FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over the final day of action in League One on Sunday.
Fleetwood v Port Vale | Sunday 12:00
What a difference a year makes…
This time last year Fleetwood were surviving relegation to League Two on the final day of the season but as League One reaches its conclusion on Sunday, the Cod Army are on the brink of promotion to the Championship.
Manager Steven Pressley walked away from Highbury last summer and with Uwe Rosler only arriving at the Fylde coast three days before the campaign kicked-off, many pundits suggested Town were destined to another season of struggle.
Rosler spoke of wishing to instil a top-six mentality despite being given the job of ensuring Fleetwood’s League One status for the third successive season. But the German has transformed the club’s core and revolutionised performances on the pitch.
Everything from the training structure, the recovery sessions, to the food the players eat has been revamped by Rosler. The Cod Army now play a modern 3-5-2 system and could even pinch the final automatic promotion place should they win here and Bolton lose at home to Peterborough.
Quoted as 14/1 outsiders for promotion pre-season, even finishing third would be considered a heroic achievement and Fleetwood’s players aren’t willing to down tools ahead of a potential play-off schedule.
Sunday’s hosts have found their feet after a sticky patch to pocket maximum points from their past three outings – the latter of which was a last-gasp 3-2 success at Gillingham. Having beaten six of eight visitors from the bottom-nine at Highbury, I fancy the Cod Army to take top honours here.
The Fylde coast club have been victorious in 10 of their last 16 as hosts and have plenty of motivation to send struggling Port Vale down too. Town were beaten 2-1 at Vale Park in November’s reverse fixture, when Alex Jones used a hand to score the late winner.
That was the catalyst for Town’s 18-game unbeaten run in League One and the manner of the loss hasn’t been forgotten at Highbury.
Vale know they must win here to stand any chance of avoiding relegation whilst hoping Gillingham fail to beat Northampton away. The visitors have W1-D4-L11 in their last 16 away days and have also been beaten in 12 of their most recent 15 trips to the top-six.
Michael Brown’s men scored their first league goal in 556 minutes when beating Walsall in midweek to keep their survival hopes alive but the Valiants haven’t claimed back-to-back away wins since March 2015 and my ratings easily rank the visitors amongst the worst three clubs in the division.
Fleetwood have already broken records this season and I don’t expect the high-flying hosts to freeze on the final day. The 3/4 (Marathon) available on a home triumph is too good to ignore.
Northampton v Gillingham | Sunday 12:00
Northampton manager Justin Edinburgh has promised his relegation-haunted former club Gillingham no favours at Sixfields on Sunday as the visitors seek League One survival on the final day of the campaign.
The Kent club were 17th in the table – one below the Cobblers – and eight points above the drop zone when they decided to dismiss Edinburgh. Ady Pennock was installed as the new boss and suggested a play-off push could be possible.
But the visitors are just a point clear of the relegation zone having collected only four wins in 20 matches. Should they fail to pick up a victory here, they’ll be relying on results elsewhere to go their way.
I wouldn’t be touching Gillingham here. No League One club has conceded more away goals (49) this season and Pennock’s posse haven’t recorded a clean sheet in 24 on their travels. They’ve lost six of their past eight and been beaten in seven of eight trips to fellow bottom-half clubs.
To make matters worse, midfielder Bradley Dack has seen his appeal against an additional two-match ban thrown out whilst Scott Wagstaff, Bradley Garmston and Aaron Morris remain sidelined. Chris Herd could return but Joe Quigley remains a doubt.
For Northampton, Neal Eardley could miss out and John Joe O'Toole is an absentee but David Buchanan is back from a ban as the Cobblers bid to sign-off in style at Sixfields.
Edinburgh met the board and out of contract players in midweek to discuss rebuilding the squad but for now the Town supremo is hoping to conclude the campaign by sending his old club down.
Again, I’ve no real interest in the Match Odds here – Northampton have won six of their last nine at home to bottom-six clubs but are winless in seven – and instead I’ll focus on the goals markets for what could be a frantic and thrilling final day shootout.
Collectively these two clubs have conceded 152 goals this term – that’s an average of 1.69 per-game – whilst 59/90 (66%) of their combined League One encounters have delivered in the Over 2.5 Goals market.
We can back Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score at 17/20 (Coral). Looking only at their respective home/away records, the Over 2.5 Goals side has landed on 33/44 (75%) occasions with Both Teams To Score banking in 31/44 (70%) matches.
Bristol Rovers v Millwall | Sunday 12:00
Millwall manager claims he knew the Millwall team he will name for Sunday’s crunch clash at Bristol Rovers before last weekend’s 3-0 defeat to Oxford had ended.
The Lions have to win at The Memorial Stadium to eliminate any doubt about losing sixth spot to either Southend or Rochdale but head west on the back of a number of disappointing displays.
Harris has attempted to rally the troops in the week after being deeply disappointed by this side’s effort at Oxford. The Millwall boss said his team “lost a lot of individual battles” in a lackadaisical and flat performance.
The Londoners have now fired blanks in each of their past two encounters – they haven’t failed to score in three consecutively in the third tier since May 1999 – and head into this match with only three wins in 10 since their FA Cup exit.
In fact, Millwall’s form has nosedived since that mauling at Tottenham. Before visiting White Hart Lane, the Lions had recorded 11 clean sheets in 13; they’ve since recorded two shutouts in 10 and failed to net in five.
Harris’ charges have managed a sole success on the road at clubs in 15th and above and are taking on a Bristol Rovers outfit that’s only lost three times at the Memorial Stadium all season and boasted the best home record in the country over the past three campaigns.
The Lions have centre-back Sam Hutchinson rated as doubtful having suffered a cracked rib against Fleetwood on Easter Monday. Harris will make a late call on the defender but his absence could prove pivotal; Millwall have lost just one of the 14 matches Hutchinson’s been involved in this season.
Nevertheless, I’m keen to oppose Millwall here with Bristol Rovers +0.50 Asian Handicap a bet at 9/11 (BetVictor). It’s a selection that will see us paid out if the Pirates avoid defeat.
Defeat at Peterborough last weekend ended the Gas’ own play-off aspirations and although this game is a dead-rubber, there’s still plenty to play for.
Rovers are guaranteed a top-10 finish in League One this season – a remarkable achievement coming on the back of successive promotions from non-league – and will want to finish on a high in front of an expected sell-out crowd.
Head coach Darrell Clarke has said before that his squad are playing for their future at the club, and that could be truer than ever ahead of the curtain call of the campaign on Sunday. The Gas should relish their underdog role as they hunt a 10th win from 13 home (W9-D2-L0) fixtures.
Should they take maximum points, it’ll be their best return of wins at this level since 1995 and their squad hasn’t too many injury concerns either.
Supporters player of the year Ollie Clarke faces a late fitness test and striker Rory Gaffney should be included after his late double last weekend. Meanwhile, England U20 defender Jake Clarke-Salter is in the Rovers squad for the final time before returning to parent club Chelsea.