FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from Saturday's coupon.
Reading v Derby | Saturday 24th February 2018, 15:00
Derby boss Gary Rowett dismissed suggestions the Rams are suffering another ‘February wobble' having picked up just five points from a possible 12 this month, slipping from second in the Championship to fourth in the process.
County have often found February a tricky month to negotiate and Wednesday night’s 2-2 home draw against Leeds was their fourth in five at Pride Park. That result leaves Derby five points adrift of Cardiff, who occupy the second automatic promotion slot.
Uncharacteristically poor defending has been Rowett’s biggest bugbear. Derby were two goals down in midweek, giving away sloppy goals. But they’re a resilient bunch and fought back to claim a deserved share of the spoils having won the shot count 25-8 and Expected Goals count 2.42-1.50.
County have only claimed a sole success in six now with some supporters questioning the wisdom to allow Chris Martin and Johnny Russell depart in January. With Sam Winnall out for the season and David Nugent drawing a blank in his last seven appearances, Rowett’s been forced on the defensive.
But the truth is, Derby have been beaten once in 14 fixtures and have been unlucky not to win a few more in the same sample. Cameron Jerome is a capable player to bring in up top and with only six defeats suffered in their 33 matches across the campaign as a whole, the Rams are still very much in the hunt.
The draw bias is enough to put me off a straight away win on Saturday but I can certainly see County coming through their trip to Berkshire unscathed.
Reading are in a rut of their own. Manager Jaap Stam’s future at the Madejski Stadium has split fans’ opinion, with some demanding a change at the top and others – including the club’s supporters’ trust – backing the man in charge.
A small section of Royals fans plan to voice their frustrations at the weekend as the Berkshire boys look to bounce back from the disappointment of conceding a stoppage-time equaliser at Nottingham Forest in midweek.
It was an improved Reading performance compared to recent weeks but in fairness, the Royals’ goal was under siege in the second-half as Forest created enough opportunities to clinch maximum points. That result leaves Reading just four points above the relegation zone with only one win from their last 12 Championship encounters.
The process remains the same from Stam but in a results-driven business, supporters are becoming increasingly twitchy and it appears to be translating to the pitch. So whilst John Swift’s welcome return to fitness will provide a calming influence in midfield, the absence of on-loan striker Chris Martin on Saturday is considered a blow.
Skipper Paul McShane, Joseph Mendes, Callum Harriott, Stephen Quinn and Jordan Obita all still remain sidelined through injury and the Royals’ offensive record leaves a lot to be desired. The hosts have scored only seven goals in their last 11 games, three of which came at struggling Burton.
Stam’s side have tabled just three victories at the MadStad this season – only Sunderland and Burton dropping more points on home turf – and so it’s difficult to support the upset. Therefore, I’ll be backing Derby double chance and Under 3.5 Goals at 7/10 with 188BET.
A healthy 38/65 (58%) of their collective Championship clashes have delivered fewer than three goals with 54 (83%) featuring Under 3.5 Goals. when viewing respective home/away records, Under 3.5 Goals has copped in 27/31 (87%) matches with just 2.33 goals per-game seen on average.
Bristol Rovers v Scunthorpe | Saturday 24th February 2018, 15:00
Scunthorpe’s second successive 2-2 draw has reduced their advantage over seventh-place to just six points with the Iron hitting a sticky patch since New Year’s Day. Graham Alexander’s men have won just once in eight (W1-D4-L3), all but ending their automatic promotion dreams.
As alluded to last week, Scunny made a curious decision to reduce the wage bill during the January transfer window – strikers Paddy Madden, Simon Church and Kevin van Veen all departed, but it’s not yet had a major impact on United’s attacking game.
The Iron have found the back of the net in each of their last 13 fixtures with the likes of Ivan Toney, Lee Novak and Duane Holmes all in fine form. Unfortunately, Toney’s rated a major doubt and a spate of illness has been through the camp this week but we should still expect a front-foot performance from the guests.
Scunthorpe are at their best with a fast-style of football, with plenty of pace in their armoury on the flanks. It’s a system that’s worked very well against League One’s lesser lights with Alexander’s outfit losing just three of their 28 encounters against teams outside of the top-six.
However, rather surprisingly for an Alexander side, the Iron have struggled to keep their back door locked. Only seven sides have faced more shots than Scunny this season and the visitors have shipped at least two goals in six of their past seven and nine of their previous 13 league fixtures.
But with that aforementioned attack still functioning, United’s games have been awash with goals recently. A chunky 12 of their previous 13 outings have featured both sides scoring with 10 crossing the Over 2.5 Goals whitewash.
Here they’re coming up against a Bristol Rovers team that relishes to play their own style of fast-paced, attacking football, particularly at their Memorial Stadium base. Despite the losses of Matty Taylor and Billy Bodin, the Gas continue to consolidate their position in the upper reaches of mid-table.
A play-off place is still the dream around the club although an uncharacteristic no-show in forward areas saw the Pirates slide to a last-gasp 1-0 defeat at Wimbledon last weekend. Manager Darrell Clarke labelled it a “diabolical” offensive display as Rovers lost for the first time in 2018.
I wouldn’t expect a repeat here. Only two teams are averaging more attempts than Rovers this season whilst only three clubs have fired in more efforts on-target. With Stoke loanee Dom Telford also back in the squad, the home side will boast plenty of threat going forward.
Clarke’s charges have only twice fired blanks at the Memorial Stadium this season and since promotion to this level, Bristol Rovers have scored in 35 of their 39 home outings. A chunky 67% of those saw Over 2.5 Goals backers collect and 69% produced profitable Both Teams To Score selections.
Defensively, Rovers have silenced only two opposition outfits here and with Scunthorpe scoring in all bar six of their past 40 road trips, goals should definitely be on the cards. The Gas’ six showdowns with top-10 teams here this term have all featured at least three goals and both sides scoring.
And if we put the two teams’ respective home/away records together, Over 2.5 Goals will have paid-out on 22/33 (67%) occasions, implying odds around the 1/2 mark. Over 2.5 Goals can be backed at 4/5 with BetVictor on Saturday.
Wycombe v Morecambe | Saturday 24th February 2018, 15:00
I was delighted to see Gareth Ainsworth linked with the Barnsley job last week.
Having worked diligently with Wycombe for over five years, tabling two top-half finishes on a shoestring budget in two of the past three campaigns, the Wanderers boss has worked minor miracles in Buckinghamshire.
Understandably, Wycombe want to keep their top dog in situ as his most impressive accomplishment could be on the cards over the next few months. The Chairboys are sitting second in League Two, three points clear of fourth and with a realistic opportunity of sealing automatic promotion.
Wanderers head into the weekend having W7-D1-L0 in their past eight and having been turned over just twice since Bonfire Night (W10-D2-L2). Bar a five-game winless streak from mid-October, Ainsworth’s outfit have remained remarkably consistent, playing an entertaining brand of football.
Sure, it’s rugged and uncompromising at times – led by Bayo Akinfenwa – but there’s method to the madness. Only Luton (72) have scored more goals than Wycombe (65) in the Football League with Wanderers notching 16 goals in their last six games alone.
No League Two team has fired in more shots on efforts on-target this term and the Chairboys have managed to net in 27 of their 33 outings, striking at least twice on 22 occasions. The hosts are also averaging 2.31 goals per-game at their Adams Park home.
Wycombe do give opposition sides a chance, mind. Both teams have scored in their last seven, as well as a league-high 23 (70%) overall as they’ve managed only seven shutouts. Fixtures are averaging 3.36 goals per-game with 23 (70%) beating the Over 2.5 Goals line and five of their past seven featuring Over 3.5 Goals.
Visitors Morecambe are even more cash-strapped than Wycombe but manager Jim Bentley continues to work his own wonders his beloved Lancashire club.
Battling against relegation, the Shrimps operate on one of the EFL’s lowest budgets, attracting miniscule crowds but still managing to compete at this level since promotion in 2007. They do so in the ‘right way’ too, aiming to put opposition teams under pressure in forward areas.
The visitors have managed to score in 11 of their past 13 outings and their loan capture of Gregg Wylde certainly provides some quality supply to the forwardline. Morecambe have only lost twice in their last eight and tabled seven draws on their travels (W2-D7-L7) so I’m taking the cautious approach here.
I don’t expect Wycombe to lose – the hosts have only been beaten by three teams in the top-five at Adams Park this term – but I can see Morecambe making a game of it and getting on the scoresheet and so Wycombe double chance and Both Teams To Score appeals at 6/5 (188BET).
The Shrimps average four on-target efforts per-game and have seen BTTS bank in eight of their last 11, as well as six of their most recent nine trips to top-six League Two teams since the start of last season.