FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Barnsley v Rochdale | Saturday 26th January 2019, 15:00
The League One title race is all set-up for a fascinating conclusion with five points separating the top five teams in the division. Barnsley currently occupy fifth and after an early flourish, look to hitting their stride as we head to February.
Since losing successive games at the start of December, Daniel Stendel’s side have collected 17 points from a possible 21 (W5-D2-L0). That sample includes eight points from fixtures against top-six rivals Portsmouth, Luton, Charlton and Peterborough, all earned in impressive fashion.
Barnsley boast a fierce 73% Expected Goals ratio from their last eight outings, whilst across the campaign as a whole the Tykes have claimed a 69% xG ratio from open play. Both figures are understandably divisional bests, and so with an W8-D5-L0 return at Oakwell – including a +14 goal difference – it’s easy to see why the hosts are such firm favourites here.
However, we can back the South Yorkshire club at 7/10 (Ladbrokes) by adding Over 1.5 Goals to the equation of a home success. Only three of Barnsley’s 12 League One triumphs this term have ended 1-0 and the home side should enjoy plenty of opportunity to carve out a cushy victory against a Rochdale side that struggles to stay compact.
The visitors have W1-D1-L7 when taking on the top-seven, conceding at least three goals in six of those nine encounters. Dale are conceding over two goals per-game on average and have leaked at least twice in nine of their 14 road trips already this term, giving up an average of 1.58 xG in those contests.
Since Boxing Day, Keith Hill’s charges have picked up a solitary point from five (W0-D1-L4) by an aggregate of 2-16 and their xG ratio over their previous eight outings is a paltry 37% which is only marginally better than fellow relegation battlers Wimbledon.
Wycombe v Plymouth | Saturday 26th January 2019, 15:00
Wycombe endured a four-match losing streak over the festive period but a 10-day break at the start of January appears to refreshed bodies and minds with the Chairboys bouncing back with consecutive victories against Doncaster (3-2) and Bristol Rovers (1-0).
Wanderers are perched nearly inside the top-half but Gareth Ainsworth is well aware that their eight-point advantage above the relegation zone isn’t nearly enough to down tools just yet. The Buckinghamshire boys are still targeting 55 points as their season goal to secure survival in the third-tier for the first time in their history.
The Blues have performed with aplomb at Adams Park since promotion (W7-D3-L4), scoring in 11 of their 14 fixtures and notching at least twice on six occasions. Over their last 26 League One matches, Wycombe have only fired blanks four times with their uncompromising style leading to plenty of watchable affairs.
I’m expecting goals to flow when the Chairboys welcome Plymouth on Saturday with Argyle enjoying their best run of results this term. The Devon giants have bagged W4-D1-L0 since Boxing Day to motor out of the bottom-four for the first time this season as Derek Adams’ outfit have racked up 10 goals from their last four outings.
Despite their plight, the Greens have actually found the back of the net in 16 of their 21 league tussles since mid-September, failing to score only twice on their travels in that sample. Plymouth have been firing in an average of 8.50 shots from inside the penalty area – Luton have only averaged 8.82 – and so the guests should provide plenty of threat.
However, Argyle have toiled defensively. Adams’ men have kept their sheets clean just three times in league action, giving up 1.82 xG per-game on average – the worst return in the division. The Greens are facing more attempts from inside their own penalty area than anyone else in the third-tier and leaked at least twice in eight of their 14 away days.
As already mentioned, I’m forecasting goals for this showdown and Both Teams To Score appeals at 7/10 (Bet365) quotes. It’s already proven profitable in 19/29 (66%) of Plymouth’s matches in 2018/19, including 9/14 (64%) road trips, whilst 18/28 (64%) of Wanderers’ outings have followed suit with 8/14 (57%) of Adams Park encounters seeing both sides oblige.
Swindon v Crawley | Saturday 26th January 2019, 15:00
Richie Wellens’ appointment at Swindon seems to have galvanised the club with the Robins returning W5-D4-L3 under his tutelage to move within six points of the play-off positions. The Wiltshire club have impressed supporters under the new regime with an attack-minded, possession-based system that’s proven very easy on the eye.
The Reds have held League Two high-flyers Lincoln and Mansfield in the past month and have produced a series of dominant displays to lead the fourth-tier rankings in xG ratio across their last eight outings (65%). Swindon have picked up seven points from their last three fixtures, including an eye-catching victory at Tranmere last time out.
The Robins appear to have been priced up based on their season-long efforts, rather than their performances since Wellens arrived at the County Ground and that means there’s plenty of juice in the 10/11 (Bet365) offered for a home success on Saturday.
Crawley fell to their 10th defeat in 14 last weekend at home to Port Vale with head coach Gabrielle Cioffi suggesting his team were jaded after playing three games in a week. Nevertheless, the pressure is increasing on the Italian who has overseen a dreadful W2-D1-L11 run on the road that’s seen the Red Devils score just eight goals.
The visitors are conceding 1.56 xG per-game on their travels – a divisional-high – have W5-D3-L13 when excluding the bottom-four and are yet to score more than in games as guests across the whole campaign. Crawley are therefore easily opposed this weekend.