FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his selections from Tuesday night's EFL card.
Reading v Newcastle | Tuesday 20:00
A fortnight ago I made the case to oppose Reading at Huddersfield, claiming the league table can lie. In such a low-scoring sport, anomalies do exist and the Royals rooting themselves down in the top-six was such an example.
On the face of it, Reading are flying. Jaap Stam’s side beat Wolves at the weekend to keep a seven-point cushion over seventh-placed Fulham to make it W14-D2-L6 since mid-October. But once again, a large degree of fortune was on their side at the Madjeski Stadium.
The Royals rarely threatened before Yann Kermorgant deflected Liam Moore's shot in for the opening goal and although Wolves equalised almost immediately, yet another set-piece sealed the success for Stam’s men.
A huge 10 Reading goals have arrived from the penalty spot – scored or the rebound has been converted – with a further 15 goals added from dead-ball situations. That’s 51% of the Royals’ overall goal-tally this term – statistics that will revert to the norm sooner than later.
Reading had actually lost the shot count 6-14 against Wolves and the Berkshire boys remain marooned in mid-table for both my 16-game and 24-game expected goals supremacy table in the Championship.
Stam’s charges fire in fewer attempts at goal than only seven Championship clubs whilst only Rotherham and Barnsley face more. Reading’s 45.22% shots on-target ratio is the fourth-worst in the division with their shot ratio even worse at 45.05%, only ranking ahead of the Millers, Blackburn and Ipswich.
In fact, if we look at the campaign as a whole, here’s how Reading fare across the key performance data metrics (all supremacy figures); shots (21st), shots on-target (21st), shots in the box (22nd), expected goals (20th) and big chances (11th).
Visitors Newcastle were chalked up as the shortest ante-post favourites in Championship history this season and whilst the Magpies haven't always convinced, Rafa Benitez's boys are finding ways to pick up positive results.
It was especially in evidence in the past week as the Toon recovered from a slow start to overturn Brighton at the Amex before withstanding plenty of pressure to see off another promotion rival in Huddersfield at the weekend.
Confidence must now be sky-high in Tyneside and United travel south with easily the best away record in the division, have scored at least twice in eight of their last 10 and with Dwight Gayle back in the squad look capable of flexing their rippling muscles here to pick up maximum points.
Newcastle have W6-D1-L1 at top-half teams, lead all the key data metrics and look too big to turn down here at odds-against quotes. I’ll back Benitez’s boys at 11/10 (Bet365).
Walsall v Chesterfield | Tuesday 19:45
Chesterfield gave their remote hopes of survival a timely boost on Saturday when substitute Reece Mitchell struck in the third minute of time added on to clinch a 1-0 victory at fellow relegation battlers Swindon.
But don’t be fooled by that result. It was the Spireites first and only effort on-target in a game that saw Gary Caldwell’s men lose the shot count 20-4. Chesterfield didn’t even manage an attempt until the cusp of half-time.
Swindon missed a catalogue of golden opportunities and were left scratching their heads as the Spireites secured their first triumph in eight outings and only their fifth league success since September (W5-D5-L17).
As well as Saturday’s one-sided contest, the Derbyshire outfit were totally outplayed in a 4-0 defeat by Oxford 10 days ago and in their past four fixtures Tuesday’s visitors have lost the shot count by a cumulative 8-41.
Chesterfield have managed just six goals in their past 22-and-a-half hours of football – never scoring more than once in their last 15 games – and a section of the support has already turned on Caldwell.
Playing on the road has brought little joy to the Spireites this season (W2-D4-L12) so don’t expect back-to-back wins here.
Walsall are a nice price to take advantage of the visitors woes (9/10 BetStars) and whilst the Saddlers aren’t the fiercest of competitors, John Whitney’s team has the guile and know-how to pocket the points.
The hosts have won each of their last five at the Bescot, notching at least twice in each. Walsall have racked up 30 league goals on home soil and bagged two or more goals in nine of their 17 outings across the campaign.
Tiny Turkish playmaker Erhun Oztumer has been in fine form, scoring 14 goals, and his invention should keep a Chesterfield side – that’s shipped two goals or more in 10 of 18 away days – at bay.
Crawley v Portsmouth | Tuesday 19:45
Portsmouth slumped to their worst performance and loss of the season on Saturday, losing 1-0 at home to 9/1 shots Crewe. It could and should have been more…
Pompey fans chanted ‘What the hell was that’ after the final whistle with patience crumbling in the stands and manager Paul Cook kept his team locked in the dressing room for a vociferous inquest that lasted a good half hour.
Cook’s under immense pressure to put the faltering Hampshire club back on course for promotion and his side get an immediate opportunity to pierce the automatic promotion places in midweek.
This is Portsmouth’s game in-hand; should Cook’s charges clinch maximum points they’ll break into the top-three for the first time since early September. However, picking up a point from home games against Morecambe and Crewe means punters should approach with real caution.
Against the Alex, Pompey failed to register an effort on-target and there was a real lethargy to pre-season favourites’ play. Central midfielder Amine Linganzi is unlikely to feature through fatigue whilst Jamal Lowe, Conor Chaplin and Carl Baker are pushing for starts.
Cook is expected to shake his XI up but either way, I’m not convinced they boast the ability to cut loose this midweek and pre-match quotes of 3/4 for an away-day success are a little disrespectful towards their Sussex hosts.
For starters, Pompey just the lack the dynamism and invention going forward to open stubborn defences. Michael Doyle and Linganzi have provided a wonderfully solid base in midfield but the league’s best defence is struggling in the attacking third.
No side in the top-seven have scored fewer goals than Portsmouth whilst their W4-D4-L4 record when travelling to teams outside of the play-off places suggests they do struggle against defence defences and organised opposition that cede possession to their more illustrious guests.
Crawley come into this contest having secured an excellent 0-0 draw at home to league leaders Doncaster on Saturday so why shouldn’t the Red Devils be capable of matching Portsmouth here?
Sure, goalkeeper Glenn Morris saved a penalty in that encounter and produced one other miracle save but Town had their own opportunities in one of their best performances at the Broadfield Stadium that fans have seen this season.
Dermot Drummy’s home side have no fresh injury concerns and have now W4-D4-L3 when welcoming teams from above them in the table. Only one of those losses arrived by a margin of two goals or more and the lopsided nature of the odds allows us to find a chunk Asian Handicap angle to support.
Crawley +1 can be backed at 13/18 (BetVictor) – that’s almost 3/4, the same price Portsmouth are to win the match. However, our selection will see our stake returned should the visitors win by exactly a one-goal margin with a draw or home victory seeing us paid out.
Under Cook’s watch, Pompey have won 18/40 (45%) away League Two trips but only four of those triumphs beat the one-goal handicap so I’m expecting a push at the very least on Tuesday night.