FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Shrewsbury v Portsmouth | Saturday 23rd March 2019, 15:00
Shrewsbury boss Sam Ricketts hailed his side’s late show last weekend as Ollie Norburn’s stoppage-time penalty sealed a remarkable 2-1 triumph over fellow relegation battlers Wycombe. Salop had trailed going into the final three minutes but Omar Beckles headed equaliser was followed up by the skipper’s spot kick to spark joyous scenes in Shropshire.
Rickets admitted his team hadn’t performed to the standards expected for the large majority of the match, as Shrewsbury struggled to make inroads from open play. Salop were restricted to just two efforts inside the penalty area during a first-half in which Wycombe were well on top without making their pressure pay.
Victory was Town’s third success in six (W3-D1-L2) and extends the Shrews’ reasonable recent run to W3-D3-L2 since the start of February. Still only a solitary point above the congested League One relegation dogfight, belief and confidence is being restored to a side that claimed only seven wins in their first 32 league outings this term.
Whilst I do still have plenty of reservations about Shrewsbury – particularly going forward – I’m happy to invest in Both Teams To Score at 10/11 (Ladbrokes) this weekend when promotion-chasing Portsmouth pitch up. The hosts have managed to notch in seven of their last eight encounters, as well as nine of 13 meetings with the current top-eight.
Shrewsbury shutout Wimbledon and Doncaster here before last weekend’s dramatic contest with Wycombe, but Luton, Sunderland and Charlton have all struck at least twice when travelling to the New Meadow and I don’t anticipate Portsmouth having too much trouble in the final-third.
Pompey have fired only five blanks in 2018/19, including just two in 19 away days. The visitors have bagged at least two goals in nine of 14 trips to clubs in eighth and below, generate the second-highest Expected Goals (xG) in the division and fire in the third-most shots from inside the penalty area.
Nevertheless, Kenny Jackett’s men have been far from solid at the back. Blues have only twice silenced their League One opponents since the start of December and Portsmouth have only kept the one clean sheet on the road since early October. Meanwhile, the squad’s subconscious could already be turning towards next week’s EFL Trophy final at Wembley.
Portsmouth have churned out three victories in four to reignite possible automatic promotion claims so I’m happy to presume the south coast club will be fully focussed on the task in-hand. Even so, it’s difficult to have complete faith in Jackett’s troops despite their relatively impressive defence performance data.
MK Dons v Yeovil | Saturday 23rd March 2019, 15:00
Four must go into three in the League Two automatic promotion race as we enter the final furlong. Pre-season favourites MK Dons dropped out of the top-three following their winter wobble but Paul Tisdale’s troops appeared to be back on track with five consecutive victories by an aggregate of 10-3.
But the Buckinghamshire boys were unjustly beaten 4-2 at Morecambe before failing to make their dominance pay against Stevenage in last week’s 1-1 draw at Stadium MK. Chuks Aneke notched seven minutes from time to secure a much-needed point for the Dons, who had restricted their opponents to just 0.30 Expected Goals (xG) from open play.
Russell Martin came closest for MK, denied by a stunning save that saw the ball rebound away off the post, although Tisdale remained upbeat post-match despite the dropped points. He’ll be determined to get back to winning ways immediately and Saturday’s showdown with Yeovil gives the home side ample opportunity.
MK have W12-D4-L3 as hosts this season, a record that reads W7-D1-L0 when only focussing on the bottom 10 teams. Those eight results return an aggregate of 18-3 and it’s no real surprise to see the Bucks outfit short-priced favourites to succeed. The Dons generate a league-high 1.20 xG from open play and easily attempt the most shots from inside the box.
Only Macclesfield (0.94) showcase a lower xG figure than visitors Yeovil (0.98) and the Glovers travel east having been beaten in 12 of their 19 away days this season. Recently, the Somerset side have lost nine of their last 11 and since mid-September they’ve produced a terrible W5-D7-L19 – that’s a 0.71 points per-game average.
The mood around Huish Park is at rock-bottom with manager Darren Way under serious fan pressure to relinquish his duties. Last weekend’s gutless 2-1 loss at home to relegation rivals Macclesfield has plunged Yeovil to within striking distance of the bottom-two and they’ve failed to even score in seven of their last 11 League Two tussles.
Over the past 11 away days – almost 17 hours of football – Town have scored just three goals and generated an average of 0.35 xG from open play and attempted fewer than six shots from inside the penalty box. It’s very difficult to see how the west country outfit could turn that sort of form around for one of the division’s toughest away trips.
MK Dons are too short to support but we can duck into the home win and Under 4.5 Goals market for a 4/5 play with Ladbrokes. Just 10 of their combined 76 league outings have produced five or more goals, including only four from 38 when only viewing home/away records. Meanwhile, those home/away matches averaged only 2.34 goals per-game.
Mansfield v Crewe | Saturday 23rd March 2019, 15:00
Looking at the league table on New Year’s Day, you’d have seen Mansfield sitting pretty in third of the League Two table. Fast forward the best part of 10 weeks and the Stags still occupy the same berth in the standings, although the situation has grown increasingly precarious for David Flitcroft’s men.
Town suffered a solitary defeat in their first 24 matches (W11-D12-L1). But their league record since NYD reads W6-D3-L5 as inconsistency, particularly away from Field Mill, has halted progress. Mansfield have only actually taken top honours twice in their most recent seven outings (W2-D2-L3), only once scoring twice or more in that seven-game sequence.
Flitcroft spoke of his pride on Monday night after a bumper crowd came out to support Mansfield in their televised tussle with table-topping Lincoln. The two teams were well-matched and the Stags will now look to follow up that encouraging effort with a statement success against Crewe on Saturday.
Town were able to field first-choice defensive trio Matt Preston, Ryan Sweeney and Hayden White on Monday night and that firm foundation could be key in the final eight games. The Stags have looked a little unsteady in their absence, although they continue to post excellent numbers at the opposite end of the field.
Before meeting Lincoln, Mansfield were averaging 1.97 Expected Goals (xG) at Field Mill, including 1.43 xG from open play. In fact, no League Two club can match Flitcroft’s men in terms of xG ratio at home, whilst over the course of the campaign only MK Dons have taken more shots from inside the penalty area and returned a better xG from open play figure.
Raw results show Mansfield have won 12 of 19 fixtures here this season, including nine of 12 when excluding the top-10 and I’m surprised to see the hosts available at odds-against quotes for the visit of Crewe. The visitors have W2-D0-L9 when travelling to teams above them in the standings, failing to even score in each defeat.
The Alex walloped Crawley 6-1 at Gresty Road last time out, a result that came hot on the heels of a five-match winless run (W0-D2-L3). Performance data ranks the Railwaymen in the bottom-10 from games as guests and they just appear a little overrated by the market.
Mansfield went off at odds-on quotes against Cheltenham, Macclesfield, Tranmere, Crawley, Yeovil, Swindon, Notts County, Port Vale, Oldham, Grimsby, Exeter, Carlisle and Newport already this season so I’m happy to take the 21/20 (Ladbrokes).