It's the battle of the caretakers at Priestfield this weekend and timing appears to favour Bury boss Ryan Lowe against his Gillingham counterpart Steve Lovell...
Barnet are in dreadful form under Rossi Eames. Since mid-September, their shot ratio has plummeted from a promising 54.5 per cent over the first eight matches (ranked 10th) to a sorry 36.4 per cent (22nd) in the last eight. Colchester, on the other hand, have raised their dominance of chance creation from 50 per cent (13th) to an impressive 58 per cent (fifth).
Gillingham v Bury
Two novice caretaker managers go head to head at Priestfield and there's value in siding with the one who still has most to prove. Take the [2.62] available on Bury giving Ryan Lowe's prospects a boost against an in-form Gillingham side, whose players might soon be wondering what else they have to do to land Steve Lovell the job on a full-time basis.
The Gills have won four out of six matches since Lovell picked up the reins from Peter Taylor last month, the 57-year-old Welshman having previously galvanised the club as a prominent member of the "Gang of Four" that preceded Justin Edinburgh. But owner Paul Scally is playing hard to get, insisting the club needs experience.
Of course, it's possible that Scally has taken this stance purely to see how much the players are prepared to rally behind Lovell, a motivational tool that he intends to milk for all it's worth. But there comes a point when over-performing players run out of steam and we're now reaching the stage where free-spirited opportunity turns into heavy obligation.
However, while Scally is keeping his cards close to his chest, Stewart Day has been dangling a carrot for Lowe in the search for a successor to Lee Clark. The ambitious Bury owner has been telling local media how open-minded he is about appointing from within and imploring the popular 39-year-old Liverpudlian to give it his best shot.
Lowe knows he has at least three games to make his mark and he started with a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup at non-league Woking, where the Shakers withstood a barrage from their highly-motivated hosts. And they followed that up with a stylish 3-1 win over Stoke Under-23s in the Checkatrade Trophy, in which they were three goals ahead inside 20 minutes.
But while skipper Phil Edwards is keen to get the message out that Lowe's approach to training and tactics is like a breath of fresh air, it should be clear to everyone that this is the bread-and-butter clash on which he'll be judged. If Bury fail to win, Day will surely step up his efforts to recruit a bigger name before next week's Lancashire derby with Blackburn.
1pt Bury to beat Gillingham at [2.62]
Barnet v Colchester
Colchester were the biggest losers in the FA Cup first round last weekend, going down 1-0 at home to National League South outfit Oxford City - a team 56 places below them in the football pyramid. Now John McGreal will be looking for a reaction after withholding his biggest names from Checkatrade Trophy action in midweek.
The U's were just 1.30 to beat the sixth-tier strugglers and their limp defeat was all the more surprising because they came into the game in decent shape, having taken 13 points from the last available 18, a sample that included eye-catching wins over Mansfield and Newport. So complacency might explain what then unfolded, as the dynamic shifted to knockout football.
However, if there's going to be a backlash, performance data over the past six weeks would suggest the visitors offer great value at [2.90] here. Based on the whole 16 rounds, the prices are probably about right. But when you split that sample in two, you discover the two teams are heading on wildly diverging paths.
Barnet are in dreadful form under Rossi Eames. Since mid-September, their shot ratio has plummeted from a promising 54.5% over the first eight matches (ranked 10th) to a sorry 36.4 per cent (22nd) in the last eight. Colchester, on the other hand, have raised their dominance of chance creation from 50 per cent (13th) to an impressive 58 per cent (fifth).
Doubts over the availability of Jamal Campbell-Ryce also count against the home side. The winger-turned-playmaker pulled up lame in the warm-up prior to last weekend's routine 3-1 FA Cup defeat against much-changed Blackburn. That result means the Bees are now winless in 12 and they haven't scored twice in the same game since September 9.
1pt Colchester to beat Barnet at [2.66]
Mike Holden Profit/Loss 2017-18
Staked: 41 pts
Returned: 29.08 pts
P/L: -11.92 pts