Man City v Liverpool
There’s no better way to start the weekend than this! The first pick of our League Scout’s Best Bets is the stand-out clash between rivals Manchester City and Liverpool takes place at the Etihad on Saturday lunchtime. The Citizens remain firmly in the title hunt and their recent run of form is excellent. They’ve been victorious in their last six in all competitions, conceding just one goal within this time.
Last time out they faced Championship leaders Burnley in the FA Cup, where we saw them hammer the Clarets by six goals to nil. Their opponents here are Liverpool who have looked rather shaky in their last couple of matches. You can excuse the latest one nil loss at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League, however, the one-nil defeat at Bournemouth previous to that was a real lacklustre performance. Hence, why I’m more than happy to keep City onside for this one.
The big team news worth noting here is that Erling Haaland is a potential doubt, the Norwegian missed training on Thursday but could still be fit once match day arrives! Julian Alvarez may be utilised if this is the case and is a handy option for Guardiola as a potential replacement. With this in mind, I’m still keen to back a home win!
The talent in this City side is there for us all to see and the solid depth runs deep in all positions in the team. Over the course of the season we’ve seen City drop points on just two occasions on home soil in the Premier League! It’s no doubt become a fortress and goals have been flowing throughout.
Even by their high standards, a statistic that really caught my eye was the average number of goals scored in home PL matches. They’re now averaging an incredible 3.3 GpG, a number that simply cannot be matched. On top of this, eight consecutive wins have been achieved in a row in all competitions (at home), with multiple goals being scored in seven of these.
At the other end of the pitch, City have excelled in defence. Clean sheets have been gained in five of their previous six in all comps, something they’ll be hoping to extend here. The numbers simply don’t lie and it’s given me more than enough of a reason to back a home victory!
Liverpool arrive here on the back of two defeats in consecutive games, this could well become three by Saturday 3pm! After the Reds picked up a big three points against Manchester United back in early March, I thought they may well have turned a corner. Anyway, things have gone downhill since, they were dumped out of the Champions League by Real Madrid after being put to sword, losing 6-2 on aggregate.
The other poor result came down on the south coast at the hands of struggling Bournemouth. In fact, they’ve struggled all season long on the road having picked up just a mere twelve points from a possible thirty nine in total. Liverpool have also blanked in four of their last five away trips, numbers which simply are not good enough for an outfit with Champions League qualification aspirations.
They’re likely to have a near full squad to pick from here but even with the likes of Mo Salah and Cody Gakpo set to start, I can only see a home win.
All in all, I’m expecting City to be on the front foot from the off and I believe they’ll have enough in the tank to take all three points!
Luton Town v Watford
There are so many narratives in play in the build-up to this derby match at Kenilworth Road, perhaps none more so than the one about the man in the Luton dugout. Rob Edwards began the season as Watford boss, an exciting appointment following a hugely successful first season at Forest Green Rovers in League Two.
Edwards would only win three of his 11 games at the Hornets helm, the Watford hierarchy deeming it sufficient reasoning to dismiss him just over five months after taking over. How does the 40-year-old respond? He two months later becomes the successor to Nathan Jones at Watford’s heated rivals Luton Town, a match that so far looks made in heaven.
Luton’s dream of another Premier League push looks a realistic one as the Hatters sit fourth in the Championship table, six points off the automatic promotion places and with a seven point cushion between themselves and seventh-place Norwich City.
Alongside a phenomenal away record, Luton’s promotion challenge is supported by a strong record at their infamous Kenilworth home. Since the beginning of November, only runaway leaders Burnley have left Bedfordshire with a clean sheet to their name.
Watford had a new face in the dugout by the time the pair met at Vicarage Road back in October. Slaven Bilić was the man tasked with getting the promotion chasers back on track, the highlights across his spell including a 4-0 demolition of Nathan Jones’ Luton Town at Vicarage Road.
That was one of only 10 Watford games that the Croatian would win however, and a run of just one win in his last eight matches led to his dismissal in early March. In comes Chris Wilder, undoubtedly still a high-calibre number at Championship level despite his ultimately unsuccessful stint at Middlesbrough.
Under the 55-year-old, Watford have a win, draw and defeat to their name across three games, ultimately looking a little way off being a likely top six candidate despite having the likes of Keinan Davis, João Pedro and Britt Assombalonga among their forward options.
Part of a Championship weekend littered with rivalries, Watford are eyeing up the chance to further gain bragging rights and complete a league double over Luton Town. The 4-0 victory in the first half of the season will likely stay on people’s minds, even if both teams now have different managers in the dugout compared to back then. Rest assured there is likely to be no sweeter sight for Rob Edwards than a home victory over the side many feel should have given him longer.
Bradford v Grimsby
Bradford City will be in confident mood as they take on a Grimsby Town side who have nothing to play for.
The Bantams are proving to be a tough nut to crack in League Two at the moment as they eye promotion to League One. They drew 0-0 with Carlisle United last time out and their boss Mark Hughes said he was ‘proud’ of the performance against a Cumbrians side who are sat in 4th place and if they can play like that this weekend they should have too much quality for their next opponents.
On the selection front, striker Matt Derbyshire is closing in on his return to the action and he will provide more competition and depth up top to the likes of Andy Cook and Vadaine Oliver which is useful. Bradford’s defence has been rock solid over recent weeks and they have kept six clean sheets in their last nine outings.
In addition, they are unbeaten in their last seven games and are picking up some momentum ahead of some big fixtures. They also have the top scorer in the league in Cook, who has fired 27 goals in all competitions, and he will be eyeing more goals on Saturday to add to his tally.
Grimsby’s season is starting to peter out and they find themselves down in 15th place in the table and they can’t go up or down now so their focus will surely be on the next campaign.
Their lengthy FA Cup run to the quarter-final has appeared to take its toll on the players recently and they put in a tired performance in their last clash against relegation threatened Crawley Town on Tuesday night. Midfielder Harry Clifton gave them the lead before half-time but they conceded three minutes from time in the end and had to settle for a point in a match they would have wanted to win, with their manager Paul Hurst saying it was ‘ridiculous’ that his team didn’t pick up the three points.
In terms of injuries, winger Owen Gallacher made his return off the bench against the Red Devils so is now back fit and provides an alternative to Otis Khan and John McAtee. Grimsby are winless in their last four games in all competitions and have only found the net twice which suggests they are starting to fade away now as they gear up for a tricky test.
Arsenal v Leeds United
The hosts will be hoping to continue their title charge this weekend at the Emirates Stadium as they host visitors, Leeds. Arsenal, solely have the Premier League to battle for right now, after being dumped out of the Europa League to Sporting CP just a few weeks ago. Their focus is completely on their remaining games as they hope to secure top spot for the first time since 2004.
They’ve had a magnificent campaign thus far and this matchup provides a superb opportunity to keep the wheels in motion. They hammered Crystal Palace most recently in the league, running out 4-1 winners. Their opponents were also victorious; the Whites brushed aside Wolves in a riveting affair at Molineux, winning by 4 goals to 2.
This is a selection with some serious backbone to it, Arsenal have won eleven of their fourteen home PL games, all of which have seen at least two or more goals. As they march into April, they’ll certainly be hoping to keep this brilliant run of form going.
The irreplaceable Bukayo Saka is the man that I have to highlight once more here. The England international has been in unstoppable form all season long and now ranks as the 3rd highest goal contributor in the league. A combined total of 22 goals and assists is the total he sits at right now and he’s undoubtedly ready to increase this total here.
He’ll most likely be lining up with Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli in attack, both of whom have been magnificent themselves. The Gunners have now won their last six on the spin in the PL and this match provides a great chance to keep this run going. The home side also pose a formidable head to head record having won six of their last seven against Leeds, outscoring them by 20 to 5 within this time.
A quick word on the visitors, Leeds will be without their key holding midfield Tyler Adams as he’s been ruled out for an extended period due to having surgery on his hamstring. He’s been of vital importance and the news is a serious blow. There’s no option to plough on but I just cannot see Javi Gracia’s side returning to Yorkshire with any points at all.
All season long they’ve been poor on the road and they have lost nine of their fourteen away fixtures. Now facing the table toppers, things just don’t get any easier. They’ll also most likely be without another two important players in Wilfried Gnonto and Maximillian Wober who both picked up injuries during the international break. With all the injury news taken into account, on top of their woeful away form, I simply cannot anything but a comfortable home win. Therefore, I’m ready to take an Arsenal win, coupled with 2+ goals to be scored in the contest.
Crystal Palace v Leicester
Selhurst Park is the venue for a big six pointer at the wrong end of the table! Although Palace currently occupy 12th place in the table, they sit just three points above the relegation zone at this moment in time. It’s a real battle down the bottom of the Premier League this season and I’m expecting the new manager bounce for the Eagles to give them a real boost!
The home side have been on a dismal run of form of late having not won a single game in their last twelve matches. Roy Hodgson will return to the dugout here and I can see a change in fortunes. The new manager bounce is something we’ve seen so often before at numerous clubs and all we need for our selection is a single goal from the hosts.
In fact, Palace have actually managed to notch in front of their home fans over 50% of the time, despite being on a such a poor run. Since the beginning of the season they’ve hit the back of the net on eight out of fourteen occasions, a quite unexpected statistic. This particular pick of mine is a real hunch but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
With a near fully fit squad to select from and the expectation to pick up points, I believe Wilfried Zaha could be the answer. The wing wizard has racked up ten shots in his previous four, clearly displaying an eye for goal in this time. The goal we’re hoping for could come from anywhere though and set pieces will no doubt play a part.
With the likes of Marc Guehi and James Tomkins set to start, the centre backs can prove a force in the air. The visitors have been well renowned for their poor record of defending set piece situation in recent times. All we need is a single goal from the home side and facing a team who’ve conceded in their last six, this is a more than an achievable target!
The Foxes have had a completely topsy-turvy campaign this time round but something they haven’t struggled with is scoring goals. Quite astonishingly they’ve been on the scoresheet in 71.43% of their away matches in the league and will be expecting to do so once more here.
Their talisman James Maddison will be raring to go, fresh off the back of an international appearance just a number of days ago. I believe he could yet again prove to be the difference having been so influential this season. He’s now up to a combined total of fifteen goal contributions (G+A), numbers that cannot be matched by anyone else in this fixture.
If he’s on song then he’s no doubt going to be a man tough to stop! Another key weapon in this Leicester side is Harvey Barnes, the tricky winger bagged last time out and has nine goals to his name in total, so there’s various personnel who can unlock the door in attack.
Both sides have been under par of late but I can see this being a surprisingly entertaining affair with so much at stake. Back both teams to score at a very appealing price and we should have a great run for our money!
Hull v Rotherham
In a way this match optimises how often your opinions on teams can change in the EFL Championship over the course of only a few matches.
Rotherham have been on a fluctuating journey this season. Starting off with good results and over-shooting their performance metrics under Paul Warne and then having to cope with a fairly seismic, unplanned, managerial change.
Probably as a result of a mixture of reversion to the mean and Matt Taylor getting used to the level and his players, there was then a period of time where Rotherham sunk like the Titanic. At this stage I would’ve backed them for a fourth successive relegation from the second tier but the recruitment in January was generally very good and seemed to transform the team into a more capable unit at this level.
The most recent matches make me doubt that opinion though. The goalscoring threat has dissipated somewhat and the improvement in performance data has diminished to a very marginal gain. Goalscoring has certainly been a problem for the Millers away from home. They have failed to score more than once in any of their last ten away matches, the last time coming at Turf Moor in early November when they were 2-0 up and conspired to lose the match in the last minute.
Hull meanwhile have continued to be a low-margin team under Liam Rosenior. Their home record has been very good, and it was tempting to side with a home win here, but in all honesty there was little in either the performance data to suggest that Hull have been dominant enough to justify an odds-on price for the win.
Instead, with Hull’s tendency to keep scoring low, both for themselves and their opponents, at the KCOM, the better bet is for the under 2.5 goals. Hull’s matches at home have gone under this line in six of their previous eight, and in seven of Rotherham’s last ten away.
Bristol City v Reading
The basis of backing Bristol City here is really an exercise in getting against Reading away from home. The Royals did manage to bag their first goal away from home in 2023 before the international break at Blackburn, and seemed to offer a little more going forwards in that match, but at the same time they should already have been multiple goals down as Rovers wasted their chances to build a lead. Even so, Reading found a way to concede a late goal and continue their ghastly run of away defeats, now six in a row.
It is not just an unlucky run of results though. Over the last ten away matches Reading average a deficit of 1xG per match. In other words, they are conceding chances worth 1xG more than they are able to create, so they are effectively giving themselves little chance to win these matches in their performances.
Bristol City are probably one of the first clubs to confirm that they will be playing Championship football next season. Often it is perceived as something of a negative that they have nothing to play for, but sometimes the sides in a safe midtable position can remove the shackles and play with a bit more freedom. If Nigel Pearson’s side do this then they certainly have the players capable of hurting the opposition.
There has been a lot of press coverage of Alex Scott recently, but his injury on England duty over the international break means that he will miss this match. It is a blow to the Robins but one that they can overcome with the other attacking talent at their disposal. Excitingly for Robins fans the majority of the talent seems to be coming from within the academy with Omar Taylor-Clarke the latest to make an impact on the side.
Though City lost their last two before the international break, they were away from home. Nigel Pearson’s men are unbeaten in six Championship games at home, winning four of those, and none of them will have been again a team as poor as Reading on the road.
The final point on this match is that Reading are finally due to receive their expected six point penalty from the EFL in the next 24 hours. Not sure what effect this will have on the outcome of the match but it is worth noting for information purposes.
Coventry v Stoke
Two teams clash here who I believe have really improved over the course of the season to the point that I think that they are both playing top six football right now. It may be too little too late for Stoke to challenge for a play-off position, but Coventry are still in with a shout.
Coventry obviously had their issues early in the season with their home stadium being unavailable and as a result started very slowly but they have grown into the season well and justified many people’s opinion that they could make the play-offs. All that has been achieved without their chief playmaker in Callum O’Hare, but other players have come to the fore, none more so than Viktor Gyokeres.
The powerful Swede made his international debut and scored in the break. He is an ever present and really his improvement has been such that he, in my mind, is the best centre forward in the league, probably by quite a wide margin as well. With Gyokeres to build attacks from Coventry have become a really dangerous side.
However, Stoke will not be perturbed by this. The Potters are in a confident vein of form themselves and will be hoping to consolidate their momentum gained before the international break. Alex Neil has found a formation and playing style that works really effectively for his side and the consistency of selection has helped with that.
The midfield three of Ben Pearson, Josh Laurent, and Will Smallbone, have probably been the most impressive part of this. It is surprising in a way because Lewis Baker had become an important player for Stoke, captaining the side as well, but the mixture of attributes in the midfield has really worked and won’t be changed unless fitness plays a part.
Three of the last four matches at Coventry have seen both teams score, as have Stoke’s last three away games. With the confidence that both sides have going into the game I can see both teams having opportunities and with that, hopefully at least one of those will go in on both sides.
The price is a fair bit skinnier than Over 2.5 Goals but I am slightly concerned about the 1-1 in this match. It has occurred three times in the last ten at Coventry, including twice in their last three games, and also scuppered us when backed in Stoke’s match at Middlesbrough.
West Brom v Millwall
West Brom look to be coming into some serious financial trouble that could have a massive bearing on their immediate future. This may or may not affect the play on the pitch, but is worth considering as motivation could change depending on what happens.
At the moment there is no certainty around that, so this remains a big game for both sides in relation to the play-off picture. Millwall currently hold that coveted 6th place and if West Brom are going to take it then, obviously, winning this match is of utmost importance to them.
The Baggies have become another Jekyll and Hyde home and away team recently. The record at The Hawthorns is sensational with 9 wins from their last 10, all of which were won to nil. The only goal conceded was a late, direct free kick to Ben Brereton Diaz, which, in all fairness, Josh Griffiths could have kept out. Their xG differential over those ten matches is actually 1.2xG, which is up there with the likes of Burnley.
West Brom can certainly keep teams out at home and although Millwall have got good attacking threats, in Tom Bradshaw and Zian Flemming in particular, the Lions aren’t the most free-flowing team in the division. Almost half of their goals have come from set pieces and West Brom will feel confident that they have players of the right physicality to keep chances to a minimum there.
Millwall themselves are quite capable at keeping an opposition at bay. Gary Rowett’s men have kept four clean sheets away from home in their last ten matches and will probably be set up in this match as more of a ‘must not lose’ scenario. I can see Millwall trying to keep it tight until later on in the game and perhaps trying to nick it then.
Either way, I like the chances of the BTTS No option coming in here.
Barnsley v Morecambe
Barnsley’s outside automatic promotion hopes hit a bump in the road in the form of a 3-1 midweek defeat at Exeter City.
Therefore, the Tykes are a dangerous wounded animal in hosting Morecambe on Saturday, with Derek Adams’ Shrimps still searching for just their second away league win of the season.
Barnsley won the shot count comfortably in Devon and still accumulated 1.49 expected goals (xG).
Liam Kitching is a doubt while Matty Wolfe is out for the rest of the season, but Michael Duff should be able to shuffle the pack accordingly ahead of a must-win game should they wish to remain in the top two conversation.
Max Melbourne and Jake Taylor have missed out in recent weeks for Morecambe, who on current form are arguably the worst team in League One.
Connor Ripley has been the busiest goalkeeper in the division and having failed to score more than one goal in any of their last 12 outings, it is hard to see anything but a comfortable home win.
Barnsley have scored 14 goals in their last four home league games, it could be a long afternoon for the travelling Shrimps.
Charlton v Shrewsbury
Hesitation and further contemplation is recommended in betting on matches were both teams have very little to play for, but tuning back into what has been a very profitable stance for us this season at The Valley is too good to refuse.
Charlton Athletic have not kept a clean sheet in their last five matches in the third tier, which includes taking on Accrington Stanley, Cambridge United and Morecambe, three of the bottom four.
The Addicks have seen both teams score in 63% of their matches this season, 24 of 38, and hosting Shrewsbury Town could provide some end of season entertainment, although the most optimistic of visiting supporters will not yet believe the play-offs are over for them.
The Shrews have conceded in all of their last four, and will be without Tom Bayliss, George Nurse and Dan Udoh in SE7.
Charlton have been reliable in provoking action in both boxes this season and with Miles Leaburn back in the side, having had injury ups and downs this term, they are far more potent in the attacking third.
Lucas Ness, Corey Blackett-Taylor and Chuks Aneke are sidelined for the remainder of the campaign through injury.
Derby v Ipswich
Ipswich Town’s trip to Derby County this weekend is one of the rare times that they are odds against to win a League One match.
The Tractor Boys have won six on the bounce, keeping seven clean sheets in a row, and have thrown themselves firmly back into the mix for the top two as a result.
Kieran McKenna’s men are in a strong place in terms of player availability, with Nathan Broadhead scoring on his debut for Wales during the international break.
The Rams have not won a match against the current top three this season and have won just two from eight against the current top six.
Paul Warne’s men have only won one of five, having lost their last two matches consecutively without troubling the scorers.
David McGoldrick’s productivity has dropped off in the last month or so and an unbreached defence from a seven-game period could be an intimidating prospect for the hosts’ forward line.
Derby have been highly rated by the market all season and has proved reliable since the back end of 2022, however it is clear that Ipswich are the form side and should be fresh having not played last weekend.
Port Vale v Cambridge
Port Vale are enjoying a comfortable season, not entirely dissimilar from the one that Cambridge United posted in consolidating in the third tier after winning promotion last term, but are far too short given their recent run.
Darrell Clarke’s men’s season is fizzling out and despite deserving immense credit for the way that they have adapted to the step up, their levels have dropped significantly since the turn of the year.
Vale have won just two of their last 14 in the league and are somehow 1.8 to buck that trend against a U’s side that have everything to fight for.
Cambridge’s performances have been much better than results suggest, and the international break would have done them some good, needing to overcome a seven-point gap in their remaining nine matches to survive.
George Thomas, Fejiri Okenabirhie and Liam O’Neil are sidelined for the visitors, while Harvey Knibbs is a doubt.
It may be worth checking team news before having a bet, with Knibbs’ presence significantly upgrading Cambridge’s attacking options.
At that price, taking on Vale is the selection and believing in the fighting spirit of the U’s down at the bottom, with motivation playing a huge part at this stage of the season.
Hartlepool v Swindon
Hartlepool United have been getting points on the board over recent weeks and will be desperate to beat Swindon Town.
The Pools haven’t lost yet since John Askey took over from Keith Curle in late February and have drawn all five of his games in charge so far. This shows they are proving to be a difficult team to beat under the former Shrewsbury Town and Port Vale man, but just need to find that cutting edge in attack.
They drew 1-1 with table toppers Leyton Orient with striker Connor Jennings scoring last time out in an impressive result that shows they can battle with the big boys and have also held fellow promotion chasers Bradford City and Northampton Town over recent weeks. Askey said they actually ‘deserved more’ against the O’s last weekend and will be hoping to see his team pick up three points against a beatable Swindon outfit.
On the selection front, defender Euan Murray will be assessed but the North East club have a ready-made replacement in Dan Dodds. Hartlepool remain in the drop zone but their recent showings will give them confidence that they can claw themselves out of the bottom two and they will be in confident mood as they look to make it six unbeaten on Saturday.
Swindon’s chances of making the play-offs are fading away fast and they lost 1-0 at home to Stockport County last weekend which leaves them in 11th place, 10 points off the top seven. Speaking after their disappointing defeat to the Hatters, their manager Jody Morris said it was a ‘frustrating’ afternoon and he won’t be holding out much hope of seeing a reaction as they prepare to make the long trip up north to face a resurgent Hartlepool.
The Robins will be without striker Jacob Wakeling after he was sent off in the last outing which opens the door to Luke Jephcott to potentially land a starting spot. Swindon conceded four in their last away game at bottom of the table Rochdale in their 4-4 draw at Spotland and were carved open way too easily which will be on their minds at the Suits Direct Stadium.
Moreover, they are winless in their last five now and will be there for the taking if Askey’s side show up again and put in a brave performance.
Leyton Orient v Carlisle
Leyton Orient will be eager to turn their recent draws into wins as they lock horns with promotion rivals Carlisle United.
The O’s have drawn their last four games but have still been getting points on the board even though their performances haven’t been up to the standard they have set themselves this season. This weekend provides a great opportunity for the table toppers to return to winning ways after their 1-1 draw away at Hartlepool United last weekend.
Attacker Paul Smyth was on the scoresheet last time out and boss Richie Wellens said afterwards that his side should have been ‘out of sight’ against the Pools and they missed a lot of chances. On the injury front, defender Dan Happe remains out of action but they have useful options in his position in Omar Beckles and Ed Turns and they have formed a solid partnership at the back.
Leyton Orient are top of the table for a reason and have been the best team in the division this term as they look to get over the line. They have the number one defensive record in the league and have only let in 25 goals in 37 matches so if they can shut out their next opponents, they should have enough to win.
Carlisle are in for a tough test at Brisbane Road as they eye an automatic promotion slot. Their hopes of making the top three were dealt a blow last weekend when they lost 1-0 away at Gillingham. They didn’t play well at Priestfield at all and it was a worrying performance as they only mustered one shot on target. Speaking afterwards, their manager Paul Simpson said it was a ‘disappointing’ day for his players.
In terms of selection news, centre-back Paul Huntington is closing in on his return to the action and will look to get into the starting XI ahead of either Ben Barclay or Morgan Feeney. Carlisle are winless in their last three matches now and haven’t scored either so they may be doubting whether they have what it takes to compete with the top teams.
It has still been a very impressive campaign for the Cumbrian club and they will no doubt make the play-offs, but their chances of gatecrashing the top three could be dented significantly here unless they could get a big win against the odds.
AFC Wimbledon v Rochdale
AFC Wimbledon got back to winning ways last time out and have a great opportunity to make it back-to-back victories as they face struggling Rochdale.
The Dons beat Walsall 2-0 on Tuesday night after goals by defender Will Nightingale and attacker Ali Al-Hamadi in the second-half in a win that will boost their confidence. Their boss Johnnie Jackson was delighted and said afterwards that it was an ‘absolutely outstanding performance’ by his players and if they can repeat that against bottom of the table this weekend they should have no problems in picking up the three points again.
On the injury front, defender Paul Kalamabyi is out until the end of the campaign but goal scorer Nightingale and Aaron Pierre kept a clean sheet last time out and will be looking for more of the same over the next few fixtures as the London club look to end this season on a high.
There is no doubt that Wimbledon have quality in their ranks with players such as Ethan Chislett, George Marsh and Alex Woodyard and it is all about next term for them now as Jackson starts to look at who to keep and who to sell. Players are playing for their futures and they need to play well to boost their chances of earning new contracts which makes this Saturday’s game important for a few of them.
Rochdale have sacked Jim Bentley this week and replaced him by defender Jim McNulty in one last throw of the dice as they look to stay up. However, they have a mountain to climb if they are to avoid relegation to non-league for the first time in their history as they are currently 11 points from safety with just eight games left to save themselves.
They lost 2-0 away at 22nd place Crawley Town in their last outing in what was a damaging result and after parting company with Bentley and his number two Nick Chadwick, the club released a statement saying the pair have had to deal with ‘challenging circumstances’ this season which suggests there is off-field problems going on at the club.
On the pitch, the Dale have no fresh injury concerns but their squad is seriously lacking quality, hence why they are rock-bottom of the Football League. They have found the net just 33 times this term which makes their attack the worst in League Two. At the other end of the pitch, Rochdale have leaked a whopping 59 goals with only Crawley and Hartlepool United conceding more so they won’t be holding out much hope of going to Wimbledon and getting a result.
Maidenhead v Chesterfield
I’m backing Chesterfield to get their first victory at York Road since dropping into the National League when the pair face off this weekend.
This selection is primarily about Chesterfield. The nine-match winless run that threatened to see the Spireites spiral into freefall akin to last year has gone, Paul Cook’s side winning five of their last six and all four of their away matches during that time.
It’s well deserved too, Chesterfield accruing 1.92xG in their last four matches and conceded 0.84xG and having kept three clean sheets in a row. This isn’t new either, Chesterfield performing at an average of +0.64xG over their last 15 games, which includes that extended winless run.
There are factors for their improved form. Andrew Dallas’ arrival has given them much needed creativity and pace in behind and has allowed Liam Mandeville to move back to the right, where he links up effectively with Jeff King, who has also returned alongside fellow experienced bodies such as Ash Palmer, Mike Jones and Ollie Banks.
Maidenhead United do have previous when it comes to spoiling the party for the big boys and their record isn’t terrible against top half sides, winning and losing four of ten. However, they have lost three of six since early December and also come into this having lost three of their last five overall. Maidenhead tend to get the better of sides that aren’t at the races and Chesterfield in their current guise do not fall into that category.
Scunthorpe v Torquay
A huge clash at the bottom of the table and I’m backing the hosts to get an important result.
Scunthorpe United are evidently struggling in terms of their league position and Jimmy Dean’s arrival hasn’t quite been the catalyst the club hoped for, picking up 11 points form ten matches. However, they have won three of four home matches in that period and four of eight since the turn of the year.
They are also performing well in general play, winning the xG battle comfortably in four of their last seven, in each of their last three at home and only being beaten badly by Notts County on the road. Their record at home against sides in the bottom 14 is a positive too, winning six and drawing two of ten, giving them plenty of reason to be positive ahead of this one.
While The Iron drew a blank in midweek, Torquay United picked up a surprise victory away at Boreham Wood to leapfrog this weekend’s opponents into 22nd. However, the result came against the run of play and an insipid Boreham Wood side. It was the Gulls’ first victory in eight and also their first win on the road in eight.
They have not won the xG battle in any game since beating Barnet in mid-February and are conceding 0.57xG more than they are creating over their last eight. Torquay have also struggled in away matches against fellow sides down the bottom, picking up two points from a possible 18 against bottom eight sides.
Wealdstone v Aldershot
A fairly local clash that should prove to be an entertaining affair between two low-budget but positive thinking sides.
Wealdstone come into this game without a win in four but the midweek draw with Oldham Athletic notable given their opponents improved form this calendar year and for bodies returning.
The Stones’ four most recent defeats have come with the squad stretched by injury so seeing Tarryn Allarakhia and Max Kretzschmar return in midweek was a positive and they will also welcome back first-choice midfield pairing Alex Dyer and Ashley Charles from international duty this weekend. It means Stuart Maynard can choose his strongest available XI and bench as they bid to continue their impressive home record – Wealdstone have won eight and drawn three of 13 against sides outside of the play-off positions.
Aldershot Town haven’t been as fortunate with injuries, Ross McNeilly forced to chop and change personnel and formation (they have used back three and back four formations four times apiece over their last eight matches).
Jai Rowe and Myles Kenlock have been thrown in despite little football this season, Justin Amaluzor has been in and out due to fitness issues and the same goes their three new striking options. Their last five matches have seen them run at –0.34xG despite playing sides 12th or lower and they lost their last two against Gateshead and FC Halifax Town.
The hosts are far more comfortable in their skin and settled in their jobs. That should pay off here.
Huddersfield v Middlesbrough
The International break has been a good one for Huddersfield Town, with the news that American businessman Kevin Nagle has been named as the new prospective owner of the Terriers.
It is a welcome sight for a team that have been struggling both on and off the pitch, hit with a transfer embargo and facing potential relegation down to League One.
Neil Warnock was full of praise for his players following their last game prior to the March break, a 1-0 win at play-off hopefuls Millwall with striker Danny Ward netting the only goal. The victory will have installed hope back into the Kirklees faithful as they now sit just three points below 21st place Cardiff City, albeit knowing that the Bluebirds currently do have a game in hand on them.
Huddersfield Town will do very well however to overcome another top six side. The likely story of the Championship run-in now focuses on who out of Sheffield United and Middlesbrough will earn that second and final automatic promotion spot.
Neutrals have been full of praise for Boro and their transformation under Michael Carrick, with fans at the Riverside salivating at what is some of the best attacking football seen from the Teessiders in a long time.
4-0 victors at home to Preston North End before the International break, that victory at the Riverside Stadium provided top scorer Chuba Akpom with his 24th league goal this season, and fifth in four consecutive matches. The 27-year-old plays in the attacking midfield role of a 4-2-3-1 that contains an incredibly fluid frontline. Akpom, Cameron Archer, Riley McGree and Marcus Forss constantly interchange with one another as the ball progresses in and around the opposition’s final third.
A brace for Archer against Preston brought his tally to six league goals in 12 games. Finland International Marcus Forss scored Middlesbrough’s fourth, his ninth of the league campaign. Michael Carrick’s side have scored at least two goals in eight out of their last 10 Championship matches.
Hunting down Sheffield United, who are currently three points ahead and with a game in hand, Middlesbrough cannot afford any major slip-ups in their pursuit of the Premier League. Michael Carrick’s team have become a relentless attacking force with only league leaders Burnley have scored more than their tally of 69 in 38 games.
The Boro had regularly scored multiple goals against fellow second tier opponents, particularly bottom half sides in more healthier positions than that of relegation-threatened Huddersfield Town. The Terriers were wonderful in their precious Millwall win. It will be even more impressive if they can pick up a result here.
Peterborough v Oxford
The challenge in a game against Posh is to keep their frontline quiet, because they can tear you apart if you don’t. Darren Ferguson’s fourth spell in the Peterborough hotseat has seen them record nine wins in 14 league matches, a run that has taken the Cambridgeshire outfit right up to the edge of the play-off places.
Victory at home to Derby County last Saturday now leaves Posh just a single point off the top six, and in form that makes them look likely to break into there during the final run-in. Ferguson’s settled 4-2-3-1 is a very attack-heavy team, spearheaded by League One top scorer Jonson Clarke-Harris who currently sits on 22 league goals this season.
Left-winger Ephron Mason-Clark is another fine example of Peterborough’s extensive and effective non-league scouting programme, having excelled since arriving from Barnet with his fast, direct running.
Joe Ward plays on the right, a player capable anywhere up the flank and always best known for his dangerous attacking play in the final third. Harrison Burrows is a product of Peterborough’s own academy, currently playing in attacking midfield in front of the likes of Jack Taylor and Oliver Norburn.
Joe Ward playing further forward forces Ferguson to change his choice of right-back, with Nathan Thompson the current first choice alongside a backline of Frankie Kent, Ronnie Edwards and Nathanael Ogbeta, whilst Burnley loanee Will Norris sits in goal behind them.
Oxford United are in a perilous position. The U’s sit just two points above the League One relegation zone and are currently thankful for the fourth teams below looking as incapable of picking up wins as they are. Liam Manning is tasked with bringing to an end Oxford’s current 11-game winless run and securing their safety in the third tier.
The challenge is made difficult though by a real lack of attacking potency. The decision to loan out prolific goalscorer Matty Taylor to Port Vale looks all the more confusing week-on-week as the Oxford frontline fails to deliver. The only natural fit striker at present is 18-year-old Gatlin O’Donkor, with little exceptional input coming from the likes of Marcus Browne, Kyle Joseph, Tyler Goodrham. Josh Murphy or Yanic Wildschut who play around him.
Midfielders Cameron Brannagan and Lewis Bate are still the most threatening names on the Oxford teamsheet, U’s fans pleased to see young Oisin Smyth recently given a go in the central unit despite the team’s struggles. Since winning at Fleetwood Town back on the 14th January, Oxford United have only scored twice in away matches, both coming against fellow relegation battlers in the form of Milton Keynes Dons and most recently Morecambe.
Peterborough United have the opportunity to end this weekend sat inside the play-off places for the first time since the middle of December, and are rightfully favoured against an Oxford United team in deep trouble.
Posh have attacking quality and confidence that the U’s could only dream of possessing, and the London Road crowd will be expecting their team to make that added killer edge count. A fourth win in a row and a fifth win in six will leave League One even more frightened of Peterborough United than they likely already are.
Yeovil v Southend
This week’s bore fest is likely to take place at Huish Park as Yeovil Town take on Southend United.
Neither of these sides are in confident form right now. The excitement of new investment at Yeovil Town has dampened amid continued poor form and the loss of key players, including England C standby Matt Worthington and striker Jordan Young.
Meanwhile, rumours are circulating that Mark Cooper isn’t happy with the players brought in for him by those above. Southend United, meanwhile, come into this having lost each of their last seven and eight of their last nine, coinciding with wages finally being paid, losing key player Kacper Lopata due to the non-payment of wages and the play-offs now being out of reach. Southend appear not to have a reason to go the extra mile now.
Yeovil have struggled in front of goal all season but even that has worsened of late, the Glovers mustering ten or more shots in just two of their last 12 matches, including none of their last six, and are averaging just 1.01xG in that time. They have failed to score more than once in their last ten matches and despite poor defensive numbers, they have conceded more than once in just one of their last seven.
Southend United are another side struggling for form in front of goal, scoring just two goals in their last seven. The underlying numbers aren’t bad and they haven’t been all season, but the lack of consistency in their attack has been a real problem, wing-back Jack Bridge and the inconsistent Callum Powell top scoring with eight apiece.
Their five strikers have scored a combined 13 goals from a combined 41.8 90’s and none have started more than 13 games. Kevin Maher’s attempts to find a solution saw him change shape twice in midweek to little avail. Their last seven matches have seen them lose 1-0 on five occasions and 2-1 twice.
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