FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) reveals his favourite selections from the weekend's EFL action.
Coventry v Rochdale | Saturday 16th November 2019, 15:00
This Football League column scooped a full house of winners on a tough FA Cup 1st Round weekend last time out and this Saturday’s schedule is no easier to negotiate. Only 14 fixtures across League One and League Two have survived international call-ups and there’s precious little to really hang our hat on.
Coventry are clinging on to a top-six berth despite registering a sole league success in seven (W1-D4-L2). However, the Sky Blues progressed in the FA Cup seven days ago with a commanding performance to overcome Colchester 2-0 despite having just one fit and available front man, Amadou Bakayoko, due to on-going injuries and suspension issues.
Respected manager Mark Robins combated the striker crisis with a mini masterstroke in Essex. Although the Cov supremo stuck with three at the back and wing-backs, he played a box midfield that worked a treat; the secret to it’s success was the movement and effectiveness of midfielders Zain Westbrooke and Jordan Shipley at the top end.
The pair buzzed around and behind lone forward Bakayoko, while Fankaty Dabo and Sam McCallum bombed on down the flanks. Liams Kelly and Walsh took turns to sit while the other probed further forward in a game in which City passed Colchester off the park – the League Two outfit were unable to cope with the pace at which the ball was moved.
So will Robins stick with his tried-and-trusted system or twist to his enforced but highly effective new approach with Matty Godden and Max Biamou still unavailable? It may depend on the fitness of Jordy Hiwula who back in full-time training on Monday after almost three weeks out of action with an ankle injury.
Whatever the verdict, Coventry are in a more manageable position to visitors Rochdale with first-team coach Lee Riley admitting the club are “light on numbers”.
Dale were in midweek action as they claimed a 2-1 win over Bradford in their Micky Mouse Trophy match. The tie was played just two days after the team’s FA Cup clash against Wrexham on Sunday, and with a number of players ruled out through injury, as well as the competitions selection rules, four players started in both matches
The visitors will be without highly-rated young guns Luke Matheson and Rhys Norrington-Davies due to international duty with Riley saying Rochdale are also in the midst of a “freakish time” with injuries. With limited options and a fatigued squad, it’s difficult to see Rochdale being at their best for a devilishly difficult trip to St Andrew’s.
Dale’s effort at Wrexham has been described as, “as bad as we’ve seen all season” and the Lancashire guests arrive having lost seven of their past 11 League One outings. Strip out trips to struggling Southend and Bolton and the guests have been beaten in four of six away days, leaking at least twice in five of those fixtures also.
Brian Barry-Murphy’s boys have W0-D3-L7 against top-10 teams this term – scoring only four goals – and may come up short against a Coventry side that’s settled into their adopted home seamlessly. The Sky Blues are operating off a 64% Expected Goals (xG) ratio at St Andrew’s, winning six of their nine matches here and are worthy short-priced favourites.
Only the bottom two are averaging fewer shots from inside the box than Rochdale, whilst Cov are conceding fewer than four attempts from inside the area at ‘home’ thus far, and so the option of backing the Sky Blues to succeed and Under 4.5 Goals appeals at even-money with Coral.
Forest Green v Plymouth | Saturday 16th November 2019, 15:00
Forest Green crashed out of the Micky Mouse Trophy in midweek after being thrashed 6-0 by League Two rivals Walsall. Mark Cooper pulled no punches post-match, describing the performance as “rubbish” and admitting that he hadn’t learnt anything from the 90 minutes.
The Green Devils boss had made widespread changes to his side, which featured two 16-year-olds – Vaughn Covil and Harvey Bunker – plus 17-year-old Isaiah Jones from the start, as well as third-choice goalkeeper Adam Smith from the off. Cooper clearly only had eyes for Saturday’s showdown with Plymouth at the club’s Nailsworth base.
Aaron Collins’ red card won’t carry over and Cooper looks set to restore the likes of Joe Wollacott, Farrend Rawson, Dom Bernard, Liam Shephard, Joseph Mills, Carl Winchester, Ebou Adams, Jack Aitchison and Matty Stevens back into the side with Forest Green aware that victory could see Rovers move four points clear at the summit of League Two.
Kevin Dawson could return for the first time in almost two months after coming on in the second-half of Tuesday’s debacle, whilst Matt Mills also featured and might be in contention. However, Cooper might wish not to unsettle a defensive line that have performed so well during Mills’ absence.
FGR (W9-D4-L3) head the standings and have started to produce underlying data to match their early season results. The Green Devils still occupy a mid-table ranking for a variety of metrics over the course of the campaign, although Mansfield, Crawley, Cheltenham and Morecambe were all distinctly second-best during Rovers’ last five fixtures.
Due to the team’s unflattering performance data figures, the market has never really trusted Forest Green this season. For example, the table-toppers have yet to be chalked up as an odds-on proposition in 2019/20 despite hosting bottom-half dwellers Oldham, Stevenage and Grimsby at The New Lawn over the opening 16 weeks or so.
The Green Devils went off as big as 9/5 (2.80) shots when welcoming Mansfield (2-2) here last time out, a match Cooper’s charges could and really should have won, and so it’s interesting to see FGR now rated as big as 6/4 (2.50) this weekend when Plymouth pitch up. My inkling is, again the hosts are too big to ignore and there are value ways to keep Rovers onside.
Marathon are offering Forest Green at 5/6 in the Draw No Bet market and I have to get involved. The vegan club have lost only three times this term, leaked a league-best 10 goals and recorded an EFL-high nine clean sheets. A similar stout showing should put Rovers in a strong position to pick up a positive result against Argyle.
The Pilgrims have endured a mixed start to life under Ryan Lowe. Four points adrift of the play-off positions, Plymouth have won just twice on their travels (W2-D2-L4) in League Two football and have returned W2-D2-L5 against top-half clubs. Last weekend’s FA Cup triumph came at a much-changed Bolton outfit that are focussing on league matters.
The Greens are boasting a 44% Expected Goals (xG) ratio on the road and have shown little evidence that they’re consistent enough to be honouring such a skinny price in a trip to a league leader.