FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite selections from this weekend's EFL action.
Leyton Orient v Newport | Saturday 25th January 2020, 15:00
Newport secured back-to-back league wins for the first time since early October when sinking table-toppers Swindon 2-0 at Rodney Parade last weekend. The Exiles are now unbeaten in four League Two tussles, a run that’s arrived immediately on the back of an eight-match winless streak (W0-D2-L6) that saw County plummet into the bottom-half.
The Swindon success was satisfying for manager Michael Flynn with the hosts unable to call upon leading goalscorer Padraig Amond. It transpired the Irishman felt a bit of discomfort in his hip flexor when “taking his boot off” according Flynn, although the Newport hitman should be back in attack for Saturday’s showdown at Leyton Orient.
The match also featured a debut from defender Ashley Baker after signing from Sheffield Wednesday. The Welshman delivered an assured performance in County’s superbly organised backline, and there were also cameos for fellow debutants Billy Waters, Dale Gorman and Jordan Green, who was starting his second spell with the club after also appearing on-loan in 2016.
Flynn currently has a refreshingly short injury list, and with the four fresh faces brought into the club during January, there’s increased competition for places. Nobody at Newport is yet talking about another bid for the play-offs, but with games in-hand on all 10 sides above, the Welsh club are in a promising position and not be dismissed from the reckoning.
Of course, a big part of their victory last time out came via Mickey Demetriou’s famed long throws, however, County’s pressing without the ball frustrated Swindon. Robins head coach Richie Wellens remarked after the game just how much more physical the Exiles had been and that aggressive approach should stand Newport in good stead in the capital.
Only Leeds (0.40) have given up a lower Expected Goals (xG) from open play average per-game in the EFL than Newport (0.42) and Flynn’s charges conceded a solitary shot on-target against the table-toppers last weekend, suggesting the Black & Amber Army’s stranglehold on matches is as strong as ever. And so I expect them to avoid defeat at Orient.
Leyton Orient’s first season back in the EFL has been a rather erratic affair. Six league wins from 28 games has ensured the O’s are still looking over their shoulders with awful first-half performances one of the major bugbears ; no League Two team has conceded more goals in the opening 45 minutes (27) with Orient notching just 13 of their own before the interval.
This was apparent again in midweek with head coach Rosh Embleton describing the contrast between his side’s performances between the first and second half of their 1-1 draw with Northampton as “mind-blowing”. The chalk-and-cheese display came hot on the heels of a dour 1-0 defeat at Port Vale where the O’s boss blasted his players for not doing the “bare minimums”.
The East Londoners appear to have lost a little swagger in the final-third and concerns are mounting over the hosts’ form at their Brisbane Road base. Orient have only twice tabled top honours in 14 fixtures here, shipping over 1.70 goals per-game – against such organised opposition like Newport, basic defensive errors and slow starts could prove costly.
Newport’s road record is questionable but the Exiles are heading in the right direction and I expect the guests to depart with at least a share of the spoils. By chucking Under 4 Goals into the mix, alongside Newport in the Double Chance market, allows us to take kind 4/5 (Bet365) quotes with Bet365. Just two of the Exiles’ 25 encounters have featured Over 3.5 Goals this season.
Morecambe v Cambridge | Saturday 25th January 2020, 15:00
With just one relegation place in League Two this season, you could be forgiven for thinking the battle to survive at the bottom of the EFL would prove a little less frantic than standard. However, as we turn for home, only nine points separate 16th-placed Cambridge to rock-bottom Morecambe with the duo conveniently facing-off against each other on Saturday.
When Jim Bentley surprisingly ended an 18-year spell with the Shrimps in late October, the perennial strugglers propped up the fourth-tier with only 10 points and two triumphs from their first 16 fixtures. Understandably, morale was low and there seemed a sense of inevitability that Morecambe would finally drop out of the Football League this time around.
But co-chairmen Graham Howse and Rod Taylor deserve huge credit for their work in the following three months. First, respected boss Derek Adams was persuaded to take charge on a two-and-a-half year deal at the Globe Arena, and the pair have since sanctioned five January additions to the squad to bolster the size and ability within Shrimps ranks.
Adams has said he is still looking to add at least two new faces to his squad during the transfer window but has been heartened by what he has seen of late from his players. Despite a disappointing 4-1 defeat at Northampton last weekend, Morecambe again displayed plenty of promise to suggest they’re on the right track under the Scot.
The Shrimps were made to rue missed chances – not for the first time under Adams’ watch – although a return to the Globe Arena could help light the touchpaper. Morecambe have W3-D2-L1 here since Bentley’s departure, whilst enjoying a 54% Expected Goals (xG) ratio return in five home fixtures under the current regime, plus a 52% xG share from open play.
Five clubs have earned fewer points than Morecambe across Adams’ opening 11 outings in charge, one of which is Cambridge (W2-D2-L7). The U’s have been entrenched deep in the bottom half of every League Two season since promotion bar 2015-16, and after early signs of promise this campaign, Colin Calderwood’s troops have rapidly lost their way.
The Abbey outfit have seen their underlying metrics tail off, alongside results, with Cambridge dropping from potential play-off contenders to possible relegation battlers since mid-September (W4-D5-L10). The visitors have been beaten in six of their most recent seven league matches, failing to even score on four occasions, as they spiral downwards.
Last weekend’s 4-0 capitulation against previously rock-bottom Stevenage – a side that had scored just three goals in an 11-match winless run prior to facing the U’s – was arguably the team’s lowest point this season with Calderwood suggesting he would not stand for another “calamitous” performance from his under-fire group.
Nevertheless, there’s been little sign of a potential upturn from Cambridge, particularly on their travels. Cambridge have fired blanks in four of their past five games as guests (W0-D2-L3) and are winless on their league travels since September (W0-D3-L6). The latter nine-game sample includes a 0.47 xG from open play average and a wretched 36% open ratio return.
Calderwood has overseen just six wins and 14 (54%) defeats in 26 away days since arriving at The Abbey and I’m happy to oppose The U’s as favourites when they head to the Globe Arena here. We successfully went against the grain with struggling Southend last weekend and I believe plucky Morecambe can serve us well on Saturday in the Draw No Bet market at evens (Marathon).