FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the weekend's EFL action.
Blackburn v Luton | Saturday 28th September 2019, 15:00
Tony Mowbray this week outlined 70 points as the minimum target for Blackburn as he aims to raise expectation levels at Ewood Park and keep the club moving forward.
Victory over Luton on Saturday would give Rovers their highest points total at this stage of a Championship season since relegation from the top-flight. The Lancashire outfit are bidding for a hat-trick of September wins and a fifth in seven games as they look to continue a promising run of form since opening the campaign with back-to-back defeats.
Blackburn enjoyed a well-earned 2-1 triumph at Reading last weekend and deserve our support at 5/6 (Marathon) when they return home. The hosts did some intelligent business in the summer and are on course to better last season’s 15th-placed finish with Ewood Park likely to be the bedrock to further progress.
Rovers brought in free agent midfielder Lewis Holtby last week and the German international made his debut in against the Royals. The former Spurs man is available again here with Mowbray facing a selection dilemma with a near fully-fit squad to choose from against newly-promoted Luton with Ben Brereton and Dan Butterworth the only absentees.
Blackburn have proven tough operators at Ewood – recording 11/27 (41%) clean sheets here since promotion – and with Bradley Dack refinding his form, plus Stewart Downing and Adam Armstrong providing the width for Sam Gallgher leading the line, Mowbray’s men are already looking like a well-oiled machine that won’t be easily overcome.
Luton have made enormous strides in recent times – rising from the National League to the Championship in the space of only six seasons – although the Hatters have found like tough since back-to-back promotions propelled the club into the second-tier. And new head coach Graeme Jones is struggling to plug defensive vulnerabilities in his attack-minded side.
Town have shipped 16 goals already – only one fewer than basement boys Huddersfield – and are yet to keep their sheets clean. Luton’s victories this term have come against two of the three sides currently below them in the standings, and with three losses from four on the road, may again return to Bedfordshire empty-handed on Saturday evening.
Peterborough v Wimbledon | Saturday 28th September 2019, 15:00
After a remarkable Great Escape last season, Wimbledon’s first two months of 2019/20 could hardly have gotten much worse. The Dons are winless in their opening 10 games, have chucked 16 points away from winning positions, earned as many points as beleaguered Bolton (despite playing fewer games) and this week suspended boss Wally Downes.
Downes has been charged with breaching the Football Association's betting regulations for allegedly placing eight bets between November 2013 and July 2019. Assistant manager Glyn Hodges will now take the team at Peterborough on Saturday and admitted his players are “shell shocked” by the unexpected midweek bombshell.
How the Dons squad react is anyone’s guess but it’s easy to speculate a further downturn in performance levels at London Road. In-form striker Marcus Forss – scorer in three of the last four games – is suspended and the visitors have consistently given away sloppy goals this term with their lack of quality in both boxes becoming apparent after a difficult summer.
Performance data rankings point to Wimbledon being marooned in the bottom three of League One and should the visitors fail to win here, it’ll equal their worst ever Football League winless run. I wouldn’t expect Peterborough will hand out too many favours and the hosts are liked at 17/20 (Coral) to succeed in a contest featuring Over 1.5 Goals.
Posh boss Darren Ferguson was angry at his team’s display in a 2-0 defeat at Doncaster last weekend and is expected to make changes to his XI. Sikiri Dembele, Nathan Thompson and the returning George Boyd will all be looking for recalls but it’s difficult to see Ferguson altering his fearful front three of Marcus Maddison, Mo Eisa and Ivan Toney.
The trio have racked up 19 goals for Posh in League One this season and with only Fleetwood bettering the home side’s Expected Goals (xG) from open play output, I’d fancy the hosts to punish any errors in the Wimbledon defence. Sunderland (3-0) and Rochdale (6-0) have been put to the word here in Peterborough’s last two home league games.
Ipswich v Tranmere | Saturday 28th September 2019, 15:00
Few (including I) anticipated Ipswich making such a quick adjustment to life in League One but the Blues have strolled two points clear of the pack at the top of the table following an unbeaten nine-game start (W6-D3-L0). The Tractor Boys are now looking to keep a clean sheet in six successive league games for the first time in their history when Tranmere arrive.
Paul Lambert’s team are amongst the front-runners when viewing a range of performance data metrics across the opening group of games but it’s Town’s excellent efforts in those defence areas that’s really stood out with Ipswich allowing fewer than five attempts from inside their penalty area on average per-match.
From such a solid base, the Blues have been able to build. All six opponents from outside of the top-10 have been beaten and with James Norwood transitioning to life in the third-tier with ease, the Portman Road club have made impressive progress. Norwood is expected back in the XI after a groin issue to start against his former club on Saturday.
Norwood’s departure left Tranmere light in terms of ability and personality in the summer. Part of Rovers’ key dressing room structure – plus remarkably consistent goalscorer – it was always going to be difficult for Micky Mellon’s men to replace their leading light and adapt to the rigours of League One football following back-to-back promotions.
The Wirral outfit landed a much-needed last-gasp win against Burton last weekend, although that was only Tranmere’s second league success of the season with the other arriving against Bolton’s kids. Rovers have recorded a solitary shutout and picked up just one point from four fixtures on the road (W0-D1-L3) notching a late leveller at Rotherham.
I still expect Tranmere to be a match for most and I’ve been impressed with their efforts in the final-third. However, a trip to Ipswich is as tricky as it gets for the newcomers right now and I suspect the Blues will do just enough to squeeze out another three points; therefore, an Ipswich win alongside Under 4.5 Goals appeals at 7/8 (Betway).