FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Oxford v Plymouth | Saturday 13th October 2018, 15:00
Oxford boss Karl Robinson felt his struggling side deserved more than just a point after playing out a drab 0-0 draw at Southend last weekend. The stalemate left the U’s rock-bottom of League One with only one victory to their name after a quarter of the campaign.
The Yellows had the best chance of the contest – John Mousinho seeing his close-range header impressively tipped wide by Shrimpers stopper Mark Oxley – but again Oxford failed to invent enough clear-cut openings to really trouble their Essex hosts, despite Robinson’s protestations.
There was a slice of good news in midweek, mind. Goalkeeper Simon Eastwood and midfielder Samir Carruthers started in the EFL Trophy defeat to Northampton, while Marcus Browne also came on in the second-half after a spell in the treatment room. All three could hand the Yellows a selection boost.
Nevertheless, it’s difficult to find faith the U’s at a smidgen off even-money here. Robinson’s troops are winless since August, have W1-D0-L5 at the Kassam Stadium this season and conceded at least twice in five of those six fixtures.
There’s growing discontent on the terraces and with no side averaging a lower Expected Goals average from open play figure (0.44), plus only Bradford firing in fewer attempts from inside the penalty box, there’s certainly cause for concern against an improving Plymouth outfit.
The Pilgrims overcame Wimbledon 1-0 at Home Park, a result that came hot on the heels of a really encouraging performance in a 1-1 draw at high-flying Barnsley. That was one of five meetings with top-six teams already for Derek Adams’ outfit and that tough schedule has played a part in their poor early season form, as well as various injury and selection issues.
However, the tide is turning and Plymouth should have a more rounded roster to pick from on Saturday. Joe Riley, Gary Sawyer, Scott Wootton and Ryan Taylor remain absent but midfield trio of Antoni Sarcevic, Jamie Ness and Conor Grant all completed 90 minutes in the midweek EFL Trophy encounter with Swindon, while central defender Niall Canavan came off the bench.
The Greens are a robust and rigid side set-up in a 4-1-4-1 that rarely excite or excel when viewing performance data metrics. But that competitive edge ensures Argyle are well capable of grinding out positive results against the grain; indeed, only two of their defeats this term have been by more than a solitary strike.
Yann Sango'o protects the back four from a deep holding midfield position to provide the gritty guests with a solid foundation. Meanwhile, the trio of Ruben Lameiras, Graham Carey and Freddie Ladapo provide enough offensive threat to give the upwardly mobile Greens a great chance of at least picking up a point in Saturday’s crunch showdown.
Cambridge v MK Dons | Saturday 13th October 2018, 15:00
Another team teetering towards the brink is Cambridge. Foolishly put up as an ante-post promotion play by yours truly, the U’s have picked up just four points from their past nine League Two tussles (W1-D1-L7) and been beaten in eight of their opening 12 outings.
Joe Dunne’s men are winless in the league since the start of September, but were comfortable 4-0 winners on Tuesday night against Southampton U21s in the EFL Trophy. Ade Azeez hit a hat-trick, although a record low of just 469 were at The Abbey to see his exploits.
How much value that midweek success will have on United remains to be seen. The hosts did perform with aplomb in the first 45 minutes at Crawley last weekend, forcing opposition goalkeeper Glenn Morris into a string of good saves, although Cambridge again fell short in a 2-0 defeat.
Dunne’s options are limited too. His switch to a midfield diamond caught Crawley cold but it was enforced with the U’s without Jabo Ibehre, Harrison Dunk, Dimi Mitov, Barry Corr and Jake Carroll. The Cambridge boss had no choice but to play a makeshift forward line of Azeez – the only fit senior striker – and Jevani Brown.
Those selection woes won’t have cleared up for Saturday’s meeting with recently relegated MK Dons and I’m happy to back the visitors at kind 13/10 (Bet365) quotes. United have already lost six of their seven games against top-10 teams, including all three at The Abbey.
MK Dons arrive on the back back-to-back League Two triumphs, dispatching Port Vale (2-0) and Cheltenham (3-0) with consummate ease. The Buckinghamshire boys won the shot count 36-15 across those two tussles, with the xG count 5.00 – 1.37 in their favour.
Chuks Aneke’s return to the starting XI has seen performances improve – he’s notched six goals in as many appearances – and alongside the obvious threats of Kieran Agard and Rhys Healey, the Dons arguably have the fourth-tier’s fiercest arsenal of attacking armoury.
No League Two team has attempted more shots from inside the penalty box than MK, and their 64% Expected Goals from open-play ratio is only bettered by Lincoln (66%). That should put Paul Tisdale’s troops into prime position to pick up maximum points against a Cambridge team that’s leaked 15 goals in six games recently.
Tisdale's men boast the division’s best defence, shipping more than a solitary strike in only one of their 12 tussles (against table-toppers Lincoln), and are better equipped than the 13/10 odds suggest.
Port Vale v Lincoln | Saturday 13th October 2018, 15:00
Lincoln were emphatic 4-0 winners at Port Vale in August’s League Cup clash and the league leaders look too good to turn down at 6/5 (Betway) to collect a 10th League Two triumph of the season on Saturday at Vale Park.
The Imps bounced back from a 1-0 reverse at Tranmere to overcome Crewe by the same scoreline at Sincil Bank seven days ago. Danny Cowley’s charges moved four points clear of the pack with that victory but the City boss wasn’t pleased with his team’s performance standards.
Lee Frecklington missed a penalty late on, and although Lincoln were unable to fashion too many openings, the Imps remained in control for the majority of the match, giving Crewe fleeting moments of inspiration in the final-third. Alex head coach David Artell even admitted, “we never looked like scoring”.
Few can say Lincoln don’t deserve their position at the peak of League Two. The table-toppers are cemented in the top-six across all the major performance data metrics, whilst leading the way in terms of Expected Goals from open play ratio (66%), giving up just 0.43 per-game.
Newport and MK Dons have already departed Vale Park with maximum points and the hosts have W1-D2-L5 when taking on top-10 teams. Neil Aspin’s outfit haven’t scored more than once in any game when discounting the bottom-three and were beaten ‘to nil’ by both Grimsby and MK Dons in their last two outings.
The Valiants are also still without key central midfielder Manny Oyeleke. The Burslem club haven't picked up a point in the four league games the 25-year-old has missed, compared to the 14 points they have earned from the eight games he’s started.
Aspin opted for a five-man midfield with Antony Kay in a holding role last week and may adopt a similar stance here, although Ben Whitfield and Tom Pope face late fitness tests. Either way, Vale are bound to put up a decent fist of things on home soil – as they always tend to do – but Lincoln’s class should tell and anything above even-money should be snapped up.