their attack has enough firepower to keep them competitive. It’s at the back where I’m a touch concerned and so with Wycombe suffering similar teething problems, it’s hard to resist a goals-based wager here.
The visitors have fired a solitary blank thus far but shipped at least two goals in all four of their games whilst collectively, the pair have seen 7/8 (88%) matches produce Over 3.5 Goals; it’s been a similar case in 11/25 (44%) of Forest Green’s away days since the start of last season.
However, I’ll play things a little safer. I was tempted by the 10/11 (Coral) on Wycombe notching Over 1.5 Goals but I’ll bolster the price to 6/5 (Coral) and back Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score. It should be fun.
Grimsby v Crewe | Saturday 2nd September 2017, 15:00
Twenty-six Grimsby debutants, three managers and a turbulent first campaign back in the Football League over, the Mariners were looking forward to a more stable season under the returning Russell Slade in 2017/18.
But the chaos of last term has showed no sign of abating with Town receiving a red card in each of their opening four League Two fixtures thus far (W1-D0-L3). Grimsby have still managed to score six goals but Slade admitted, “We need to be more ruthless. We haven't worked keepers enough, but there's been some good movement in and around the box.”
So this week’s signing of striker Jamille Matt and winger Martyn Woolford should ensure the Black & White brush up on their attacking game sooner than later. Both are in contention to play a part in Saturday’s intriguing showdown with Crewe.
Elsewhere, long-term injury absentees Jamey Osborne and Akwasi Asante remain out, while question marks remain over the match fitness of midfield duo Sean McAllister and Chris Clements. Overall, there shouldn’t be too much change to Town’s XI.
Grimsby have only fired one blank at Blundell Park in their last 12 outings and I’d back the hosts to bag again here. But having failed to record a clean sheet since March, the idea of backing Both Teams To Score holds plenty of appeal at 10/13 (10BET) quotes.
I’ve covered Crewe fairly extensively in these columns already this campaign and I’m pleased at the progress David Artell is making at Gresty Road. Back-to-back 1-0 triumphs against Port Vale and Barnet followed up fortunate points against Newport and Mansfield to keep the Alex unbeaten.
The Railwaymen signed Everton midfielder Conor Grant and Wigan defender Sam Stubbs on loans until January this week, backing up their aspirations for a top-seven finish with quality additions. And having scored in 15 of their last 16 League Two outings – notching at least twice on eight occasions – there’s more than enough firepower in the group to extend that streak here.
Artell rested skipper Chris Dagnall in midweek whilst Eddie Nolan played through the pain barrier. Both should feature on Saturday but Perry Ng, Michael Raynes and Chris Porter are major doubts and James Jones and George Ray remain unavailable, stretching the visitors’ resources.
Nevertheless, goals have been a regular feature of Crewe’s road trips under Artell; 8/11 (73%) have featured Over 2.5 Goals with the Alex grabbing a goal in all bar three matches. With both sides strong in the final-third, I’m happy to support another goal-heavy game.