FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns to share his favourite fancies from Saturday's coupon.
Plymouth v Bury | Saturday 6th January 2018, 15:00
Plymouth Argyle and manager Derek Adams deserve tremendous credit for the wonderful turnaround achieved down in deepest Devon. Less than a month ago, the Pilgrims sat rock-bottom of League One but the Greens have shot up to 16th after an unbeaten six-match streak (W4-D2-L0).
The transformation was in place before December, mind. Plymouth have suffered only two defeats in their last 14 (W7-D5-L2) having suffered nine defeats in their opening 12 encounters (W1-D2-L9) following promotion from the fourth-tier.
The Home Park club struggled to adjust to League One life and although their position propping up the table was a touch false, goals were proving hard to come by. Argyle have recently found their scoring touch, notching 13 times in eight outings having previously notched just seven in the previous eight.
Effective centre-forward Ryan Taylor continues to the nit the team together superbly from the front and with silky Ruben Lameiras and wondergoal specialist Graham Carey in support, it’s no wonder Plymouth are profiting in front of goal.
But arguably more important has been the influence of central midfield powerhouse Toumani Diagouraga. His short-term deal is coming – this could be his last appearance in a green shirt – following a string of impressive performances as the Championship is calling.
And I reckon Toumani can help Argyle towards a winning send-off. The hosts recorded three wins over Christmas, and should have had four – had it not been for the 94th minute equaliser from Blackpool – and look overpriced at 29/20 (Bet365).
However, I’m going to take a safer option and back the Pilgrims in the Double Chance market alongside Under 3.5 Goals at generous 5/6 quotes from 188BET.
Visitors Bury were well-fancied back in August after a string of impressive incomings. But the Shakers campaign has been car-crash material as they managed only four victories from their 25 fixtures to prop the division up.
Club legend Chris Lucketti has been unable to stem the bleeding. Bury arrive on the back of five successive losses, have failed to score in any of their last six and have scored a solitary goal in nearly 13 hours of league football.
Go back further and the Shakers have notched only four goals in 13 third-tier matches (W1-D2-L10) and so Lucketti made a goalscorer a priority in January with Jermaine Beckford out for the season. The Greater Manchester club snapped up James Hanson this week, as well as highly-rated cat Connor Ripley and veteran defender Peter Clarke.
Those loan additions, plus the return of the likes of Neil Danns and fit-again utility man Craig Jones should ensure Bury don’t go quietly. And the it’s worth noting the guests did fire in the most attempts in their 1-0 New Year’s Day loss at Scunthorpe, so they’re not a million miles away.
Nevertheless, I’m happy to oppose them here with the added security of knowing the draw is onside. Bury have been beaten in six of their last seven trips to Home Park and the Under 3.5 Goals part of the selection has copped in 41/51 (80%) of their collective League One fixtures this term.
Oxford v Blackpool | Saturday 6th January 2018, 15:00
Oxford have been a frustratingly inconsistent side to follow in League One this season. Although the U’s have lost key components of their successful side over the past 18 months, the well-run club have remained competitive and within striking distance of the top-six.
Pep Clotet’s charges started the campaign brightly and looked like genuine promotion candidates in mid-October but injuries began to bite and United’s small squad became stretched. Naturally, results dropped off.
However, a number of first-team players have returned to the fray of late and Oxford’s convincing 3-1 victory over MK Dons at the Kassam Stadium was a reminder of what they’re capable of. It was only their second league success in seven but the manner of their triumph will certainly have lifted supporters.
Over the Christmas period Clotet switched to a 4-4-2 system with Wes Thomas and Jon Obika starting up front. Having previously preferred to play Thomas in a lone striker role, the forward admitted he’s enjoying playing alongside Obika and the duo have the ability to cause defenders plenty of problems.
And Gino van Kessel’s recovery from injury has also given the U’s a lift. The former Ajax youth provides direct and searing pace out wide, another string to their attacking bow. So it’s no huge surprise to hear the hosts are the joint-leading goalscorers on home soil this season.
The caveat is, no League One side have shipped more goals when welcoming league opposition than Oxford. Nevertheless, Clotet moved to snap up highly-rated Reading defender Rob Dickie this week and the centre-half – who can also play right-back or in midfield – is in contention for a debut appearance here.
The only major question mark for Oxford coming into this clash is who’ll play at left-back with Ricardinho suspended. As the only specialist left back in the squad, it leaves a decision on which compromise is best to fill the void; Dwight Tiendalli looks most likely to start on Saturday.
Anyhow, there are more dangerous opponents to face than this weekend’s visitors Blackpool. The Tangerines recorded an overdue 2-1 win at Rochdale on New Year's Day to end a run of eight league matches without a success and was only their second victory in 13 outings.
Gary Bowyer's side have struggled in the final-third without their injured first-choice strikers Kyle Vassell and Mark Cullen. Indeed, Nathan Delfouneso scored his first goal in 21 matches against Rochdale and the Seasiders’ have scored more than a solitary strike in only three away trips this term.
Dig deeper and Blackpool’s goal tally can also come under scrutiny. A huge 13 (38%) of their 34 league goals have arrived from strikes outside the box – an unsustainable figure, with the next best notching four fewer goals from attempts taken from outside of the penalty area.
So considering the visitors have also managed only three victories on the road since promotion and returned W2-D3-L4 in their last nine away days, it’s a little odd to see Bowyer’s boys chalked up as pre-match favourites here.
Sure, the Tangerines have conceded just four goals in their last six games as guests but Oxford have won two of their last three at the Kassam, with the exception against league leaders Wigan. The hosts have taken top honours in three of their last four here against sides outside the top 10 and their only losses in nine came against top-five opposition.
Take Oxford at odds-against quotes from a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap line with BetVictor – it works in the same format as the Draw No Bet market with stakes returned if the match ends all-square.