FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the second weekend of the new 2019/20 season.
Fleetwood v Wimbledon | Saturday 10th August 2019, 15:00
Fleetwood Town top the League One table after the opening weekend of action and the Cod Army could be lively outside contenders for promotion this season. Joey Barton played down expectations after seeing his side deservedly win 3-1 at Peterborough last Saturday, although the ambitious outfit continue to make eye-catching signings this summer.
Off-season additions Harry Souttar, Josh Morris and Danny Andrew were all on-target at London Road and giant centre-half Souttar particularly impressed on his return, as well as Paul Coutts in the side’s 4-3-3 system. Barton sprung a surprise by giving Conor McAleny a start ahead of Paddy Madden with Ash Eastham and Ash Hunter also warming the bench.
Fleetwood didn’t disappoint, charging two goals ahead inside the opening 15 minutes before showing their experience and game management to see out the showdown relatively comfortably despite enjoying only 26% of the ball. The Cod Army have also worked hard on their set-pieces and their aerial threat from dead ball situations was clear.
The Fisherman have this week bolstered their ranks further with the capture of number one target Ched Evans. Barton’s boys splashed out a six-figure sum to secure the striker’s return to Highbury – and whilst Evans won’t be fit enough to start from the off here – Fleetwood’s strength in depth is apparent, making them serious challengers for the top-six.
If Town are to live up that billing, they’ll be expected to beat the likes of Wimbledon who arrive at Highbury this weekend. Fleetwood are rated 9/10 (Marathon) shots to secure maximum points, and that’s an appealing play considering the hosts returned W9-D9-L3 when welcoming clubs outside of the top two in League One during 2018/19.
The Dons pulled off a remarkable Great Escape under Wally Downes last season, ensuring third-tier survival on the final day. However, Wimbledon are expecting another battle at the bottom with their budgetary limitations making progression difficult. Leading defences lights Toby Sibbick and Deji Oshilaja have departed and AFC could be outclassed here.
Downes bemoaned his team’s lack of concentration during their 2-1 home defeat to Rotherham last weekend with both goals arriving from set-plays. The Dons were dominated during the opening 45 minutes with young goalkeeper Nik Tzanev impressing between the sticks, before a resurgent and competitive AFC effort after the interval.
Wimbledon generated just 0.54 Expected Goals (xG) in that curtain-raising contest and lost the shots on-target count 1-9 in front of their home supporters. An improved display is of course possible, but the Dons only picked up three points at top-10 teams last term (W0-D3-L7) and so I’m counting on the Cod Army coming on strong this Saturday.
Gillingham v Burton | Saturday 10th August 2019, 15:00
New Gillingham boss Steve Evans has called on the club’s fans to make the Priestfield Stadium an intimidating venue for opposition sides. The Medway club have been embroiled in three successive relegation battles in League One with their Kent base rarely providing solace with the Gills notching only 20 (29%) triumphs from their last 69 outings here.
Nevertheless, there’s a feeling the Blues are no longer a soft touch under the stewardship of big sweaty Steve. Gillingham’s performance last Saturday was encouraging but the Scot admitted it could have been a whole lot better with Evans' outfit missing first-half opportunities that could and should have extended their 1-0 advantage at Doncaster.
An equaliser before the break was a sucker-punch for the Gills who appeared to run out of gas during a laboured second period. The pace of Elliott List and Mark Marshall off the bench failed to inspire a return to their first-half standards and so the Medway men travelled back with a promising point from the Keepmoat Stadium.
Back on home turf, Evans is determined to make his team difficult to beat. The Gills haven’t been able to replace Tom Eaves’ obvious impact in attack, although there were signs of real potential in forward areas as Alex Jakubiak combined nicely with Brandon Hanlan, Regan Charles-Cook and Mika Ndjoli, whilst Stuart O’Keefe and Ousseynou Cisse provided the midfield muscle.
I’m confident Gillingham can bloody a few noses in 2019/20 and I’d be counting on the Kent club to provide a sterner test to Burton than the odds suggest this weekend. The hosts are trading at 2/1 and that means there are ways to keep the Blues onside at the Priestfield, specifically the Asian Handicap market where Gills are 5/6 (BlackType) with a +0.25 start.
Burton put in a decent effort against recently relegated Ipswich in their opener and were unfortunate to lose out 1-0 due to a deflected strike. But the Brewers didn’t do enough with their 57% of the ball, managing only two strikes on-target and an Expected Goals (xG) return of just 0.59 despite trailing for 80 minutes of that contest.
Liam Boyce came closest to an equaliser when his stoppage-time header was cleared off the line and Nigel Clough felt his Albion team “didn't do a lot wrong”. But Ipswich's pressing and game management stifled Burton’s approach, and the Brewers rarely showed the fluidity they were looking for. To compound their misery, Stephen Quinn was sent off.
Nathan Broadhead could be given a first start this Saturday after impressing off the bench. Having started in a 4-3-1-2 shape against Ipswich, Albion switched to 4-3-3 with the on-loan forward taking over the left-hand attacking role. Elsewhere, John-Joe O’Toole began in an unfamiliar centre-half role but could continue after impressing Clough with his composure.
Burton now head south looking to improve upon a largely unremarkable road record following relegation from the Championship. The Brewers registered only six triumphs on their travels last term, meaning this selection would have returned profit in 17 of Albion’s 23 away trips, including 16 of 18 games at guests in 19th and above.
Swindon v Carlisle | Saturday 10th August 2019, 15:00
Swindon manager Richie Wellens has challenged his players to write themselves into the club’s history books in 2019/20. Town began the new League Two season with a 2-0 success at Scunthorpe last Saturday as they look to make their third consecutive campaign in the bottom tier of the EFL a promotion-winning one.
Wellens says the Swindon squad are given constant reminders of the club’s past glories whenever they walk around the County Ground. The Robins boss has therefore urged his current crop to create new memories for supporters by putting together a successful season. And his team certainly responded to that challenge at Glanford Park.
Both of Town’s goals came on the counter-attack in the second-half as they ruthlessly punished Scunthorpe’s own failed probes forward with pace and direct running. Debutant Jerry Yates and Keshi Anderson sealed victory, whilst there were a number of notable performances from Swindon’s starting XI – six of whom were new additions this summer.
Wellens insisted the final score was the most important aspect of the trip to Lincolnshire, although he’ll have been pleased with how his team performed in his 4-2-3-1 system. Anderson was given his preferred central role behind Yates with Kayne Woolery and Lloyd Isgrove providing the pace and trickery from wide areas. Meanwhile, Jordan Lyden and Michael Doughty formed an impressive central midfield pairing.
There’s a lot to like about Swindon this season – as outlined in my Promotion piece for the WLB Season Preview – and back at the County Ground, I’m keen to keep Town onside. The hosts can be backed at odds-against quotes (21/20 Boylesports) to make it back-to-back victories and I’m not sure such quotes will be available when winter arrives.
Carlisle are the visitors to Wiltshire and manager Steven Pressley said the Cumbrians opening-day 2-1 win over Crawley was a tribute to the efforts his players put in during a punishing pre-season. The Blues prevailed through goals from debutant Harry McKirdy and Stefan Scougall and the Scottish boss was chuffed with his team’s energy levels.
Only three of the side that started were with United last season, and Pressley admitted his team weren’t at their most fluid. Indeed, Crawley had second-half chances to pinch at least a point but were made to rue wayward finishing after firing in 20 efforts at goal and generating 2.61 Expected Goals (xG) – the second-highest League Two figure last weekend.
Pressley has said he is not averse to changing a winning Carlisle team if he feels different players are better suited to facing Swindon. The Blues boss peculiarly gave his squad a four-day break to step up preparations and I suspect the extended breather could prove a potential downfall for the Cumbrians ahead of their long journey south.
Hallam Hope remains a major injury doubt so Olufela Olomola should again partner Harry McKirdy up top but overall I can see this Carlisle side falling short of the standards required to keep an exciting Swindon side at bay. All in all, it’s difficult to ignore odds-against quotes on the hosts here.
Fleetwood v Wimbledon – Fleetwood to win (9/10 Marathon)
Gillingham v Burton – Gillingham +0.25 Asian Handicap (5/6 BlackType)
Swindon v Carlisle – Swindon to win (21/20 Boylesports)