FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) returns with his best bets from Saturday's EFL action.
Wigan v Ipswich | Saturday 23rd February 2019, 15:00
Since Mick McCarthy left Ipswich in April 2018, no Championship club has lost more matches than the Tractor Boys. The Suffolk side have suffered defeat in 21/37 (57%) of their fixtures following his earlier than expected departure last season, and have looked doomed to demotion throughout a wretched 2018/19 campaign.
Town prop up the second-tier table and sit nine points adrift of survival. Paul Hurst was axed after only 14 fixtures in charge in October with the club moving to appoint Paul Lambert on a firefighting mission. The Scot has attempted to orchestrate a siege mentality whilst looking to renew the bond between the team and its supporters.
Fans have been pleased with the noises made from the manager, although results (and arguably more importantly performances) have continued to nosedive. Lambert has now overseen a W1-D5-L12 in his opening 18 games – that’s a points per-game return of 0.44 – Hurst’s stood at 0.64 as he accumulated more points in four matches fewer.
Whether Ipswich would be in a better position had they stuck rather than twisted is doubtful. However, I do feel like the club may have underestimated the seismic effort required to continuously punch above their weight on such slim budgetary requirements.
Back to the weekend and I’m happy to be against Town. Lambert will be in the stands after being handed a two-match touchline ban, and whilst James Collins and Luke Chambers have returned to training this week, the boss still seemed unsure whether they will be fit to play. Ipswich have also been dealing with a minor sickness bug over the past week.
The visitors have been beaten in each of their past seven away days and have conceded at least twice in all bar one of their 16 outings outside of Portman Road. The Tractor Boys sit rock-bottom of the four game, eight match and season-long Expected Goals (xG) table, and only marginally above Bolton when viewing the away standings in the same metric.
Lambert might be suggesting Blues are improving but his words simply do not reflect what’s been offered up on the pitch and Wigan are well capable of collecting maximum points at the DW Stadium. The generous 4/5 available has been clipped into 3/4 (BetVictor) but there's certainly still value in the odds of a home triumph.
The Latics enjoyed a 4-3 win over Chinese Super League champions Shanghai SIPG last Saturday on their mid-season training camp in Dubai and have consistently put in capable displays at the DW Stadium since promotion. Athletic have W8-D4-L4 on home soil with two of those losses arriving against Leeds and Sheffield United.
Paul Cook’s charges have W7-D6-L0 when welcoming clubs in 10th and below to their Lancashire base and their 51% xG ratio at the DW Stadium far exceeds anything that Ipswich have been capable of this term. Meanwhile, the Latics’ last eight encounters has seen them register a 45% xG ratio – Town’s figure stands at a woeful 26%.
Josh Windass has found goalscoring form in recent weeks, Joe Garner has been more heavily involved and the imminent return of Nick Powell should ensure Wigan pack enough punch to overcome their ailing guests. The home side went off at 4/5 against Reading in November and therefore look good value coming into Saturday's showdown.
Blackpool v Oxford | Saturday 23rd February 2019, 15:00
Blackpool boss Terry McPhillips has admitted he needs the off-field situation at Bloomfield Road “explaining properly” to him, with the club in “a little bit of limbo”. The League One side were put into receivership by the High Court last week, forcing owner Owen Oyston to pay ex-director Valeri Belokon the £25m he is owed.
The EFL has yet to decide whether to dock the Tangerines 12 points, a decision that could see the Seasiders drop from touching distance to the play-offs to just two points above the relegation zone. Speaking of his players, McPhillips said, “Some might be worried about their jobs, some about the points deduction, so they're all different and we'll just be as straight as we can.”
It’s far from an ideal situation but Blackpool have been operating under a dark cloud for some time now and continue to defy the odds. Last weekend’s goalless draw at Charlton saw McPhillips’ men offer precious little in the final-third, although the Tangerines were organised enough to limit the danger from the Addicks at The Valley.
That stalemate in the capital means Blackpool have suffered only eight league defeats in 2018/19 – only the top four teams have been beaten less often. It might not be pretty but the Seasiders’ no-thrills, defensive approach has seen Saturday’s hosts pick up a league-high 16/32 (50%) clean sheets – only 10 teams have managed to score twice against the ‘Pool.
Such togetherness and adherence to their tactical duties has allowed Blackpool to soar above performance data impressions, and the Tangerines are capable of upsetting the odds again weekend when Oxford arrive. Blackpool have lost just once in 14 when hosting Oxford (W9-D4-L1) since 1980 and meet a United side winless in 17 on the road (W0-D7-L10).
Elementary defensive errors, combined with a floundering forwardline, have continued to hold Karl Robinson’s visitors back. Oxford were taken apart 4-2 at Accrington in midweek with the manager admitting post-match that his team “in both boxes” had been “found wanting”. Stanley had failed to score in six of their previous seven league games.
Robinson has won just 10 of his 43 league games since being appointed 11 months ago and is facing renewed calls for removal. His tenure has been complicated by off-field upheaval, from a delayed move to the new training ground to a series of financial issues which have darkened the mood among supporters. However, there’s little excuse for on-field efforts when you compare the condition of their hosts this weekend.
Due to their perceived poor performance data numbers, Blackpool are being vastly underrated here. We can support the Seasiders off a +0 Asian Handicap start at 13/15 (Red Zone), a selection that would have lost money in only four occasions from a combined 32 home/away League One matches this season.
Bury v Oldham | Saturday 23rd February 2019, 15:00
Another week, another eulogy for Bury.
Regular readers will be sick of hearing about the Shakers by now, although I continue to look on in admiration. Last weekend’s deserved and uncompromising 1-0 victory at Exeter has pushed the Greater Manchester men four points clear of fourth-place as we head into the final third of the campaign.
An immediate return to League One now looks well within reach for Ryan Lowe’s troops and the manager will be desperate to take one small step closer to a top-three finish by seeing off local rivals, Paul Scholes’ Oldham™, at Gigg Lane this weekend. Remarkably, it would be Bury’s first home success against their near neighbours since 1967 (W0-D6-L2).
I’m not really one for head-to-head records, especially in the EFL, and of more value (to me) is the two teams’ recent performances. Bury are enjoying a nine-game unbeaten league streak (W6-D3-L0) – their best effort since 2015 – and have returned W16-D8-L4 since September – that’s a points per-game average of 2.00. Impressive, eh?
If we focus on Gigg Lane, the Shakers have W9-D4-L1 in that aforementioned 28-game run, scoring at least twice in 11 of the 14 home fixtures and racking up at least three goals on eight occasions. Bury’s xG numbers are easily amongst the top-three in the division and with the plethora of exciting and clinical attacking options at their disposal, they’re a major menace.
Oldham fell to their first defeat under Scholes in midweek when a last-gasp Morecambe winner saw the Latics lose 2-1 at Boundary Park. The Manchester United legend has said he’d like to see a more streetwise side and Athletic will require all their experience and know-how to avoid a painful local loss on Saturday having W1-D6-L6 at top-10 sides.
Key forward Callum Lang missed the midweek match for Oldham through injury and is a doubt here too. With the visitors ranking mid-table when viewing the away xG ratio table in League Two, his potential absence could strengthen the view that Bury are a couple of digging much deeper against their regional rivals and should prove that on Saturday.
There’s great value available in Bury at a smidgen of odds-on quotes but I’m going to add Over 1.5 Goals to the equation for a hunky 13/10 (Ladbrokes) play. I’ve already mentioned the overwhelming goal trends in the Shakers’ favour; well nearly 80% of Oldham’s encounters have featured at least two goals, and the first meeting produced six.