NINETEEN (70%) of Mark O'Haire's 27 weekend Football League columns have made us money this season. Here's his three to follow on Saturday.
Bristol Rovers v Swindon | Saturday 15:00
If you’re jumping in on Bristol Rovers’ odds-on quotes this weekend, I doff my cap to you. The Pirates have proven remarkably unpredictable since their second successive promotion with boss Darrell Clarke constantly chopping-and-changing his side.
The Gas have made 92 changes to their starting line-up in League One football this term – 17 more than any other third-tier rival. So trying to second-guess Rovers’ starting XI is a thankless task.
But what’s remained constant throughout the first six months of the season is Rovers’ knack of goal-heavy games. Only matches involving Bury (3.50 goals per-game) eclipse Clarke’s charges (3.46 goals per-game) for entertainment.
However, rather than invest in the standard Both Teams To Score or Over 2.5 Goals angles, I’m keen to get stuck into the Team Goals angle where the Gas can be supported at 3/4 (William Hill) to notch Over 1.5 Goals.
It’s a selection that’s proven profitable in 9/14 (64%) of their Memorial Stadium matches with the hosts grabbing an average of 2.07 goals per-game when playing league football in front of their adoring supporters – no League One outfit can match Rovers’ goal tally on home soil.
Clarke will be pleased to return to Bristol following back-to-back defeats on the road, the latter a 3-1 reverse against Walsall. Rovers played well for large swatches of that encounter, testing Walsall goalkeeper Neil Etheridge on several occasions but were left pointless after more defensive errors.
Skipper and highly-rated Tom Lockyer has underperformed whilst injuries to Jake Clarke-Salter and Peter Hartley has forced the Gas boss into the transfer market. Jonathan Burn, Joe Partington and Ryan Sweeney have all arrived in an attempt to bolster the Pirates’ backline options.
We were given another glimpse of Clarke’s forward-thinking mind-set at Walsall last weekend which should encourage punters following me in on a pro-Rovers goals bet; trailing by a goal in the second-half after 55 minutes, Clarke introduced Byron Moore and essentially set up in a 2-5-3 formation!
That gung-ho approach has paid dividends many times at the Memorial Stadium – Northampton were smashed 5-0 in their last home outing – and a another clinical attacking performance shouldn’t be ruled out with Matty Taylor and Billy Bodin leading the line with such aplomb.
Swindon surprised all Football League observers when turning Bolton over at the Macron recently but the Robins don’t often impress when outside of Wiltshire. They make the short hop down the M4 without striker Jonathan Obika, right-back Bradley Barry whilst Anton Rodgers is rated doubtful.
The arrivals of Ben Gladwin and Charlie Colkett has added a bit of flair to Luke Williams’ troops going forward but they were out-shot 15-9 at the County Ground against Peterborough last time out and failed to land an effort on-target in that defeat.
Swindon have managed only two clean sheets on the road and shipped at least two goals in eight of their 14 away days as they average exactly 2.00 goals per-game against. This selection would have won in six of their nine visits to top-half clubs so I’m happy to get on-board again on Saturday.
And I've written all that without even laying siege to egotistical cretin Tim Sherwood! Lucky I added this line, eh?
Oldham v Bradford | Saturday 15:00
It was known as the ‘Shezzalution’ on the inside. It was pretty bloody impressive from the outside.
I’m talking Oldham Athletic’s survival 2015/16. John Sheridan returned to Boundary Park midway through last season and inspired the Latics to survival with two games to spare.
The former Irish international built a unit that was functional, hard to breakdown, far from flashy but mightily effective. Athletic were beaten in only three of their final 18 games before Sheridan moved down a division in attempt to revive Notts County’s fortunes.
It didn’t work out with County and almost a year to the day since his first rescue mission, the foul-mouthed Lancastrian was reappointed as Oldham’s manager.
The Latics have been the worst EFL team to follow in 2016/17, failing to even score in 17 (63%) league fixtures and managing a pathetic tally of 15 goals from 27 encounters – their lowest total at this stage in Football League history. It’s no surprise then to see them struggling with only five victories to their name.
However, two of those five triumphs have arrived since Sheridan return, the latter of which was played in front of a bumper crowd on Tuesday night as Athletic opted not to charge an entrance fee for the rearranged clash with Peterborough.
In Sheridan’s previous rescue mission, Under 1.5 Goals copped in each of his first five outings; his three games in charge in 2017 have brought about a grand total of four goals. So backing another low-scoring skirmish holds plenty of appeal when Bradford pitch up at Boundary Park on Saturday.
The Bantams’ failures in the final third and their penchant for draws are holding them back from a serious automatic promotion push. The West Yorkshire side have shared the spoils in 13/28 (46%) of their league outings with 12 of those fixtures finishing in either the 0-0 (15%) or 1-1 (27%)
No third-tier team has lost fewer games (4) than Stuart McCall’s charges but conversely, no League Two club has a worse win-rate (39%) in the top-10. City have claimed only three league triumphs in games as guests since mid-August whilst only five teams have have scored fewer goals aon the road.
The visitors sold stalwart striker James Hanson and also saw loan forward Marc McNulty recalled this month. Alex Jones – scorer of 10 goals on-loan for Port Vale – has arrived along with winger Alex Gilliead but question marks have to be asked about Bradford’s ability to open up stubborn defences.
City have claimed only two wins in their last eight league outings and on only three occasions scored more than a solitary goal when outside of Valley Parade under McCall.
Again, such trends lead us towards opposing goals. Under 2.25 Goals can be snapped up at 7/10 (188BET). It’s a selection that will earn us money should two or fewer goals be scored on Saturday with a half-stakes win ensured if exactly two goals are notched and a full-stakes reward if one or zero goals are scored.
Just to reinforce this bet – Oldham’s home matches are averaging a goal every 78 minutes with each of their last 10 in the north-west ticking off for Under 2.5 Goals backers, as well as 23/27 (85%) overall. The hosts have also shutout five of their past seven visitors.
Only Fleetwood (11) have kept more clean sheets than Bradford (10) and the Bantams have delivered in the Under 2.5 Goals market in nine of their last 10 as well as in each of their past 10 at bottom-six sides. Nine of their 13 away days have featured fewer than three goals with 12/20 (60%) on their travels producing no more than a solitary strike.
Portsmouth v Exeter | Saturday 15:00
Portsmouth are head and shoulders above League Two rivals when viewing the performance data across a range of metrics but Paul Cook’s team have struggled to turn their obvious dominance into serious success.
The Blues boss is determined to bolster his attacking options with Pompey currently sitting outside League Two’s automatic promotion places and believes further firepower could be the missing link.
Cook’s remained true to his traditions and has been a little unwilling to alter his standard 4-2-3-1 framework but the form of young forward Conor Chaplin has been a welcome bright light. However, Chaplin’s not a natural hold-up front man and that limitation may count against him.
Despite their obvious concerns in the final third, Portsmouth remain on course for promotion. But Saturday’s hosts just look a little too short to trust this weekend and there’s value in opposing a comfortable home success against Exeter.
The Hampshire club were far from fluent when dispatching lowly Leyton Orient last time out and although their Fratton Park record is the sixth best in League Two, they don’t put visiting teams to the sword often enough for my liking.
Since arriving at League Two level, Pompey have only won 19/81 (23%) home league games by a margin of two goals or more. And their inconsistency this term also has to be called in for questioning.
Cook’s charges have only once bagged back-to-back triumphs since September whilst Hartlepool and Stevenage have both avoided defeat when heading to the south coast in the past two months.
No fourth-tier team has kept more clean sheets this season than Portsmouth (11) but visitors Exeter have also managed double figures in the shutout ranks (10) and are League Two’s most impressive team since overcoming a crippling injury crisis earlier in the season.
The Grecians are looking to win five successive league games for the first time since April 2011, have claimed W7-D2-L0 in their last nine outings by an aggregate 20-2 and boast the league’s best away record.
Paul Tisdale’s troops have amassed a whopping +13 goal difference on their travels whilst collecting W9-D1-L4 in games as guests. Only Doncaster (2.37) have collected more points per-game since mid-October and Exeter have leaped from a relegation battle to within a point of the play-off positions.
The firepower of Reuben Reid, Ollie Watkins and David Wheeler make City a major menace for any side at this level and the way in which the Grecians slice through in-form Colchester during last weekend’s 3-0 triumph just can’t be ignored.
Exeter go into the game with no fresh injury worries, meaning just Lee Holmes and Tom McCready will be missing and I fancy the visitors to keep this contest competitive. Exeter +1 on the Asian Handicap is available at 4/6 (BetVictor) and sees our stake returned should Pompey win by exactly one goal.
An away win or draw will see us profit with only a home victory by at least two goals leaving us out of pocket. Since arriving back in League Two, Exeter have suffered only 21/106 (20%) losses by more than a solitary strike on the road with a huge 67 (63%) of those encounters paying-out on this selection.
Bristol Rovers v Swindon – Bristol Rovers to score Over 1.5 Goals (3/4 William Hill)
Oldham v Bradford – Under 2.25 Goals (7/10 188BET)
Portsmouth v Exeter – Exeter +1 Asian Handicap (4/6 BetVictor)