FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Ipswich v Sheffield Wednesday | Saturday 2nd February 2019, 15:00
I’m going to keep this weekend’s nice and concise – the wintery weather that’s arrived this week could easily cause havoc with the Saturday schedule and at the time of writing, it’s difficult to say how many matches will be given the green light.
I’ll start in Suffolk where Ipswich are looking dead and buried if recent performances and the league table is anything to go by. Paul Lambert continues to talk the Tractor Boys up in post-match press conferences but the reality is, Town have completely outplayed.
Last weekend the Scot suggested that Ipswich “were the better team” when losing 2-1 at Aston Villa. He went on to say, “We were fantastic, football-wise. We looked a threat. The football has been really, really good.” The Tractor Boys actually lost the shots on-target count 13-4 in that occasion with Villa dominating the xG by 3.31 to 1.13.
In Ipswich’s last Portman Road outing they lost the shot count 16-3 to Rotherham and over their last eight encounters in the Championship, the hosts have returned a divisional-low 26% xG ratio. Meanwhile, across the campaign as a whole, no team is posting such paltry figures on home soil – Ipswich average 27% xG ratio in Suffolk.
The hosts have picked up maximum points on only three occasions and are coming up against a Sheffield Wednesday outfit that’s found their feet since the overdue departure of Jos Luhukay. The Owls have only W3-D3-L2 in their most recent eight league fixtures to move into the relative safety of mid-table, producing a series of promising displays.
Wednesday are actually ranked fourth in the Championship in terms of xG over that eight-game sequence (59% ratio) and are boosted by the arrival of Steve Bruce as the club’s new permanent manager. The visitors racked up eight shots on-target in meetings with Wigan and Birmingham of late and certainly have the ability to at least match Town here.
We can back the guests off a scratch 0 start on the Asian Handicap line at 13/15 (188BET) and that’s an appealing play. Working in the same format as the Draw No Bet market, our stake will be returned should the game end all-square, with our cash only being lost should Ipswich pick up an unexpected victory.
Walsall v Rochdale | Saturday 2nd February 2019, 15:00
Walsall were the surprise early front-runners in League One, tabling 15 points from an unbeaten seven game start (W4-D3-L0). However, since mid-September the Saddlers have reverted back to pre-season expectations and come into the weekend’s clash with Rochdale sitting four points above the relegation zone.
The Black Country boys have registered W5-D5-L12 in their most recent 22 third-tier tussles and mindful of an incoming survival fight, boss Dean Keates moved to strengthen the squad in January. No fewer than seven players joined Walsall in the transfer window, including the promising pair Corey Blackett-Taylor and Aramide Oteh, plus returning Jack Fitzwater.
Clearly the club are investing all they can to preserve their League One status and Saturday’s showdown with fellow battlers Rochdale could be crucial in their quest to keep their heads above water. The Saddlers have only twice ran out victorious at the Bescot Stadium since August with their sieve-like defence proving most problematic.
The January recruits add options across the board – Keates could realistically field a new-look back-four – but it could take time for Walsall to realise their newfound potential. And right now, I’m keen to follow the recent trends that suggest goals are incoming against Dale.
The hosts have silenced only five opposition outfits in 2018/19 with their last home clean sheet arriving on the 2nd October. The Saddlers have shipped two goals or more in 13 of their past 17 League One matches and are giving up 1.49 xG on average, a figure that rises to 1.66 when only looking at their Bescot battles.
Relegation-haunted Rochdale have suffered from similar backline woes. Keith Hill’s men boast the leakiest defence in the division and their frailties in defence go a long way to explaining their disastrous -25 goal difference. Dale have only twice shutout their hosts this term and are conceding 2.20 goals per-game on average when on the road.
Budgetary restrictions mean strengthening their small squad in January has proven difficult and their recent results (W0-D1-L5) have seen the Greater Manchester side plummet to 22nd in the standings. Nevertheless, the evergreen Ian Henderson – scorer of 15 of their 36 goals – has ensured Rochdale aren’t without a whimper of hope.
Renowned for their high-scoring games under Hill, Dale still possess enough attacking nous to trouble teams and that should ensure an entertaining encounter is on the cards here. Rochdale’s away trips are averaging 3.67 goals per-game with 12/15 (80%) featuring three goals or more, suggesting the 17/20 (William Hill) on a repeat is too good to turn down.
For clarity, 10/14 (71%) of Walsall’s home ties have followed suit whilst 21/29 (71%) of their combined home/away matches have delivered Both Teams To Score winners.
Bury v Crawley | Saturday 2nd February 2019, 15:00
Bury have proven to be a semi-regular feature of his column in recent months and I’m happy to have the Shakers onside again this Saturday as they welcome Crawley to Gigg Lane.
Last weekend’s fabulously fun 3-3 draw with fellow promotion-chasers Lincoln kept Ryan Lowe’s charges inside the top-three and Bury will be expecting to cement that position with a solid performance here. The hosts have racked up 13 goals in their last five fixtures (W4-D1-L0) and can also boast a splendid record on home soil.
The Shakers have W10-D4-L1 in front of their own supporters but that return improves when excluding the top-six (W9-D1-L0). Overall, Bury have bagged 2.53 goals per-game on average and beaten the non top-six teams by an aggregate 30-6. Lowe’s troops are generating 1.71 xG at Gigg Lane and are likely to have too much quality for Crawley.
Crawley scored with their only shot on-target to down Swindon last Saturday in a dreadful encounter. The Red Devils came into that clash on the back of 10 defeats in 14 and despite that unexpected success at the County Ground, head coach Gabrielle Cioffi remains under pressure at the Sussex outfit.
Town have W3-D1-L11 on their travels, notching only nine goals. The visitors are conceding 1.46 xG per-game on their travels – almost a divisional-high – have yet to score more than a solitary strike in any of their away days and sit fifth from bottom when viewing the eight-game xG records in League Two. They’re easily opposed here.
Obviously, Bury are too short to support in the Match Odds market so instead I’ll chuck in Over 1.5 Goals to boost the price to 4/5 (Ladbrokes). We’ll be paid out if Bury win by any scoreline other than 1-0, a feat they’ve achieved in 13 of their 15 League Two triumphs since returning to the fourth-tier.
Ipswich v Sheffield Wednesday – Sheffield Wednesday 0 Asian Handicap (13/15 188BET)
Walsall v Rochdale – Ove 2.5 Goals (17/20 William Hill)
Bury v Crawley – Bury to win and Over 1.5 Goals (4/5 Ladbrokes)