FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) nailed another full house in the EFL last weekend. Here's his three to follow on Saturday.
Reading v Wigan | Saturday 15:00
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ve penned many apiece on these pages claiming the league table can lie. In such a low-scoring sport, anomalies do exist and Reading rooting themselves down in the top-six is such an example.
Naturally, Royals fans don’t like hearing such assessments and whilst the Berkshire boys deserve immense credit for consolidating their play-off position since late October, the truth has to be told at some point.
I’ll save the big reveal for now and instead lavish a little praise on Jaap Stam’s side as they’re just too big a price to ignore on Saturday. Reading can be backed at 19/20 (William Hill) to beat Wigan at the Madjeski Stadium and no matter what my ratings and performance data suggests, that’s just wrong.
Stam has said the Royals are looking to secure their play-off berth this weekend – it’s not yet guaranteed as their goal difference is by far the worst of the clubs that can overtake them – but also admits his troops must improve following last weekend’s loss at Nottingham Forest.
Injuries to captain Paul McShane and midfielder Joey van den Berg can be considered blows. McShane has forged an instrumental centre-half partnership with Liam Moore and although Reading have won five of their eight outings here without him, two of their three losses at the MadStad came in his absence.
Still, Garath McCleary is due to return and the very top level figures still suggest the home side are massively underrated in the Match Odds market.
Reading have taken top honours in 15/22 (68%) home league games whilst Wigan have suffered 13/22 (59%) away losses. Put the two records together and a home win has provided profit on 28/44 (64%) occasions; that percentage success rate implies odds of just 4/7!
We can dig deeper and inspect the duos returns against the top/bottom-half too. Reading have won 15/22 (68%) games against the bottom-half – only Brighton have better flat-track bullies – with Wigan suffering 14/22 (64%) defeats against the top-12 – only Rotherham have been beaten more often.
The visitors have accumulated nine points fewer in total (41) than Reading have at home (50) this term and the Latics are all but mathematically relegated following last weekend’s drab 0-0 draw at home to Cardiff.
Neil Warnock remarked that Athletic played ‘like a team already relegated’ and although Reece Burke’s return to the defence was welcome, Wigan just haven’t had the tools available to compete in the second-tier this season.
Fulham v Brentford | Saturday 15:00
Fulham’s end-of-season surge showed no signs of letting up last weekend as the Cottagers bounced back from falling behind at top-six rivals Huddersfield by scoring four first-half goals in a thrilling away victory.
Slavisa Jokanovic's men have long been earmarked as serious candidates for a play-off position and their performances since early winter are finally starting to be realised we enter the final furlong of the Championship campaign.
Fulham have secured four wins on the spin now – scoring at least three goals on each occasion – and know adding to that tally is vital with a trip to Sheffield Wednesday to come on the final weekend of the season.
West London rivals Brentford are next in line for the Cottagers and whilst the Bees are fresh from a walkover win against on-the-beach QPR, a home success should be supported here alongside a goals play.
Brentford’s march into the top-10 has been built on their Griffin Park form and although Dean Smith’s side are decent travellers, they’ve often proved fallible when visiting the league’s top teams. The Bees have lost seven of their last eight at top-six teams and have W2-D4-L8 at clubs in 16th and above this term.
Eight of those 14 fixtures featured Over 2.5 Goals winners, as have eight of Brentford’s last 10 games as guests. But the punt on Fulham to win and Over 2.5 Goals (10/11 BetStars) really comes alive when looking at the hosts’ remarkable recent goal returns.
The Cottages have cleared the Over 2.5 Goals line in 11 of their last 13 at Craven Cottage with eight of their most recent 11 here featuring at least four goals. In fact, eight of Fulham’s past nine outings have broken the Over 3.5 Goals barrier with 11 of 12 seeing Both Teams To Score collect.
Carlisle v Newport | Saturday 15:00
Graham Westley was sacked as Newport manager on the 9th March with the Exiles 11 points from safety and rated as 1/10 shots for relegation from League Two. Today County are outside the bottom-two for the first time since November.
It’s been a sensational turnaround at Rodney Parade, engineered by club stalwart Michael Flynn. The sports journalist graduate enjoyed four separate playing spells with Newport and has accumulated 19 points (W6-D1-L3) from his 10 games in charge – as many as Westley managed in his final 24 matches.
Only Portsmouth and Accrington have collected more points than the Exiles since Flynn took charge of the team and Accy were downed last weekend. In-form Exeter have also been beaten as County have ground out four 1-0 victories from their last five fixtures.
Captain Joss Ladabie says Flynn's men know they still have work to do and won't rest on their laurels, but are confident and enjoying their football. With survival now in their own hands, I’m happy to invest my faith in Newport picking up another positive result this weekend.
Newport can be supported at 13/18 (888) with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start – this selection will see us paid out should the visitors avoid defeat at Brunton Park. If the Exiles are flying, Carlisle are crawling towards the end of the season.
The Cumbrians were in an automatic promotion place as recently as March but have now dropped outside of the play-off places following a damaging run of one victory in 12.
Last weekend Keith Curle’s charges chucked away hard-fought lead at Crawley and the manager pulled no punches when suggesting his team were playing for their futures following a deflating loss of form.
Carlisle need to win their two remaining matches to stand a realistic chance of re-entering the top-seven but don’t expect Newport to rollover having worked so hard to get into this position. I’ll back the visitors to avoid defeat.
Reading v Wigan – Reading to win (19/20 William Hill)
Fulham v Brentford – Fulham to win and Over 2.5 Goals (10/11 BetStars)
Carlisle v Newport – Newport +0.50 Asian Handicap (13/18 888)