BACK-TO-BACK weekend Football League trebles for Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire). He's back with three more to follow on Saturday.
Bristol City v Blackburn | Saturday 15:00
The early Football League birds have all snapped the 10/11 up on Bristol City bouncing back to winning ways on Saturday but I see no reason not to get involved on the Robins at the available 4/5 (Bet365) quotes.
Despite successive away defeats at Cardiff and QPR, Lee Johnson’s group are just a point outside of the top-six in the Championship but have excelled since the suave 35-year-old took up the reigns in February.
Under Johnson’s leadership, City have W13-D5-L11 – a point-per-game average of 1.52 – and scored 49 goals at a rate of 1.69 per-game. Those stats look even stronger when viewing the Robins’ record at Ashton Gate.
Johnson’s led the Reds to W8-D2-L4 when welcoming league opposition as the hosts have scored 28 goals, notching twice or more on 9/14 (57%) occasions. Four of those eight triumphs were achieved by at least a two-goal margin.
Bristol City are a side forged in the image of their head coach, showing they can win games by playing fluent pass and move football, retaining possession for long spells and wearing the opposition down through the application of relentless pressure.
Yet Johnson was understandably upset after seeing his side lose twice in eight days with the Robins struggling to impose themselves against two physically-commanding outfits. But the return of Korey Smith should give City more bite in midfield, even though Bobby Reid remains an injury doubt.
Injury and illness have ensured the diminutive Johnson has had no choice but to mix and match and utilise the majority of the options at his disposal during the opening two months of the campaign. But bodies on the treatment table are easing and the Reds boss is looking forward to his forthcoming selection dilemmas.
City should also be proud of their performance at Loftus Road in midweek. The visitors carved out four gilt-edged chances in the 1-0 reverse and with eight-goal marksman Tammy Abraham fully recovered from flu, should be ready for a return to form.
Visitors Blackburn needed a Man of the Match performance from goalkeeper Jason Steele to deny Ipswich a win at Ewood Park last weekend and Rovers were fortunate to meet an out-of-sorts Nottingham Forest side on Tuesday night.
Owen Coyle’s men have collected four points then across the past seven days to lift the former Premier League champions outside of the bottom-three but I remain convinced Blackburn will eventually suffer demotion should Coyle remain.
Ten of Rovers’ 12-point tally has been won against clubs in 17th and below (W3-D1-L2) and the visitors’ only clean sheet came in that aforementioned one-sided 0-0 draw with Ipswich last Saturday.
Alternatively, since the start of 2014/15 Blackburn have lost 12/24 (50%) away days at top-half teams, failing to score on 11 (46%) occasions and keeping just three (13%) clean sheets.
Rovers have managed just 17 shots from inside the opposition penalty box across their last five fixtures whilst giving up 44 over the same sample. So with Danny Graham, Gordon Greer and Wes Brown all rated doubtful for Saturday, I’m more than happy to oppose the Lancashire outfit.
Millwall v Fleetwood | Saturday 15:00
Millwall exceeded expectations in their first campaign back at League One level following relegation but after an initial bedding in period, Neil Harris’ troops soon found their rhythm and shot-up the standings.
The Lions picked up 47 points from their final 22 games before suffering play-off final heartache at Wembley. The capital club lost just three league games this calendar year and although stalwart centre-half Mark Beevers moved to Bolton in the summer, I fancied Neil Harris’ men to finish 2016/17 top of the tree.
However, the feel-good factor that was so prominent in the first part of 2016 has vanished as Millwall toil in the third-tier. The Lions midweek loss to Bolton means Saturday’s hosts have claimed just four triumphs in 13 this term (W4-D3-L6).
Harris’ charges are only outside of the bottom-four on goal difference and haven’t tasted victory at The Den since August (W0-D2-L2). The last time Millwall failed to record three points in five successive home League One games was 2008.
The performance data suggests the Lions aren’t far off getting things right – only MK Dons, Bradford and Bury have returned better shot ratio figures – but a run of W1-D0-L5 against Bolton (0-2), Northampton (3-1), Walsall (1-2), Port Vale (1-3), Rochdale (2-3) and Southend (1-3) is obvious cause for concern.
Harris hasn’t been able to plug Beevers’ shoes at centre-half although the return from injury of defenders Shaun Hutchinson and Shaun Cummings should at least boost the options available to the Londoners this weekend.
Nevertheless, a switch from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 is yet to pay dividends and whilst Millwall continue to appear vulnerable at the back – keeping a solitary clean sheet this season – I’ll happily jump on a goals-based angle.
Few teams remain as prolific in the final third as the Lions with deadly duo Steve Morison and the sought-after Lee Gregory combining to form one of League One’s most fearsome attacking partnerships.
Morison and Lee Gregory grabbed 33 league goals between them in 2015/16 and have already combined for nine more this term. The hosts have fired a solitary blank this season whilst only two clubs have scored more often.
Visitors Fleetwood are the only third-tier team to score in every game in 2016/17 and Uwe Rosler’s men head south on the back of successive and impressive wins ‘to nil’ over Peterborough and Chesterfield.
The Spireites were seen off on Tuesday despite goalkeeper Chris Neal being taken off after nine minutes – debutant cat Alex Cairns came in for only his second-ever Football League match and looks in line to start between the sticks here.
Rosler sets his side out to play counter attacking football and has recently switched from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2, allowing Kyle Dempsey and Jimmy Ryan to get more of a foothold in the game, linking defence and attack. With plenty of pace in the side, Town are a menacing prospect on the break.
The Cod Army are now chasing three wins on the spin for the first time since August 2014 but their midweek shutout was just their fifth in 29 away days since the start of last season with 17/29 (59%) seeing Both Teams To Score bank.
Knowing the strength at Millwall’s disposal in the final third plus Fleetwood’s knack for getting on the scoresheet, it makes sense to again follow the BTTS route on Saturday despite Tuesday evening’s letdown.
It’s a selection that’s already proven profitable in 19/26 (73%) of the two clubs’ fixtures this term – a percentage success rate that implies betting odds of just 4/11 as opposed to the 13/16 (888) on offer.
Hartlepool v Leyton Orient | Saturday 15:00
“Last week we should have won the game, no doubt. Keith Curle said they hammered us – he must have been at a different game from me. It was three points dropped without a shadow of a doubt.”
That was Hartlepool boss Craig Hignett talking after seeing his Pools side lose 3-2 at unbeaten Carlisle last weekend. It was United’s first defeat in six (W2-D4-L0) and saw the Monkey Hangers relinquish their top-half position in League Two.
Hignett had his players booked in for an hour-long video session on Thursday to make his squad squirm by watching a reel of video nasties. The former Middlesbrough star is desperate to remedy Hartlepool’s continual defensive errors with balls into the box proving particularly hazardous.
Pools only faced eight efforts at Brunton Park but still managed to ship three goals. However, discount the 6-1 shellacking at Stevenage and the Monkey Hangers have actually performed with aplomb for the majority of 2016/17.
Hignett’s overseen W3-D7-L3 with United notching in all bar one of their outings thus far. Lewis Alessandra has impressed since dropping down a division but supporters will be keen to see more from winger Nathan Thomas and playmaker Josh Laurent if they’re to realise their undoubted potential.
This weekend Nicky Featherstone returns from suspension and although Matthew Bates and Rob Jones remain out, Hartlepool look a little underrated in the pre-match markets against out-of-sorts Leyton Orient.
Sure, Pools are winless at Victoria Park since April – drawing each of their last four fixtures on home turf – but the Teesiders picked up points against high-flying Plymouth, Luton and Crawley, as well as beating Grimsby comfortably before their unfortunate loss at Carlisle.
Hartlepool are available to support at 24/19 (Marathon) in the Draw No Bet market, a price that’s simply too big to ignore. Should the showdown end all-square, we’ll see our stake returned.
Visitors Orient have W2-D3-L1 on their travels but the Londoners are in a great deal of strife right now. Having started the season with W3-D1-L2, the O’s have W0-D2-L5, failing to score in four of their past six outings.
Andy Hessenthaler was removed from his job at the beginning of the month and although Orient did marginally improve their displays against Luton and Portsmouth in new non-English speaking head coach Alberto Cavasin’s first two games, I’m far from convinced.
The O’s have been a club in decline ever since Francesco Becchetti took over. They have had numerous players and staff during that time yet the decline has continued. The appointment of Cavasin also has to be questioned.
As boss of Lecce in 1999, Cavasin was named as Manager of the Year in Serie A but the veteran boss has been out of work for five years and knows little about League Two.
Anyhow… Like Hartlepool, defensive errors have proved costly for the capital club and the East Londoners are now only out of the relegation zone on goal difference – the two sides below them in the standards have at least one game in hand.
Gavin Massey is the only outfield player to have started every league game and whilst Nigel Atangana impressed in midfield following his return from injury, Jay Simpson remains a major doubt this weekend.
Ollie Palmer’s goal against Luton ended a four-game drought, but Orient continue to lack creativity and conviction in front of goal and 11/8 quotes on an away success aren’t far off laughable, as far as I’m concerned.