FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns to share his favourite fancies from Saturday's coupon.
Middlesbrough v QPR | Saturday 16th September 2017, 15:00
Joint pre-season favourites Middlesbrough haven’t made the most auspicious of starts (W3-D2-L2) to life back in the second-tier but there’s a feeling amongst Teessiders that Boro are improving game-on-game.
Following a busy summer of transfer business – plus the arrival of Garry Monk in the managerial hot-seat – there’s been plenty of changes at the Riverside Stadium with Boro probably best described right now as a work in progress.
The side have played well in large patches but yet to really consistently click. Even so, I rate the 3/4 (William Hill) available on a home success this Saturday as value and I’ll certainly be getting involved.
Middlesbrough picked up a point in a feisty affair at Aston Villa on Tuesday. Adama Traore’s fourth minute red card saw Boro put in another resilient defensive effort as they collected their sixth clean sheet in eight outings this term during the 0-0 draw.
Traore’s absence is a “bitter pill to swallow” according to Monk but when you have Marvin Johnson, Patrick Bamford and Ashley Fletcher queuing up to take his place, I’ve little sympathy for the Boro boss. Put simply, the Teessiders boast the most balanced and fulsome squad in the Championship.
It’s true, the hosts were second-best in their last Riverside date (0-0 v Preston) but Ben Gibson’s burgeoning centre-half partnership with young Dael Fry is encouraging and that outstanding rearguard should stand the side in good stead, knowing the supreme attacking talent available in the final-third.
For QPR, a four-point haul from home games against Ipswich and Millwall was probably about par. Although the Tractor Boys offered little in a richly-deserved home success, Tuesday night’s 2-2 against the Lions was less so.
Millwall dominated the game, causing Rangers numerous problems, before Lee Gregory’s first-half red card. Neil Harris’ troops nicked a second goal on the counter-attack but battened down the hatches and were eventually made to pay as the R’s rained in 31 efforts at goal.
The Super Hoops are renowned poor travellers – it’s 25 defeats in 49 away Championship games since relegation – and have recorded only four clean sheets in their past 40 league outings.
What’s more, Ian Holloway is dealing with a number of defensive injuries this weekend. Skipper Nedum Onuoha joins Grant Hall, Joel Lynch, James Perch and Steven Caulker on the sidelines. A change in system and formation might be required and Holloway may also shuffle his pack with QPR’s intense pressing style unsuited to three fixtures in a week.
Blackburn v Wimbledon | Saturday 16th September 2017, 15:00
Hot ante-post League One jollies Blackburn made a pointless start from their first two games back at this level but a chance of approach has paid dividends with Rovers rolling out four successive league victories since – their best run of form for 10 years.
Boss Tony Mowbray admitted he has had to sacrifice some of his footballing philosophies to get the club up and running, suggesting over time he can bring a more free-flowing and aesthetically-pleasing style back to Ewood Park.
Loanee forward Marcus Antonsson has notched in each of his past two outings and alongside Dominic Samuel, has given Rovers an extra edge and mobility about their attacking play. With Danny Graham and Bradley Dack waiting in the wings on the bench, the Lancashire outfit should prove too good for this level.
Blackburn leaked a sole goal in those four recent triumphs and should the hosts succeed on Saturday against Wimbledon – which I fully expect them to do – they’ll have bagged five league wins on the spin for the first time since November 2000.
It hasn’t been the easiest of transitions to League One. Indeed, Rovers have played four of their opening six games away from home, against teams who finished in the top 10 last season, so the visit of the Dons should in theory be a more straightforward encounter.
There’s plenty of very fair 4/6 about on a home win here but I’m boosting the price to 6/7 (BetVictor) by backing Blackburn to overcome a -0.75 Asian Handicap hurdle. We’ll make money should Mowbray’s men come out on top with a full pay-out arriving should Rovers win by two or more goals.
Wimbledon arrive on the back of a much-improved performance but Neil Ardley’s struggling troops were unable to collect maximum points against 10-man Gillingham in midweek. The visitors have now claimed a sole success in seven outings this term.
With Jimmy Abdou, Paul Robinson and Callum Kennedy absent, Ardley set-up an attacking 3-4-3 formation and despite a lively opening, AFC failed to convert many of their presentable opportunities in the 1-1 stalemate.
Wimbledon have scored just four goals in league football this term and are clearly suffering from the summer departures of Tom Elliott and Jake Reeves. Only Northampton (16) have fired in fewer on-target efforts (20) and the visitors’ road record leaves a lot to be desired.
The Dons have W1-D8-L9 on their travels with their only victory in 18 arriving way back in February.
Cambridge v Coventry | Saturday 16th September 2017, 15:00
Cambridge made a diabolical start to 2016/17 when well-fancied for a promotion push so following back-to-back defeats to open their new campaign, many fans feared the worse.
But Shaun Derry’s charges have picked up 10 points (W3-D1-L1) from their last five fixtures with the latest an impressive backs-to-the-wall 1-0 triumph away to Crewe on Tuesday night.
After losing 3-1 at Barnet last weekend, Derry decided to keep faith with the same XI in midweek and was rewarded with a sterling effort. The U’s boss saluted his ‘rocks at the back' Leon Legge and Greg Taylor as the team recorded a fourth clean sheet in five.
Jabo Ibehere scored the only goal but his partner in crime Ade Azeez was absent and his ligament injury will keep him sidelined here. So with Luke Berry no longer at the club and Derry favouring a more cautious approach, Cambridge might not have the tools available to overcome organised defences.
The club switched to a 4-4-2 diamond for this season, playing two strikers up top to appease discontent from the stands. However, the tentative approach remains with five of their seven outings seeing no more than one goal scored.
Indeed, the U’s are yet to strike more than once in a game this term whilst only two encounters have seen Both Teams To Score backers rewarded. With that in mind, I’m keen to oppose goals when the league’s most impressive defence arrives at The Abbey on Saturday.
Each of Coventry’s seven matches have seen at least one team fail to score and the last six of these have featured Under 2.5 Goals. Collectively, BTTS has failed to win in 11/14 (79%) of the duos League Two contests so I’m happy to jump on-board for a repeat at 7/8 (888).
The Sky Blues rolled over Carlisle in midweek to make it back-to-back triumphs ‘to nil’ as new signing Tom Davies put in a Man of the Match display at the heart of defence alongside Jordan Willis. Cov have now conceded just three goals this season, two of which arrived in a 2-0 away defeat to Yeovil.
The visitors boast the division’s best goals against record and have faced just 15 on-target efforts this term, again a league best. However, three of their four triumphs came at the Ricoh Arena and with Tony Andreu and Marc McNulty out injured, the Sky Blues are missing a touch of class in the final-third.
Middlesbrough v QPR – Middlesbrough to win (3/4 William Hill)
Blackburn v AFC Wimbledon – Blackburn -0.75 Asian Handicap (6/7 BetVictor)
Cambridge v Coventry – Both Teams To Score ‘No’ (7/8 888)