With several relegation issues still to be decided, Alan Dudman believes that Crewe Alexandra look a tempting price at Shrewsbury, in a trio of bets for the start of the Easter holidays....
"Crewe have been scoring on the road recently, with wins at Crawley (2-1) and Gillingham (3-1). Overall, their current form has been better, which has certainly been the case on their travels." Back Crewe to win @ 3.6013/5
Shrewsbury Town 2.3211/8 v Crewe Alexandra 3.6013/5, the draw 3.6013/5
With time running out to preserve their League One status, neither Shrewsbury nor Crewe will want a point here, they need three. Considering the precarious position of the lowly duo (22nd and 23rd), it will no doubt be a nervy affair. And with the respective placings in the table, Crewe are definitely overpriced.
The hosts have been quite poor all season, but as usual from a struggling side, results can improve in the final five games. Salop are unbeaten in their last three at Greenhous Meadow, including two victories against Bradford and Stevenage. The historical stats from Opta also side with the Shrews, as they have lost only one of their last nine league clashes with the Railwaymen.
I just cannot see backing Shrewsbury at the odds as a good bet this weekend. They have a problem in midfield as David McAllister has been ruled out for the rest of the season (although he has missed the previous four matches), whilst Sam Foley has been recalled by parent club Yeovil at a crucial time.
Town boss Mike Jackson needs to start with a front two, and a ready-made fit would be Tom Bradshaw to play up top - and he really should have featured in more games this term. Midfielder Asa Hall is available again after suspension.
The Alex, who according to Opta, have failed to find the net in three of their last four trips to Shropshire, which doesn't bode well. However, they have been scoring on the road recently, with wins at Crawley (2-1) and Gillingham (3-1). Overall, their current form has been better, which has certainly been the case on their travels.
Crewe's 2-0 defeat at Wolves can be excused, but previously were good against Crawley. The recalled Brad Inman showed his pace and desire at last in that encounter, and his speed can certainly hurt teams. Alex boss Steve Davis needs to find a goal source though, as leading forward Chuks Aneke is suspended, whilst Max Clayton could be a surprise inclusion.
With matches coming up against Colchester, Bristol City and Preston, this has to be viewed as the most winnable affair for Crewe. But then Shrewsbury will be saying exactly the same thing.
I must admit, aided by the Opta stats that the visitors have conceded in 13 straight games, placing faith in the Railwaymen's defence is a perilous one, but considering Shrewsbury have the worst strike-rate in League One with a goal scored every 99 minutes, it will be a chance worth taking.
Back Crewe to win @ 3.6013/5
Gillingham 2.427/5 v Tranmere Rovers 3.309/4, the draw 3.505/2
Worryingly for Gillingham fans, the Kent club have been pulled into the relegation battle and are trading at 3.1511/5 to go down. They are only five points ahead of Carlisle, and arrive into Friday's game after a 5-1 mauling at Leyton Orient. Manager Peter Taylor described that loss as his most embarrassing 45 minutes in football, and they were utterly woeful in the first-half at Brisbane Road last Saturday.
Opta Stats reveal that Taylor's side have lost four of their last five league games against Tranmere, although they did beat them earlier in the season at Prenton Park (2-1). Overall though, the Gills have been far too sloppy all season in defence, and part of the problem has been keeping their shape. They have been far too negative away from home, as Taylor persists with a deep defending plan, coupled with trying to hit sides on the counter.
Two weeks ago, Gillingham were beaten 3-4 by Rotherham at the Priestfield, which highlighted just how sloppy they can be. However, their home form is OK, with three victories from their last six (three losses too), and their last home success was against a very good Coventry side.
With the hosts facing a battle to stay in the division, Tranmere fare slightly worse, as they sit just three points above the drop zone. Caretaker boss John McMahon hasn't exactly got a lot to work with, as the squad is very light, and with the run of games in 10 days now beginning in earnest, that depth will be tested in full. Their bench is very young, so McMahon doesn't have a lot of options.
Rovers line up a 4-4-2 and rely on the goals of Ryan Lowe, who has hit 19 this season. Lowe missed the Tuesday defeat at Crawley, so he needs to return to full fitness for this coming Good Friday.
Opta highlight just how poor Tranmere have been this term, especially as an attacking force. They have had fewer shots on target than any other rival in League One this season (a paltry 137). There are crumbs of comfort though, as they can score on their travels (with eight from their last seven matches). And they also secured back-to-back wins prior to the Crawley defeat, with 2-1 successes against Colchester and Shrewsbury.
Considering how the Gills fans turned on their team at Leyton Orient, Friday's match ought to see Tranmere trying to keep the hosts quiet in the first 25 minutes to bring about some edginess. If you are looking for an overs/unders bet, four of Gillingham's last seven have been over 2.5 goals, added to the theory that Tranmere will be able to score here.
It's a game however that neither dare not lose, so therefore the draw looks most appealing as an outright, and should certainly be considered as a Cash Out bet given the ropey nature of the host defence.
Back the draw @ 3.505/2
Brentford 2.0421/20 v Preston North End 4.2016/5, the draw 3.6013/5
It's hard to think that Brentford are still not assured of automatic promotion despite a club-record tally of 87 points this term - the highest in their 125 year history. The Bees are seven points clear of their nearest pursuer in Leyton Orient, and will gain automatic if the O's and Rotherham both fail to gain victories this Friday.
Preston themselves still hold wafer thin hopes of going straight up, but they are guaranteed a place in the play-offs and might well have that in mind this weekend. North End boss Simon Grayson has suggested a few younger players may get a start, with talk of going with 18-year-old Josh Brownhill and 19-year-old Alan Browne in the midfield at Griffin Park.
Brownhill looks an excellent prospect, and I was most impressed with him during the live Sky game last month. He, along with his fellow teenager are ball players, and both have big futures.
Preston thumped Carlisle last Saturday 6-1, minus top scorer Joe Garner (who was attending the birth of his child). Inconsistent forward Craig Davies bagged a hat-tick in that game, and I was pleased to see winger Lee Holmes start, as I think he is a terrific player at this level with his width and craft - a proper old fashioned number seven.
Grayson has used a 3-5-2 this term, but has been a hard manager to read, as he constantly tinkers with his formation. But it's been a success, as according to Opta stats, only Leyton Orient have lost fewer away games (2) this season, than North End (3).
Brentford have been one of the best teams in League One this term (the most obvious of statements considering they are second to Wolves), and their strength in physical terms matches some superb players at this level. They lost 1-0 at Swindon last weekend, which was their first defeat in five. But their home form has been supreme all season, with five straight wins on the spin recently at Griffin Park. They do keep clean sheets too, with three in that run of five matches.
The hosts will be without the suspended Adam Forshaw, although winger Sam Saunders is nearing a return. Preston's captain John Welsh is suspended, and I expect Garner to return up front for the visitors.
And with Garner (96), and Brentford's Clayton Donaldson (111), they have attempted the most shots in League One this season according to Opta stats. As an outright, Brentford's home form sways me, considering North End could already be planning for the play-offs.
League One 2013/14 P/L (all selections one point)
- 9.32 pts