FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) has kicked-off the campaign with 12 winners from his first 17 EFL selections. Can he continue his hot form this weekend?
Preston v Barnsley | Saturday 9th September 2017, 15:00
Simon Grayson guided Preston back into the Championship and tabled impressive back-to-back top-half finishes before being snared by Sunderland in the summer. I immediately expected the Deepdale outfit to regress to the norm.
But early signs suggest Alex Neil’s making a decent fist of keeping North End on the straight and narrow. Inheriting a stable and workmanlike second-tier squad has aided the Scot’s cause but even so, an eight-point haul (W2-D2-L1) when up against Middlesbrough, Reading, Leeds, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday is commendable.
Arguably most impressive has been the Lilywhites’ defensive resilience and organisation. Across those five fixtures, Preston have faced only 12 on-target attempts and a total xG count against of 3.85. Goalkeeper Chris Maxwell has kept four clean sheets with Derby the only side to score against PNE this term.
The downside arrives in the attacking third. The Lancashire outfit have scored just once from open play but even so, there’s reasons to remain positive. North End have out-shot opponents 62-45, won the on-target count 19-12 and boast a superior 6.11-3.85 xG return from those testing five tussles.
To combat the goalscoring concerns, Neil may look to revert back to the 4-2-3-1 that saw Preston overcome Reading 1-0 at Deepdale last month. With Jordan Hugill set to start in attack – Neil confident he is in the right frame of mind mentally to return – the Lilywhites should cause Barnsley plenty of problems.
Meanwhile, Josh Harrop, Callum Robinson, Tommy Spurr, Paul Gallagher and John Welsh and Declan Rudd are all close to returning to the squad and may come under consideration here, giving the hosts an array of options. I do like Preston here.
Since the start of last season they’ve picked up maximum points in 13/25 (52%) contests on home soil and claimed seven wins from their last 10 at Deepdale. I also expect their recent run of just one reverse in 13 home league outings to be extended.
Barnsley adapted superbly to the Championship under Paul Heckingbottom’s outstanding leadership before seeing their leading lights pinched in the January transfer window. It was a similar story this summer with the Tykes having to work hard to bring in a whole new squad of players.
Eleven permanent and five loan additions have been drafted in at Oakwell and despite the upheaval, Barnsley will be pleased to have posted two wins on the board from their first five encounters (W2-D0-L3). George Moncur in midfield and Ike Ugbo in attack have both impressed whilst Ryan Hedges and Liam Lindsay have also earned good reviews thus far.
However, I’m not convinced their youthful defence is good enough to hold out Preston here; Barnsley have shipped 10 goals across all games and that figure should have been inflated had Nottingham Forest or Sheffield United brought their shooting boots. The Tykes have conceded 84 shots (29 on-target).
Angus MacDonald is still suspended and the visitors’ road record also leaves a lot to be desired. The Tykes have W1-D0-L8 in their past nine away days, have been beaten in six of their past nine trips to the top-half – five of which were by a margin of two goals or more.
I’m keen to keep Preston onside here but I’ll bolster the odds on offer by backing the home side to win alongside Under 3.5 Goals – it’s a bet that will see us profit should North End win 1-0, 2-0, 3-0 or 2-1. Collectively, only 13 of the duos 50 home/away games since the start of last season saw Over 3.5 Goals collect.
Fleetwood v Oldham | Saturday 9th September 2017, 15:00
I’m sure you’re probably bored me shouting about Fleetwood in these columns by now but it’s hard to resist regurgitating kind words on the Cod Army when the odds are so generous.
Yes, I’m backing Uwe Rosler’s troops again – the 19/25 available from Marathon equates to 1.76 in decimals – and is good enough for me to pull the trigger. This is a Town team that’s triumphed in 14/25 (56%) fixtures at Highbury under the German and should be chasing a top-six finish again this season.
Fleetwood returned to pre-season training a week earlier than the majority of Football League clubs – just 43 days after their play-off semi-final defeat last season. The club are clearly determined to kick-on and following an impressive summer in the transfer window, I certainly believe they can.
Devante Cole remains a Fleetwood player, Conor McAleny and Amari’i Bell, are close to a return and Rosler has spoken positivity about the plethora of options available to him. With the home side enjoying a blank weekend last Saturday, they should be fit, fresh and ready for action.
Both Highbury outings this term have returned 2-0 victories – against Rotherham and Wimbledon – and with nine Fleetwood’s 14 home triumphs since the start of last season also arriving alongside a clean sheet, there’s potential to back the home win ‘to nil’.
But I’m instead going to add Under 3.5 Goals alongside the home win at 13/10 (BetStars). Why? Well, Oldham have endured a horror start and are looking to avoid losing each of their opening six matches for the first time in their Football League history.
However, the Latics have leaked 12 goals in five fixtures already – more than they had in their last 15 fixtures in 2016-17 combined – and having lost 13/25 (52%) of away days since the beginning of last season – including 7/12 (58%) under John Sheridan’s charge, I’m not holding out too much hope.
Athletic have fired blanks in 11 of those 12 defeats – nine of which were by either 1-0 or 2-0 scores – whilst collectively these two clubs have seen Under 3.5 Goals in 44/50 (88%) respective home/away games.
Accrington v Carlisle | Saturday 9th September 2017, 15:00
Both Accrington and Carlisle have been amongst the goals so far this season and I see Saturday’s showdown between the two north-west outfits following a similar pattern with an entertaining encounter forecast.
Accrington boss John Coleman said his side have made a “satisfactory start” despite the Reds garnering an impressive 10-point haul from five games (W3-D1-L1) thus far. The Stanley supremo is hoping for a promotion tilt this term and believes there’s still plenty to come from a much-changed unit.
A 2-1 victory at local rivals Morecambe last time out ensured Accy have scored at least twice in all five fixtures this season but they head into this battle with only one fit first-team goalkeeper on their books – Aaron Chapman – as new loan signing Max Stryjek was taken off eight minutes into his debut.
Farrend Rawson and Jordan Thorniley also made their Stanley bow against the Shrimps whilst Callum Johnson and Mallik Wilks are also recent temporary additions at the Crown Ground. Elsewhere, Ben Richards-Everton is unavailable and Mekhi McLeod continues to serve his three-match ban.
Nevertheless, Accrington will fancy their chances on home soil. The Reds have W9-D4-L1 in their last 14 outings here but visitors Carlisle tend to be tricky operators when taking to the road; the Cumbrians have suffered only six defeats on their travels since the start of last season.
Keith Curle’s charges held pre-season favourites Mansfield on Saturday having been well beaten at Lincoln (1-4) in their previous outing but defender Tom Parkes is available again after serving a one-match ban and Kelvin Etuhu and Jason Kennedy are both back in contention.
The visitors have scored in each of their last 12 – 10 of which rewarded Both Teams To Score backers – and a similarly high-scoring clash seems likely. Collectively, the pair have seen BTTS land in 9/10 games this term with Over 2.5 Goals also banking nine occasions.
Looking at home/away records since the start of last season, these two have seen goals at both ends in 35/50 (70%) collective fixtures, kept only nine (18%) clean sheets between them in that time but found the back of the net in 44 (88%) matches. The average goals per-game in that sample is 2.98.
So all the trends point towards an open encounter so I’m happy to take the even-money available from Coral on Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score.
Preston v Barnsley – Preston to win and Under 3.5 Goals (31/20 BetStars)
Fleetwood v Oldham – Fleetwood to win and Under 3.5 Goals (13/10 BetStars)
Accrington v Carlisle – Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score (1/1 Coral)