FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Macclesfield v MK Dons | Saturday 9th March 2019, 15:00
Seventeen of Macclesfield's 30 League Two points since promotion have been won in their 15 games since Sol Campbell arrived on the scene in December (W4-D5-L6). However, the Silkmen’s recent resurgence may well have run its course with Saturday afternoon’s hosts now winless in six (W0-D3-L3), shipping at least three goals on four occasions.
Last weekend’s devilishly difficult trip to Bury went to form, with Macc going down 3-0. The struggling League Two newcomers were thrashed on Expected Goals (xG) and registered just four attempts at goal from inside the penalty box, compared to the Shakers’ 15. It means Town have accrued a solitary point from 18 against the division’s top-four teams.
Another one of those leading lights is in opposition on Saturday as rejuvenated MK Dons travel to Cheshire. Four points from safety and rock-bottom of the League Two xG eight-game form table, Macclesfield are understandable outsiders as Moss Rose but there’s a case to be made to suggest the hosts could (and probably should) be slightly bigger.
Since the start of December, the Silkmen have generated 0.82 xG in front of their home supporters, giving up 1.44 xG on average. And there’s been an obvious downturn after half-time in that seven-game stretch with Macc managing to conjure up a paltry average of 0.24 xG after the interval – their visitors have produced 0.86 xG in the final 45 minutes.
Over the course of the campaign, Macclesfield rank bottom of the pile for xG, xG from open play, whilst only two teams have fired in fewer shots from inside the box. With a defence that’s recorded only four clean sheets, and a return of W2-D4-L11 against top-half teams this term, plus recent reports suggesting some of the players had only been paid 50% of their February salaries, I’m happy to oppose the hosts again this weekend.
MK Dons are back on track after an unexpected sticky patch through the depths of winter. The Buckinghamshire boys’ process remained strong throughout their lean spell (W2-D1-L7), although Paul Tisdale’s team were unable to half a concerning slide that saw MK lose their place in the League Two automatic promotion place and tumble outside the top-seven.
Four triumphs on the trot – including three shutouts – has brought the Dons back into contention and their W8-D1-L0 record at bottom-seven sides stands them in good stead for Saturday’s showdown. Only Bury can better MK’s xG for figure over the last eight outings and no fourth-tier club can match Tisdale’s troops for efforts from inside the box.
Having Mali midfielder Ouss Cissee back in the side and a switch to a 4-4-2 diamond system has given the promotion-chasers a real lease of life, whilst the final-third partnership of Chuks Aneke and Kieran Agard is as good as any at this level and should be capable of putting Macc to the sword. The visitors boast a 60% xG ratio return on the road, far exceeding Macclesfield’s 38% efforts as hosts.
The money has already come for MK Dons so I’m bolstering the odds to 13/10 (Ladbrokes) by adding in Over 1.5 Goals to the equation. Only two of the Macc’s home encounters have featured fewer than two goals, with all bar four of MK’s away days following suit.
Port Vale v Mansfield | Saturday 9th March 2019, 15:00
Port Vale are in the midst of a major relegation battle in League Two. The Valiants have scored a solitary goal in their last seven games and since mid-December have notched only four goals in 13 league outings – that’s four goals from almost 20 hours of action!
The Burslem boys have had their opportunities of late, generating over 1.30 Expected Goals (xG) in their last eight encounters but a lack of a clinical edge has allowed opposition outfits to prosper. Vale have W1-D4-L8 in that aforementioned 13-game stretch and picked up a solitary point from their last seven as hosts (W0-D1-L6).
Looking back at the Valiants’ results since September here, the Vale Park team have pocketed only two wins from 15 on home soil (W2-D3-L10), bagging fewer than two goals in 11 of those 15 fixtures. Off-field issues have played a disrupted part in a lack of progress and club legend Neil Aspin opted to resign from his post in late January.
John Askey has taken the reigns and was pleased with his side’s performance at Notts County last time, although 0.81 of Vale’s xG tally (1.11) in that tie came via set-pieces suggesting the hosts are struggling to carve out open play opportunities. Indeed, only two teams sit below the Burslem outfit for xG from open play this term.
Over the course of the campaign, Port Vale have W1-D1-L9 when welcoming teams in 14th and above – their only victory in that sequence being a very fortuitous 1-0 win over Bury – and only once in that sample have the hosts scored more than once. Include away days and that record returns W2-D5-L14, notching twice or more on that solitary occasion.
It’s difficult to find the faith in Port Vale finding their best form on Saturday against high-flying Mansfield and for this fixture I’m going to drop into Betfair’s Same Game Multi market and support the Staggs in the double chance market, along with Port Vale to score Under 1.5 Goals and Mansfield to net Over 0.5 Goals for an 8/11 shout.
Put simply, we’re supporting Mansfield not to lose whilst scoring and keeping Vale to fewer than two goals. That means correct score options such as 1-1, 0-1, 0-2, 1-2, 1-3 and 0-3 are all onside here – nine of Vale’s 11 at home to the top-14 would have seen this pay-out, whilst the visitors have netted in all bar seven of 35 outings this season.
Tyler Walker serves the second of a two-match ban but Town were impressive in victory against Cheltenham last weekend without him as the versatile CJ Hamilton and Nicky Ajose impressed in the new-look 4-3-3 formation employed by David Flitcroft. The Stags have lost just five times in 2018/19 and sit inside the top three for all the major metrics.
Carlisle v Swindon | Saturday 9th March 2019, 15:00
There’s a fascinating fixture from Brunton Park on Saturday as play-off chasers Carlisle welcome in-form Swindon to Cumbria. The two teams are separated by only three points and have their eyes set on a late charge towards the top-seven.
Eight wins from nine during December and January catapulted Carlisle into the top-seven mix, although the unexpected departure of manager John Sheridan to Chesterfield appears to have wobbled the boat. It’s probably not unfair to say Blues were always punching during that hot streak but incoming boss Steven Pressley has seen progress stall.
The hosts have collected two points from a possible 15 of late (W0-D2-L3) with Pressley calling on Carlisle’s senior players to “stand up” as the Blues aim to get back on track. The Scot said, “We have 11 games to go now – 11 cup finals for us” and his challenge is made easier by the welcome return from suspension of star playmaker Jamie Devitt on Saturday.
With Devitt back in situ and Carlisle generated around 1.50 Expected Goals (xG) in 10 of their 17 matches at Brunton Park this term, and scoring in 16 of their last 19 League Two tussles, I reckon the home side are well capable of getting on the scoresheet. However, the hosts have leaked at least twice in seven outings in Cumbria already this campaign.
Swindon are third in the fourth-tier’s away day table (W7-D4-L5) and have now won 18/39 (46%) road trips since the start of last season at this level. The Robins have fired only six blanks in that 39-game sample and head north in high spirits thanks to their fine recent form since Richie Wellens took charge (W8-D5-L4). More recently, Swindon have W5-D5-L2.
The loss of Michael Doughty to injury is a blow for Town, but January arrival of loan starlet Canice Carroll has bolstered the ranks. After a poor performance against Crawley– Carroll has stabilised his role in the midfield and proved capable of advancing forward when swapping his usual holding role with Jak McCourt six days ago.
The visitors have notched in 13 of their 17 contests under Wellens, generated 6.57 xG on their most recent three away days at MK Dons, Macclesfield and Tranmere. Town have averaged 8.57 shots in the box away under their current boss and produced 1.12 xG from open play in those games as guests, supporting the idea they’ll provide plenty of threat.
So I’m happy to support Both Teams To Score at 4/5 (Bet365) quotes this weekend. It’s proven profitable in 24/39 (62%) of Swindon’s long-term away trips, including five of their most recent six outside of the County Ground. Meanwhile, Carlisle have seen three or more goals in six of eight when hosting top-half teams, with Over 3.5 Goals landing on four occasions.