A busy midweek of football is upon us with domestic and continental action to enjoy. Analyst Mark O’Haire picks out a selection of his favourite fancies from the EFL scene.
It was a painful weekend for my Insights column. Having outlined two potential punts from the Netherlands and Germany, I was confident of counting my winning cash on Saturday night. But neither fixture came close to the expected outcome; Freiburg flopped in Berlin and the Eredivisie encounter in Twente was sorely lacking in goalmouth action.
There’s no time to lick wounds with Champions League, Europa League and Football League fixtures filling the midweek schedule. Having already outlined a few angles of attack from the UCL on Matchbook’s Champions League Podcast, I’ll keep this column focussed on value closer to home with a best bets from each EFL division.
Rovers To Be Left Feeling Blue
Birmingham fell to an expectant defeat (0-1) at Championship favourites Leeds on Saturday but the Blues produced a reasonably positive display that brought praise from head coach Pep Clotet. The Spaniard said, “We didn’t come here to be sitting ducks – we went toe-to-toe against a team that’s been playing this kind of football for a year-and-a-half.”
The Second City landed four efforts on-target and even won the shot count 15-14 at Elland Road, a rarity in the Marcelo Bielsa era. Sure, only three of those attempts arrived from inside the penalty area but the intent from Clotet’s charges was clear with the decisive goal arriving from an unfortunate defensive slip that allowed Leeds in on goal.
A return home to St Andrew’s on Tuesday night should ensure further improvement from Birmingham.
The hosts will have to do without suspended Ivan Sunjic and with Gary Gardner also a major doubt, Blues could be light in central midfield areas. However, Jefferson Montero, Jonathan Grounds and Cheick Keita are all close to returning now.
Against Leeds, Clotet had kept faith with the team which beat Middlesbrough so stylishly before the international break. That meant Jude Bellingham continued in midfield alongside Sunjic, charged with helping the visitors play through Leeds’ feverish pressing game. And so major amendments aren’t anticipated for Tuesday, making Birmingham undervalued.
As hosts, Birmingham have W3-D1-L1 in 2019/20 and suffered only six defeats in 28 here since the start of last season. Meanwhile, excluding results against the top-six this term and the Blues have W5-D1-L2, making 1.8 quotes on Clotet’s team off a scratch 0.0 start on the Asian Handicap appealing, especially with Blackburn struggling for form and fit defenders.
Rovers have tabled two triumphs since August with their four victories this season arriving against teams occupying 17th or below. The Ewood Park outfit are operating off a bottom-six Expected Goals (xG) from open play ratio and have returned W8-D5-L15 on their travels since returning to the second-tier at the beginning of 2018/19.
Imps To Fall Short At Fratton
Portsmouth boss Kenny Jackett is under increasing pressure following Pompey’s frustrating 1-0 reverse at Wimbledon last time out. The Blues dominated proceedings at Kingsmeadow, hitting the woodwork, landing nine attempts on-target, firing in 16 efforts from inside the penalty area and enjoying 61 touches in the Dons box without managing to score.
The Blues are now just one point above the League One drop-zone after a frustrating first 11 fixtures (W3-D4-L4). Tuesday night’s hosts have given away the division’s fewest goalscoring chances yet Jackett’s outfit have still collected only three shutouts, whilst also failing to make their own opportunities count when in the opposition’s final-third.
Nevertheless, I’m confident Portsmouth’s campaign will turn around sooner than later if the club continue to follow the same process in the coming weeks. In fact, Pompey look well worth supporting to get back on track at 1.91 this midweek when Lincoln arrive at Fratton Park.
The Imps are still transitioning to life under Michael Appleton following the painful departure of renowned coaches Danny and Nicky Cowley. Since taking top honours in City’s opening three outings, Lincoln have since fallen to seven League One losses in 11, including five from six when taking to the road.
Lincoln have leaked at least twice in five of those past six games as guests and will need to rejig their defence with Cian Bolger suspended and Michael Bostwick still unavailable.
The Imps produced very little of note when hosting Shrewsbury on Friday night and that could make the newcomers ideal opponents for a misfiring Pompey side.
Bantams Backed To Down Vale
Bradford moved into second place in League Two when sealing their third successive home win on Saturday, 2-1 against an enterprising Crawley outfit. Gary Bowyer’s boys began brightly and were rewarded for their early efforts with an 18th minute goal; the Bantams then doubled their advantage four minutes after the interval.
Crawley always posed an attacking threat and City keeper Richard O’Donnell was called into plenty of second-half action. There were plenty of anxious moments in the dying embers of the encounter as the Sussex side pressed for an equaliser and Bowyer was pleased to see his Bradford team hold on to maximum points, the club’s sixth win in eight League Two games.
Saturday might not have been straightforward but the Bantams have been delivering a series of strong performances, improving as the campaign continues. Bradford are only second to Exeter in the Expected Goals (xG) ratio rankings and feature prominently towards the upper echelons of the table when viewing xG open play and shots in the box figures too.
On Tuesday night, Bowyer’s outfit should be capable of justifying their status as 1.95 favourites against Port Vale.
The visitors have earned 15 of their 18-point tally in the Potteries and have recorded a solitary success in 15 road trips under John Askey’s watch now (W1-D7-L7), including taking only three points from a possible 21 in 2019/20.
Vale are entrenched in the bottom half of both the xG and xG open play ratings and are generating few clear-cut goalscoring opportunities compared to leading divisional rivals. That should encourage a Bradford team that hope to have Dylan Connolly available again to off-set the absence of Clayton Donaldson and doubts surrounding Harry Pritchard.
- Birmingham +0.0 – 2 units @ 1.80
- Portsmouth -0.5 – 2 units @ 1.91
- Bradford -0.5 – 2 units @ 1.95