FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his favourite fancies from Saturday's card.
Burton v Derby | Saturday 14th April 2018, 15:00
After continually punching above their weight and achieving year-on-year progress for the past five seasons, Burton’s luck finally appears to have run out. With only four fixtures left to play, the Brewers are seven points adrift of safety with an inferior goal difference. Relegation looms.
Nigel Clough’s charges have defied the data and all logical thinking to enjoy an extended two-year run in the Championship and can be proud of their efforts. With a budget and fan base dwarfed by second-tier rivals, Albion have bloodied many a nose despite underlying numbers suggesting otherwise.
The final nail in Burton’s coffin is likely to come on Saturday when local rivals Derby arrive. The Brewers were beaten 5-0 at home by Hull in midweek, a match that saw an already stretched Albion side lose Lloyd Dyer, Tom Naylor and John Brayford before half-time through injury.
Marvin Sordell was due to come off at the interval with a niggle but was forced to stay on due to Brayford’s sickness. Already without Damien McCrory and Kyle McFadzean, Burton’s small squad was unsurprisingly unable to cope with such unfortunate circumstances and the Tigers pounced.
With the aforementioned personnel either absent or rated major doubts for the weekend, Clough could also be without Tom Flanagan and Jacob Davenport, whilst Darren Bent will also be missing as part of the conditions of his loan deal. Clough’s admitted he’ll be fielding a “patched up team” with kids being drafted in from the youth team to fill out the bench.
However, that savage battering by Hull could have been handed out only three days earlier at relegation rivals Birmingham. The Brewers somehow escaped from St Andrew’s with a 1-1 draw despite losing the shot count 23-5 and being thrashed on the Expected Goals metric.
Injuries have played their part in a difficult campaign for Clough and co but performance data has long since suggested the hosts aren’t quite cut out for this level. Operating off shot ratios below the 35% mark just isn’t sustainable and Albion’s awful home record has also proven problematic.
Since mid-September, Burton have picked up only four points from a possible 51 at the Pirelli Stadium (W0-D4-L13). During that 17-game sample, the Brewers have fired nine blanks, leaked at least two goals on 12 occasions and shipped three or more strikes in seven outings.
This contest pitches the team that’s lost most often at home against a team that’s suffered the joint-fewest away defeats. And with Derby’s 81/100 (Black Type) odds implying the Rams stand only a 55% chance of success here, I’m happy to back the visiting team clinching maximum points.
Middlesbrough travelled to Burton a fortnight ago and went off as 3/4 favourites and there’s little hard evidence to suggest County aren’t on a similar level to the Teesiders. Chuck in the injury and selection crisis engulfing Burton this weekend and you’ve a recipe for a decent play on an odds-on favourite here.
Gary Rowett’s team appear to be over their hiccup. The 4-1 home thrashing by Sunderland at Easter prompted the Rams boss to rip up his team and start again; two wins ‘to nil’ followed and Derby were comfortable and classy as they dispatched Bolton 3-0 last weekend.
Only three sides post a better shots on-target ratio return than the Rams this term and with two of their four away defeats arriving in August and September, the guests certainly no how to set-up on the road. Unbeaten at bottom-half teams, Derby have also kept seven clean sheets in 12 away days and just one goal could be enough to settle this fixture.
Oxford v Southend | Saturday 14th April 2018, 15:00
It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Oxford. Having appointed bright young coach Pep Clotet in the summer, many expected the U’s to continue their progress up the Football League ladder. Promotion may have been out of the question after seeing numerous key players depart but relegation back to League Two felt a little far-fetched.
Clotet was ditched in late January and the club then spent two months fannying around, courting potential new bosses without sealing a day for any. Various deadlines were missed before they eventually settled upon Karl Robinson in mid-March. And today, the Yellows are clinging on to their third-tier status.
Unsurprisingly, Oxford’s form took a terrible dip over the past four months. Since Decemeber, the U’s have managed W4-D5-L11 in League One football and if we view results since mid-January, their return reads W2-D3-L9 as they’ve fired blanks in five of their past seven.
Robinson’s been in charge for the most recent five (W0-D2-L3) and fans have already grown a little frustrated. Last weekend’s dour 0-0 against relegation-threatened rivals Oldham here lacked excited or goalmouth action and then the Yellows contrived to concede a stoppage-time goal to Fleetwood on Tuesday.
The Cod Army clinched a 1-0 win, a result Robinson admitted he was speechless by. Oxford had controlled the ball – as Robinson teams tend to – but never made the breakthrough and were made to pay. The hosts now have a five-point cushion above the drop-zone although the U’s have played a game more.
At this point in a season, sides tend to be priced up based on what they need to achieve, not what they’re capable of. We saw a fine example of that on Tuesday night (when Barnsley went off favourites at Ipswich) and this match can fit in to a similar category; Oxford are fighting for their lives but Southend are seemingly safe with theoretically nothing to play for.
However, I’d contest that latter point. In the Football League, especially below the Championship, nearly every player will be on short-term deals that expire in June. All of those players will be desperate to impress their current club or potential suitors as they bid to extend their playing careers with a new contract.
Anyhow, this Southend side have shown little interest in slowing down for the summer. A sea-change in attitude, application and performance level under Chris Powell has seen the Shrimpers climb the table and victory here could push the Shrimpers into the top-10.
The Essex boys were outstanding at Blackburn last week – dominating the shot count and Expected Goals metric despite going down 1-0. The Lancashire press agreed with Powell’s sentiment that Southend deserved a point – if not all three – for their endeavours and a repeat here should prove fruitful.
Prior to that loss, Southend had smashed Gillingham by four and under Powell’s watch they’ve already beaten Wigan, Portsmouth and Rotherham – all play-off (or better) chasing clubs. There’s no thrills to how the Shrimpers set-up.
A basic 4-4-2 approach from Powell but there’s quality and experience in both boxes capable of bloodying any League One team’s nose and their record under The Nicest Man In Football reads an encouraging W6-D4-L3.
Southend have won the shot count in eight of those 13 tussles, produced an average Expected Goals output of 1.55 per-game and recorded six clean sheets. It means the 3/4 (188BET) available on Powell’s posse with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start holds plenty of appeal.
Chesterfield v Mansfield | Saturday 14th April 2018, 13:00
Having already penned a short novel across the two games above, I’ll try to keep this short and sweet…
Saturday’s early kick-off from League Two promises to be a feisty affair with plenty to play for on both sides. Chesterfield are desperate for points in their battle against back-to-back relegations whilst moneybags Mansfield must arrest their worrying slide if they’re to feature in the end-of-season shake-up.
Sixteen miles and 16 places separate the two clubs and bookmakers have chalked up the visitors as healthy pre-match favourites. Expected to have a title tilt, Town have never really looked like top-three material and arrive on the back of an eight-game winless run (W0-D4-L4) under new boss David Flitcroft.
Despite their wretched campaign thus far, Chesterfield have performed with aplomb when welcoming League Two’s elite to the Proact Stadium. Remarkably, the hosts have W5-D2-L3 against top-half teams here, collecting 49% of their overall points tally in this spot.
In recent weeks the Spireites have toppled Luton, Notts County and Swindon so the prospect of facing an out-of-form Mansfield outfit that’s lost four of their last five in a massive six-pointer will surely inspire a positive display from Jack Lester’s strugglers.
The home side have only twice failed to find the net when hosting top-half teams and with Mansfield managing just two shutouts on their travels at bottom-half dwellers, the Spireites should be capable of at least troubling the scoresheet.
In fact, matches at the Proact have been full of goals of late and I’ll be counting on that trend continuing with Both Teams To Score appealing at 21/25 (Marathon). It’s a selection that’s provided profit in six of Chesterfield’s past seven outings, as well as seven of Mansfield’s previous nine.