FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite selections from this weekend's EFL action.
Wycombe v Tranmere | Saturday 22nd February 2020, 15:00
Wycombe are hot favourites to enhance their excellent return at Adams Park on Saturday when relegation-haunted Tranmere turn up in Buckinghamshire. The Chairboys have clinched top honours in 12 of their 17 League One outings on home soil this season, taking a remarkable 31 points from a possible 33 when welcoming clubs outside the top-eight.
Rovers arrive seven points adrift of safety following a wretched spell of results that’s seen the Wirral outfit lose 10 of their last 15 in league action. One set-piece goal is the only time the Birkenhead boys have troubled the scoresheet in their most recent seven encounters and the Whites’ nine-goal tally on their travels is the second-worst record in the division.
Understandably, the bookmakers heavily favour the hosts here, however, I’ll be focussing my attention on the man in the middle, Charles Breakspear. The bald-headed referee is one of the EFL’s most stringent, delivering the second-highest Bookings Points per-game averages (53.09) across the UK this season, and 4.67 cards on average in 21 fixtures.
Card-happy is an understatement when characterising Breakspear’s approach and this term’s performance fits right in line with the official’s numbers in previous campaigns.
Go back to the beginning of 2016/17 and across his League One and League Two matches, Breakspear has flashed 477 yellows in 126 games at a rate of 3.78 on average, as well as a whopping 39 reds. Yes, he’s sending a player off every 3.23 games, and averaging almost 4.10 cards on average, as well as 45.59 Bookings Points.
SkyBet are kindly offering 4/5 on Saturday’s contest producing 40 or more Bookings Points and that’s an offer I simply can’t refuse considering two of League One’s leading aggressors are on show. The duo rank inside the top echelons of the division for tackles and fouls, whilst also combining to receive 10 reds in their collective 62 games thus far.
If you’re new to Bookings Points, a yellow card is awarded 10 Bookings Points, with a red receiving 25 Bookings Points. Should a player pick up two bookings and a subsequent red, 35 Bookings Points are given.
Crawley v Stevenage | Saturday 22nd February 2020, 15:00
Graham Westley ended his fourth spell in charge of Stevenage following last Saturday’s 1-0 home loss to Salford. It was Boro’s sixth defeat on the spin, a result that left the basement boys seven points adrift at the bottom of League Two with the Hertfordshire club’s 10-year stay in the Football League under serious strain.
With Stevenage picking up a paltry three League Two triumphs from 34 across the campaign, failing to even score on 18 (53%) occasions, chairman Phil Wallace suggested “we have to try something new” to try and save the club’s skin with just 12 games to play. Ex-forward Alex Revell takes over first-team affairs with Russell Slade consulting the novice.
Revell is the fourth face to lead Stevenage this season and Boro’s plight make a Great Escape improbable but not yet impossible. Nevertheless, the strugglers are unlikely to be given a helping hand in their opener under the new regime with a tricky trip to Sussex to face resurgent Crawley in the offing on Saturday.
Red Devils boss John Yems has enjoyed a fruitful second spell in charge at Town and recently signed a new deal with Crawley until the end of the 2022/23 campaign. The 60-year-old took over the role alongside Lee Bradbury at the start of December following Gabriele Cioffi’s sacking, and the hosts have enjoyed a welcome revival (W4-D8-L3).
At their Broadfield Stadium base, Crawley have W4-D3-L0 under Yems, reducing six of their opponents to no more than a solitary strike. Town have generated a hugely impressive 2.03 Expected Goals (xG) in that seven-game sample, 1.68 of which arrived via open play, leading the Reds to an intimidating 61% xG ratio return and 63% xG open play share of late.
Take out results out against the top-three and the Reds’ return in front of their home supporters is a very respectable W8-D5-L2 with an average of 1.71 goals scored across the campaign as a whole, figures that should stand Crawley (13/10 BetVictor) in good stead against a Stevenage side lacking clarity, identity, direction and leadership.
The pre-match odds suggest these two teams would produce a pick ‘em on neutral territory and that’s a scenario I just can’t subscribe to right now. A home win deserves to be odds-on in this situation.
Crewe v Macclesfield | Saturday 22nd February 2020, 15:00
Chris Potter’s shocking open goal miss hit the headlines as Crewe suffered a disappointing 2-1 defeat in stormy conditions at promotion rivals Plymouth last weekend. in truth, the Alex didn’t do themselves justice over the 90 minutes at Home Park, however, a return to Gresty Road against Cheshire neighbours Macclesfield should inspire an immediate response.
David Artell’s outfit are comfortably ranked as League Two’s best alongside Swindon across all the major performance data metrics. No fourth-tier team lands more on-target attempts or shots at goal inside the opposition penalty area. The Railwaymen are also generating the league’s highest Expected Goals (xG) return, plus a sky-high xG from open play figure (1.11).
Crewe have proven particularly proficient in putting the league’s lesser lights away. The hosts have picked up W14-D3-L1 against the bottom-half at all venues with W7-D1-L0 recorded at Gresty Road. Alex have averaged 2.50 goals in those eight home tussles, producing an xG output of 1.69 per-game (1.28 xG from open play on average).
The likes of Charlie Kirk and Ryan Wintle give Crewe huge creative freedom and attacking full-backs Harry Pickering and Perry Ng offer boundless threats from the flanks to support Porter in attack. When in full flow, few teams can match Artell’s troops for attacking enterprise or conviction in the final-third and I suspect Alex will come to the fore here.
The Railwaymen have scored at least twice in 14 of their 18 fixtures with bottom-half fodder, whilst six of the hosts’ past eight visitors have all shipped two goals or more at Gresty Road since November. With that in mind, I’m happy to snap up 4/5 (Coral) quotes on Crewe picking up maximum points in a match featuring Over 1.5 Goals against Macclesfield.
Macclesfield earned a creditable 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Tuesday but the financially-stricken guests have proven a little less fearsome on the road. The Silkmen have collected a solitary point from five trips to the current top-seven, shipping 11 goals in the process, and Town have taken top honours on their travels just once since August (W1-D6-L8).
Mark Kennedy’s men are rated rock-bottom in terms of ratio return for xG from open play, as well as shots in the box. Town have generated the lowest return for xG, xG from open play, and attempts inside the penalty area, and also boast the smallest share of possession in the division. Worryingly for the weekend’s match-up, all of those figures deteriorate further when viewing Macc’s away games.