FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Bolton v Leeds | Saturday 15th December 2018, 15:00
Leeds have won each of their past five matches against Bolton, losing once in 14 trips to the Trotters (W9-D4-L1) and the Whites can enhance that record by picking up maximum points when the two teams lock horns on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a defensive injury crises that has robbed Marcelo Bielsa’s men of Liam Cooper, Luke Ayling, Stuart Dallas and Gaetano Berardi, the visitors have rattled out four successive Championship victories since the November international break to cement their position in the automatic promotion berths.
Bielsa’s boys have conceded just 35 shots across those four fixtures – only nine of which found the target with an Expected Goals average of 0.92 – and with Leeds bossing the ball (enjoying a divisional-high 59% possession), opportunities for opposition outfits are limited.
That’s concerning for a Bolton side that’s picked up only three points from a possible 33 (W0-D3-L8) since September, tabling W1-D5-L11 across their past 17 matches. Wanderers have fired blanks in 10 of those 17 games, conceding at least twice on eight occasions.
Boss Phil Parkinson is being linked with the vacant Reading job and may be looking for an out. The Trotters are in off-field strife with players and staff being paid their November wages two weeks late, leaving morale at the basement battlers at rock-bottom.
The hosts have scored just four times in 13-and-a-half hours of action in front of their home supporters, losing ‘to nil’ half of their 10 tussles here. Only Ipswich (0.40) are registering a lower xG average from open play than Bolton (0.41), with the Trotters also posting just 5.67 attempts from inside the penalty area per-game.
Wanderers’ prospects are further diminished by the absence of suspended key forward Sammy Ameobi, whilst centre-half Mark Beevers is rated a major doubt.
My ratings make Leeds the best side in the division over the first 21 games – in terms of ratio rankings, the Whites lead the way for shots, on-target efforts, in the box strikes, xG and xG from open play, whilst second for touches in the box. Such excellent performance data makes the guests strong favourites to succeed on Saturday, especially so considering they've W8-D3-L0 against bottom-half sides under Bielsa.
Rather than promote a 7/10 poke on an away win, add in Under 4.5 Goals to the equation for a 19/20 shot with Ladbrokes. The pair have only featured five or more goals in only three of their combined 42 fixtures, with the average goals per-game involving the duo standing at a rather shy 2.31.
Doncaster v Scunthorpe | Saturday 15th December 2018, 12:15
Injury-hit Scunthorpe are aiming to end their three-match losing streak when they travel to regional rivals Doncaster on Saturday. The Iron have dropped to within one place and four points above League One’s relegation zone and it’s difficult to find the faith in the visitors avoiding defeat at the Keepmoat Stadium.
Last weekend’s 2-0 loss at home to fellow strugglers Gillingham means Scunny have now collected only four points from an available 30 since October (W1-D1-L8). Stuart McCall’s men have shipped two goals or more in eight of those encounters, giving up 1.98 Expected Goals on average.
The Iron currently boast a 40% shots in the box ratio (ranked 23rd in the division), 39% xG ratio (22nd), and 36% xG from open play ratio (24th) whilst facing the third-most shots in the league and the second-most efforts from inside the area. It’s a set of deeply concerning data that even suggests the Lincolnshire outfit have overperformed this term.
Scunthorpe’s aforementioned injury issues show no sign of easing with a number of players still sidelined. Funso Ojo and Jordan Clarke are still a few weeks from returning while Ryan Colclough is out for the season. Levi Sutton is still working his way back to fitness, Matt Gilks and Rory Watson are long term absentees, although Matty Lund has declared himself fit.
Doncaster have no such concerns and are expected to name the same XI that trounced Bristol Rovers 4-0 last weekend. Victory was the Reds’ third in four unbeaten League One outings and Rovers’ sixth success in eight unbeaten contests with teams in 15th and below.
Include the FA Cup and the hosts have picked up five wins from six (W4-D2-L0), including four clean sheets and four triumphs by a margin of two goals or more. Only the top four in the division have scored more goals than Grant McCann’s charges and in John Marquis, Mallik Wilks and Herbie Kane, the home side have a fearsome forwardline.
Donny landed nine on-target strikes last weekend and register 0.92 xG from open play per-game (third highest), whilst only Barnsley are taking more shots from inside the penalty area. The home side have scored at least twice on 11 occasions in League One and I’d back them to comfortably overcome Scunthorpe in the early kick-off.
We can support Doncaster and Over 1.5 Goals at 19/20 with Ladbrokes. All 10 of Rovers’ league victories have arrived in games featuring two or more goals, whereas only one of Scunny’s 10 losses have arrived by the 1-0 correct score. Collectively, these two teams have seen Over 1.5 Goals land in 15/20 (75%) of their combined home/away matches.
Oldham v Bury | Saturday 15th December 2018, 15:00
No team averages more shots per-game than Bury in League Two and the Shakers are really starting to stir after a sluggish start. Ryan Lowe’s group took four points from their first five games after relegation but have since returned W9-D5-L2 to parachute themselves into serious automatic promotion contention.
Sitting a place and two points off the top-three coming into this meeting with local rivals Oldham, Bury are arguable the division’s most lethal attacking side. The Shakers have scored at least twice in 12 of their past 17 league contests, generating 1.03 xG from open play per-game and registering 10 shots from inside the penalty area per-90 minutes.
Saturday’s guests have plundered 16 goals in their most recent five matches and have standout stars at this level in Nicky Maynard, Nicky Adams, Jay O’Shea, Neil Danns and Danny Mayor. With Dom Telford, Byron Moore and Chris Dagnall all vying their starting spots, Lowe has an embarrassment of game-changing riches at his disposal.
Bury prefer to play front-foot, attacking football and with their obvious ability in the final-third, are often involved in high-scoring, exciting and entertaining shootouts. Matches are averaging 2.90 goals per-game with 9/21 (43%) games featuring four goals or more, as they’ve as yet been unable to find consistency in their defensive displays, particularly away.
The Shakers have shipped goals in nine of their 10 road trips, despite conceding the fewest attempts on their travels in the division. That should encourage an Oldham outfit that continue to hover around the upper reaches of mid-table.
The Latics have scored in seven of their past eight (W3-D3-L2) and notched in eight of their 10 home dates, including when welcoming top-three teams MK Dons, Lincoln and Colchester. Seven of those 10 duels paid out for Both Teams To Score backers and a repeat appeals at 5/6 (Ladbrokes) considering it’s also paid-out in 7/10 (70%) of Bury’s away days.
Athletic have a number of injury issues to contend with but the form of strike pair Chris O'Grady and on-loan Sam Surridge, and wide midfielder Callum Lang has been a consistent shining light for Frankie Bunn. The trio have contributed 13 (46%) of Oldham’s 28 goals since demotion to this level.
Although BTTS appeals at the odds on offer, I’m going to chuck in Bury double chance to boost the price to 11/8 with Betfair’s Same Game Multi option. The visitors have lost just five times this term, whilst Oldham are winless in 12 against teams in 15th and above (W0-D6-L6), picking up 23 (79%) of their 29-point tally after sides in 16th and below.