FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's final round of EFL action in League One and League Two.
EFL: The Final Day
I loathe the final round of Football League fixtures. With 24-team divisions, more teams than normal arrive with little left to play for and it makes punting the EFL a complete minefield. My stakes are significantly lower and I’m more prone to chuck in a big-priced trixie where opportunity arises (more on that later).
Your first task when attacking this weekend should be, identifying which clubs are involved in matches that actually matter. If a side with something to play for is taking on a team with no chance of promotion or relegation, historical trends suggest the teams in-need actually table triumphs 20% more often than in earlier fixtures in the campaign.
That discovery won’t make a huge amount of difference to your approach as bookmakers react by pushing such clubs into artificially short quotes for the most part. So we have to be a little bit more inventive, do our due diligence and look at how teams approached the penultimate fixture, as well as trying to get into the psyche of the managers in question.
The latter part of that previous paragraph means, checking to see did any sides make sweeping changes to their starting XI’s last week, perhaps fielding a few youngsters? Or simply just noting that two EFL managers were on the booze in Barcelona less than 72 hours before their team complete their league campaign back home.
There’s a whole realm of equations to consider, along with the odds on offer, before settling on your weekend selections ahead of the final day. Hopefully the few points above will give you a bit of insight in how to attack things. My three selections below are my strongest plays but I’m also going to share a big-priced trixie, if you’re that way inclined for Saturday.
Plymouth v Scunthorpe | Saturday 4th May 2019, 17:30
This is the match that should have been chosen for live television coverage. It’s a stereotypical six-pointer with no guarantee of survival for the victor; it’s a shootout at Home Park and absolutely everything is on the line. The tension is palpable.
The two teams arrive in Devon with equally disastrous records from their last eight games (W0-D2-L6) although it’s Plymouth who are favoured at 6/5 (Ladbrokes). I’d have run a mile from such quotes had Argyle not axed manager Derek Adams in a last roll of the dice for safety last weekend.
The Scot has worked wonders with the Pilgrims but his departure was overdue. His relationship with key players and the local media was beyond repair and Plymouth’s shambolic 5-1 shellacking at Accrington last weekend was the final straw. Quite simply, his squad had given up on him and supporters wanted blood.
Top goalscorer Freddie Ladapo and playmaker Ruben Lameiras should be parachuted straight back into the XI and caretaker coach Kevin Nancekivell has enough in his armoury to produce a big performance in front of a capacity crowd. Argyle have W7-D4-L1 when welcoming sides outside the top-10 and they’re well capable of enhancing that return here.
Scunthorpe have taken nine points (W2-D3-L10) from an available 45 since February and were humiliated at home by already-relegated Bradford last time out. There was an air of resignation around Glanford Park last weekend and it’s difficult to feel confident in a club that’s kept only five cleans sheets since October, conceding twice or more in 25/45 (56%).
Luton v Oxford | Saturday 4th May 2019, 17:30
Having backed Luton and Portsmouth in the outright ante-post markets back in July, I’m willing the Hatters on to complete the job whilst also hoping Pompey can at confirm their place in third. Backing both each-way, I’ll at least pick up some winnings should either flop on the final day but from a position of prosper, I’m far from confident on Friday.
Regardless, I’m not having Luton as 4/9 favourites here. Town might be chasing the title but Mick Harford’s men have been playing like their campaign was done and dusted since the end of March. The Hatters large advantage has been eroded following a W1-D2-L2 return and the Bedfordshire boys have leaked twice or more in four of those five recent fixtures.
The Kenilworth Road surroundings could well inspire one last push from the hosts, and of course they’re up against an Oxford outfit with little left to achieve. However, the odds on offer suggest Luton are are full tilt, going gung-ho in a must-win match against a relegation rival. Any seasoned EFL follower knows that simply isn’t the case on Saturday.
Oxford are finishing the campaign with a flourish. The Yellows have suffered a sole reverse in 12 (W8-D3-L1) to rocket into the top-half. Karl Robinson’s charges have enjoyed a reasonably tame schedule in that time but even if we go further back, the visitors have delivered only three defeats in 19 since New Year’s Day.
Luton were outplayed by Burton last weekend and I expect Oxford to put in a decent fist of things so being given the opportunity to support the underdogs with a +1.5 Asian Handicap start appeals at 8/11 (BetVictor).
United have lost by more than a one-goal margin just four times since August and competed valiantly in games against Barnsley, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Luton themselves since a dreadful start to the campaign.
Macclesfield v Cambridge | Saturday 4th May 2019, 15:00
Hands up, who was backing Sol Campbell to lead Macclesfield to survival in late November?
Having won the National League in 2017/18, the Silkmen sat rock-bottom of League Two with only three victories and 10 points from their opening 19 matches when Mark Yates was sacked. The Cheshire club were seven points from safety and seemingly doomed before rumours emerged that the ex-England centre-half was on his way to Moss Rose.
Since his appointment, Town have garnered 1.20 points per-game on average (W7-D9-L9) to put themselves into pole position to secure League Two safety. In fact, Macclesfield have accrued 15 more points than Yeovil since the day of confirmation that Campbell was taking the job on an 18-month deal. MK Dons have picked up just six points more in that sample.
The Silkmen have W4-D7-L2 at Moss Rose since Yates left his role in November and their newfound effervescent approach in the final-third has seen Saturday’s hosts score in all bar five of their 25 outings under the current boss. Of course, defensively Town have been questionable at times but there’s plenty of hope ahead of a decisive final day.
Macclesfield just need a point to secure survival against Cambridge and I’m backing Campbell’s charges to achieve League Two football next term. The home side are overpriced but with the danger that they could settle for a stalemate if the scores are locked level after an hour, I’ll take a degree of safety by selecting the Draw No Bet at 8/11 (Marathon).
Cambridge rallied following Colin Calderwood’s appointment a week before Christmas, winning five of their first nine fixtures under the Scot to ease their own relegation fears. However, the U’s have downed tools since an unexpected success at Bury and suffered defeat in four of five winless outings, firing blanks in three.
Admittedly, United’s schedule hasn’t been easy but the visitors have tabled only three triumphs in 16 since mid-January, failing to score in half of those encounters, and have already been beaten in five of seven trips to fellow bottom-eight outfits.
Plymouth v Scunthorpe – Plymouth to win (6/5 Ladbrokes)
Luton v Oxford – Oxford +1.5 Asian Handicap (8/11 BetVictor)
Macclesfield v Cambridge – Macclesfield draw no bet (8/11 Marathon)
Oxford are bigger than 13/2 to win at Luton, Bristol Rovers are marginally bigger than 11/2 at home to already-promoted (and been on the beers) Barnsley, whilst penniless Bury are shockingly short at home to resolute Port Vale despite already securing their spot in League One and having their manager Ryan Lowe living the high life in Barcelona in midweek.
Of course, we’re investing faith in three teams with little left to play for this season but focus should instead be on opposing three sides in the same bracket at artificially skinny quotes. The trixie pays a huge £495 from a £1 stake (£4 in total) with best-priced Marathon, should all three prove successful.
The beauty of the trixie is, it’s a full cover bet where we’re backing three doubles and the treble, maximising our returns of big-priced winners where possible.
Luton v Oxford
Bristol Rovers v Barnsley
Bury v Port Vale
Back the trixie with a £4 stake at Marathon for returns up to £495