FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Saturday's card.
Brentford v Rotherham | Saturday 15:00
Brentford’s inconsistency will cost the Bees a bash at the top-six this season but the capital club should be well capable of clinching back-to-back Championship victories for only the third occasions this season.
Dean Smith’s side match promotion-chasing Brighton at Griffin Park at the beginning of February and turned over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough in midweek but shipped seven goals in defeats at Preston and Reading in between, highlighting their topsy-turvy nature.
The raw shot stats suggested Brentford were second-best on Tuesday – facing 30 attempts from the Owls – but the Londoners controlled proceedings in an impressive first-half performance, getting their reward with two well-worked set-piece goals.
Overall the Bees were only beaten 10-7 in the shots on-target count at Wednesday, conceding in stoppage-time. Had Brentford held on, they would have achieved an eighth league success by two goals or more this season.
The hosts have claimed seven of their 11 wins by a margin of two goals or more this term and delivered 12/29 (41%) home triumphs under Smith – nine of which arrived by more than a solitary strike, highlighting their ability to cut loose when circumstances arise.
The departure of top goalscorer Scott Hogan hasn’t hindered Brentford’s attacking purpose; the Bees have notched at least twice in each of their last five fixtures and there’s value in 4/5 (BetStars) quotes that Saturday hosts beat Rotherham in a game involving Over 1.5 Goals.
Each of the Bees past eight outings have featured at least three goals and they go into this game without suspended captain Harlee Dean and defensive midfielder Josh McEachran. However, strikers Lasse Vibe and Philipp Hofmann are hopeful of returning and Romaine Sawyers will be given the central role to impress again.
Rotherham’s 5-0 shellacking at Cardiff last time out has left the Millers 15 points adrift of safety with Paul Warne already preparing his troops for life back in League One. Whilst the visitors have competed admirably on home turf, United’s road record is heinous.
The visitors have accrued just one point from a possible 51 (W0-D1-L16), conceded three or more goals on 11 occasions, suffered 11 losses by a margin of two goals or more and accumulated a goal difference of -38.
Rotherham have failed to score in six away days on the spin and if we exclude Neil Warnock’s stint in charge from February 2016 to May 2016, the Millers’ league record reads an atrocious W11-D9-L43 – that’s a 68% loss-rate.
Centre-half Semi Ajayi and midfielder Tom Adeyemi will return here and top scorer Danny Ward and midfield man Lee Frecklington are in contention too but on-loan Norwich striker Carlton Morris remains doubtful whilst goalkeeper Lee Camp, centre-half Kirk Broadfoot and striker Jonson Clarke-Harris remain crocked.
Fleetwood v Northampton | Saturday 15:00
I’m often asked on Twitter, ‘Why are Team X as big as Y to win on Saturday?’ There’s often a pretty straightforward reason behind the odds with team news and performance data the key drivers.
However, I just can’t work out how or why Fleetwood have been chalked up at odds-against for their weekend encounter with Northampton. The hosts are rated as 110/100 shots by Marathon to win and I’m all over it. It’s wrong.
For starters, the Cod Army are only two points shy of the automatic promotion places. They’ve been beaten once in 21 outings across all competitions (W11-D9-L1) and have suffered a sole defeat in 14 at their Highbury home (W9-D4-L1) – an FA Cup replay reverse against Bristol City.
Exclude cup action and the Fylde coast club have W10-D6-L1 as hosts this term, including a recent run of W8-D3-L0. Fleetwood are unbeaten in League One action anywhere since early-November (W10-D6-L0) and have kept eight clean sheets in that three-month spell.
Uwe Rosler’s men overcame a draining three-match week to beat MK Dons last time out, following up a goalless draw with play-off chasing Rochdale and come-from-behind success against promotion contenders Bradford so there’s bundles of belief and optimism heading into this encounter.
The Cod Army have beaten eight of their past 10 bottom-half visitors to Highbury and have excelled since switching to their 3-5-2 formation, preferring to stay steady at the back, utilise set-pieces and pinch goals on the break.
But the home side haven’t fluked their campaign; far from it. Only Sheffield United are returning better shot ratio figures over the past 16 games whilst only three third-tier clubs have posted better performance data numbers across the last 24 league games.
Right wing-back Conor McLaughlin, striker Wes Burns and skipper Nathan Pond are doubts on Saturday and midfielders Jimmy Ryan and Martyn Woolford are still in the treatment room but even so, Fleetwood are too big to ignore here.
Justin Edinburgh deserves credit for steering Northampton back onto the right track and their pulsating 2-2 draw with Southend won the Cobblers many admirers. Last year’s League Two champions are now six points above the relegation zone coming into this weekend.
Home victories over struggling Swindon, Chesterfield and Coventry have helped Edinburgh but they remain winless away under his tutorship, providing plenty of parallels with previous gig at Gillingham.
The Cobblers have W0-D1-L4 in their past four away days, shipping 15 goals. and Whilst they boast plenty of fine forward quality, I’m not convinced they possess the knowledge and know-how to stop the Fleetwood juggernaut on Saturday.
Leyton Orient v Cheltenham | Saturday 15:00
Leyton Orient’s stand-in skipper Paul McCallum has said new boss Danny Webb has ‘got everyone on board’ with his positivity despite the O’s sliding to a potentially disastrous defeat against fellow strugglers Notts County last time out.
Orient fought back from two goals down to level the contest, only to see County pinch maximum points in stoppage-time at Brisbane Road last weekend. Nevertheless, fans and players alike have made it clear that Webb’s already making an impact in the managerial hot-seat.
The E10 club have scrapped pre-match video analysis of opposition outfits, preferring to put the focus on themselves. And Webb – who’s career has always been overshadowed by the more successful playing one of his father – has urged his side to embrace the underdog mentality in their fight for survival.
The O’s are approaching games as if their careers depend on it and having snatched a point late on against Yeovil a fortnight ago, the capital club hit the headlines when usurping Plymouth away at Home Park a few days later, suggesting they boast the tools to keep their heads above water.
The cold, hard stats aren’t impressive – no League Two team has collected fewer points at home (10) than Leyton Orient (W3-D1-L13) with the hosts managing only 13 goals at Brisbane Road this term. However, Saturday’s hosts do not deserve to be outsiders against fellow scrappers Cheltenham here.
Sure, captain Liam Kelly remains banned alongside Nicky Hunt and fellow defender Tom Parkes is a major doubt. But both McCallum and Gavin Massey have put in excellent shifts during recent fixtures and Orient boast enough talent to at least avoid defeat here.
I’m more than happy to invest faith in Leyton Orient with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap here at 13/16 (888) – again, it’s just the wrong price. We’ll make money should the O’s pick up three points or if the game ends all-square.
Orient trail Cheltenham by only three points, have scored one goal fewer and conceded only four goals over the opening 32 league games. The home side boast a better shots on-target ratio return over the campaign, have fired in more shots per-game and landed more on-target attempts whilst also facing fewer.
There’s also very little to choose between the two teams when viewing the expected goals tally from the fourth-tier so I’m really not sure what Cheltenham have done to deserve such skinny quotes on Saturday.
The Robins overcame Yeovil 2-0 at home last weekend – beanpole centre-half Tin Plavotic nodding in from a corner and Billy Waters notching from a penalty – and although Gary Johnson said the result ‘felt like a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders’, Town are still entrenched in the relegation battle.
Cheltenham have claimed only three away successes since promotion back into the Football League and failed to win any of their six trips to bottom-eight teams this term (W0-D3-L3). The visitors have conceded at least twice in eight of their 15 road trips and won only four games since mid-October.
Johnson’s expected to retain much of the team that beat Yeovil but key midfielder Carl Winchester faces a late fitness test after suffering a head injury in that victory; whether he plays or not, I want to be opposing the Robins at the prices here – they’re vastly overpriced.