Newport County v Plymouth Argyle – Tuesday 8th April 2014

Visitors Plymouth are looking to get their late surge into the playoffs back on track and welcome forward Lewis Alesssandra back into the squad from injury . Apart from his goals, Alessandra is an important player as his quality on the ball allows Plymouth to retain possession in the opposition half. Plymouth have won just one point from a possible 9 in his absence, and are now 5 points short of the final playoff spot with tonight’s game in hand.

The return of Alessandra and possibly winger Jason Banton may explain why the Plymouth price has shortened a touch over the last couple of days in the market, as well as the loyalty money for the well supported Pilgrims who expect to take an impressive 1000+ fans up the M5 tonight.

However with the Rodney Parade pitch in such a poor state Plymouth manager John Sheridan has confirmed that Alessandra is unlikely to be risked from the start. And Sheridan was very unhappy with his sides’ performance in losing at Burton at the weekend. Everybody loses 1-0 at Burton, but Sheridan’s beef seemed to be his sides in ability to play the ball out from the back, which he attempted to rectify at half time with the aggressive decision to replace one of his centre backs.

If you are in poor form you aren’t really going to fancy a trip to Rodney Parade under the lights with the boisterous home crowd behind the Exiles. I’ve witnessed this as I saw my team Oxford succumb to their first away defeat of the season in February in Wales.

It could be argued that Newport’s season is now over, having got a point at title hopefuls Chesterfield on Saturday to give them the 50 points which history suggests should see them safe from relegation. It may be for this reason that the Newport price has drifted a little in the market in the last couple of days for this match. What was a promising first season in League Two for Newport has ultimately been undone by the pitch postponements and resulting fixture backlog, coupled up with key injuries and suspensions at crucial times.

They showed plenty of endeavour in drawing at title hopefuls Chesterfield at the weekend however, and that was without suspended international defender Darcy Blake who Justin Edinburgh can recall to the starting line-up tonight. A win tonight would surely confirm the Exiles safety. Newport miss Adam Chapman’s endeavour and passing range in midfield through suspension, but if they return to their 352 formation they should still maintain central midfield superiority with Ryan Burge an able and similarly neat and tidy creative replacement. However Edinburgh switched to a 442 on Saturday which seemed to work well so he may stick with that.

If Plymouth are static, Newport are good at finding space between the lines. It is in defence and in goal that Newport are weak, they do seem susceptible to conceding silly goals in matches they should win against the division also-rans. They have a decent record against sides that are supposed to be better than them.

I rate Plymouth as marginally the better side but Newport do have home advantage. Whilst home advantage doesn’t count for as much in League 2 as it does in other leagues, it is still a factor. Neither of these teams are in great form but momentum is slightly in favour of the hosts after the weekend results.

With all this in mind I price this game up at Newport 2.45, the draw 3.3, and Plymouth 3.4.

With best prices of 2.55, 3.4 and 3.1. I perceive value in the home win and the draw and will therefore be backing the home side with a draw saver.

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Newport County v Fleetwood Town

Tuesday 4th March 2014 7.45pm

Just the one game in League 2 tonight as Newport desperately try to make up their fixture backlog.  This will be the Exiles third home game against a top 5 side in the last three weeks, having beaten Oxford and drawn with Scunthorpe.

I was at the Oxford game and the 3-2 score line flattered Oxford. Newport outfought and outthought United. A 3-5-2 formation  found space between the lines with ease and the numbers in midfield controlled the middle of the pitch, suffocating Oxford when they lost possession.  Rene Howe leads the line robustly which in turn allowed Chris Zebroski to lurk with quiet intent.

Newport’s achilles heel is defensively, especially with Len Pidgely’s continued absence between the sticks.  And fatigue is increasingly become a factor as Newport play catch up, Justin Edinburgh admitting after the AFC Wimbledon game that his team look tired.  We saw this with a surprise home defeat to Cheltenham and throwing away a late lead to lose against AFC Wimbledon.

But Fleetwood have had plenty of games of their own of late and both teams come in off 3 days rest.  Fleetwood have also performed well below expectations in the last 3: losing at Mansfield (understandable coming after a ‘big’ JPT area final), losing 0-4 at home to a Plymouth side coming into hot form, and drawing 0-0 at home to AFC Wimbledon at the weekend.

David Ball and Jeff Hughes are long term absentees and if Schumacher is missing again that is a big hole in midfield which could be vital against Newport’s packed midfield.

Is this Fleetwood’s bounce back game? Possibly. But instinctively it feels like we punters continue to pay a premium for Fleetwood’s budget.  Newport is a tough place to go and win especially under the lights.

In pricing this up I put Newport at 2.5 (6/4), the draw at 3.6 (13/5) and Fleetwood at 3.1 (85/40).

With best odds of Newport 2.7, draw 3.5 and Fleetwood 2.9, Im taking Newport to win at 2.7 (betvictor).  The draw is the big danger of course – the Newport draw no bet is also at a working mans price.

The League Two Card 1st March 2014

League Two Steamers and Drifters

This weeks steamers (teams whose odds have shortened during the week):  Bury, Mansfield, AFC Wimbledon, Torquay, Bristol Rovers, Rochdale and Wycombe

Drifters (teams whose odds have got bigger during the week:  Accrington, Cheltenham, Dag &R, Fleetwood, Hartlepool, Northampton, Oxford and Southend

League Two Through the Card

So lets go through the card and see if I can get at least one right.  Hopefully theres at least some information that is useful to someone.

Burton v Accrington

Burton have had a tough schedule of late and will be glad to return to home comforts.  Tired displays at Bristol Rovers and Torquay resulted in underperformance against expectations. Whilst Burton are deliberately more solid defensively this season (boring), this has come at the expense of attacking threat and Burton seem increasingly reliant on loanee Ismail to pull a game changer out of the magic bag of winger wonder.

Accrington will have a couple of long trips in their legs and have significantly less resources to overcome such a schedule but they are also solid at the back and have been pulling results out against the odds all year. 

This is likely to be a low scoring game and the less goals there are the more chance of adverse variance for the stronger side.  I therefore give Accrington a decent shot of taking something from this game and will go with the tried and tested Accrington draw no bet at 3.8.

This will be a crap game Under 2.5 goals is also an option. 

Cheltenham v Bury

Bury are finally reaping the rewards of young and progressive management and investment in the playing staff.  Daniel Nardiello returned to goalscoring form again at Mansfield in midweek and Bury have every chance of taking something from a Cheltenham side who have really disappointed this season particularly at home where Cheltenham’s record is so poor.

Not that this has gone unnoticed by the bookies though who price Bury up at 2.88 in a game which could easily see a draw.  As Derek McGovern once said but soon stopped saying, when the draw is the biggest price back it.  Don’t do it, I checked, it doesn’t work. 

Bury’s football at all costs approach also comes with risks, one of which is inconsistency and the other is defensive fallibility.  The Shakers also have had an extra game on Cheltenham in the last 10 days which has to be factored in.  I’d have needed to see Bury at bigger than 2/1 to back them so no bet.

Dagenham v Mansfield

Mansfield I saw lose 3-0 at Oxford a couple of weeks ago and in the first half they were the better side by a bumpkin mile. They were undone by a higher standard of finishing on the day.  Up front, Matt Rhead looked like he’d wandered in from a rugby league game to be honest (don’t tell him I said that), whilst Sam Clucas looked bright enough but didn’t take his chances.

Mansfield, who seem to be having increasing trouble financially, followed that poor result up by beating Fleetwood, a good result that has been devalued a touch by Fleetwood’s embarrassment at home to Plymouth in midweek. But to demonstrate consistent inconsistency, Mansfield were unravelled themselves again at home to Bury in midweek . The sort of frustrating inconsistency that is typical at this level and seems to be indicative of a general decline in standards across the lower divisions. Unless you call good game, bad game, good game, bad game consistent. It’s a pattern I guess.

But Mansfield also have an extra game in their legs over the last 10 days compared to Dagenham. 

1 win in 8 doesn’t say much for Dagenham either though. At the prices I would have to go for Mansfield but don’t trust them to stick the ball in the net with enough consistency to merit risking my hard earned cash on them and with that this game swiftly becomes another no bet.

Fleetwood v AFC Wimbledon

The eyeball test suggests Fleetwood are a much better side than AFC Wimbledon but the northern gunner’s last two results have been shocking.  How can a team who have looked so tight and progressive in other matches this season lose 0-4 at home to Plymouth?  Now Ive been sweeter than most on Plymouth this year (usually at great expense), but even I didn’t fancy their chances on Tuesday night.  The question is, can a team with the quality of Fleetwood suffer three consecutive shock defeats?  

AFC Wimbledon I am slowly having to accept I have underestimated consistently this season.  They haven’t impressed me at all when Ive seem them but then Ive mostly seen them against Oxford who are a bogey side for the wombles.

Two late goals to steal a win under the lights at Newport on Tuesday night shows character in the side even if they continue to suffer from erratic goalkeeping.

There will be plenty of interest in the even money for Fleetwood this weekend but I’d rather have a smaller stake on the AFC Wimbledon draw no bet at 3 to make the most of Fleetwood’s uncertainty and put Graham Alexander’s position into question.

Hartlepool v Torquay

Hartlepool are another frustratingly inconsistent side for punters.  They have some top talent in the side to provide flair and energy around established experienced men like Sam Collins, Simon Walton and Marlon Harewood.  But just when you think they are getting it together and will break into the promotion pack they go and throw in a defeat at Northampton or AFC Wimbledon.

It’s a hell of a trip for Torquay and they’ve played midweek whereas Hartlepool have had a week at home to prepare.  Torquay did travel up on Friday afternoon and will be boosted by the loan signing of big man Enoch Showumni up front, and with that I was all set to back them to at least avoid defeat but the short week and distance is enough to put me off. Hartlepool look a big price here…is it a value trap?  No bet.

Newport v Scunthorpe

Newport bullied Oxford in ending Oxford’s 10 month unbeaten away record 10 days ago but the fixture pile up is taking its toll with disappointing results to follow up that night and Justin Edinburgh has admitted his side look tired.

Scunthorpe have had a typical week.  They destroyed Portsmouth last weekend with the golden triangle of Syers, Winnall and Madden fulfilling their promise. Then they followed it up by throwing away a lead at home to Bristol Rovers in the week. 

On the day Scunny had drifted from odds on to odds against, on paper a stonking bet, but in reality another value trap that we are seeing every week in League 2 now. Rovers have hit form…but still.  Scunthorpe will win this but I can’t get excited about the price.

Northampton v Bristol Rovers

The Chris Wilder bounce has finally hit Northampton.  Wilder is a motivator who knows how to organise his sides defensively, and this seems to be taking effect now with some much needed wins.  They still have it all on to avoid the nightmare that is the  trap door of conference doom, but they’re making a fist of it now and they have a chance.

Rovers have hit form of late too.  That late draw at Scunthorpe to follow a deserved win against a knackered Burton side last Friday night stretching their unbeaten run to a month. But Alan Gow is now injured and he was a key contributor in Rovers latest results and they had a tough trip to Scunny in midweek. 

At the prices I’d probably back Northampton at 2.7 noting concerns about the draw.

Rochdale v Oxford

I think we can rule an Oxford win out here.  Dave Kitson is likely to be out and the defence continues to be hit by injuries to Jake Wright, Michael Raynes and the suspension of Tom Newey which meant forgotten central midfielder Scott Davies filled in at left back at Morecambe and 19 year old Sam Long debuted at centre back. 

Whilst Oxford’s form looks strong on paper they have had a weak schedule of late. The question then is Rochdale or draw.  Rochdale’s possession based style suits their pitch and is likely to give Oxford problems. 

Rochdale  boast the best home record in the division and with Oxford’s air of invincibility away from home gone I’d probably back the home side instead of the draw at 2.2.

Southend v Wycombe

Ive been slavishly backing Southend recently expecting them to come good but this is getting bloody expensive.  Bringing in John Egan from Sunderland may ease their defensive issues but im not sure that’s enough to warrant backing them in current form.

Wycombe finally got a result and what a result it was, beating league leaders Chesterfield.  We can maybe devalue that result a touch, with Chesterfield having come into the game on the back of a “big” and nervy trophy win against Fleetwood to get through to Wembley – but Chesterfield do have greater resources than most in this division. Wycombe followed that up with a win at Exeter in midweek and suddenly they have more confidence and momentum than their off-colour opponents.

If Southend had played midweek too, at these prices I’d be all over Wycombe.  That short week does cause concern though, so its Wycombe draw no bet at 2.88.

York v Exeter

I would normally like York here, they are another side who are unbeaten throughout February. Keith Lowe and John McCombe are an experienced partnership at centre back whilst Russell Penn is a solid addition to a midfield. The possible injury to Wes Fletcher is a bit of a worry though and I’d want to see him fit before backing the home side.

Finances have dictated that Exeter are just going to plod through to the end of the season and they are going to be a team that it is best just to default to opposing for the rest of the year especially at home as whilst they aren’t going down they are unlikely to pull up any trees either. They will be organised and play football, and get a few surprise results without being consistent or dependable enough to back them.

Exeter come into this game having played midweek where York have not.  Im tempted to back Exeter here just because everything points to York and that’s how League 2 works.  But that’s not rational so no bet.

League Two Value 14th and 15th February 2014

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Chris Wilder – No Messing

Accrington v Scunthorpe

In assessing Scunny’s merits as an away favourite here we have to consider their excellent away record and the opposition they are facing.  I was expecting to see Scunthorpe closer to even money in the betting especially with their attacking options.

The problem is the sticky patch of draws United are going through at present.  A tough schedule is a major reason behind that, but despite their embarrassment of riches Scunthorpe haven’t been convincing.  Another draw is a big danger for Scunny backers with the X appearing frequently through both sides stats for this one. With no significant injuries or suspensions on either side and inclement weather disrupting pitch quality up and down the country I’d go as far as to say the draw could be backed, however Im not fan of betting on draws and the Scunthorpe with draw no bet insurance probably appeals more at 1.73.

Burton v Dagenham

Burton’s recent form reads a bit like binary code. Gary Rowett has built a team with solid foundations, and the addition of winger Zemmali Ismael on loan from Wolves (now extended to the end of the season) has added the missing attacking flair to link midfield and attack.

With that said, Burton have won less than half of their home league games,  with a string of 1-0 wins against bottom half opposition returning an impressive points haul but suggesting margins are tight and that can be a risk for odds on punters.

Dagenham’s defeat at home to Hartlepool last time out came as a bit of a shock and a run of three successive defeats is more than a little offputting when trying to make a case for the visitors.  However three defeats on the bounce is often the psychological point at which a dip in form becomes a crisis that needs urgent attention.  I’m expecting a motivated and committed Dagenham side with Wayne Burnett making changes to the starting XI having had his patience tested with a settled side in those three losses and can see Dagenham springing a surprise bounce result against odds on shots Burton.

While it ask asking a lot for the underdogs to turn that form around at Burton, they do have a recent win at top home side Rochdale on their CV as well as a win at Southend this year. When Daggers do lose they don’t lose by much and when Burton win they don’t win by much which makes backing Dagenham with a handicap advantage an option but prices are too short for me in this market. This looks like a close hard fought game in which Burton are rightly favourites but Dagenham are a live underdog.  I’m backing Dagenham draw no bet at 3.75.

Fleetwood v Northampton

For a team who have had such a poor season, 24th placed Northampton sit in a surprising 14th position on the record v top half opposition table.

Champion hopefuls Fleetwood meanwhile, can only manage 12th in the record v bottom half opposition table.  Manager of the month syndrome seems to have hit Fleetwood following Alexander’s accolade for January, and a change of keeper and Captain last time out is a worrying sign.

Recent home and away form also point to Northampton having a chance here; especially with the lift that huge midweek win at Torquay will give them. Wilder’s away record at Oxford this season was sensational, the last unbeaten away record in the country. He knows how to win away.

To do that they are going to have to score, always a bit of an issue for a Chris Wilder side.  But in Emile Sinclair and John Marquis they now have a strike force that will give Fleetwood problems. Wilder is a chest thumping motivational type of coach and he organises his sides well to give them a platform to get results at places like Fleetwood.  He won a lot of big games at Oxford, it was the humdrum matches v mid table opposition where he struggled.  Crucially, reports suggest Wilder seems to have lifted key midfielder Darren Carter from his recent melancholy apathy with a good performance at Torquay.

Northampton have a win over Fleetwood on their CV already this season and returned tasty prices in the two away victories they’ve managed since dumping Boothroyd.  Northampton look a good draw no bet value proposition at 4.

Rochdale v Morrecambé

This one’s a very intangible selection because the only real stat in Morecambe’s favour here is their record v top half opposition.  For everything else, Rochdale look the best on the form and stats.  But in itself that is an alarm bell for me – the only thing consistent about League Two is its inconsistency.  Most teams struggle to maintain form over the medium to long term.  That’s not to say I don’t think Rochdale are right in the mix for automatic promotion – they are. 

Rochdale will be looking to introduce tricky winger and pantomime villain George Porter having taken him on loan from Burnley – a blow to AFC Wimbledon for whom he was a good outlet earlier in the season.  And now Scott Hogan has put the January transfer speculation and got back to the job in hand, Rochdale are a formidable outfit at home. 

But so many times we see League 2 sides slipping on banana skins at short prices like these it is so hard to back them with confidence.

Morecambe meanwhile are getting established players like Mark Hughes and Andy Fleming back from injury. 

Whilst Rochdale’s home form is division-leading, they are fallible. Home losses to Dagenham and AFC Wimbledon blot their copybook. Rochdale are rightly favourites in this but are a touch short for me and so I will again be backing the underdog Morecambe with draw no bet insurance at 4 decimal.

Southend v Exeter

Southend let me down last week where I was expecting them to come away from Mansfield with a win.  A sending off didn’t help, all be it understandable given the way Mansfield play their football, but the bookmakers expect Southend to put that mistake right when they host Exeter on Saturday.

Southend are a side that I will always be looking to oppose at short home odds and back when odds are decent. They have plenty of form for beating a Chesterfield at home then losing to a York.

But even money quotes look fair against an Exeter side who are well organised but ultimately lacking in quality and cutting edge, especially as Paul Tisdale has had to let players go to balance the books at the fan owned club. It looks like finances mean Exeter are going to have to satisfy themselves with making it through to the end of the year and seeing what next season brings. If that is right, we can get ahead of the curve a little by backing Southend at 1.95 to beat them at Roots Hall.

This Week’s League 2 False Favourite

Chris Hargreaves caravan comes to Oxford with taking the points in mind

With two odds against winners and one loser there was a nice chunk of profit to report last weekend.  The loser was heavily fancied Scunthorpe, who let odds on punters down by only managing a goalless draw at home to AFC Wimbledon.  Looking back at last week’s blog you will see my almost overwhelming evidence for backing Scunthorpe on pretty much every level except ‘sods law’. I say this not to excuse my selection, I acknowledge that I fell into the value trap with my eyes wide shut, but it does highlight that going against the obvious in League 2 is a profitable pastime.

This was the approach we took with Accrington at Cheltenham, and we were rewarded accordingly. And Oxford continued their superb away form with a late winner against 10 man Wycombe. With 8 red cards this season it seems Gareth Ainsworth has a slightly unusual problem with motivating his Wycombe side.A brilliant League One and Two Review from Gavin Horsfall this week http://footballleaguebettingcolumn.com/ and not only for the honourable mention of this blog. Of particular note was his analysis of the Scunthorpe let down.   Gav points in particular to the smaller number of creative players in L2 starting XI’s, which increases the ability of a well organised opponent to identify and stifle principal goal threats.

This is an opinion that I came around to in a slightly different way.  Much of my league 2 strategy is about identifying false favourites, but I was getting fed up with backing big underdogs only to see them draw.  Ultimately, most sides will happily take a draw away from home especially when they are strongly unfancied, so I was seeing games finish with my selection timewasting, parking the bus etc. It is very frustrating when your team’s motivation and your own motivation are not aligned, which is why I cover the draw so often in my bets now.

This week, there are a lot of competitive looking matches and a generally tough coupon to beat. I only have the one selection and that is a rather depressing one for me. I am opposing my team, Oxford.

Why? Oxford’s home form is dreadful (16th in the division), with only 4 wins from 14 league games and only one home win in nearly two months.  Suffice to say whilst Oxford should win this game there is no way I would touch them at the prices.

Going back to Gav Horsfall’s reasons for strong L2 teams drawing when they should win, Oxford creative pair Dave Kitson (Achilles) and Ryan Williams both missed Tuesday night’s 0-3 home FA Cup reverse to Championship Charlton. Both are mooted for a return on Saturday, but if these two miss out again or aren’t fit there is a real lack of creativity in the Oxford ranks.

Oxford played much of Tuesday nights game with huge gaps between midfield and attack and could only muster one shot on target against a very poor Charlton side.  No Oxford striker has found the net for over a month.

And its not just offensively that Oxford are struggling at the moment.  In the Portsmouth game Wilder changed from 442 to 4123 to reduce the defensive frailties that saw United concede 5 goals and look like conceding even more in 2 Christmas games.  John Mullins was pushed into defensive midfield to solidy things in the middle of the pitch, this coming at the cost of goal creativity and threat, particularly with key link men out and Sean Rigg very short on form.

Wilder is pushing for a striker to freshen things up but early rumours are that this will be young loanee Gozie Ugwu from Reading rather than a Paddy Madden. Things are grim at Oxford right now and fresh reports are emerging this week linking Chris Wilder with the Northampton vacancy.

Not only that but this will be Oxford’s 5th game in two weeks, whilst Torquay will be well rested having had no cup commitments and a call off last weekend. So there are plenty of reasons to oppose Oxford at the prices, what about Torquay?

Torquay aren’t a side many look for on their Saturday coupons. They are historically a strong home side (due to distance) but, like Oxford, this year they seem improve by a stone for playing away. With as many away wins as Oxford have home wins, Torquay have a shock result in them.

Another plus is the honeymoon period of new manager in Chris Hargreaves. Hargreaves will know how Chris Wilder sets up having played under him in the conference and will have seen little to worry him when he watched the Charlton game in midweek.

Hargreaves had his new charges playing a motivated, high tempo pressing game in their win at AFC Wimbledon last time out and that is the sort of pressure that Oxford struggle to overcome at home.  The loss of loan striker Marquis is a blow for Hargreaves but a forward three of Hawley – Benyon – Stockley as played at Wimbledon should close down Oxford high up the pitch and carry threat from transitions.

So just one selection this week then and that is Torquay.  7.2% of stake on Torquay to win at 4.75 (betvictor) with a 2.8% stake saver on the draw at 3.6 (tote).