FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Hull v Nottingham Forest | Saturday 24th November 2018, 15:00
No Championship club has drawn as many games in 2018/19 as Nottingham Forest (9) and the Tricky Trees are also amongst the front-runners for divisional clean sheets. Aitor Karanka’s have recorded seven shutouts, a figure only bettered by Middlesbrough (11) and Swansea (8).
Having spent a small fortune in the summer, Forest appear to be making slow but steady progress. Beaten just twice in their opening 17 games, the Reds have moved to within striking distance of the top-six and will be targeting maximum points from their trip to the KCOM Stadium on Saturday.
Considering the club brought in 12 permanent signings and six loanees, it was always going to take time for Forest to flourish. However, their last 10 outings (including facing the current top-four) have returned W5-D4-L1 – a record that could have looked even better had Kemar Roofe not handled an equaliser for Leeds late on.
Both of the Reds’ two losses arrived by one-goal margins, with the winning goals arriving in the final 10 minutes. It suggests Karanka’s men are a competitive match for any in this division, whilst their strong draw bias hints that the Spaniard’s safety-first ideals haven’t been overhauled since his spell with Boro.
Forest haven’t been pulling up trees when inspecting the divisional data but there’s a strong and experienced spine in situ with Costel Pantilimon keeping goal behind mainstays Michael Dawson, Jack Colback, Joe Lolley and leading goalscorer Lewis Grabban, whilst a glut of Portuguese talent offer an X-Factor.
Hull head into this meeting on the back of their best run of results of the campaign. The Tigers remain the relegation zone on goal difference, although they have picked up seven points from a possible nine (W2-D1-L0) when overcoming Bolton (1-0) and West Brom (1-0) before a 3-3 draw with Birmingham.
But before we get too carried away, it’s worth noting that Nigel Adkins’ outfit lost all three matches on the Expected Goals metric, whilst the Baggies went into their match-up without a whole host of key players. So taking on a Forest side 11 points better off in the standings is certainly no easy meat.
The Humbersiders are chasing back-to-back home wins for the first time since April 2017 and are likely to select the same XI for the third successive match. Nouha Dicko and Stephen Kingsley have failed to recover from their respective injuries, while Jon Toral, Evandro and James Weir remain sidelined.
Hull have scored only four goals in their last 10 league games from open play – that’s 15 hours of football – and have scored five (31%) of their paltry 16 goal-tally via penalties or attempts from outside the penalty box. Meanwhile, the Tigers have collected three of their four triumphs against bottom-six rivals.
The hosts have claimed only six (29%) successes in 21 KCOM outings under Adkins, but with Forest often struggling to turn stalemates into three points, I’m more comfortable taking a conservative approach to this contest with Nottingham Forest double chance and Under 4 Goals appealing at 9/10 (Bet365).
We’ve already outlined the Tricky Trees’ credentials to pick up a positive result, whilst the pair have delivered just 7/34 (21%) collective games featuring four or more goals, and 3/16 (19%) when looking at their respective home/away records.
This selection keeps onside the 0-0, 1-1, 0-1, 0-2 and 1-2 correct scores.
Barnsley v Doncaster | Saturday 24th November 2018, 15:00
Luton’s standout 5-1 success last weekend has brought the Hatters into focus as a potential League One title winner and Nathan Jones’ men will have plenty of punters' support when they travel to a Gillingham side that went to extra-time at Hartlepool as recently as Wednesday night.
However, at a smidgen shorter, I’m happier investing faith in current outright favourites Barnsley continuing their charge towards an immediate return to Championship football. The Tykes are 17/20 (Bet365) to overcome South Yorkshire rivals Doncaster at Oakwell, an appealing price.
After a mini wobble, the Reds have returned three successive league victories alongside clean sheets to move to within two points of the automatic promotion places. Look further back and Barnsley have delivered top honours in five of their past seven League One matches, and remain unbeaten at Oakwell (W5-D3-L0).
The Tykes have impressed both EFL neutrals and the data darlings this term with Daniel Stendel’s side earning a reputation for their high intensity pressing and dynamic attacking play. It’s led to Barnsley dominating the performance data, and coming into this contest the Reds are top of all five major metrics.
The hosts boast a 66% shot ratio, 67% shots on-target ratio, 68% shots in the box ratio, 64% Expected Goals ratio and a whopping 71% Expected Goals from open play ratio. No third-tier team has fired in more attempts, efforts from inside the penalty area or generated a better xG from open play average thus far.
Barnsley have had injuries and key sales to deal with but Stendel’s men continue to standout with on-loan Fulham forward Cauley Woodrow finding his scoring boots, whilst Kieffer Moore returned to fitness to net in last weekend’s 2-0 win at Accrington, a game that saw Zeki Fryers sent off with half an hour to play.
Stanley supremo John Coleman piled on the praise post-match, suggesting Barnsley were head and shoulders the best team in the division. The Accrington boss admitted, “This felt like a step up in class for the first time in this league” and the Tykes should be well capable of justifying their kind pre-match quotes.
Across their opening eight home games, the Reds have been chalked up at average odds of 4/6 at Oakwell, with the Tykes only going off at bigger odds than their current 17/20 when welcoming Luton during the October international break – that day, Barnsley were without both Woodrow and Moore.
Doncaster warmed up for this showdown by spanking non-league Chorley 7-0 in an FA Cup replay in midweek, days after squeezing past Wimbledon 2-1 on home soil. That Wombles win arrested a run of three consecutive defeats and six matches with a victory (W0-D2-L4), although Rovers were far from domineering.
Grant McCann’s men won the xG count just 0.69–0.50 and have now not kept their sheets clean in League One action since August. In fact, five of their past seven league opponents in league football have scored at least twice against Donny, whilst the guests have delivered W2-D2-L6 when taking on teams in 13th and above.
Twenty of Rovers’ 28-point haul has come against the division’s lesser lights, and although the guests are shaping up as a top-half team, they’re not on the same level as their opposition and so I’m happy to oppose the visitors here.
Rochdale v Accrington | Saturday 24th November 2018, 15:00
As mentioned above, Accrington boss John Coleman believed his Stanley side were beaten by the best team in the division last weekend. The Lancastrians went down 2-0 to Barnsley at the Crown Ground, only the Reds’ third League One reverse since the opening day.
The newly-promoted club have taken to third-tier football superbly. Despite operating off a miniscule budget, Coleman’s charges have been competitive in almost every contest – even their 4-1 thumping at in-form Luton last month was a closer encounter than the final score suggested.
Speaking after the Barnsley defeat, Coleman said, “They are one of the best teams in the league and we competed with them.” Whilst the numbers don’t necessarily back-up the Accy boss’ comments, the bullish and unwavering confidence surrounding the likeable club has aided their transition to this level.
A midweek off will have done the Reds plenty of good and with no new injury concerns and only back-up midfielder Scott Brown suspended, there’s plenty of reason to believe Stanley are worth supporting at 7/8 (BetVictor) with a +0.50 Asian Handicap start at Rochdale on Saturday.
The visitors have already avoided defeat in 14/18 (78%) games at this level, including seven of nine away days (W4-D3-L2). Only four sides have landed more attempts on-target in League One, with Accrington also firing in the fourth-most efforts from inside the penalty area.
Rochdale have tabled five (28%) triumphs in 18 this term, only two of which have arrived at Spotland (W2-D2-L5). Admittedly, Dale have been forced to face seven top-half teams on home soil already and Keith Hill’s men picked up four points in recent meetings with Charlton (1-0) and Luton (0-0) here.
The hosts’ Achilles heel has been conceding from headed efforts – Rochdale have shipped 12 goals via headers, five more than any other side – and although Accrington are unlikely to provide a major threat in the air, the guests will be confident of scoring having only fired blanks in three fixtures since promotion.
Only three teams are giving up a larger Expected Goals from open play per-game average than Rochdale’s 0.97 and it’s worth noting that only one of Dale’s wins have arrived when they’ve conceded a league goal in 2018/19, and that came way back on the opening weekend of the campaign.
We can take this record further, too. Since the start of last season, the Blues have claimed only three victories when conceding a goal, so the likelihood is that should Stanley strike, they’ll be capable of pinching at least a point from Spotland.