FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his selections from Saturday's EFL card.
Burton v Aston Villa | Saturday 15:00
Burton were odds-on for an immediate return to League One when the 2016/17 campaign began back in August but the Brewers remain in control of their destiny despite falling to defeat in a controversial clash at Newcastle on Wednesday.
Nigel Clough was full of praise for the “magnificent effort” of his players in their 1-0 loss at the league leaders following another tireless display. It took a stunning curling effort from Matt Ritchie to give the Toon maximum points after a characteristically dogged and determined performance from the Brewers.
How much will be left in Burton’s tank following an energy-sapping week which included a dramatic 1-0 triumph at Huddersfield last Saturday is up for debate but no matter who pulls on the yellow jersey at the Pirelli Stadium this weekend, the Brewers will be ready to go to work.
The hosts are four points above the drop zone and boast a solid W8-D3-L5 record when welcoming Championship clubs outside the top-three to East Staffordshire. And in only five of their 19 outings on home soil have Albion shipped more than a solitary strike this season.
Burton’s game-plan has remained reasonably rigid throughout the season. Stay compact, look for the counter-attack and offer fierce resistance, physicality and pressure when opposition sides enter their half in possession – you’d have to say the formula has worked.
I don’t expect the Brewers to walkaway from their tried-and-trusted approach here with the Championship’s form side Aston Villa arriving at the Pirelli.
On Tuesday the Villans overcame QPR 1-0 but in truth Steve Bruce’s team weren’t all that impressive. Villa only conceded one effort on-target but came under plenty of pressure in the second-half and were often sloppy in possession.
Steve Bruce has told his players they need to keep the ball better if they are to kick on during the run in and next season – Villa have enjoyed just 31% and 39% of the ball in their last two outings – but their improvement at the back should ensure opportunities are at a premium this weekend.
The Claret & Blue have W7-D0-L1 in their last eight matches, conceding just one goal along the way. Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone and the current back-five of Alan Hutton, James Chester, Nathan Baker, Neil Taylor and defensive midfielder/centre-half Mile Jedinak have given Villa a superbly strong base.
However, the visitors are a little too reliant on Jonathan Kodjia in the final-third and recent games have been rather thin on goalscoring action. Villa’s last eight encounters have featured an average of just 4.00 shots in the box in total and an average expected goals rate of 1.91 goals.
Each of Villa’s last nine Championship contests have produced fewer than three goals, as have five of their six trips to the bottom-six and these negative goal trends are also backed by Burton.
The Brewers have delivered Under 2.5 Goals winners in seven of their past eight with their 16 outings in 2017 returning an average 2.32 expected goals per-game and only 4.44 total shots from inside the penalty area.
Collectively Under 2.5 Goals has banked in 53/80 (66%) league fixtures this term with Under 1.5 Goals proving profitable in 25/80 (31%) encounters. Taking purely home/away records into account the numbers return 14/39 (36%) successful Under 1.5 Goals bets and 28/39 (72%) in the Under 2.5 Goals column.
I’m happy to oppose goals once more with the 5/6 from 188BET on Under 2.25 Goals the most appealing play. Here we’ll pick up a half-stakes profit should exactly two goals be scored with a full-stakes pay-out arriving should fewer than two goals be scored.
Northampton v Sheffield United | Saturday 15:00
Only one League One favourite has been crowned champions in the past 21 seasons but Sheffield United should make it two in 22 years in the coming weeks.
The Blades are a game away from ending a six-year stay in the third tier and with a six-point cushion over second-placed Bolton, a first title since 1982 is also on the horizon for United supporters.
Manager Chris Wilder takes his troops to his old club Northampton on Saturday, eager to seal their promotion deal after a fairly subdued effort against Coventry in midweek. The Blades beat the EFL Trophy winners but were comfortably below their best and an improvement will be required here.
Nevertheless, the visitors are unbeaten in 12 (W8-D4-L0) and have recorded a staggeringly strong W25-D9-LD3 since late August. The Blades have failed to score in only three of those 37 outings and are odds-on favourites to clinch that vital victory this weekend.
Hosts Northampton were held to a 1-1 draw at Rochdale last time out to take their tally to 51 points, eight clear of the bottom-four. With only two sides suffering relegation since the turn of the century with as many points, survival looks all but assured now for the Cobblers.
Justin Edinburgh’s given Town a renewed focus, reenergising the group whilst steadying the ship. It’s just four defeats in 13 for Northampton now (W6-D3-L4) with their sole reverse in six coming at promotion candidates Bolton.
The Cobblers boss is expecting Luke Williams, Alex Revell and John-Joe O’Toole back in the fold this weekend and the home side will be keen to give old boss Wilder and the champions-elect a stern examination as the final furlong approaches.
I wouldn’t be opposing the Blades here but I do think Northampton have the tools to play their part in another high-scoring encounter. The hosts have only fired three blanks in 2017 and seen 13/20 (65%) of Sixfields games feature winning Both Teams To Score selections.
Despite their dominance this season, Sheffield United have been a regular source for BTTS profit when playing away from Bramall Lane. The visitors have seen 16/20 (80%) of away days produce goals for both sides with Wilder’s men returning just three clean sheets along the way.
Collectively the pair have provided Both Teams To Score profit from 29/40 (73%) respective home/away games making the 8/11 available from Bet365 for a repeat a big value bet on Saturday.
Morecambe v Hartlepool | Saturday 15:00
Morecambe manager Jim Bentley admitted his side were “bullied” in last Saturday’s 3-1 defeat at Cheltenham, the Shrimps seventh successive League Two loss.
Bentley believed the height and power of Robins’ strikers Danny Wright and Harry Pell proved too much for his side, bemoaning poor decision-making in an emotional post-match press conference.
Morecambe’s boss since 2011 also dropped a major bombshell on the club; Bentley said he’ll be assessing his own position at the end of what he says has been a “disastrous” season in an “impossible job”.
Confusion continues surrounding the club’s ownership whilst players and staff were paid late for the third time this season in March. The Globe Arena club remain 10 points clear of the bottom-two but still need one more result to stave off any lingering threat of non-league football next season.
The Shrimps tend to relish in their role as underdogs and have returned an outstanding +£87.30 profit from £10 level stakes in League Two this season but I’m uneasy about their chances of turning fellow relegation battlers Hartlepool over this weekend.
The hosts are without the suspended Alex Kenyon and have managed just W2-D1-L7 when welcoming bottom-half teams to the Globe Arena. Four top-half teams have been toppled here but with morale low in the home camp, Morecambe are best avoided on Saturday.
Hartlepool arrive on the back of three straight defeats but despite losing 2-0 at promotion-chasing Portsmouth last weekend, manager Dave Jones was reasonably pleased with his team’s performance.
Nevertheless, the veteran boss has ordered his side to “shoot on sight” as they bid to beat the drop for the fourth campaign on the trot. Jones was frustrated his players didn’t take the few openings which came their way at Fratton Park so we should expect a meaner and leaner approach in the final third here.
Pools aren’t a physical side and prefer to play the ball on the floor which should lead us towards a decent encounter. With the likes of Padraig Amond, Lewis Alessandra and Nathan Thomas all gunning for goals, the Monkey Hangers certainly pose plenty of threat going forward.
At the back, full-back Carl Magnay is in contention for his first start in six months but Hartlepool remain too easy to hurt. The visitors have kept their sheets clean on just three occasions away from Victoria Park and with plenty at stake here on Saturday, I’m counting on a high-scoring duel.
Over 2.5 Goals is a distinct possibility at a kind price but I’m going to play things a little safer by backing Both Teams To Score at 8/11 (Bet365). It’s already won in 13/20 (65%) of Hartlepool’s away days and 24/40 (60%) of Morecambe’s matches this season making the 8/11 a decent play.