THE new EFL season gets underway this weekend and we're delighted to welcome debutant contributor Matthew Kirby (@M_Kirby95) to the fold to oversee Salford's televised showdown with Stevenage.
Salford v Stevenage | Saturday 3rd August 2019, 12:30 | Sky Sports
Salford make their Football League bow in front of the Sky Sports cameras on Saturday, as the Class of 92-owned club goes in search of successive promotions.
Graham Alexander’s men were well-fancied in the National League last term, and they just about validated that confidence by defeating AFC Fylde in the play-off final, after finishing third in the regular season.
Stevenage narrowly missed out on a play-off spot last season, falling just one point short, ending the campaign in 10th. Dino Maamria has built some solid foundations and will be looking to enhance upon those this time around.
Entering the new season
Salford enter the season towards the fore of the ante-post betting – League Two winner (11/1 Blacktype) and promotion (9/4 Blacktype) – and there’s good reason with the Ammies boasting a powerful front line, plus the backing from the ‘Class of 92’.
However, there are concerns they could be undercooked having played just three pre-season friendlies, which have seen two defeats against Woking and Middlesbrough, plus a win. That’s in contrast to Stevenage, who have had an intensive pre-season schedule taking in seven fixtures, with varying degrees of success, and of course some experimenting.
The business by the visitors also looks shrewd on paper with Tyler Denton arriving from Leeds, Chris Stokes from financially stricken Bury, plus returning favourite Dean Parrett heading back to the Broadhall club.
With a bit of fine-tuning from last season, on top of these additions, then Boro seem to be flying under the radar ahead of the kick-off, and you can read Peter Taylor’s League 2 thoughts here.
Previous opening days
To get a feeling ahead of the new campaign, it’s always good to reflect on previous year’s opening weekend encounters to see if there is anything to glean.
Last season’s opening weekend saw 5/12 BTTS, 8/12 Over 2.5 Goals, 6/12 home wins, 2/12 draws and 4/12 away wins.
The opening weekend in 2017/18 saw 10/11 BTTS, 11/12 Over 2.5 Goals, 5/12 home wins, 4/12 draws and 3/12 away wins.
Looking back further at 2016/17 saw 7/12 BTTS, 4/12 Over 2.5 Goals, 5/12 home wins, 4/12 draws and 3/12 away wins.
So, there’s a bit of a mixed bag in terms of goals, as it has for Stevenage, who have started with two draws (2-2 and 3-3), and a defeat in their last three campaigns.
Back of the net
Punting on the opening weekend is always open to interpretation and brings challenges; second-guessing fitness levels and whether managers will have changed their shape.
However, I’m interested by two angles here and one thing to expect is goals given the firepower both sides boast.
Adam Rooney and Rory Gaffney shouldn’t have any issue in this league, with the pair netting 32 times between them last term, while Stevenage’s Kurtis Guthrie bagged 14 goals and ended the season in a rich vein of form.
Maamria’s men weren’t the most defensively-sound last season, keeping just 13 clean sheets over the course of the season, so up against a strong forward line could give the Both Teams To Score (17/20 BetVcictor) angle clear focus.
Salford too short?
Even though Salford are fancied to go well, and are chalked up at 10/11 in this opener, I’m not buying the hype around them. The financial clout they have should help, but investment in their squad this summer hasn’t raised any eyebrows leaving it a similar state to last term.
The majority of the Ammies’ roster should be able to make the step-up, but a reliance on Rooney and Gaffney could be their pitfall, so I’d be expecting a play-off place at best for Alexander’s men. It’s worth bearing in mind that the average finishing position this century for a promoted non-league team is 13th.
I believe there is some scope in finding a pro-Stevenage bet here given the prices and a few other factors. Boro’s 5-3-2 system could cause the league debutants a few headaches, which could see them pounce early, while Maamria’s side had a strong start last season going unbeaten in their first four games.
Boro’s business has been shrewd and if Guthrie can continue his form from the back end of last season, then they could well take three points from this match, although the Double Chance angle looks equally tempting at even-money (Bet365), which looks to be the way to go.