FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Luton v Plymouth | Saturday 17th November 2018, 15:00
Exactly half of the past 52 promoted clubs to League One over the previous 13 seasons have tabled a top-half finish with four going on to secure back-to-back promotions. They’re numbers that only serve to cement the idea that the difference between the bottom two Football League divisions is minimal.
I fancied Luton to kick-on after their return to the third-tier, and whilst it’s taken the Hatters a little time to find their range, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the Bedfordshire boys will be in contention come May.
Manager Nathan Jones insisted Town were League Two’s best team despite finishing behind Accrington last term. However, performance data backed up the confident Welshman’s claims as Luton racked up an eye-watering 94 goals en-route to comfortably securing autonomic promotion.
And the same metrics are shining a light of positivity on Kenilworth Road with the Hatters inside the top-six when viewing shot ratio (second), shots on-target ratio (second), shots in the box ratio (fourth), Expected Goals ratio (fourth) and Expected Goals from open play ratio (fourth). Impressive, eh?
Only Barnsley and Doncaster land more on-target efforts per-game than Luton, whilst the Tykes are the only team to face fewer attempts. Across their opening 17 fixtures, Town have silenced six opposition outfits and scored in all bar three League One matches, eight of which have been won.
Jones’ men have been particularly proficient on home soil, returning W6-D2-L0 – all six triumphs came against clubs outside the top-six with the Hatters notching an average of 2.50 goals per-game against such sides. Include last week’s FA Cup win and Luton come into the weekend having W6-D1-L1 in their past eight.
It's a trappy weekend of EFL encounters but I’m confident the hosts can justify their short-priced favouritism, even without the suspended Danny Hylton in tow. Without Town’s most dangerous marksman in the side, the Bedfordshire club have managed W3-D1-L0 at Kenilworth Road, only failing to beat Charlton.
Obviously the odds on Luton are too short in the main Match Odds market so add Over 1.5 Goals into the equation for a much more attractive 3/4 (Ladbrokes) poke. This selection would then pay-out should Town win by any correct score other than 1-0, a result that’s landed in only five of their past 33 league victories.
Following a forgettable start to the season, visitors Plymouth are starting to find their feet. A sketchy 1-0 success over Stevenage in the FA Cup last time out made it four wins from their past seven fixtures, although those confidence-boosters came against fellow strugglers Wimbledon, Gillingham and Scunthorpe.
Argyle have W0-D3-L9 when taking on teams in 15th and above (W0-D1-L8 against the top-half) and lost five of their eight games as guests this term. Derek Adams’ men have kept a sole clean sheet in 2018/19 and conceded at least twice in six of their nine meetings with top-half teams, whilst only Gillingham are facing more on-target efforts per-game than the Pilgrims.
The Devon outfit has seen their injury woes ease in recent weeks, and the returning Ryan Taylor will give Adams extra options. The away side do provide a threat in attacking areas through Graham Carey’s set-pieces and Freddie Ladapo’s goals, but I’m not sure they’ll be good enough to halt the Hatters train.
Plymouth currently rank rock-bottom in both Expected Goals and Expected Goals from open play ratio, returning sub 40% figures in both metrics, whilst never ranking higher than 19th in any of the major performance data indicators.
Southend v Blackpool | Saturday 17th November 2018, 15:00
As already mentioned, it’s far from a straightforward Football League coupon this weekend and so for my second and final selection I’m following the numbers and investing faith in the even-money available for Both Teams To Score ‘No’ when Southend welcome Blackpool to Roots Hall.
Saturday will be the Shrimpers’ second of five fixtures in the space of just 14 days and boss Chris Powell admitted it would be a testing period for the Essex raiders. Indeed, the hosts have had a wretched campaign with injuries and recently saw top scorer Tom Hopper and key defender Ben Coker ruled out for the rest of the season.
Hopper was averaging a league goal every other match and generating 0.41 Expected Goals per-game and without him, United have W1-D1-L3 when excluding the EFL Trophy. That includes last weekend’s frustrating and profligate performance in a 1-1 draw when welcoming Crawley in the FA Cup.
Peculiarly, the Shrimpers are pointless in seven with teams occupying the top-10 positions in League One, whilst picking up W7-D2-L1 against the rest of the division so a meeting with ninth-placed Blackpool has to be of concern should Powell’s men be unable to arrest their efforts against the league’s leading lights.
However, I’m more comfortable opposing goals considering United have seen 10 (59%) of their 17 matches featuring at least one side failing to score. The hosts have recorded six shutouts, and are giving up only 0.59 Expected Goals per-game from open play, suggesting they’re a capable side at limiting opposition opportunities.
Where this bet really comes to life is with Blackpool. The Tangerines have recovered from back-to-back league losses – as well as an excellent effort when losing at Arsenal in the League Cup – to record successive away victories at Gillingham and then Exeter in the FA Cup.
Terry McPhillips’ men have been unbelievably robust, suffering just three League One defeats in 16, only two of which came on their travels. The Seasiders have built their success upon a watertight backline; no divisional rival can match their tally of nine (56%) shutouts as they’ve also conceded just 0.59 Expected Goals per-game from open play.
Ten (62%) of their 16 tussles have seen Both Teams To Score ‘No’ succeed and combined with Southend’s results, a chunky 20/33 (61%) of matches involving these two teams have seen this selection pay-out. What’s more, they’ve combined to keep 15 (45%) shutouts and have failed to score themselves in 10 (30%).