FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Rotherham v Swansea | Saturday 3rd November 2018, 15:00
Rotherham boss Paul Warne hailed his side’s resilience and battling qualities after seeing the Millers come from behind to pick up a precious point at Preston last weekend. Michael Smith salvaged a stalemate for United, securing their fifth draw in six games to keep the club two points above the drop zone.
Warne admitted his team started slowly and were forced to weather a first-half storm from North End that eventually led to the opening goal five minutes before the interval. But Rotherham fought back strongly and levelled through Michael Smith's second goal of the season 10 minutes after the restart.
Smith had earlier hit the post with a curling effort from 30 yards for the Millers, although the visitors had goalkeeper Marek Rodak to thank for a share of the spoils when denying Callum Robinson a golden opportunity to secure maximum points late on.
United now return to the New York Stadium, hoping to enhance their impressive W3-D3-L1 return as Championship hosts since promotion. Warne’s outfit have recorded clean sheets in four of those fixtures and overcome Ipswich, Millwall and Derby in games decided by a solitary strike.
The Millers have been working off fine margins all season; setting up in a defensive 4-1-4-1 system, Rotherham aim to keep matches tight, and make the most of their set-piece opportunities. Indeed, the home side have scored just 11 goals all season – four (36%) arriving via penalties or shots outside the box.
In fact, look closer at Rotherham’s goals this season and if we exclude the aforementioned four, the bulk of the Millers remaining seven goals arrive via long throws, corners or crosses into the box. It’s a traditional approach that’s been reasonably effective and efficient for the South Yorkshire side.
Nevertheless, only Bolton (0.33) and Ipswich (0.37) are generating a lower Expected Goals per-game output from open play than Rotherham (0.57) and that has to be a concern for the home supporters, especially with Warne feely admitting they’re operating off fine margins.
Few Championship clubs will arrive at the New York Stadium as well prepared as Swansea under Graham Potter. The Welsh outfit have upset the odds to rise to within two points of the play-off positions following back-to-back victories over Reading and Blackburn last week.
The Swans produced an Expected Goals figure of 4.55 in their convincing 2-0 victory over the Royals seven days ago and have slowly made their way towards the upper echelons of the majority of performance data metrics; Potter’s posse are inside the top-eight for both xG supremacy, and when viewing xG from open play.
A big part of that is down to City’s strength in defensive areas. Only Middlesbrough (nine) have kept more clean sheets than Swansea (seven), or conceded more goals at this stage of the campaign. In fact, only twice have the visitors shipped more than one goal in a game following relegation.
Ordinarily, I’d be keen to find ways to support the Swans in this encounter. However, I’m aware of the guests’ uninspiring road record, which reads W2-D3-L2 with City failing to score on five occasions. So instead, I’m more comfortable opposing goals with Under 2.5 Goals trading at 5/6 (188BET).
Swansea’s away days are averaging only 1.87 goals per-game as five were settled by no more than one strike, including three goalless games. Rotherham’s New York Stadium outings are registering an average of 2.00 goals per-game with five of seven concluding with fewer than three goals.
Collectively, the pair have delivered Under 2.5 Goals profit in 10/14 (71%) respective home/away dates – 9/14 (64%) seeing Under 1.5 Goals – whilst combining for a goals per-game average of just 1.94.
Bradford v Portsmouth | Saturday 3rd November 2018, 15:00
Portsmouth manager Kenny Jackett has warned his table-topping team against complacency on Saturday as Pompey travel to West Yorkshire to face rock-bottom Bradford. And I’m happy to trust the highly-rated head coach to guide his south coast side to maximum points at Valley Parade.
It shouldn’t require too much convincing to join the Portsmouth backers’ bus this weekend. Although the visitors have been held to a pair of stalemates against Burton and Accrington in their past two tussles.
Even so, Portsmouth have won six of eight unbeaten road trips this term, with the two blips versus teams currently in the top eight of the table,, although the league leaders were the aggressors in both recent draws.
Jackett bemoaned his side’s profligacy last time out against Accy and demanded his high-flyers be more ruthless in front of goal. The Blues took an early lead against Stanley, dominating the opening exchanges and had opportunities to put the game to bed in the first-half, but were unable to put their chances away.
The Pompey boss had his players working on their finishing in training this week and I’d expect a response from the 4/1 shots for League One glory. Sure, the visitors have been chalked up as the second-shortest price for an away side this season but having W5-D2-L0 on their travels already, I’ve few concerns.
Only top-half teams Accrington and Doncaster escaped defeat when welcoming Portsmouth, with the Blues scoring at least twice on five occasions. The visitors are posting a strong 62% Expected Goals from open play ratio, and similarly impressive returns when viewing shots attempted from inside the penalty box.
Pompey have already accumulated 35 points from their first 16 League One outings and only in 1979-80 (36 points) and 2002-03 (38) have they had more after 16 games of an EFL campaign. They were promoted on both occasions and will be targeting a comfortable victory here with influential midfielder Tom Naylor back from a one-match ban.
Appreciative that the 3/4 (SkyBet) available on the away success is a little skinny for a Football League fancy, I’m chucking in Over 1.5 Goals to boost the odds to even-money with Ladbrokes. Five of Portsmouth’s away wins have followed this formula and the case grows stronger when analysing Bradford.
The Bantams have been beaten in 23 league contests in 2018 already – the only side to have lost more than 20 this calendar year in the EFL – and head into the weekend on the back of five successive League One losses. Go back further and City have managed W1-D1-L10 over their last 12 at this level.
Bradford’s sole win in that 12-game sample came over second-from-bottom Wimbledon, and the stalemate came in a goalless game against shot-shy Bristol Rovers. The hosts have scored four League One goals over their past 13-and-a-half hours of action, three via long throws and one from the penalty spot.
Only Oxford (0.56) are generating a lower Expected Goals from open play figure per-game than Bradford (0.64), while their 37% shots in the box ratio return is a divisional-low. Likewise, no third-tier team has registered fewer on-target efforts across the opening 16 matches, highlighting their woes.
Last weekend Bradford were beaten 4-0 at 18th-placed Gillingham, the fourth successive encounter in which the West Yorkshire side have faced at least seven shots on-target. What’s more, the Bantams have posted a W0-D0-L11 record against the top-15, with the hosts conceding two goals or more in all 11 matches.
David Hopkin is the fourth manager to take the hot-seat in 2018 and he’s overseeing a club that’s won just twice on a Saturday since December. Meanwhile, at Valley Parade, City have picked up a solitary point from a possible 18 of late (WO-D1-L5) recently.
It’s grim to be a Bradford fan right now.
Colchester v Swindon | Saturday 3rd November 2018, 15:00
Colchester boosted their promotion aspirations with a well-deserved 1-0 home win over league leaders Lincoln last weekend. In a physical contest featuring just four shots on-target, Frankie Kent’s goal from a corner was enough to secure a morale-boosting three points for the Essex outfit.
Sammie Szmodics returned to the side and threatened on the counter-attack, and his star quality is ably assisted by the power and panache from widemen Frank Nouble and Courtney Senior. John McGreal’s men are realistic runners for a top-three position and can show their class here at home against Swindon.
Victory over the Imps was ColU’s third on the spin at their Community Stadium base, whilst across the campaign as a whole the hosts have picked up top honours in six of their eight outings here. Just as impressive is Colchester’s final-third ability, scoring 20 goals across those eight home encounters.
In fact, no League Two team has scored more goals than Colchester and the U’s attack will be led by former Swindon striker Luke Norris. The in-form hitman ignored pleas to stay in Wiltshire in the summer to join McGreal’s high-flyers and has hit the ground running, scoring eight times already for his new charges.
Only Mansfield (1.13) are posting better Expected Goals from open play numbers than Colchester (1.07) and that offensive punch should tip the balance in the hosts’ favour, especially with Swindon’s leaky defence giving up 1.12 Expected Goals from open play – a divisional-worst tally.
Robins boss Phil Brown has been playing the underdog card this week as he seeks to seal back-to-back victories for the first time in 2018/19. However, I’ve major doubts surrounding the ability of the Wiltshire raiders, particularly following last weekend’s smash and grab success at struggling Notts County.
Swindon managed a sole shot on-target at Meadow Lane but escaped with a 2-1 win thanks to an own goal and a fine individual effort from Steve Alzate. The Robins were second-best 0.85 to 2.15 when viewing Expected Goals, making it the 12th game in 13 League Two outings that Town have lost the xG count.
Brown’s boys have scored seven (37%) of their 19-goal tally from efforts outside the penalty area or penalties, whilst over their most recent seven matches –10-and-a-half hours of action – Swindon have scored once from open play – not ideal when up against a Colchester defence that’s shipped only eight non-set-piece goals.
Town have been well-beaten in seven of their past eight trips to top-six teams, including at Lincoln and Exeter this term,, and so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Colchester put the visitors to the sword here. Quotes of 99/100 (Marathon) on a home win are well worth supporting on Saturday.