FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the weekend's EFL action.
Luton v Hull | Saturday 21st September 2019, 15:00
It’s difficult to oppose goals at Kenilworth Road on Saturday as newly-promoted Luton prepare to host struggling Hull. The two teams have already combined to deliver Over 2.5 Goals winners in 10 of their collective 14 fixtures, with Both Teams To Score banking on 12 occasions. And I’m happy to count on an Over 2.5 Goals and BTTS repeat at (17/20 Betfair).
Luton were sliced-and-diced in the opening 45 minutes at QPR last weekend, and fortunate to head into half-time with only a two-goal deficit. Nevertheless, Graeme Jones' men deserve credit for their performance thereafter, although the positive attacking efforts weren’t often matched by the organisational skills in defence you’d expect at this level.
The Hatters head into this encounter without a clean sheet to their name since taking the League One title and only rock-bottom Stoke have shipped more open play goals this term. Only four teams are facing more shots from inside the penalty area than Town and that has to be a concern when coming up against the duel threat of Kamil Grosicki and Jarred Bowen.
Bullish early talk from Tigers boss Grant McCann regarding a potential push at the top-six has dissipated following a solitary success from the Humbersiders first seven outings, with Hull also struggling to limit opponents opportunities. Just four clubs have allowed a larger Expected Goals (xG) from open play figure with the visitors still searching for a first shutout.
I don’t want to dwell on the negativity though. The duo have shown plenty of promise in forward areas and so it’s no surprise to see the underlying data matching the high goals per-game volumes we’ve seen thus far. The 2.03 xG from open play average in Hull’s contests is a divisional-high with Luton also in the upper echelons of the league at 1.66 per-game.
The pair have already seen this selection return profit in 10 of their combined 14 games and I’m expecting the same wager to go very close again on Saturday in Bedfordshire.
Crewe v Salford | Saturday 21st September 2019, 15:00
Crewe scuppered our chances of a full house of Football League winners seven days ago when suffering a 3-2 reverse here against Cambridge but I’m backing the Railwaymen to get back on track at Gresty Road when EFL newcomers Salford pitch up on Saturday.
David Artell’s men can rightly feel aggrieved for that home loss last weekend. Having been reduced to 10 men five minutes before the interval, Crewe remained the aggressors and concluded the contest having won the shot count, shots on-target tally, as well as efforts from inside the box. The Alex also generated a larger xG from open play figure and enjoyed more touches inside the penalty area.
The Cheshire club bounced back in midweek with an impressive 2-1 triumph at Leyton Orient. Once again Crewe impressed on the ball, creating quality goalscoring opportunities at Brisbane Road and across the campaign, no League Two team is generating better-quality chances in front of goal.
The Alex have made their best start to a season in the fourth tier at this stage since 1993/94, have scored at least twice in six of their most recent league fixtures. And I think the hosts will prove too strong for a Salford side that are yet to settle, and with injury concerns over key players Jack Baldwin and Richie Towell.
Crewe to win and Over 1.5 Goals is the call at odds-against quotes of 5/4 (Coral). The home side have registered 17 triumphs at Gresty Road since the start of last season and come up against a Salford outfit that’s shipped at least two goals in all four games as guests (W0-D3-L1), giving up an average of 22 shots per-game in that small sample of road trips.
The Ammies have been largely unremarkable and underwhelming, reliant on set-piece output since earning promotion via the National League play-offs. Graham Alexander has switched system to 3-5-2 in the midweek victory over Grimsby but I’d fancy possible title challengers Crewe to expose defensive deficiencies here, and right last weekend’s wrongs.
Forest Green v Stevenage | Saturday 21st September 2019, 15:00
Forest Green will undoubtedly see plenty of support at odds-against quotes for this showdown against Stevenage. Last season’s losing play-off semi-finalists were fancied to go well again in 2019/20 despite a few key summer departures, and the Green Devils come into this clash sitting in a lofty fifth-placed position.
Mark Cooper’s charges will be delighted with their early season results (W5-D2-L2). However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Gloucestershire group drift ahead of kick-off and there’s plenty of reason to get against Rovers here.
For starters, all five of Forest Green’s wins have arrived via the same 1-0 correct score. And if we take a peek at the New Lawn club’s underlying numbers, it’s quite clear the team have been overperforming, and by quite a distance. No team is averaging fewer shots, on-target attempts, efforts from inside the penalty area, Expected Goals (xG) or xG from open play.
Clearly, Cooper’s troops are generating alarmingly slim numbers in the final-third and have enjoyed the rub of the green when defending their own goal. Rovers’ ratio ranking across all the above metrics (bar Shots-On-Target Ratio) rates the Green Devils as a bottom-four club whilst FGR’s opposition are converting chances at League Two’s lowest rates.
The market is already attuned to Forest Green’s fortune and that was showcased just seven days ago when the hosts went off at almost 11/5 shots in front of their home fans against Colchester. In fairness, Rovers performed very well that day but it’s very difficult to ignore these unsustainable results over a larger body of work, and I’m therefore happy to oppose FGR here.
Admittedly Stevenage are stewing at the wrong end of the table having already ditched Dino Maamria and without a win to their name. However, Boro have been beaten by more than the odd goal just twice and have found their shooting boots in recent weeks, racking up two goals or more in three of their most recent four fixtures.
Despite their rock-bottom position, Stevenage have been competitive in the majority of their matches and I’d far rather be behind the lowly visitors to avoid defeat at almost even-money, than be a backer of Forest Green at odds-on quotes. Stevenage +0.50 Asian Handicap is the call at 20/21 (Blacktype).