FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the weekend's EFL action.
Fulham v Hull | Saturday 2nd November 2019, 15:00
Make no bones about it, this weekend’s Football League card makes for devilishly difficult reading if you’re hunting standout value. I’ll begin the quest in the Championship as Fulham welcome Hull to Craven Cottage for one of only eight 3pm kick-offs this Saturday.
The Cottagers were the better team at Middlesbrough last weekend despite seeing goalkeeper Marek Rodak dismissed after just 17 minutes. Josh Onomah was sacrificed as Marcus Bettinelli took over the gloves, but there was little for the replacement keeper to do as the Teessiders failed to land an effort on-target until second-half stoppage-time.
Scott Parker was pleased with his team’s performance, saying, “I feel like, even with 10 men, we had the better of it, with the better opportunities. I think we nullified them and we looked a threat. We top a lot of stats in this league but what numbers can't measure is what the team showed today – a mentality, a desire, a real passion to try and win even in the adversity of going down to 10 men.”
The Whites aren’t renowned for keeping clean sheets, focusing more on their ability in the final-third but Parker was forced to sacrifice his side’s attacking instincts in that goalless stalemate at the Riverside. Regardless, Fulham could easily have picked up maximum points had Aleksandar Mitrovic not misdirected a header from close range after the break.
The Championship's top scorer is rarely so generous in front of goal and the Serbian looks overpriced to get back on the scoresheet on Saturday. Mitrovic has notched 23 goals in 31 Championship appearances since January 2018, including 11 from 14 fixtures this term, a streak that includes seven goals from seven outings at Craven Cottage in 2019/20.
The 25-year-old hasn’t been short of opportunities with an Expected Goals (xG) tally of 10.09, almost two clear of the next best in the division. Mitrovic is averaging four shots per-game, is on penalty duty, and is benefitting from a vibrant, dynamic and inventive Cottagers team that’s generating the second-highest xG from open play figure.
Hull have recorded only four shutouts in 29 away days since the start of last term with the Tigers giving up 1.79 goals per-game on average during those 29 tussles. Grant McCann’s men always pose an offensive threat of their own but question marks remain over their ability to defuse the Championship’s most prolific forwardlines.
I’ll back Mitrovic to score and Fulham to avoid defeat at 21/20 (Betfair). The hosts have been beaten just three times since relegation, whilst Hull have W3-D2-L10 in their last 15 fixtures when facing top-six opposition.
Plymouth v Grimsby | Saturday 2nd November 2019, 15:00
Plymouth were humiliated by arch rivals Exeter last weekend, going down 4-0 in the Devon derby. The Pilgrims were second best all over the pitch, from the first whistle to the last, as their five-game unbeaten run in League Two came to a shuddering end amidst a chorus of boos from their travelling supporters at St James’ Park.
Ryan Lowe apologised to the Argyle fans for his team’s display and insisted the heavy loss would not define Plymouth’s season, no matter how much it hurt in the immediate aftermath. The Greens boss will now demand a reaction from his team as they return to Home Park for Saturday’s showdown against Grimsby.
Tipped for an immediate return to League One following an eye-catching summer of recruitment, Argyle’s inconsistency has hindered their early promotion prospects. Still, the Greens remain in touch with the top-seven and I’m happy to invest faith in the hosts attacking artillery coming to fruition when Grimsby arrive.
Plymouth have struck at least twice in six of their last seven Home Park outings and a repeat can be snapped up at 10/11 (Marathon). Just three teams have attempted more shots this season, only Crewe have landed more on-target efforts, whilst the Pilgrims are ranked fourth in League Two for Expected Goals (xG) from open play production.
Grimsby are rarely overawed – losing by two goals or more just twice this term – but the Mariners have nosedived since the start of October (W0-D1-L3) to sit just a place outside the bottom-six. Michael Jolley’s men have silenced only three opponents in 2019/20 and shipped an average 1.44 goals per-game on their travels during his tutorship.
Town have relied upon set-piece situations in the final-third – netting 11 goals from dead-ball situations already – and that’s an area Grimsby will look to exploit. However, the guests face an arduous cross-country journey and ultimately I expect the hosts extra offensive flair to make the difference; taking Plymouth at almost evens to score twice or more appeals.
Swindon v Walsall | Saturday 2nd November 2019, 15:00
Cash has come for Swindon this weekend and it’s easy to see why. The Robins – second favourites in the outright market of League Two – occupy a top-two berth in both the Expected Goals (xG) and xG from open play ratio rankings and head into this encounter with Walsall following convincing wins ‘to nil’ over both Stevenage and Crawley.
Ritchie Wellens’ outfit were immaculate in their 4-0 destruction of Crawley seven days ago as in-form striker Eoin Doyle grabbed a hat-trick. It means the Wiltshire raiders have now taken top honours in all eight league meetings with bottom-half dwellers this term by an impressive aggregate of 20-4, making concerning reading for the out-of-sorts Saddlers.
Walsall boss Darrell Clarke said he’s glad to see the back of a ‘disastrous October' that has seen the Black Country boys slump to five consecutive defeats. The former Bristol Rovers supremo admitted, there's no ‘magic wand' to turning around the club's form, but that he needs to keep working hard with the group in a bid to consolidate a downward spiral.
Many Walsall fans have been left disappointed with the start to life in League Two as the Saddlers sit just three points off the bottom-two in the division. The visitors have taken two points from a possible 24 (W0-D2-L6) against top-10 teams and have recently leaked at least two goals in their last six league matches (W1-D0-L5).
Lloyd Isgrove might be absent for Swindon but the hosts sit towards the top end for a variety of attacking performance data metrics, whilst also facing the fewest attempts in 2019/20. It’s a happy balance that should ensure the Robins justify the market move towards a home win with 5/6 (Marathon) still attractive and available.