‘Embarrassed’ Vale can punish Hartlepool

Port Vale 1.910/11 v Hartlepool 5.04/1; the draw 4.03/1

You know you’re having a bad week when you lose two matches in four days and then Opta reveal that, against your next opponents, the club has lost seven of their past eight games. Oh, and the upcoming visitors have won their last four matches at your place, to boot!

Welcome to Darrell Clarke’s world. The Port Vale manager must be scratching his head about his side’s dip in form, having risen to second place before last weekend.

As if losing to Oldham on Saturday – who parted company with their manager soon after – from a leading position wasn’t bad enough, the Valiants then lost again on Tuesday, to the club Clarke left in February – Walsall. Attempting to describe his side’s worst performance of the season, the manager told reporters he needed to mind his language! Restraining himself, he repeatedly used the word “embarrassed”.

Opta add that only Sutton United (10 points) have picked up more points from losing positions than Port Vale (9), but that Vale have dropped more (15) than anyone. All that indicates defensive frailties which explain how Oldham came back twice from a goal down and won. A clue is in the poor defending from two set pieces that let the Latics back into the game. It was something James Gibbons wanted to put right against the Saddlers, the left-back having set one up and scored the other against Oldham.

Facing Hartlepool gives Port Vale a great chance for victory on several levels – even if that can’t be my tip because the hosts are too short to consider at 1.910/11. Instead, this match has to be about the goals. Four straight league defeats has enhanced Pools’ urgency for a new permanent manager, says interim boss Antony Sweeny – and a huge part of his job will have to be sorting out the defence.

Pools started decently this season, conceding just seven in the opening nine games, with four clean sheets (three at home). But as Opta point out they have conceded 22 goals in the last 10 games (no clean sheets) with seven of those featuring two or more goals. They have also scored 12 times.

That’s a nudge short of over 3.5 goals per game, while Port Vale are bang on, having scored 21 and conceded 14 in the same timeframe. The over 3.5 goals price therefore seems generous at 4.03/1.

Even without suspended midfielder Tom Conlon, Vale should be angry enough to provide plenty of chances for top scorers Jamie Prcotor (6) and James Wilson (4) to convert. Meanwhile at the other end, Mark Cullen, who has won promotion with Luton and Blackpool from this division, will surely need little invitation to add to his tally this season, given half a chance which the statistics seem to indicate Port Vale’s defence will allow. Set piece errors? Vale also need to watch out for Pools defender David Ferguson, who is joint top scorer with three.

If a combination bet tickles your fancy, a home win plus over 3.5 goals returns just over [4-1] on Sportsbook.

Exeter can reset with draw at robust Rochdale

Rochdale 2.77/4 v Exeter 2.915/8; the draw 3.613/5

Matt Taylor must also be scratching his head, after watching his Exeter side’s 20-game unbeaten run end in spectacular fashion at Colchester. Forget a ‘curse’ mention from “Dr Who Star” John Bishop (what happened to him being a comedian?), what is it about Tuesday nights that so spooks in-form sides?

After four home matches (in all competitions), Taylor faced two away after last weekend. He mentioned he was looking forward to the trip to Essex, uttering dreaded phrases about changing up his team (because some looked ‘leggy’) – a sure sign that Colchester were being underestimated, subconsciously or not.

It seems fair to give a substitute who has scored a subsequent start. Jake Caprice, who netted last weekend, duly began the game. He was one of only two changes in the end, as the Grecians reverted to three at the back. Maybe that change was the biggest reason for Colchester scoring early?

Will Padraig Amond, having netted, be afforded another start now? That seems unlikely with forward Sam Nombe in such great form generally, having notched seven league goals since starting to score for the club, 11 games ago. He almost equalised at one point on Tuesday.

Taylor knows his side have decent away form, but they do have a fair few draws (4) on their travels, which could be the way to look at this game. They have not lost consecutive games since March (a run of three) point out Opta. Meanwhile, Rochdale statistics are just as telling: Opta say they are seven games unbeaten and you have to go back to 2011 to find a better run. It is not a record they will wish to give up easily. So can they hold off the mercurial talents of Matt Jay and co?

Five of the Dale’s last seven matches have been draws, two at home where they have won the other in that run. With Jake Beesley fighting with midfielder Alex Newby for top scorer bragging rights (both have five) boss Robbie Stockdale must be eager to inspire others to catch them up. Young Josh Andrews, on loan from Birmingham, has taken some chances when given them, netting twice in three starts and four substitute appearances. Letting Stevenage equalise twice on Tuesday was not ideal and it could well be a case of both sides scoring as they take a point each.

Bantams will be too strong

Scunthorpe 4.216/5 v Bradford 2.166/5; the draw 3.55/2

Opta stats points this match towards a possible goals bet, but I think that Scunthorpe have it all to do in order to score against the Bantams – and that the visitors should win.

The statisticians emphasise that, in the last seven Bradford City matches, both teams have scored. To better that in their games, a run of eight was achieved in January 2018. When you add in that the Iron have conceded more goals from outside the penalty area (7) than any other League Two side and a league high 34 in total, having scored just 14, the hosts are up against it for this match.

Funnily enough, Scunthorpe have scored and conceded in each of their last six games, either side of Keith Hill’s appointment as manager. In those six, the games were against mostly teams in the bottom eight, with the exception being Tuesday’s home game against Leyton Orient, the away draw specialists (6).

Derek Adams, the visiting manager, can’t be too pleased that his defence has only kept two clean sheets this season. He wasn’t very happy with errors as they let a lead slip at Tranmere on Tuesday having led through Levi Sutton. He is now sweating on injuries from Tuesday to Lee Angol, Caolan Lavery and Charles Vernam, while being delighted to welcome back Oscar Threlkeld to training.

He seemed to emphasise that the Scunthorpe match is the first for a while against teams in the bottom half, as if it was some sort of relief. It isn’t when a team is bottom, under a new manager, fighting for their livelihoods with January close. The hosts have five different scorers of their seven goals in six games (excluding an own goal). That’s a bit of variety, but not very focused. Jake Scrimshaw has two of his top scoring three in that period. I feel they will struggle to contain the visitors, for whom Andy Cook has seven and Angol and Vernam the same again between them.

Take hints for a Mansfield point at Crawley

Crawley 2.89/5 v Mansfield 2.915/8; the draw 3.55/2

Managers say the funniest things. Delightfully colourful quotes enliven a press conference. Sometimes they are painfully un-politically correct (search Joey Barton: Bristol Rovers), but most managers enjoy a good turn of phrase. “A week ago they were building gallows for me,” reflected Crawley boss John Yems after Tuesday’s draw with Mansfield, which followed a win at Barrow, which ended a run of five straight league defeats and an FA Cup exit.

What else he said was more astonishing, if less colourful: that a draw felt like a defeat “because that’s the standards we’ve set”. Well, not recently! Managers have lost jobs for far less than zero points from a possible last 15.

To be fair, Yems had set higher standards including a 13-game unbeaten home run just as the pandemic began. He’s right, though, to be thankful that Crawley have cut the “moments of madness down from five minutes to one”.

Whatever the words, the Reds have come out of a poor run fighting: 16 shots (but only four on target) against Newport despite only 38% possession. And a tight defence again, like for Saturday’s 1-0 win in the north. They have held a really good side, in form, in keeping Newport to a draw, albeit disappointed to concede a late goal. But then the Exiles’ Dom Telford is the division’s top scorer, with 12, stress Opta.

Much travelled forward Tom Nichols can’t make the starting line-up at present, with Ashley Nadesan and in particular Kwesi Appiah (7 goals) leading the line. The latter has scored in six of the past eight games.

In that time, Yems’ men have scored a maximum of one goal per game – and that gives Mansfield every chance of improving their away record. Opta state the Stags have the fewest goals on the road (5, joint with Tranmere) and with just five points away, only Scunthorpe and Hartlepool have worse returns in that regard.

I think Nigel Clough’s men have shown enough improvement in a five-game unbeaten run before Tuesday’s loss at Sutton to take a point.

Talking of strange manager quotes, Clough said he was “not too disappointed” with the performance – just the result! A weird way of looking at things. Surely if the performance was any good it would have resulted in converted chances? Managers and their turns of phrases!

Anyway, quality in the final third was the issue, he said. Tyrese Sinclair, a substitute, was among the culprits for not converting chances. Rhys Oates and Danny Johnson are absent at present. Clough hopes midfielder Stephen Quinn can recover having been risked with a slight injury on Tuesday. And when he and George Maris don’t make the play, Clough reflected, then you’ve got trouble! When either of them, do, however, they can make not only a point at Crawley but their way up the table.

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