FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the fifth weekend of the new 2019/20 season.
Rotherham v Tranmere | Saturday 31st August 2019, 15:00
Recently-relegated Rotherham resume League One action this weekend after seeing their past two fixtures postponed. Over the previous fortnight, the Millers’ matches with Bury (obviously) and Portsmouth (due to a music festival taking place in the city) meant a lack of game-time for Paul Warne’s troops, who were thankful for a Wednesday night EFL Cup tie.
Rotherham suffered an agonising home defeat to near neighbours Sheffield Wednesday in that midweek cup clash, conceding the only goal of the game six minutes into stoppage-time at the New York Stadium. In a tight affair, Warne tinkered his tactics, switching systems, and saw his Millers’ men edge proceedings with Freddie Ladapo missing the chance of the game just before half-time.
Nevertheless, United’s boss was pleased with the application of his side as they quickly turn their attentions back to league action and a very winnable home tie against Tranmere this weekend. The hosts saw impressive right-back Matt Olosunde return to fitness against the Owls and have bolstered their ranks this week with the captures of Chiedozie Ogbene and Adam Thompson.
Rotherham have began their quest for an immediate bounce back to the Championship reasonably well. The Millers have pocketed successive away triumphs at Wimbledon and Burton, whilst inexplicably losing at home to Lincoln when completely dominating proceedings at the New York Stadium, and so hold plenty of appeal in this showdown.
There’s already been plenty of cash for Warne’s outfit and there’s little value left to be squeezed out of Rotherham’s Match Odds. Therefore, we must delve a little deeper and I’m happy to take the juice out of the 10/11 (Betway) available for the hosts to win this contest in a match featuring Under 4.5 Goals.
We don’t have to paint a massively rosy picture around Rotherham to bring this bet to life. Instead, we can shift focus to newly-promoted Tranmere, who’ve endured a tough opening month back in the third-tier, and arrive with numerous selection concerns as injuries and suspensions mount up for Micky Mellon’s charges.
Across all competitions, Rovers have been beaten in four of their five fixtures. The Wirral-club’s only success came against beleaguered Bolton, and trips to Bristol Rovers and Portsmouth have ended in routine 2-0 defeats where the Birkenhead boys barely laid a glove on their opponents with a cumulative Expected Goals (xG) figure of 0.50.
The departure of irreplaceable star striker James Norwood was always going to prove problematic, but disciplinary issues have arisen too. Three players have already been sent off this season and the unavailable list for Saturday is rather alarming; Morgan Ferrier, Ollie Banks, Corey Blackett-Taylor, Jake Caprice, Mark Ellis and Ismael Miller will all be unavailable to Mellon.
The expected Tranmere XI is competitive enough to keep this contest in the balance but I’d still be very happy backing Rotherham at close to even-money to pick up top honours in front of their home supporters.
Ipswich v Shrewsbury | Saturday 31st August 2019, 15:00
Ipswich were one of the EFL’s worst sides last season and deservedly dropped down to the third-tier of English football for the first time since 1957, ending a 17-year stay in the Championship. It was a dire campaign for the Suffolk side with incoming boss Paul Lambert making little apparent impact on the club’s trajectory after arriving in late October.
Town opted to retain Lambert’s services with the Scot earning plenty of praise from Tractor Boys fans for his attitude and endeavour in bringing the club back together. The former Champions League winner spent the summer whinging about a lack of transfer spending and pleaded for patience from the Ipswich faithful ahead of an expected promotion push.
So few would have fancied Ipswich to be leading the League One way after five rounds of action, particularly with tricky tests against Burton, Peterborough and Sunderland in their first three fixtures. Nevertheless, Town have negotiated an unbeaten return (W3-D2-L0) that included a hard-earned, stoppage-time win over Wimbledon 10 days ago.
The Blues weren’t at their fluent best that night as they struggled to break the Dons down. It took the introduction of Tottenham loanee Anthony Georgiou and then Alan Judge for Ipswich to spark into life against a side happy to sit in, keep their shape and take their chances (scoring with their only on-target attempt). It was a good lesson for what’s ahead.
Lambert’s aware that similar tests await the Suffolk giants, possibly at Portman Road this Saturday against Shrewsbury. Ipswich are now a big fish in the League One pond and opponents will be doubly determined to batten down the hatches in an attempt to squeeze out any possible return in a trip to the previous Premier League regulars.
Last weekend’s 5-0 blowout victory over Bolton’s kids allowed the weekend’s hosts the opportunity to rest and rotate, although the core four of James Norwood, Cole Skuse, Flynn Downes and Myles Kenlock continue to impress in their individual roles and I’m happy to bank on the Blues justifying their position as odds-against favourites here at 21/20 (Blacktype).
Shrewsbury will undoubtedly offer solid resistance. The Shropshire side have only conceded three goals in League One this season and have kept three clean sheets, but have also failed to net themselves in three of their last four outings. What’s more, Salop have been hit by a string of midfield injuries and will also be without leading striker Fejiri Okenabirhie.
Veteran battering ram Steve Morison will likely lead the line for Shrewsbury and Sam Rickett’s dogged guests will be hoping for a bit more creativity in the final-third. Only Bolton have registered fewer on-target efforts thus far, and worryingly Shrewsbury are towards the top end of the negative standings when viewing shots faced and chances conceded.
I’ve no doubts Salop have the potential to frustrate, but at the odds on offer, I’m comfortable keeping Ipswich onside with Lambert and his squad overcoming a similarly tricky test here against Wimbledon not so long ago. The visitors boast a 50% loss rate on the road during Rickett's reign and with key personnel on the treatment table, this looks a good opportunity to oppose them again.
Scunthorpe v Carlisle | Saturday 31st August 2019, 15:00
Three Football League managers have already left their posts in 2019/20 and you’d have short odds on offer than Paul Hurst and/or Kevin Bond would join them before September dawns. Bond’s Southend side have slumped to five successive defeats in League One, whilst Hurst’s Scunthorpe outfit are propping up League Two with a solitary point to their name.
The opening four fixtures in Hurst’s reign were nothing short of a mitigating disaster. The Iron were cumulatively out-shot 36-69, with the on-target battle lost 13-30. Scunny allowed 47 attempts from inside their own penalty box and gave up 8.31 Expected Goals (xG) in those games against Cambridge, Crawley, Cheltenham and Swindon. Not a good look.
Hurst blasted his underperforming players more than once in the early weeks of the campaign and enjoyed a reaction of sorts last time out despite losing 1-0 at Macclesfield. For the first time under his tutorship, Scunthorpe enjoyed superiority across the majority of performance data metrics and were left frustrated by their missed chances at Moss Rose.
The Iron will hope to take the positives from last weekend’s loss into Saturday’s showdown with Carlisle, a contest the hosts should be targeting if they’re to banish the negativity surrounding Glanford Park since relegation. Two unnamed players are struggling for fitness, but Scunny could be boosted by potential returns for Ryan Colclough and Kevin van Veen.
New signing Junior Brown is also available for Hurst, whilst fellow recruit George Miller provided plenty of threat in forward areas against Macclesfield, suggesting the bust-up with Adam Hammill could be forgotten about if the home side get the opportunity to field all their big-hitters at full fitness. Even so, defensive concerns still surround the hosts.
The reckless James Perch continues his suspension on Saturday, leaving Scunthorpe a little light in defensive areas. And considering the Iron and their visitors Carlisle have conceded 22 goals between them from just 10 games thus far, it’s quite easy to assume the match-up could produce goals with Both Teams To Score appealing at 3/4 (Betfair) quotes.
This selection has already landed in six of the duos combined 10 tussles, with neither of the pair managing to keep their sheets clean as yet. The two teams are towards the top end for shots conceded, on-target strikes and in the box efforts faced too, again implying we could be in for a rather loose, open and entertaining encounter in Lincolnshire.
Carlisle’s prospects of landing an upset are hit by the unavailability of striker Olufela Olomola. The forward is unable to face his parent club because of a “gentleman’s agreement”, meaning Steven Pressley will have to look at his attacking options, with Elias Sorensen and Ryan Loft among those under consideration for a call-up.
Regardless of personnel, the Blues can be confident in carving out opportunities at Glanford Park if their early season outings are anything to go by. Carlisle are averaging 1.55 xG across all competitions, although that aforementioned defence has held progress back with League Two matches involving the Cumbrians featuring an average of 3.11 xG, a further feather in a goals-based bet hat for the weekend.