FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns to share his favourite fancies from Saturday's coupon.
Bristol City v Nottingham Forest | Saturday 16th December 2017, 15:00
I’m not afraid to admit that I backed Bristol City to be relegated this season. Now before you all form an orderly queue to point and laugh, it’s worth reiterating that a bet isn’t necessarily a prediction.
When placing a bet, we’re doing so believing we’ve found an ounce of value in the price available that suggests our selection has more chance of happening than the odds imply. That is and should always be absolutely engrained in every bet you ever place and was central to my pre-season punt on the Robins demise.
Skip forward six months and Lee Johnson’s proving me very wrong. I’m not a huge fan of the man but I’m not stubborn enough to ignore his achievement at Ashton Gate this season; last weekend’s last-gasp success at Sheffield United will have galvanised his group further with levels of self-belief no doubt sky-rocketing.
Post-match Aden Flint said the victory was a “massive statement” of intent from Bristol City as they cemented their place in third and he wasn’t wrong. Sure, they rode their luck at Bramall Lane – Frank Fielding pulled off one incredible and the Blades hit the woodwork four times – but the character and attitude in the City squad is unquestionable.
The team has been aided by a slice of stability, some shrewd summer, an evident team spirit built since March last year, young players developing nicely over time, and new recruits to the league finding their feet. There’s also an outstanding spine to the side.
Flint, Fielding, Jamie Paterson, Bobby Reid, Nathan Baker and Korey Smith form a magnificent core; each comfortable on the ball and boasting a degree of pace, physicality and tenacity that allows Johnson to play his preferred front-foot style. This season, City have suffered just three Championship defeats – it’s working.
Nottingham Forest arrive at Ashton Gate searching for back-to-back wins for only the third time this season. Nevertheless, the Tricky Trees are back in the top-half having snatched a late success at Bolton last weekend thanks to Ben Brereton’s late strike.
Remarkably, Mark Warburton’s men still haven’t shared the spoils this season and you have to go back to April for their last drawn game – a 28-game run in the second-tier (W13-D0-L15). It tends to be feast or famine when Forest are concerned but more often than not they fall short on their travels.
The Reds have W3-D0-L7 on the road this term and managed a paltry W5-D5-L23 – that’s a 70% loss rate – when playing away since the start of last season. View Forest’s record at top-half teams in that sample and it’s even worse – W0-D1-L14.
So my preference is to keep Bristol City onside but also enter the goals markets as both clubs have a penchant for free-flowing, attacking football. Only Hull’s matches are averaging a higher total Expected Goals from open play figure than both the Robins and Forest this season whilst Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score selections have both paid-out in 65% of their collective home/away games.
With that in mind, I’ll back Bristol City double chance and Over 2.5 Goals at 23/20 with 188BET. City have scored at least twice in all bar two of their 10 tussles on home soil this season with the visitors shipping two goals or more in eight of their 10 games as guests already this campaign.
Scunthorpe v MK Dons | Saturday 16th December 2017, 15:00
Time to hold my hands up, again. I expected a promotion push from MK Dons in League One this season – the noises coming out of Buckinghamshire in the summer suggested Milton Keynes were ready to rumble and I failed to see any obvious weaknesses in the group.
So what’s transpired at Stadium:MK this season has been very disappointing. MK find themselves down in 17th and manager Robbie Neilson’s under increasing pressure to turn around a run of just one win in 10 (W1-D5-L4).
Performances haven’t always been as bad as the results have suggested. Last weekend the Dons edged a tight match with Shrewsbury only to waste counter-attacking situations before suffering a wondrous late leveller from Salop.
A lack of a killer instinct has proven MK’s real downfall. In 29 games this term, the Dons have scored just 35 goals and since they were relegated from the Championship the side have only twice scored more than two goals in a game.
Injuries have played their part. Osman Sow has been dogged by issues and only managed 55 minutes last week but he’ll be available and should feature here, taking a bit of pressure off Chuks Aneke in Neilson’s preferred solid 4-2-3-1.
However, attacking fluidity between the two may take considering last weekend was their first starts together and Saturday’s trip to Glanford Park won’t be easy meat for an MK Dons side that’s W3-D1-L6 on the road this season with all three victories arriving against the current bottom-five.
Scunthorpe won five games on the spin in November and took their unbeaten run to 10 before losing to nearby Doncaster in the FA Cup, sparking something of a mini-collapse. Graham Alexander's side have since been knocked out of the Football League Trophy before a dreadful 1-0 reverse at Walsall last weekend.
Alexander admitted the emphasis in training this week was going back to the basics, and re-finding their identity of how they play winning football. And that re-focus, as well as their return home, should serve as a warning for the visitors.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that the Iron have still taken maximum points in six of their previous seven League One outings, whilst only two sides have departed their Lincolnshire base with three points – league leaders Wigan and Blackburn.
Scunny remain only three points behind second-placed Shrewsbury and have Josh Morris returning to form. Last season’s top goalscorer has notched four goals in his last five league matches, having found the net just three times in his first 14 games this term.
What’s more, Scunthorpe tend to be supreme operators when welcoming the division’s lesser lights. The hosts have claimed top honours in 16 of their past 22 when welcoming bottom-half clubs and the Iron can also boast doing the double over MK Dons last season.
Performance data also points heavily in Scunny’s favour. Alexander’s outfit feature in the top-seven for Expected Goals, Expected Goals from up open play, as well as shots attempted from inside the penalty area. In contrast, MK Dons rank in the bottom-five for all of my available data metrics.
A home win can be backed at 47/50 (Marathon) but I’m going to milk a slightly bigger price and take Scunthorpe to succeed alongside Under 3.5 Goals at 31/20 (Coral). Collectively, the pair have seen fewer than three goals in 15 of their past 20 respective home/away League One outings.
Mansfield v Yeovil | Saturday 16th December 2017, 15:00
Mansfield manager Steve Evans has promised changes after his promotion-chasers were tamely beaten 2-0 at Crawley last weekend. The result ended a 12-game unbeaten run for the Stags and the fiery Scot has challenged the XI he sends out on Saturday to start a similar run.
Speaking to the local press, Evans said “We now have 21/22 lads competing for a place on Saturday and no one is save from execution”. Striker Kane Hemmings will face a late fitness test on a slight calf strain but we can be sure that Town’s talent-stacked squad will be strong enough to pick up maximum points here.
It has been a frustrating week for Mansfield as, after the disappointing display at Crawley, snow kept the players training indoors on Tuesday. But I’m happy to invest faith in the Stags bouncing back to form on Saturday.
Yeovil arrive on the back of four defeats in five in League Two. Fans were calling for Darren Way’s head during last Saturday’s 2-0 loss at home to Lincoln although the Somerset side did beat nine-men Port Vale 3-2 in extra-time in their midweek FA Cup replay.
The Greens have fired in 20 fewer shots than any other League Two side this season and have shipped 16 goals in their last 10 outings, leaking the opener in seven of those fixtures. Such stats make for ugly reading.
On their travels, Yeovil have been beaten in eight of their last 10 and 12 of their most recent 14 going back further. Their only point collected in their last five road trips came at rock-bottom Barnet. However, Way’s men have managed to find the back of the net in seven of their last 10 away days and with 12 of their previous 17 games as guests featuring Over 2.5 Goals, plus Mansfield recording a sole shutout in six on home soil, goals could be on the agenda here.
With that in mind, I’ll back Mansfield to win and add in Over 1.5 Goals at 17/20 with Betfred.