FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite fancies from Saturday's card.
Ipswich v Leeds | Saturday 15:00
I don’t know about you but I’ve a few unwritten rules I try hard not to ignore when it comes to Football League punting – 1) don’t back teams at odds-on prices away from home and 2) don’t oppose a Mick McCarthy team at home.
However, on occasion, those guidelines deserve to be overlooked when circumstances dictate. This weekend is one example as an injury and suspension-hit Ipswich outfit prepare to take on promotion-chasing Leeds at Portman Road.
The hosts have won this fixture in six of the last seven renewals but I’ve no time for nonsense head-to-head records and prefer to focus on the here and now. Town have collected four points from two tough away games at Brighton and Aston Villa but massively rode their luck, being out-shot 39-19 and 13-5 on-target.
Full-backs Jordan Spence and Jonas Knudsen performed admirably alongside skipper Luke Chambers in a three-man defence during the 1-1 draw at the AMEX, and in the second-half of the victory at Villa. But Chambers cracked a rib when scoring Ipswich’s goal at BHA and is rated a major doubt for Saturday.
Tommy Smith is available again after long-term injury but is bound to be rusty, Christophe Berra is returning from concussion and Steven Taylor is definitely out. It leaves the Tractor Boys short of available central defenders whilst McCarthy’s selection woes aren’t consigned to the backline.
Cole Skuse is fit but central midfielder Toumani Diagouraga is ineligible against his parent club and Jonny Williams remains sidelined, robbing Ipswich of vital energy, muscle and creativity. But arguably the biggest blow is the suspension picked up by star man Tom Lawrence in attack.
On-loan Lawrence has notched eight goals this calendar year and has played a key role in an Ipswich goal every 167 minutes he’s been on the field – unsurprisingly, no Tractor Boy comes close to such a return.
No Championship club has fired in fewer efforts at goal and only Wigan are averaging fewer on-target attempts. Town are a bottom-five side in both the shots and shots on-target ratio rankings and have kept only two league clean sheets since mid-October.
Ipswich have conceded a divisional-high 21 goals from set-pieces this season and missing crucial physicality in defensive areas could prove costly against a Leeds outfit that have scored a league-high 10 goals from corners, including seven of their last 14 goals.
Chris Wood’s in the form of his life leading the Whites attack – netting in 17 different Championship matches this term – and with Pontus Jansson returning from suspension in midweek and captain Liam Bridcutt back from a ban for Saturday, Garry Monk’s men are almost at full-strength.
The Yorkshire club were outplayed by Huddersfield in defeat and suffered a frustrating loss at Cardiff but returned to winning ways against Bristol City on Tuesday thanks to a solid first 75 minute performance. Monk – now the club’s longest-serving head coach on Massimo Cellino’s watch – was pleased with his team’s display and character.
United have W17-D2-L7 since early September in Championship action and W17-D3-L7 when tackling teams currently below them in the standings. With a W6-D1-L5 record on the road dating back to September and only four blanks in games as guests, Leeds look primed to take advantage of Ipswich’s absentees.
However, I’m taking the 0 Asian Handicap option for insurance at 13/16 (188BET) – we’ll get our cash back if the game ends all-square.
Revisiting paragraph one, Ipswich have suffered only 21% home defeats in the league since 2013/14 and I just don’t have the balls to completely oppose them here.
Shrewsbury v Wimbledon | Saturday 15:00
Shrewsbury manager Paul Hurst has urged his side to put Salop’s midweek reverse at Peterborough behind them as the side continue their battle against League One relegation when hosting Wimbledon on Saturday.
Town were six points adrift of safety at the end of October but Hurst’s made a major impact since arriving from Grimsby, guiding Shrewsbury four points clear of the drop-zone and only two wins away from the top-half.
The Shrews were leading 1-0 at Posh on Tuesday night before Stephen Humphrys picked up two yellow cards, turning the tide against Hurst’s charges. Peterborough struck twice from corners to pinch the points and end Town’s six-match unbeaten streak (W4-D2-L0).
It was only Shrewsbury’s six loss in 17 (W7-D4-L6) under Hurt’s watch and came just days after Salop secured a memorable victory on their travels at promotion-chasing Scunthorpe as 5/1 shots.
Hurst is building his team from the back and the midweek reverse was only the fifth occasion Town have shipped at least two goals during his tutorship. The Shrews have already kept seven clean sheets in his 17 games in charge and with a home return of W5-D1-L1, they deserve our respect and investment.
Stand-in skipper Abu Ogogo remains absent and Humphrys is banned for Saturday but Crystal Palace loanee Freddie Ladapo is back in the fold and that’s a major boost for the hosts having scored four goals in five Shrewsbury starts.
Salop have W6-D3-L3 when welcoming clubs outside of the top-four positions to the Greenhous Meadow and the home side look a little undervalued in the pre-match markets. I’m backing Shrewsbury with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start (7/11 BetVictor) where we’ll make money should Town avoid defeat.
Visitors Wimbledon haven’t scored an away goal in any of their last seven League One outings, a run that dates back to October and over 11 hours of action. The Dons have lost four of their last five on the road and have claimed maximum points in only four of their 15 away days since promotion.
Neil Ardley gave his side a 2/10 rating for their performance in midweek when a stoppage-time equaliser was required for the second successive match to scrape a point against rock-bottom Coventry. Meanwhile, top scorer Tom Elliott will return here but centre-half and skipper Barry Fuller remains crocked.
Wimbledon have picked up only three triumphs in 15 since mid-October and are posting shots on-target ratio figures below the 40% mark when away from their Kingsmeadow base. Ardley’s troops have won once in five at clubs below them in the table and I wouldn’t be backing them to enhance that return here.
Accrington v Colchester | Saturday 15:00
Colchester head coach John McGreal hailed last weekend’s home win against Barnet as the U’s biggest of the season. The Essex club lost centre-backs Frankie Kent and Lloyd Doyley to injury in the opening 15 minutes but managed to ride out the game to continue their surge towards the top-seven.
However, ColU’s increasing injury problems caught up with them in midweek as Crawley clinched a rate away success, beating United 3-2 in their own backyard in a game devoid of quality.
McGreal has now hinted he could opt for a change in formation for their trip to Accrington on Saturday with a dozen players sidelined through injury and suspension. The 3-5-2 system employed in recent months saw Colchester lose only twice in 13 games but a tweak to 4-3-3 looks likely here.
Midfielder Sean Murray serves out a three-match ban, Chris Porter, Craig Slater and Owen Garvan are all major doubts whilst defenders Tom Eastman, Kent, Doyley and Doug Loft are joined by Tommy O'Sullivan, Lewis Kinsella, Sammie Szmodics and club captain Luke Prosser on the treatment table.
Former Accrington youngster Kurtis Guthrie remains Colchester’s bright light but the presence of the club’s top goalscorer might not be enough for the Essex raiders to earn a vital victory with their patched up defence struggling to keep the goals out.
United have now failed to shutout any of their last six opponents and having recorded only W4-D6-L6 on their travels since relegation, Saturday looks like the right time to bet against McGreal’s men earning maximum points.
Accrington may have only collected four league triumphs at the Crown Ground this term but John Coleman’s produced a thrilling performance in their midweek 4-4 draw with Mansfield. The Reds led 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 before conceding an 89th minute equaliser and Coleman believes that display could be a catalyst in Stanley’s season.
Omar Beckles, Shay McCartan and Billy Kee all scored before half-time as Accrington raced into a 3-1 lead and Coleman is adamant there’s more to come from his team this term. And the raw data would also suggest Stanley will begin to climb the table sooner than later.
The Lancashire minnows have proved their ability in cup competitions, avoiding defeat in five games against higher-division opposition and will be buoyed by their 2-0 victory over fellow strugglers Notts County in their last home outing, their first at the Crown Ground in seven (W1-D3-L3).
The Reds are ranked in mid-table via the expected goals metric and in both the shots and shots on-target ratio rankings Accrington feature in the top-eight of League Two. The hosts have lost just twice in seven now and have only failed to score in two home games all season.
Accrington have suffered only 14/56 (25%) home defeats under Coleman since September 2014 and look capable of causing understrength Colchester problems. So I’ll be having a good bite on the 14/19 (188BET) available for Stanley with a 0 start on the Asian Handicap market.
The league table often lies and Accrington are in a false position. I want to be with them when the tide turns and they’ll have no better chance than Saturday to continue their push away from the bottom-two.