FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Aston Villa v Blackburn | Saturday 30th March 2019, 15:00
Aston Villa’s revived promotion hopes have revolved around the return to full fitness of playmaker Jack Grealish. The Claret & Blue have bagged four successive victories by an aggregate 11-1 against Derby, Birmingham, Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough since the 23-year-old was back in the fold, taking over the fourth and final play-off place.
Over the course of the campaign, Villa have managed W12-D8-L5 when Grealish has been involved – a 48% win rate. That’s compared to their paltry W2-D7-L4 efforts in Championship contests without their talisman in the team. If we only look at the 26 Championship matches under Dean Smith, Aston Villa have won 69% when Grealish has featured (W9-D2-L2) compared to just 15% when he hasn’t (W2-D7-L4).
Grealish's influence is clear and obvious, and should be the defining difference when Blackburn arrive in the Second City. Rovers have won just once in their most recent 13 away days since October’s international break (W1-D3-L9). In eight of those 13 fixtures, Tony Mowbray’s men have shipped at least three goals and no second-tier side has conceded more than Blackburn in 2018/19.
The visitors are averaging 2.21 goals against on the road as they’ve leaked twice or more on 13 occasions, although Mowbray is set to have four defenders available for selection again with Darragh Lenihan, Charlie Mulgrew, Jack Rodwell and Amari’i Bell fit enough to feature. Even so, performance data places Rovers amongst the bottom-eight – reflecting their league position – and the guests are travelling to the home of the division’s most effective home outfit according to the advanced numbers.
No Championship club can better Aston Villa’s 62% Expected Goals (xG) ratio as hosts, whilst only West Brom (1.83) generate a better xG figure on home soil than the Villans’ 1.81. Dean Smith’s side have scored the most home Championship goals this season – averaging 2.32 per-game – and should be well capable of swiping Rovers aside here.
We can bolster the odds available on a home success by adding in Over 1.5 Goals. All bar one game at Villa Park this term has featured fewer than two goals with matches averaging 4.00 goals per-game. Meanwhile, Blackburn’s away days have averaged 3.58 with just three falling below the 1.5 line.
Charlton v Bradford | Saturday 30th March 2019, 15:00
Last week Lee Bowyer celebrated a year in charge in football management at Charlton. the fishing fanatic has worked minor miracles at The Valley, guiding the Addicks into the play-offs last season and cementing the capital club inside the top-six this term, all on a shoestring budget and countless constraints from a chaotic board.
Bowyer is set to be offered an overdue new contract in the coming weeks having returned a fabulous 52% League One win rate in his stint with Athletic (W25-D11-L12). That record enhances to a 65% win rate in front of their home supporters (W15-D5-L3) and is the foundation for their positive performance in the third-tier standings.
So it’s no surprise to see cash coming for Charlton to beat rock-bottom Bradford. The hosts are unbeaten at The Valley since October and come into this contest with a sole defeat in 13 (W6-D6-L1) outings, conceding a total of just eight goals in those recent contests. Meanwhile, the Londoners have W9-D3-L0 when welcoming clubs in 10th and below.
Looking at the Addicks’ efforts against bottom-half teams this term, Athletic have pocketed W12-D4-L2 in home and away games against the division’s lesser lights, making the 7/10 (Betway) on a home triumph a very palatable and appealing play. However, I’m again going to boost the odds available by chucking in Over 1.5 Goals for a 21/20 (Ladbrokes) shot.
Only one of Charlton’s 19 League One victories this season have arrived via a 1-0 correct score and the Athletic come into this encounter well-rested. Last weekend’s match was postponed due to international call-ups and Bowyer gave his players four days off to rest and recuperate after feeling his team looked jaded against Burton and Bristol Rovers.
Arsenal-loanee Krystien Bielik returned from international duty injured but other than that, fitness concerns are easing for the Addicks. Captain Jason Pearce is available again and there was good news for Jonny Williams who’s close to making a comeback for the first-team. So there’s plenty to be positive about in the home dressing room this weekend.
Visitors Bradford remain six points off safety with only seven games to save themselves. A disjointed off-season was seen as the root for a lot of the current problems and the Bantams are already preparing for potential life in League Two by looking to give current boss Gary Bowyer full reign with a new two-year deal to plot a revival.
Bowyer is demanding that City show some pride to resuscitate their faltering relegation battle. Bradford were booed off following the 4-1 home loss to Blackpool last time out as they failed to gain any ground on others in the scramble to stay up. Defeat was their fifth in six and plunges their six-year stay in the third-tier into a precarious position.
The basement boys have lost all 10 ties against the current top-six by an aggregate 3-23 and have W1-D4-L12 on the road when excluding Rochdale and Wimbledon immediately above them in the league ladder. The Bantams are giving up 0.99 Expected Goals (xG) from open play, conceding 9.54 shots from inside the box and leaking 2.00 goals per-game on the road.
Tranmere v Carlisle | Saturday 30th March 2019, 15:00
Bar a three-game losing streak at the back end of January, Tranmere have been in pheromonal League Two form since Boxing Day. Rovers have raced into automatic promotion contention – sitting just five points adrift of the top-three with a game in-hand – thanks to a run of W9-D3-L3, including a current six-match winning streak.
The last time the Wirral-based club enjoyed a longer run of consecutive victories was back in 1990 and Micky Mellon has urged his in-form outfit to keep their eyes on the prize of back-to-back promotions. Tranmere’s scintillating run of results have been based around their Prenton Park efforts (W12-D4-L3) as only Bury boast a better points per-game average.
Rovers have leaked only 10 goals on home soil this season and that fine foundation has also aided prospects. The hosts arrive with six clean sheets in their last eight outings with the likes of Emmanuel Monthe and Mark Ellis at centre-half and goalkeeper Scott Davies producing particular eye-catching performances over the course of the campaign.
Last weekend Tranmere were accomplished in their 2-0 victory at fellow play-off hopefuls Colchester. Self styled “poor man's Dirk Kuyt”, James Norwood, took his seasonal tally to26 goals – eight clear of divisional rivals. The Rovers hit-man has notched in each of his last four games, as well as bagging seven goals in his most recent nine appearances.
So it’s clear that Mellon’s men are functioning in both boxes. Performance data rankings are beginning to reflect Tranmere’s peaky position with the Birkenhead boys sitting pretty in fifth for Expected Goals (xG) ratio, and xG from open play ratio and the case therefore continues to build evidence to suggest the hosts are generous 6/5 (Marathon) shots here.
Carlisle head south on a run of only one win in nine (W1-D4-L4), a sequence that’s seen the Cumbrians drop out of the play-off places. The Blues have tabled W0-D2-L2 on their travels of late and been beaten in six of 11 away days at teams in 14th or above, whilst last weekend’s topsy-turvy 2-2 draw against Cambridge highlighted their defensive flaws.
Steven Pressley has been operating without an orthodox centre-forward and asked his United troops to play a higher line in defence. However, without the pace or mobility in the current group, opposition outfits are enjoying plenty of freedom and space when attacking Carlisle, and that’s an obvious cause for concern against a solid side such as Tranmere.
Cambridge (1.53), Notts County (1.81), Newport (2.23) and Crewe (2.71) have all carved out plenty of xG opportunities against the Cumbrians during that aforementioned nine-match run and I don’t anticipate Rovers offering up too many chances in return.