Northampton Town v Hartlepool
Northampton to win – 4/5 (1.8)
Ok, this one is allowed to make me a little nervous as it’s another clash of a team I tipped to challenge for promotion with a team I picked to struggle against relegation.
Cobblers boss Jon Brady picked the same side that edged Colchester 3-2 in a ding-dong opening day fixture as Town drew 1-1 in a markedly more disappointing affair at newly-promoted Grimsby, who might have claimed all three points late-on, last Saturday.
He did shuffle his pack for the visit of League 1 Wycombe in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night and also experimented with variations on their 4-4-2 formation, which has not been helped by early season injuries to Aaron McGowan and Akin Odimayo, who would have provided much needed width on the right. The Chairboys were made to sweat in the second half after going 2-0 up but despite a rousing response, Northampton fell a goal short. Summer signing Ben Fox played his first 90 minutes since arriving and might be in Brady’s thoughts should he opt against naming the same starting XI in League 2 for a third straight game.
While it’s not been a great start for Northampton after falling agonisingly short of promotion last season, it’s still better than the start to life in England for Paul Hartley, manager of Hartlepool
Threadbare Pools lost 4-0 at Walsall on the opening day, though they did improve to draw 0-0 at home to AFC Wimbledon last Saturday before a 4-0 reverse at Blackburn, who admittedly look very good already this season, in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night.
After back-to-back 4-0 away defeats and 270 goalless minutes already this term, the beleaguered Pools fans at Ewood Park were heard to chant ‘We had a shot’ 15 minutes from time on Wednesday night.
I don’t think there are any great number of attacking reinforcements coming over the hill to benefit Hartley in the coming hours and, with Northampton keen to restore Sixfields to a fortress in the chase for promotion, I can only see one outcome here. 1.8 on a home win seems pretty chunky to me, so I’ll not look any further.
Sutton v Barrow
Barrow or Draw – 2/3 (1.67)
It usually takes a couple of weeks to realise you might have been wrong about something… well, Pete Wild is not wasting any time in proving a point.
I predicted Barrow would be battling at the wrong end of League 2, but from the moment they flew out of the blocks at Stockport, racing into a 3-0 first-half lead, they’ve looked more like a promotion-chaser than a struggler. They saw that game out despite a grandstand finish, claiming three points, and then edged another dramatic finale at home to Bradford, the other team at the top of the title betting with Stockport, by the same 3-2 scoreline last Saturday. A perfect start for Wild.
Sutton, of course, were doing all this last year, exceeding even their fans’ wildest expectations by contending at the top of the table after winning promotion from the National League. They also put together a series of cup runs including a Wembley day-out in the EFL Trophy. Though they slipped out of the play-off picture at the death by a single point, it was a season Sutton will never forget, and it seems also one they might be unable to repeat.
They began the campaign with a 1-1 home draw against Newport but despite leading for more than 70 minutes, they coughed-up two late goals to go down 2-1 in stoppage time at Doncaster last Saturday.
They also went out of the Carabao Cup 1-0 at MK Dons, who had yet to score this season, on Tuesday nigh,t but the worst news of the week was that Player of the Year, defender Ben Goodliffe, is out for six months with a knee injury sustained in the Newport game.
While Sutton were bowing-out, the Cumbrians pulled off a shock to dump Championship Blackpool out of the Carabao Cup on penalties after a goalless draw at Bloomfield Road.
They rode their luck and were under pressure for long spells but they made it three successes from three this season in a shootout.
I am not sure they continue their winning run at Gander Green Lane, although the 2.55 on an away win, draw no bet, did make me double take, as did the 1.87 on BTTS. I’m far more inclined, however, to back the 1.67 on Barrow or Draw in the Double Chance market after Tuesday night’s steely showing in the cup – a 0-0 or 1-1 wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.
Tranmere v Gillingham
Gillingham or Draw – 1/2 (1.5)
It will be interesting to see whether there is a Tranmere hangover from their epic Carabao Cup win at Accrington Stanley on Tuesday night.
Rovers conceded twice in two minutes to trail at the break but battled back to halve the deficit in the final 30 minutes and snatched a last-ditch leveller with the last kick of the game to send it to penalties. Both sides scored 11 of their first 12 spot-kicks but Rovers stopper Mateusz Hewelt made the vital stop to send his side through 12-11.
Meanwhile Gills made lighter work of a 2-0 win at AFC Wimbledon, their second straight win and a second straight clean sheet. Boss Neil Harris says they need to adopt a ‘clean sheet mentality’ and given they are among the best in the division for xGA in their opening two matches of the season – despite losing 2-0 on the opening day, also at Plough Lane – there are encouraging signs at Priestfield.
The feel-good factor among the fans was boosted further this week by the news that chairman Paul Scally is stepping back from the day-to-day running of the club after 27 years and, though Harris says it’s business as usual, it feels like it might lift a bit of a weight off the club.
Stuart O’Keefe is back in training and eager for his first action of the season but fellow midfielder Dom Jefferies remains out after picking up a knock in that opening day loss at Wimbledon. The 1-0 win over Rochdale was the perfect response last Saturday and, in truth, I can see a similar outcome here – Tranmere suffered a late 2-1 defeat to Stevenage, managed by ex-Gills boss Steve Evans, on the opening day before being edged out 1-0 at Mansfield.
Gills at 2.1 with Draw No Bet is appealing but I’d feel better backing Gillingham or Draw in the Double Chance market, knowing there’s always a chance of a stalemate with these two, and that it wouldn’t be the worst outcome for either manager. The 1.5 on offer for that is good value, for me.