THERE’S a League Two double-header to enjoy on the box this Sunday afternoon. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) picks out his favourite punts.
Exeter v Stevenage | Sunday 12.15 | Sky Sports 1
Paul Tisdale has claimed, his current crop of players is arguably the best bunch he’s worked with at the club. That’s high praise from the longest-serving Football League manager. In his 10th year at the helm of the Grecians, Exeter are back amongst the promotion contenders – the bookies might say otherwise but I’m confident Tisdale has the tools to bring the Devon club back up to the third tier.
City are now on a steady financial footing, are investing in the squad, training facilities and their St James’ Park ground. They believe they’re going places and summer signings of Will Hoskins, Bobby Olejnik, Lee Holmes and Troy Brown only enhanced a group that boasted the talents of David Noble, Ryan Harley, Tom McCready plus Alex and Tom Nicholls. Arguably the biggest off-season coup was keeping hold of last year’s Player of the Year Christian Ribeiro.
The early signs are promising. The Grecians are nestled nicely into the top-half just four points off the top-three. Impressive successive victories against big fish Portsmouth and Leyton Orient at the start of September made headlines but a disappointing 1-1 draw at lowly Newport on Saturday and devastating 2-0 away defeat to fierce local rivals Plymouth in the Johnstone Paint trophy has flattened morale.
But Tisdale has a near full squad to choose from and has been pleased with the side’s St James's Park return – an area he was keen to address in 2015/16. City have W6-D3-L2 of their last 11 as hosts with title hopefuls Wycombe’s 2-0 win in Devon the last time they’ve leaked in front of their home fans since the season opener.
Exeter haven’t been dominating the shot-count this term but I’m pleasantly surprised to see the Grecians available at 11/10 (Coral) to defeat struggling Stevenage. Under Tisdale, City have only W24-D21-L29 in home League Two encounters and that return looks just as bleak when bottom-half dwellers visit Devon – W9-D12-L14.
However, odds-against on a home win are hard to ignore as Teddy Sheringham’s travellers are in a right old mess. Boro’s midweek loss to Dagenham in the JPT made it seven matches without a win whilst in the league they’ve slumped to four consecutive defeats, to sit just two points above the relegation zone.
Sheringham’s post-match moans are becoming more and more uncomfortable. After being beaten by Carlisle on home soil last weekend, the Champions League winner, claimed, “I think we need to dig a bit deeper. When you lose goals from set pieces like that [on Saturday], it’s down to desire. We’ve had words in the dressing room. It’s not really fallen to someone in the wrong place. That’s desire to get on and win a knock down.”
After Wednesday night’s loss, Sheringham said, “We are struggling as a team. We need to do better all over the pitch. It’s tough going at the moment.” Boro have fielded more players so far this season than any other team (28) this term and the Stevenage boss even suggested some of his players aren’t committed to the club.
Eight of those 28 players used are teenagers while another eight are under the age of 23 and inexperience might well be a key issue. Ben Kennedy’s return has buoyed the Boro faithful but their road record makes grim reading and opposing the visitors is simply a must on Sunday.
Stevenage haven’t won on their travels since mid-April, have taken two points from 15 away under Sheringham (achieved at the bottom two clubs, Dagenham and Newport) and conceded 10 goals in those five fixtures already. And since relegation back to the fourth tier, Boro have W5-D11-L12 on the road including W0-D5-L6 at top-half teams. Home win.
Notts County v Plymouth | Sunday 14.30 | Sky Sports 1
Sky Sports viewers should be in for a treat on Sunday. League Two table-toppers Plymouth travel to Notts County in what should be a real humdinger and hopefully a fabulous advert for the Football League.
Notts County lost 3-1 at Leyton Orient last Saturday, leaking two goals in the final 11 minutes. But more infuriating for Magpies supporters was Ricardo Moniz’s decision to make nine changes from a side that dominated Dagenham on the previous Tuesday. Top goal-getter Izale McLeod and defensive lynchpin Mike Edwards were just two of those to get the chop.
Notts made 18 permanent new signings after relegation last season and now have a squad or more than 30 players to pick from. The Dutch manager rotated again on Tuesday night and the Magpies were stuffed 5-1 by Sheffield United in the Johnstone Paint Trophy. In all, County have made 17 changes in the their last two matches.
Haydn Hollis is suspended on Sunday and Moniz is likely to return to his big-hitters. We should also expect another sterling Meadow Lane display – the Magpies have been excellent on their own patch, having won their last four home games, and producing some of their best football in years when dispatching York.
The tinkerman brought the County team in for a double session the day after their midweek hammering in the hope of consigning that loss to the memory bin. And you’d assume the players would be professional enough to raise themselves for a live Sky Sports encounter.
Notts have scored in all bar one of their 11 league fixtures under Moniz and I’d expect that goalscoring run to continue on Sunday. On the flip side, the Magpies have kept just two League Two clean sheets under their new boss whilst conceding 29 goals in 15 fixtures in all competitions.
Immediately that opens us up for a punt on Both Teams To Score. It’s available at 3/4 with BetVictor and has proven a winner in 8/11 of the hosts’ league outings as well as 7/11 matches involving Plymouth. The visitors have also notched in all bar one of their League Two games and arrive in flying form.
So much so, the Pilgrims gaffer Derek Adams has said Argyle are ‘bouncing along’ right now. Bolstered by some excellent close season signings, Plymouth have lost only one of their last 11 matches in all competitions and comfortably saw off bitter rivals Exeter 2-0 at Home Park on Tuesday in the JPT, even without three key performers.
Playmaker Graham Carey, converted holding midfielder Carl McHugh and ever-present left-back Gary Sawyer missed the match but goals from on-loan pair Hiram Boateng and Craig Tanner made it three consecutive home victories in eight days.
Adams described the performance against Exeter as ‘exhilarating’ and went on to say, “I said on Saturday (against Crawley) that the first 45 minutes was the best we had played this season, but tonight was by far the best.” Over 9,000 fans turned out for the derby as the club celebrated their 5,000th competitive match.
The feel-good factor is most definitely back at Plymouth and with the team playing free-flowing, attacking football, it’s understandable supporters are enjoying following their side after the dour ways of John Sheridan. The visitors play with risk and that should help lead us towards a goal-heavy game.
As well as the above background, it’s also worth noting that these two teams feature prominently in the shot tables. Taking into account efforts on-target at both ends of the field, the duo are registering almost 10 on-goal per-match. BTTS looks a solid play.
Exeter v Stevenage – Exeter to win (11/10 Coral)
Notts County v Plymouth – Both Teams To Score (3/4 BetVictor)
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