FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite three selections from the third weekend of the new 2019/20 season.
Lincoln v Southend | Saturday 17th August 2019, 15:00
Newly-promoted Lincoln are one of only three sides to sit at the top of the League One table with a 100% record after two matches. The Imps opened their account with a clear and deserving victory over Accrington at Sincil Bank before surviving an onslaught from Rotherham to pinch a 2-0 triumph at the New York Stadium last Saturday.
City struggled to live with a strong and powerful Rotherham side in the opening exchanges, but crucially stayed in the game and delivered another performance to be proud of. An own goal from Shaun MacDonald and a header from Harry Anderson – both via set-piece situations – proved decisive despite Lincoln losing the shot count 17-3 in South Yorkshire.
Ordinarily, that shot count would wipe out any credit or kudos in my bank, although that Millers match again highlights how smart and tactically aware the Cowley brothers are. Few Football League sides can match the Imps for their dead-ball proficiency, whilst Lincoln’s resilience, organisation and strong defensive foundations have always been indisputable.
The Cowleys have revamped City’s attacking options and style of play over the summer as they look to bridge the step up between League Two and League One. But they also knew it was essential that any improvements were not to the detriment of the qualities which have brought the club so much success. Last week suggested they had found the right balance.
Back at Sincil Bank on Saturday, Lincoln will be looking to continue their fine form and the Imps hold plenty of appeal as slight odds-on favourites against Southend. Danny Cowley’s charges have seen plenty of cash this week and, although this Friday column have missed the sumptuous 10/11, there are still ways to get the hosts onside at close to even-money.
Lincoln to win and Under 4.5 Goals is rated a 19/20 shot with Betway. Considering only five of the Imps’ 47 Sincil Bank fixtures in the EFL under the current regime have produced five or more goals, I’m confident the home side can deliver the goods without cutting loose.
Southend are a side I recommended for relegation in our ante-post coverage. The Shrimpers have stagnated over the past 18 months and came perilously close to an unexpected demotion last term. Survival on the final day on goal difference was supposed to spark the club into a much-needed overhaul but the Shrimpers remain in a concerning state.
A collection of expiring loans, released players, retirements and ongoing injuries left the Blues playing staff bare in pre-season. Meanwhile, boss Kevin Bond has been unable to stiffen up a defence that’s failed to shutout any opponent since January, including all seven pre-season fixtures, despite starting three new faces in the backline at Blackpool last week.
Bond was hugely critical of the display in that 3-1 defeat and chose to single out members of his starting line-up post-match for the first time in his tenure. Clearly patience is running dry and a trip to Sincil Bank is far from ideal, especially so with the likes of Rob Kiernan, Jason Demetriou, Harry Lennon, Timothee Dieng and Mark Milligan unavailable or major fitness concerns.
Doncaster v Fleetwood | Saturday 17th August 2019, 15:00
We fancied Fleetwood to make it back-to-back league victories to start the season last weekend against Wimbledon and the Cod Army duly delivered despite the wind and rain at Highbury. Joey Barton’s boys followed that success by putting in a sterling effort during a 1-0 EFL Cup loss at Nottingham Forest, a committed performance that earned plenty of praise.
The Fisherman now head to Doncaster on Saturday, searching for a third League One win on the spin for the very first time under Barton’s tutorship. The hot-headed brat in Town’s dugout has made steady progress with the Fylde coast club, and been supported by an ambitious owner with the standout signings of Ched Evans, Josh Morris and Paul Coutts.
Fleetwood’s squad is now a match for most in the third-tier and the Cod Army should be considered serious challengers for at least a top-six spot. Barton himself has impressed with tactical management and in-game shifts between a 4-3-3 shape and 4-2-3-1 when required, whilst continually stressing the importance of the whole group working well together.
In contrast, Doncaster have made an unsurprisingly slow start. Rovers lost eight of their starting XI from May’s play-off semi-final second leg defeat to Charlton, including League One's top goalscorer John Marquis, and manager Grant McCann. Darren Moore has picked up the pieces after a so-so spell with West Brom and it may take time to find cohesion.
Donny have made no secret of their desire to bolster the attacking ranks with Tuesday night’s defeat to Grimsby in the EFL Cup highlighting the club’s issues in front of goal. Rovers fired in 24 attempts but landed only three on-target, with the contest coming hot on the heels of largely uninspiring and toothless displays against Rochdale and Gillingham.
I fancy Fleetwood’s chances of coming away with at least a point this weekend and believe there’s mileage in 4/5 (Bet365) quotes on the Cod Army in the Double Chance market alongside Over 0 Goals on the BetBuilder. This selection pays out should the visitors avoid defeat by any score, other than 0-0.
Northampton v Macclesfield | Saturday 17th August 2019, 15:00
Macclesfield’s great escape was one of the EFL’s star stories last term. Floundering at the bottom of League Two, Sol Campbell was the surprise choice for the vacant Moss Rose position. Five points off survival in late November, the former England star was written off before a ball was kicked with the Silkmen expected to sink further towards disaster.
However, Campbell’s relaxed demeanour and professional approach clearly paid dividends as the squad rallied to deliver W7-D10-L9 – a 1.19 point average – to ensure safety by three points as relegation rivals Notts County and Yeovil implode. Canny work in the transfer market, plus a 3-5-2 system that suited target man Harry Smith, proved the doubters wrong.
But positivity soon evaporated around the Cheshire club. The questionable ownership of Amar Alkadhi has led to numerous off-field distractions, including unpaid wage, regular winding-up orders and a raft of players moving on. This clearly came to a head on Thursday when Campbell followed his assistant Hermann Hreidarsson in handing in his notice of resignation.
Clearly, Campbell’s departure is a hammer blow for Macclesfield. With no official word on who’ll be taking the team this weekend, I just have to take the opportunity to oppose the rudderless visitors when they travel to Northampton. The Cobblers are even-money (Blacktype) and I fully expect that price to contract before kick-off.
Northampton have hardly set pulses racing thus far, despite another summer of headline incomings. Keith Curle’s built a bloated squad that’s struggled to really make their mark in 2019/20. Opening with an edgy and unfortunate 1-0 reverse to Walsall at Sixfields, the Cobblers were second-best when picking up a point in a 1-1 draw at Port Vale last week.
Curle was “delighted” with his team’s efforts against Swansea in midweek and claimed he now has difficult decisions to make with his starting XI here. Reece Hall-Johnson and Alan McCormack aren’t fit enough to feature, but there should still be enough strength in-depth to overcome any selection concerns, with the hosts in a reasonably stable condition.
Under Campbell, Macclesfield returned W4-D2-L8 on the road – a 57% loss rate with all four victories arriving against clubs in 17th and below. The Silkmen suffered 16 losses in games as guests since promotion from the National League and you just have to assume the midweek mess at Moss Road will play a part come Saturday. They’re easily opposed at evens.