THE FA Cup might dominate the headlines this weekend but Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) believes there’s still plenty of value in the disrupted Football League schedule.
Oldham v Millwall | Saturday 15.00
Oldham chairman Simon Corney made a rare trip back from the US on Tuesday to head a board meeting at the club – at which the performance of the team and manager David Dunn came under intense scrutiny.
Dunn, Athletic’s fourth boss in 12 months, has managed just three league wins since his appointment in mid-September, leaving the Latics ensconced in a relegation battle and five points from safety.
Oldham were held 1-1 by a Colchester side on a nine-match losing streak last time out with yet another catastrophic defensive error to blame. Goalkeeper David Cornell failed to hold a corner, allowing Chris Porter to level proceedings with just nine minutes on the clock, infuriating Dunn.
Post-match the Latics gaffer said, “It’s like watching a circus at times, isn’t it? Everyone thinks it so I am going to say it. Why shouldn’t I?” Before claiming no manager in the game could solve the current malaise of errors while also taking responsibility for poor results.
Dunn said, “I am responsible for the results and the results have not been good enough. I could tell you a million and one things why. But I can’t prepare a team to keep making individual errors. How do I do that? I don’t think Sir Alex Ferguson could do that. Get Jose Mourinho in here and he would not be able to sort that out. “
To make matters worse, one of Dunne’s most trusted players and top scorer Danny Philliskirk is set to join rivals Blackpool after a £75,000 deal was agreed. With the club struggling for money, a decision has been made to let go one of the sellable assets within the squad.
Philliskirk’s seven goals have included League One match-winners against Fleetwood, Swindon and Chesterfield – Athletic’s only three wins in 2015-16 — and he also netted in draws against Sheffield United and Coventry.
However, Rhys Murphy has continued his red-hot form having returned from a loan spell at Crawley. The Arsenal academy graduate spent three-months in League Two and has struck twice in as many games for Athletic to take his tally to 12 goals in his last 19 appearances across two divisions.
Operating at the front alongside Jake Cassidy, Murphy has looked sharp in front of goal and so, despite their beleaguered position entrenched in the bottom-four, Oldham still boast enough in forward areas to continue their cracking goalscoring trends this term.
The hosts are winless in 11 on home soil and may have fired in the fewest on-target efforts in the division but they’ve notched in all bar one of their 12 Boundary Park outings as Both Teams To Score has banked on 10 occasions.
Visitors Millwall have W10-D4-L10 from their first 24 and are proving to be consistently inconsistent. The Lions blew Southend away 4-0 but have gifted sloppy goals away in others, such as last weekend’s 2-1 loss at Barnsley that provoked manager Neil Harris.
Having lost just once in 11 games before a busy December and festive schedule, the capital club’s reverse in Yorkshire was their fifth in seven games. A sustained run in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and 12 Tuesday night games – seven of them away from home – in the first half of the season has left Harris’ small squad looking off the pace.
Nevertheless, Millwall had a number of chances to notch an equaliser last weekend and with captain Steve Morison leading the line well with Aiden O’Brien and Lee Gregory each chipping in with a few goals, the Lions remain a force in the attacking third. And it’s worth noting; young winger Shane Ferguson’s loan doesn’t expire until after the weekend game.
A whopping eight of Millwall’s last 10 road trips have delivered at least three goals, including each of the last five. A strong 9/12 (75%) of their away fixtures have also banked in the BTTS column making the 10/11 on Both Teams To Score from William Hill look very attractive – it’s proven a profitable formula in 24/32 (75%) of Oldham’s Boundary Park matches since the start of last season.
Accrington v Notts County | Saturday 15.00
Accrington owner Andy Holt was understandably pissed off this week and slammed a loophole that’s seen Matt Crooks and Josh Windass agree pre-contract deals to join Rangers in the summer, hitting Stanley in the pocket.
The Reds would be due compensation for two 21-year-olds if they’d signed for another domestic club when their contract’s expire. However, a move north of the border would mean the Glasgow giants could sign the duo on the cheap.
If the Crown Ground club refuse to sell them this month they will only receive a nominal sum for Windass, around £30,000, and virtually nothing for Crooks, in training compensation due to Accy’s academy only having category-three status.
To compound the misery, Holt and manager John Coleman only discovered the news via a three-line email on Monday morning.
Windass and Crooks have both been in fine form this campaign, playing massive roles in Stanley’s promotion push. Windass, has made 25 appearances for the Reds, and is the club’s top scorer after netting 11 goals. Crooks has also been prolific over the past few months, with seven goals in the league and cup from his 24 appearances.
Coleman has said its business as usual for Accrington this weekend. The pair had already turned down contracts – described as “unbelievable for a club of our size” by Coleman – and I’d be surprised if this news did derail Stanley’s outstanding season (W11-D6-L5).
I’m almost certain the deals would have been signed before Christmas and so it’s telling that, despite the on-going speculation, both players have performed admirably under scrutiny in recent weeks. As have Accy, who created a catalogue of chances when dominating Mansfield 3-2 despite the final scoreline.
It was their first triumph in four but performance levels had remained high. Just four days earlier the Reds had ran the show at high-flying Northampton, only to lose 1-0.
With only Oxford landing more shots-on-target and just Portsmouth facing fewer, Accrington’s success is no surprise and I like their chances of recording another three points on Saturday.
Visitors Notts County are interviewing their potential new managers this week with a shortlist of eight all vying to replace Ricardo Moniz. With 10 bosses in eight years, the club is crying out for stability and a dollop of consolidation.
There was no ‘new manager bounce’ for the Magpies last weekend. Joint caretakers Richard Dryden and Mick Halsall oversaw a 4-2 loss to promotion-chasing Oxford that featured all of the chaotic hallmarks of a Moniz display.
County threw the points away in the final 10 minutes but were fortunate to be in front with a fluent Oxford side having dominated almost the entire game up to that point.
Notts have plenty of talented individuals but lack the organisation or direction to succeed as a team right now. Defensively, only York are averaging more goals against than Notts’ 1.83 goals-per-game. However, in attack, to Izale McLeod and Jon Stead are as good as any at this level – netting 17 goals between them.
Adding to the Magpies' woes, centre-midfielder Liam Noble is absent. Noble's missed 28 of 70 games since the start of last season and Notts' points-per-game has dropped from 1.43 with him to just 0.71 without as they've recorded just three victories without him.
Furthermore, County have conceded at least twice in each of the last 11 matches Noble has missed with the last 10 all having at least three goals.
So I’m keen to add a goals angle to the contest. Accrington have W6-D4-L1 against bottom-half clubs this term with a total of 36 goals seen across those 11 fixtures.
The hosts have scored in each of their last 12 at the Crown Ground and kept just a solitary clean sheet in that sample. No surprise then that eight of the Reds’ last nine on home soil rewarded Both Teams To Score backers.
County have just W1-D3-L8 when taking on top-half teams and seen BTTS bank in nine of their last 10, with 42 goals scored in total across those matches. The guests have only failed to notch in four games since relegation and their 11 road trips have featured 33 goals – eight also involving both teams scoring.
I’ll combine the home victory with Both Teams To Score for a bulbous 11/4 with 888 Sport.
Crawley v Cambridge | Saturday 15.00
Crawley will be glad to get back on familiar ground. The Red Devils have lost four on the spin on the road by an aggregate 3-12 including convincing back-to-back defeats to Wycombe and Portsmouth.
Mark Yates’ men have dropped four points off the top-half pace and seen top marksman Rhys Murphy return to Oldham. The club are still trying to put in place a deal for the Irish hitman to return but for now, Town must get by.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times, Yates has galvanised the club following a treacherous summer and slow start to the season. Crawley’s Broadfield Stadium form has been the nucleus to that reenergising with Saturday’s hosts bagging six wins from their past seven when welcoming League Two opposition since October.
Goals have been the order of the day for the Red Devils. Seven of their last 10 on home soil have delivered at least three goals with their last eight returning seven Over 2.5 Goals winners as well as strong 19/25 (76%) overall since the start of the season. A repeat is 20/21 with BetVictor this weekend and that’s too good to turn down.
Opposition Cambridge were humbled 4-1 at home to Wimbledon last weekend, their first loss in seven (W5-D1-L1). Shaun Derry's reign had started with successive defeats but since then the silver fox had really worked his magic, especially on the U’s travels.
Cambridge have now W5-D4-L3 on the road but four of those victories have arrived in their last five away days with the club scoring 12 goals. Derry’s positive impact has brought the guests to within three points of a top-seven place and I believe they’re definitely capable of infiltrating the play-off positions.
But our focus is on goals and there’s been plenty of them under Derry – seven of Cambridge’s nine have featured Over 2.5 Goals with the same number also producing Both Teams To Score winners.
I’ll take the 19/20 on Overs here.
Oldham v Millwall – Both Teams To Score (10/11 William Hill)
Accrington v Notts County – Accrington to win and Both Teams To Score (11/4 888 Sport)
Crawley v Cambridge – Over 2.5 Goals (19/20 BetVictor)
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