FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Coventry v Walsall | Saturday 16th February 2019, 15:00
WLB contributor Gab Sutton penned a thought-provoking piece on the Coventry conundrum earlier this week. The Sky Blues are perched just inside League One’s top-half, equi-distance from the play-off positions and the bottom-four, although performance data suggests Mark Robins’ men should be in with a shout of a top-six finish.
The league table doesn’t quite do Coventry justice. Put simply, if City should finish they’d be amongst the division’s front-runners. It would be folly to pin all the blame on Cov’s strikers for profligate conversion rates – the Sky Blues have scored with only 23% of their on-target efforts, for example, suggesting opposition goalkeepers have proved frustratingly obdurate.
If we view the League One ladder in terms of the major data metrics, Coventry are actually ranked fourth for both Expected Goals (xG) ratio and xG from open play, as well as occupying seventh position for shots the box ratio. Saturday’s hosts are averaging the fifth-most attempts from inside the area, and generating the third-highest xG return.
It’s an impressive effort that’s simply not been reflected in results often enough. However, there’s scope for that to change, and it might have started last Saturday when Coventry were easily the better team at Rochdale in a 1-0 victory despite seeing the majority of their squad – and manager – suffering from flu symptoms in the run-up to the contest.
Now back at the Ricoh Arena, the Sky Blues have a fantastic chance to seal back-to-back league triumphs for the first in 2019 with struggling regional rivals Walsall arriving.
The Saddlers were played off the park in midweek in a damaging home defeat to rock-bottom Wimbledon. Dean Keates is coming under increasing pressure in his quest to stem the bleeding with the Bescot boys shipping two or more goals in 15 of their past 20 League One outings, returning W2-D4-L13 in that same sequence.
Walsall have W0-D4-L6 at teams above them in the League One table – scoring five goals – and have W1-D2-L7 on their most recent 10 road trips, firing blanks on six occasions. Having started the season amongst the leading candidates for relegation, the Black Country club currently appear every-inch a bottom-four finisher unless the tide is turned sooner than later.
I do like Coventry to pick up a positive result here but for added security, I’m going to dip into Bet365’s Bet Builder and support the hosts in the Double Chance market alongside Under 4 Goals for an 8/11 shout. Only once have the hosts racked up three or more goals since promotion, but only 10 teams have notched at least twice against Coventry this term.
Sky Blues matches are averaging only 2.19 goals per-game with no Ricoh Arena encounter featuring more than three goals. Walsall have seen Over 3.5 Goals land twice on their travels – at the bottom-two clubs – with seven of 10 away days at teams above them in the table concluding with no more than three goals.
Forest Green v Yeovil | Saturday 16th February 2019, 15:00
Forest Green have been one of my favourite sides to follow in League Two this season. Mark Cooper’s men have often been on the periphery of the automatic promotion places, and the Gloucestershire outfit come into the weekend sitting inside the play-off positions only on goal difference after a run of W3-D3-L3 since Boxing Day.
The Green Devils are actually enduring their longest winless streak (W0-D1-L2) since August following back-to-back losses to resurgent pair Swindon and Notts County, whilst being held by fellow promotion-chasers MK Dons. Even so, there’s plenty of mileage in 8/11 (Boylesports) on the home side delivering the goods here.
For starters, exclude the top-six and Forest Green have W12-D9-L6 this term, failing to score in only four of those 27 encounters. Rovers also feature prominently amongst League Two’s leading lights in the major metrics reflecting shots, attempts in the penalty area, xG and xG from open play – and the hosts head into this game with Dayle Grubb expected to return to the bench, their only major absentee.
There’s no doubt Grubb is a key part of Cooper’s system but the 3-5-2 Forest Green excel within also includes players of outstanding League Two quality, such as Christian Doidge, George Williams, Carl Winchester, Lloyd James, Reece Brown and Liam Shepherd. Having W9-D5-L3 against bottom-half teams, I’d fancy them to swipe Yeovil aside on Saturday.
The Glovers were enjoying the dizzy heights of a top-six berth, sitting only two points off second-place with a game in-hand, after a remarkable 6-0 thrashing of Newport back in early September. But the unexpected peak was short-lived and Darren Way’s troops have been struggling to rid their nose bleed ever since, pocketing W3-D7-L15.
The sliding Somerset side make the short journey having been beaten in each of their last five fixtures and only twice scoring more than a solitary strike in 25. And there’s few positives on the team news front with Tom James banned and key centre-back Omar Sowunmi and midfield mystros Sessi D'Almeida remaining on the treatment table.
Forest Green went off short than 4/7 when welcoming Grimsby to the New Lawn last month so I’m more than happy to snap up 8/11 quotes against Yeovil. The hosts have dropped 20 points from winning positions this season and had they earned only fraction of those they'd be considered as title challengers.
Exeter v Bury | Saturday 16th February 2019, 15:00
Bury are fast becoming the darlings of my EFL columns. The Shakers have been the great entertainers in the fourth-tier with games averaging a busty 3.16 goals, as only League One table-toppers Luton (64) have scored more often than Ryan Lowe’s charges (62).
The Greater Manchester side have been thrilling to follow since September (W15-D8-L4), firing themselves into the automatic promotion mix. We’ve covered their unbelievable arsenal of attacking weapons in this parish before but it’s worth noting that Saturday’s visitors have now scored at least twice in 18 (67%) of their past 27 league outings.
Lowe certainly appears confident his team can blast their way to a top-three finish, although that cavalier approach has often come-a-cropper when taking to the road. Bury have kept three clean sheets – all against bottom-half clubs – on their travels and clinched only six triumphs in 16 in games as guests, whilst conceding an average of 1.38 goals.
Therefore, I’m happy to overlook the Shakers here against a resilient Exeter outfit and instead attack the price on Both Teams To Score (77/100 Marathon). Bury have only failed to score in five fixtures since relegation, with seven of their eight away matches at teams in 13th and above paying-out for BTTS backers.
Exeter may have lost top goalscorer Jayden Stockley in January but the Grecians have regrouped after an initial bump to challenge the top-six again. Matty Taylor’s men boast a very capable record at St James’ Park (W9-D3-L4), notching in all bar three of those contests. Even so, City are giving up 1.27 xG per-game on home soil.
Raw Both Teams To Score stats point to 9/16 (56%) of Exeter home encounters resulting in winners, whilst 11/16 (69%) of Bury’s away trips have followed suit. The odds on offer here imply this selection has a 56% probability of landing and my ratings and analysis suggest that’s on the low side and so supporting goals is a value angle of attack here.
Coventry v Walsall – Coventry double chance and Under 4 Goals (8/11 Bet365)
Forest Green v Yeovil – Forest Green to win (8/11 Boylesports)
Exeter v Bury – Both Teams To Score (77/100 Marathon)