Barnsley vs Port Vale
Under 2.5 goals – 4/6 (1.67)
This game is a test of Alan Hansen’s famous phrase “you don’t win anything with kids”, Barnsley have the youngest squad in League One, whilst Port Vale have the third oldest. In their last outing Barnsley won away at a Sheffield Wednesday side who have the oldest squad in the league. So, I don’t think this match will be a case of Port Vale’s experience taking advantage of naivety, in fact I expect Barnsley’s youthful exuberance to be a net positive for them in this game and across the whole season.
Aside from the age gap the two teams are remarkably similar, they have both faced 71 shots, they have taken a similar number of shots (Barnsley 72, Port Vale 78) with a third of these being on target, they’ve had almost the same number of touches in the box (Barnsley 115, Port Vale 113). Even their strikers have scored the same number of goals! I know it’s early in the season and the sample size is small but the stats of these two mirror each other so well.
Given the numerous similarities between the two sides I don’t think there will be much in the game, if I had to pick a winner I would probably just edge towards Barnsley given their impressive victory against Wednesday and the fact that they are at home for this one, however I don’t think The Tykes are a good price and the value is probably with the visitors.
The one thing I am confident about is that the two teams will keep things tight. Neither side give away many chances, Barnsley have an xG against of 9.01 across the season whilst Port Vale are even stingier with an xG against of 7.57. I think these teams will cancel each other out, and it will end up a low scoring game.
Ipswich vs Bristol Rovers
Ipswich -1 Handicap – 5/4 (2.25)
Ipswich are on fire this season, they are sitting top of the league, they’re second in the xG table, they’ve scored the second most goals, and they take more shots than any other team. Things are looking really great, and Kieran McKenna has managed to get the Tractor Boys going at full speed. Equally as impressive as the attacking statistics listed above are the defensive ones, Ipswich have faced the third fewest shots in the league, they press like crazy, allowing the fourth fewest passes before they make a defensive action. They’ve also conceded just four goals all season, the best record in League One.
Ipswich have scored in the first half of every single one of their home matches this season, with four first half goals in their three matches at Portman Road. Bristol Rovers have conceded in the first half in two of their three away games this season, with the only clean sheet coming against Burton Albion who had a player sent off in the first minute of the game, yet still managed an xG of 0.8 against Joey Barton’s men.
Speaking of Joey Barton, he has caused a bit of stir in the past week. Delivering a 20-minute monologue on the state of the game in England. Whilst he made some valid points it just comes across as a bit rambling, almost distracted, which gives me the impression that he isn’t fully focused on Bristol Rovers. This theory was given more credence when the former Marseille midfielder was spotted firstly in the pub, and then in the crowd as the French side lost 2-0 away at Tottenham in the Champions League last week.
Given all that, I think Ipswich are a very strong pick in this game. Unfortunately, the price is reflective of their superiority over their opponents, and they are just 2/5 to win the game. Fortunately, there are still a number of different ways to play this, depending on how risky or risk averse you would like to be, if you want a really safe pick then just take Ipswich straight up. If you want to back the biggest price then I would recommend Ipswich to win both halves at 5/2, there’s also a similar but safer option of Ipswich HT/FT available at 11/10. I’m going to keep it simple and play it straight down the middle with an Ipswich to win -1 goal pick.
Plymouth Argyle vs Oxford United
Plymouth to win either half – 4/6 (1.67)
This game sees two teams that started the season as outside shots for the title, with both teams being priced up at around 20/1 to win the league. Plymouth are sitting in 3rd place, five points and eight places above Karl Robinson’s Oxford United. Plymouth have won three out of three at home and are yet to concede a goal at Home Park, carrying on their impressive record from last season. Oxford have been a little stop-start early in the season, struggling to get any momentum going. They have won their last two games, but in reality they made hard work of beating two relegation favourites, winning 2-1 against both Burton and Cheltenham.
As well as being priced up generously in this game, The Pilgrims are a huge 18/1 to win League One. Based on the evidence so far this season that is massively overpriced and with each way terms paying three places, that could lead to some tidy profit in May. I really like the way they’re playing; Schumacher has instilled a solidity and resilience that can match any team in the league and the fans are right behind the team every time they play at Home Park.
Plymouth are a really good attacking side, they have only registered an xG of less than 1.0 once this season, and that was a game against Charlton where they had ten men for just under an hour. They are ranked third in the league for key passes, this is no surprise given the quality of player they have in attacking midfield. New signing Sam Cosgrove came off the bench to score twice in Plymouth’s comeback win against Derby so he might be rewarded with a start whilst his confidence is high. I think they will have too much for Oxford and should run out comfortable winners. The big price means we can play it a little safer though and I’ll take The Pilgrims to win either half.