FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Tuesday night's EFL action.
Aston Villa v Preston | Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Steve Bruce has defended his position as Aston Villa manager after coming under fire from disgruntled Claret & Blue supporters. A 1-1 draw at Bristol City on Friday night means Villa have now claimed a sole success in nine outings but Bruce remains adamant he can guide the Villans into promotion contention.
Supporters jeered the Geordie from the Ashton Gate stands as Villa failed to win for the seventh occasion in the Championship this season. For the second successive away game, the Claret & Blue came from behind to snatch a point, with Birkir Bjarnason’s header cancelling out City’s opener.
Though reports in the national press claiming Bruce has just two games to save his job are not thought to be strictly true, there is no hiding the increasing urgency to get results. The boss is therefore targeting victory over rock-bottom Preston on Tuesday to spark a resurgence from his underperforming troops.
Nevertheless, Bruce remains public enemy number one. His constant changing of formation, starting players out of position, and struggle to find a winning formula rests on his shoulders. And should Villa fail to beat a PNE side that’s lost seven of their opening 10 games, his stock is likely to dissipate even more.
Preston boss Alex Neil admitted he’s worried about the Lilywhites’ form. The visitors prop up the division following a 3-2 reverse at home to table-topping West Brom, their fourth league loss on the spin. With only five points on the board, the Lancashire outfit are winless since the opening weekend.
North End have leaked 12 goals in those past four losses, conceded at least twice in each of their last eight and shipped and 21 goals in total. It’s easy to see where their issues are, although Neil was encouraged by some aspects of his side’s play in the Deepdale defeat to WBA. For the fourth fixture in five, the Lilywhites scored at least twice.
The visitors suffered a blow with the news that Josh Harrop will miss the remainder of the campaign through injury, but Paul Gallagher could come back into contention after missing out at the weekend. Lukas Nmecha is also back in the fold and Preston are still generating enough offensively to worry Villa.
In fact, PNE are ranked 10th in the table when taking into account Expected Goals from open play ratio with the guests averaging a healthy 0.77 per-game. With that in mind, plus Villa’s own wretched defensive concerns – their only clean sheet came against terrible travellers Rotherham – I’m happy to back Both Teams To Score at 20/21 (BetStars).
Collectively, the pair have managed just two shutouts in 20 this season, while this BTTS selection that’s banked in 26/46 (57%) of Villa Park matches under Bruce’s watch, as well as nine of their 10 Championship tussles this term as the hosts have yet to fire a blank.
Newport v Macclesfield | Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 19:45
Newport have marked themselves out as potential promotion contenders in League Two after securing seven wins from their opening 10 games. The Exiles look too big to pass up at 81/100 (Marathon) quotes when welcoming rock-bottom Macclesfield to Rodney Parade on Tuesday night.
On Saturday, County produced a sterling second-half fightback to secure a 4-2 triumph over Cambridge. Mike Flynn’s men had trailed by two goals at the interval but four goals in 18 minutes after the break secured back-to-back wins for the Welsh outfit following their shock 6-0 loss against Yeovil.
A penalty from Mickey Demetriou, a poacher's goal from Padraig Amond and two Jamille Matt headers did the trick as Newport equalled their best ever start to a Football League season from way back in 1951. Flynn was naturally delighted with the turnaround with his 39th minute tactical tweak paying dividends.
The Exiles manager chucked Matt on in place of Josh Sheehan, with Padraig Amond and Antoine Semenyo struggling physically against the Cambridge defence. And the robust forward made it consecutive braces as he bullied the U’s backline in all the aerial battles.
Flynn was also delighted to see the usually clinical Amond break his goalscoring duck. The Irishman benefitted from Matt’s hold up play, and deserved his goal, giving Tuesday night’s hosts plenty of offensive threat in the final-third.
Newport have now W17-D11-L6 when hosting League Two opposition under Flynn – a 50% win rate – and they’ve only failed to score on five occasions. The home side have already picked up four triumphs at Rodney Parade in 2018/19 with strugglers Grimsby, Notts County and Crewe also dispatched.
So while Macclesfield put in a much-improved effort when holding Forest Green at home last time out, I’m not sure the newly-promoted club have the ability to match Newport here. Mark Yates’ men have lost all five away days and leaked at least twice in four of those defeats.
The visitors’ boss bemoaned bad luck for only picking up a 1-1 draw on Saturday as his team were denied a late penalty. The winless Silkmen kept Rovers at bay for large swathes without really threatening major opportunities of their own, although forward Scott Wilson offered a decent outlet.
Still, no side has faced as many shots on-target across the opening rounds of League Two action this season and the in-form home marksman should relish the contest and guide the Exiles to another home success.
Crewe v Swindon | Tuesday 2nd October 2018, 19:45
Crewe manager David Artell said his side didn’t do enough to win the match at Notts County on Saturday and aired his frustration after seeing his Alex side concede two avoidable goals in their 2-1 defeat. It was the Railwaymen’s third successive loss and leaves the club just three points above the bottom-two.
The Cheshire outfit did enjoy plenty of possession and their approach play was much improved but yet again, Crewe came unstuck in the final third as a lack of cutting edge cost the Alex. Artell complained about his team’s usage of the ball, although they did manage to score for only the third League Two game this term.
Remarkably, nine of Crewe’s 10 league goals this season came in two encounters with struggling Morecambe and Macclesfield. However, Jordan Bowery’s smart finish on Saturday was a reminder of the quality within the ranks if the Railwaymen find a way of servicing their talented striker.
Even so, I’m happy to oppose the Alex here. The hosts appear to be missing Paul Green’s influence in the middle of the park and with Harry Pickering and Eddie Nolan also crocked, there’s not a huge amount of wriggleroom for Artell to select from.
Swindon will be without the suspended Matty Taylor following his red card against Oldham on Saturday but Kyle Knoyle returns from a ban and should start in the Robins’ new-look 3-4-1-2. Michael Doughty and Kaiyne Woolery are doubtful and that’s enough to put me off the straight win.
The Robins are rated as favourites to pick up maximum points, which is fair enough, but I prefer a safer play by backing the Wiltshire raiders in the double chance market with Under 4 Goals at 19/20 with Bet365. The selection gives us the 0-0 and 1-1 draw, as well as Swindon to win 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 or 3-0.
Manager Phil Brown demanded his Swindon side to raise their game after being held to a dour 0-0 draw against the Latics, with the Robins managing only one on-target effort. Nevertheless, that stalemate extended their recent run to just one loss in their last eight league outings.
Brown’s been pleased with the vast improvement in defensive displays and is now looking for his team to perform in both boxes. Whether they’ll manage it here without a couple of key performers remains to be seen but I’m confident they can come away with at least a point.
Last season Swindon W7-D2-L3 at bottom-half clubs and have already W2-D2-L1 on their travels in 2018/19 with Lincoln the only side to see them off. Meanwhile, Crewe have W3-D2-L12 when entertaining top-half teams since Artell came into the hot-seat.
Five of Crewe’s fixtures have featured no more than a solitary strike, while Swindon have seen fewer than four goals in each of their past six.