FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) has kicked-off the campaign with eight winners from his first 11 EFL selections. Can he continue his hot form this weekend?
Cardiff v QPR | Saturday 26th August 2017, 15:00
I try not to do this too often. In fact, I purposefully attempt to overlook games involving my own club in these columns. As fans, we’re perpetually over optimistic or pessimistic regarding our own team’s performance and it can often cloud your judgement from a betting perspective.
However, I’d like to think I’m a realist and when my betting brain is engaged, the natural bias towards QPR is jettisoned elsewhere. If there’s a wager to be had, I’m all eyes and ears, even if it means backing the Hoops to be stuffed by six.
Hopefully, that won’t be the case on Saturday when Ian Holloway takes his troops to Wales for a meeting with early pacesetters Cardiff. Still, we’re in the betting game here and I couldn’t possibly put anyone off backing the Bluebirds to beat my boys at 4/5 (Bet365).
Admittedly, long-term trends are against us here. Cardiff haven’t won six successive league games since December 2000 – when they were in the fourth tier – but then City had never started a campaign with three victories on the spin so their current streak of four is already record-breaking form.
It’s not like Neil Warnock’s men have been unlucky either. A quick peek at their performance data shows they’ve out-shot their opposition 67-38, hold a 29-8 shots on-target supremacy, as well as a 51-19 advantage when viewing in the box attempts at goal. Cardiff have also dominated Expected Goals records by 7.80 – 3.10.
The Bluebirds have adopted 3-4- 3,4-3- 3 and 4-2- 3-1 formations already this season with Bruno Manga, Sol Bamba and Sean Morrison forming a solid defensive base behind Player of the Year Aron Gunnarsson and Joe Ralls. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Junior Hoilett provide the width with in-demand Kenneth Zohore impressively leading the line.
The bulk of Warnock’s transfer business was completed ahead of their first pre-season friendly so the squad have had the best part of two months together and it’s certainly shown. Cardiff might not always play beautiful football but they’re an industrious and effective unit, especially so at home.
The hosts have claimed top honours in nine of their past 13 Cardiff City Stadium outings, notching the opening goal in nine of their last 14 here. Warnock’s overall record in the Welsh capital is a strong W12-D4-L4 with eight visiting sides failing to even get on the scoresheet.
As for Rangers, well our road record leaves a lot to be desired. The Hoops have W3-D3-L11 of away fixtures under Holloway, including eight losses in our most recent 11 games as guests. On nine occasions we’ve failed to score whilst just two clean sheets have been kept.
The settled squad and well publicised gruelling pre-season fitness regime has aided QPR’s prospects, as has the superb addition of Josh Scowen in the holding role. However, defensive concerns continue to linger and having already faced 18 on-target efforts, I’m not convinced the side are good enough to stand up and be counted when the pressure is on.
Northampton v Peterborough | Saturday 26th August 2017, 15:00
Northampton entertain fierce local rivals Peterborough on Saturday for a near sell-out League One clash from Sixfields. With the Cobblers pointless from their first three fixtures and Posh boasting a 100% record, there’s plenty at stake.
Home boss Justin Edinburgh has come in for plenty of criticism already this season and having failed to acknowledge travelling fans following a 4-1 defeat at Charlton last weekend, the pressure is now on to deliver.
Despite plenty of summer investment and 14 new signings, Town have failed to hit the ground running and the club’s run without a competitive win is now 12 matches, and stretches back to March. And Edinburgh has been forced to defend his tactical systems in pre-match dealings with the local press.
The Cobblers boss made it clear in the summer that he wanted to play in a 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 set-up but Northampton’s players have seemingly struggled to come to terms with playing three central defenders and wing-backs; fans are now vociferously calling for the team to revert to a flat back four.
Town will definitely be without right-back Aaron Phillips this weekend, while John-Joe O’Toole, Sam Foley and Sam Hoskins are also sidelined. Striker Chris Long is a doubt but new loan signing Matt Grimes is in line for a start with Edinburgh likely to shuffle his pack.
In contrast, over the county border in Cambridgeshire, things are going swimmingly for Peterborough. United could name an changed side for the fourth League One match in a row after centre-back Steven Taylor passed a fitness test this week and Posh boss Grant McCann believes there’s plenty more to come.
McCann said, “We’ve had a good start, but there is so much more to come from this team. We were very good at Bristol Rovers, but we were at 75% when beating Plymouth and at 85% when beating Rotherham last weekend.”
Peterborough’s early season form has certainly taken me by surprise. But the £450,000 signing of speedster Jack Marriott from Luton has had a big impact on Posh’s game; the 22 year-old has fired in more shots (19), on-target attempts (nine) and goals (five) than any divisional rival thus far.
The only potential downfall for Posh is their defence. Whilst the visitors have returned to their free-wheeling style of yesteryear, they’ve yet to record a clean sheet this term. However, McCann’s charges did only manage 10 in the entirety of last season.
Peterborough have won this contest in three of their past four visits to Sixfields (W3-D1-L0), as well as the most recent three meetings anywhere, and so it’s understandable to see punters attracted to the prices on the away triumph.
But seeing as this is a derby contest – and I fully expect Northampton to pick up sooner than later – I’d prefer to play the goals markets. Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score can be backed at 21/20 (Boylesports) and so holds plenty of appeal.
As well as the aforementioned lack of clean sheets in either outfit, it’s worth noting Northampton scored in all bar five of their last 22 home encounters whilst shutting out only three visitors in 19 Sixfields matches. In fact, eight of their 12 clashes with top-half teams last season saw Over 2.5 Goals with five featuring at least four goals.
Swindon v Crawley | Saturday 26th August 2017, 15:00
Crawley boss Harry Kewell is the first Australian to manage a professional league team in England but the Socceroo hasn’t enjoyed the most pleasant of starts to life in League Two.
The Red Devils are the only fourth-tier club yet to pick up a point and with only one goal registered – arriving on the opening day – questions are beginning to be asked of Kewell’s credentials to guide the club forward.
Having sold last season’s 20-goal top scorer James Collins in June, Crawley have struggled in the final-third despite creating openings. Seven new faces arrived in the summer but lighthouse leader of the line Thomas Verheydt is still settling in and Matt Harrold appears to have lost his scoring touch.
Kewell brought in striker Ibrahim Meite on-loan from Cardiff in midweek as a potential solution but the investment that was perhaps expected from Turkish steel magnate Ziya Eren has yet to really materialise.
Eren took over ownership of the club in March last year with his ambition to take Crawley to the level of Turkey’s Kayseri Erciyesspor, a second division club of which he is president. So far he’s been servicing the debts but the club seem to lack a concrete plan on and off the park right now.
So a trip to recently-relegated Swindon on Saturday is unlikely to offer any favours. The visitors have recorded a solitary success in their last 17 since February (W1-D6-L10) and with 14 defeats from their past 22 road trips, I’m happy to oppose Crawley again here.
Jimmy Smith isn’t yet back from injury and Swindon should fancy their chances at a nice 20/23 (BetVictor) price. The Robins have W2-D1-L0 thus far and were narrowly beaten 3-2 by Norwich in the League Cup.
David Flitcroft’s worked hard in the summer to add a more steely, experienced and mentally strong backbone to the squad and his plans appear to have been taken on board.
Swindon have leaked only two goals in League Two football and produced a gritty, determined and resolute performance to pinch the points from Morecambe last weekend. With Matt Taylor arriving in midweek – Flitcroft’s 12th signing – the squad should be capable of a top-seven push this term.
Cardiff v QPR – Cardiff to win (4/5 Bet365)
Northampton v Peterborough – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (21/20 Boylesports)
Swindon v Crawley – Swindon to win (20/23 BetVictor)