FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from the reduced EFL coupon on Saturday.
Charlton v Plymouth | Saturday 24th March 2018, 15:00
“If it ain't broke, don't fix it”. That’s the message from Devon as Plymouth boss Derek Adams prepares to take the same squad of 18 to South London on Saturday afternoon and continue the Pilgrims’ remarkable assault on the play-off positions.
The Greens were marooned in relegation mire during a miserable first half of the campaign but a run of one loss in 17 (W12-D4-L1) has propelled Argyle into the top-six. More recently, the visitors have pocketed seven triumphs from eight unbeaten outings.
Last weekend, Adams’ army came from behind twice to defeat Bristol Rovers on home turf and with both of the current top two teams – Blackburn and Shrewsbury – also toppled in that aforementioned eight-game streak, Plymouth look primed for another positive performance here.
The Pilgrims have avoided defeat on the their travels for more than three months and been beaten just once in 12 games as guests, despite visiting three of the division’s current top four. With that in mind, overpriced odds of 3/4 (BetVictor) on Argyle avoiding defeat with a +0.50 start on the Asian Handicap has huge appeal.
Adams has finally admitted the current streak has changed his ambitions and the Greens are now aiming for back-to-back promotions via the play-offs. Another victory here will move them up to fifth and put the in-form outfit in the driving seat to claim a top-six berth.
Key defender Sonny Bradley remains absent but Yann Songo’o slotted into his left-sided centre-back position, an unnatural one for him, very comfortably against Bristol Rovers and he’ll be aided by Charlton’s wretched injury and unavailability list this weekend.
The Addicks remain without Chris Solly, Jay Dasilva, Ahmed Kashi Lewis Page, Leon Best, Stephy Mavididi and Billy Clarke whilst Josh Magennis and Ezri Konsa are away on international duty. Dillon Phillips is back in training and fully fit however the hosts will be plugging gaps with square pegs on Saturday.
This really is make or break time for Charlton. The hosts are five points adrift of Plymouth and will be well aware failure to collect maximum points is likely to end their own promotion ambitions.
The capital club have been hampered by an on-going takeover saga and the midweek departure of manager Karl Robinson, meaning Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson will take caretaker duties this weekend and recent results and performances certainly don’t encourage.
The Addicks are without a win at home since the middle of January and have won just twice at the Valley in their last 10 games (W2-D4-L4) – both of those triumphs came over bottom-half opponents.
The home side picked up their first point in four as they played out a goalless draw at home to Fleetwood last time out. Overall it’s a sole success in eight for the Londoners and one goal in four whilst their 16-game Expected Goals ratio ranks them amongst the bottom-10 in the division.
Bradford v Gillingham | Saturday 24th March 2018, 15:00
Gillingham are unbeaten in their last six visits to Valley Parade and the Kent club’s latest trip to West Yorkshire couldn’t arguably come at a better time.
The Gills were marked out by yours truly as relegation certainties in our ante-post columns and until Ady Pennock and Peter Taylor departed in October with the club entrenched in the bottom-four, such a selection appeared banker material.
However, nobody anticipated the stunning turnaround in fortunes achieved under the stewardship of Steve Lovell. Gillingham were rock-bottom with only a solitary success from their opening 12 games to their name – they’ve since lost just four times since Lovell stepped up from a coaching role and have recently suffered two defeats in 15.
The Welshman’s initial bounce guided the side to four victories from his opening seven matches, renewing belief and confidence in the camp but the Kent outfit continue to sail in the right direction with a more organised and ambitious approach to action.
The drastically improved displays earned Lovell a deal until the end of the season and he has continued to make forward progress to the point where his team harbour an outside shot at the play-offs. His contract was extended for two years in January and makes for a wonderful tale.
Lovell’s long association with the Kent club has included stints as a player, a Community Officer, Under-18s coach and a first-team assistant coach. He was twice overlooked for the top job, first as long ago as 1992 when he was still playing at the Priestfield Stadium, before his wish was granted.
His team recorded a first win at Fratton Park since 1912 when beating Portsmouth 3-1 away in their last outing but last week’s home game against Blackburn was frozen off, meaning this will be Gillingham’s fourth successive road trip. They’ll do so without Josh Parker due to international duty with Elliott List likely to take his place.
Either way, you’d fancy the Gills to make a game of this. They’ve scored 14 goals in their past eight road trips and notched at least three at Pompey and top-six side Scunthorpe in recent away days. And as already alluded, the guests appear to be visiting Bradford at a perfect time.
There’s an air of mutiny around Valley Parade following the Bantams’ limp home defeat to Doncaster on Monday night. That loss extended their winless run to 10 (W0-D2-L8) and means the hosts have failed to score in each of their last three games.
Top goalscorer Charlie Wyke remains suspended and manager Simon Grayson was fairly scathing in his assessment of Monday night’s performance. His preferred 3-5-2 system hasn’t yet reaped rewards and City’s promotion ambitions appear all but over.
Bradford are seven points – with a game in hand – off sixth spot and haven’t tasted success since New Year’s Day. At home, they’ve picked up just six victories in 17 attempts, compared with nine defeats, leaving the Bantams amongst the most generous hosts in League One. Only Fleetwood fare worse on their own patch.
Injuries continue to hamper progress and I’m more than happy to oppose Bradford at the prices. They’ve returned an Expected Goals ratio below the 32% mark over the past eight games and so the 4/5 (Bet365) on Gillingham with a +0.50 start on the Asian Handicap line has big appeal.
Coventry v Grimsby | Saturday 24th March 2018, 15:00
I’ll keep this relatively short as I’m sure you’re probably bored with me telling you how crap Grimsby are of late. So yeah, it’s a home for me at 41/50 with Marathon.
Coventry haven’t given up on their automatic promotion hopes – they’re eight points adrift with a game in-hand on Wycombe in third – and should be well capable of adding further clout to that argument by rolling over the Mariners at the Ricoh Arena here.
The Sky Blues hit the buffers in February when they lost three consecutive league fixtures but that downturn came amidst their FA Cup run that was eventually ended by Brighton. Mark Robins’ charges have since collected 11 points from a possible 15 (W3-D2-L0) to get back on track.
It could have been more had Cov not blown a two-goal lead against Luton last week but the squad showed character to resume their push with a 2-1 success at Crewe last time out thanks to goals from Jonson Clark-Harris and Tom Baylis. They’re now very worthy favourites here.
Robins’ men have taken top honours in 10 of their past 16 home tussles in League Two, have W8-D2-L2 when welcoming teams below them in the standings, kept seven clean sheets in 11 against the bottom-six and boast the division’s best defence overall.
There’s a slight concern over the state of the Ricoh Arena pitch but at the odds available, I’m happy to take the plunge on a home success considering the state of their opposition.
Grimsby are now 17 games without a win following their derby day thrashing at Lincoln. Michael Jolley remains optimistic about Town’s plight but he’ll have to make do without Luke Summerfield, Karleigh Osborne, Paul Dixon and loanee Simeon Jackson here whilst Andrew Fox and Mitch Rose are also doubts and Easah Suliman is on international duty.
His team have been beaten in eight of their last 11 away days – each by a margin of two goals or more – they’ve scored six goals in almost 26 hours of action and W1-D1-L7 in nine previous trips to the top-half this term, firing blanks on six occasions.
The Mariners are rock-bottom of League Two in terms of Expected Goals ratio over the past eight, 16 and 24 games and relegation remains a very real prospect for the club.