Young loan striker adds valuable experience
Tranmere 1.84/5, v Scunthorpe 5.39/2; the draw 3.9
In recent weeks, much could change between publication and a match, because of Covid. Now, we have the annual complication on top of teams signing - or letting go - players during the roundabout that is the January transfer window.
My favourite piece of "business", as managers put it, since January 1 is Josh McPake signing for Tranmere on loan from Rangers. It could become the stand-out signing of the window. Micky Mellon's men sit fourth but have scored only 20 goals this season.
You have to look down the table to 20th placed Colchester to find a club with fewer League Two strikes. And even bottom club Oldham have 21. Rovers combine that statistic with conceding just 14 - every other team has let in 20 at least. Opta emphasise this by adding they have kept the most clean sheets (12) including their last four games, last bettering that with six in a row in April 2004.
But adding quality going forward and in particular goals is the reason why Mellon has snapped up the 20-year-old winger who menaced defences when on loan at Harrogate last season, scoring four times in 22 appearances. With Paul Glatzel injured, Kieron Morris, Nicky Maynard and, hopefully, Elliott Nevitt will benefit from the supply line. Three consecutive clean sheets certainly give them a strong platform for victory.
Meanwhile, struggling Scunthorpe have sold their joint top scorer, Ryan Loft, to Bristol Rovers. He had four goals, as does Myles Hippolyte. Sam Burns has quickly been brought in to replace Loft, from Blackburn on loan. After several draws and then a win over Oldham, Keith Hill's side lost to Carlisle. Tranmere will be an entirely different nut to crack.
McPake's arrival might not double the hosts' goal tally instantly, however. So, with the odds on a home win being 1.84/5 and under 2.5 goals being 1.75/7 on the exchange, the best thing is to combine them, on Sportsbook for a return of 3.16-1.
Bantams looking up in New Year
Carlisle 2.89/5 v Bradford 3.02/1; the draw 3.39/4
Bradford boss Derek Adams will eye the new year with optimism - and a sense of having catching up to do. On his appointment last May, few would have expected the Bantams to "languish" in 12th, the lower half of League Two, especially when the manager had just propelled Morecambe to League One.
Left-sided winger Dion Pereira, signed on loan from Luton, should excite supporters and supply chances. Adams believes he will keep opponents on their toes, as he can play on both wings, create openings and drive at defenders.
Lee Angol, who has found the net in the past two games - a draw with Sutton and a well overdue win at Barrow - will surely love the supply line. Released by Leyton Orient in the summer, the striker feels he has really settled in now, with six straight starts and putting hamstring troubles behind him. Andy Cook, who notched his eight League Two goal of the season to Angol's fifth, will love the freshness, too.
I took a chance on them winning at Barrow at 3.185/40 and they are only a touch shorter for another away win.
The visitors have drawn six of their last 10, winning just twice. They need to continue their New Year's resolution to win, not add to their 11 draws as they look for successive league away wins for the first time since February 2021, say Opta.
The stats compilers give them extra incentive: apparently Bradford have failed to win any of their away trips to Brunton Park this millennium, drawing one of four.
Carlisle have five draws at home and might appear in good touch, having won two in a row and three from four, all with clean sheets and two away from home. But two of those were against fellow strugglers Scunthorpe and Stevenage. Opta add that the two recent wins were as many as in their previous 18 league games combined.
Keith Millen might feel the Cumbrians have turned a corner, at last. The manager has let Brad Young, 18, return to Aston Villa, believing the striker would want to be playing but not guaranteeing him anything after 20 games in all competitions and three goals. Perhaps he considers Tyrese Omotoye, 19, signed on loan from Norwich, a more finished product. Millen will hope Tristan Abrahams can start scoring big, or Jon Mellish can build on a recent strike.
At the other end, they have signed Altrincham defender Joel Senior, who has league experience. Collectively, however, the hosts might not have enough to keep Bradford at bay.
Quiet stalemate might suit Cobblers and Reds
Northampton 2.01/1, v Crawley Town 4.67/2; the draw 3.613/5
These two teams have only recorded one nil-nil draw each this season - against each other. Only Bristol Rovers, with zero, can do better. Sutton and Harrogate also only have one each. Both managers at Sixfields might prefer a quiet life to the goals noise of late.
Jon Brady's hosts lost 5-2 at Swindon last weekend. It was after a 6-3 drubbing at Forest Green that John Yems was relieved not to concede against the Cobblers in August.
Northampton have scored in their past 12 matches, winning seven to propel them into second. They have kept one clean sheet in seven. Crawley have scored in their past nine, keeping one clean sheet as they put their season back on track.
A 2-1 win at Leyton Orient certainly helped, while Ashley Nadesan finally found the net again (twice) in the win over Colchester. If the Reds are to earn a point here, he or Kwesi Appiah are going to have to be at their best. The hosts' defence on their own turf offers little - seven goals conceded.
It's taking a risk - as the prices suggest - to think the Reds can get past Jon Guthrie and Fraser Horsefall's wall at the back. And Sam Hoskins or Paul Lewis - even Guthrie - are plenty capable of meandering past Nick Tsaroulla and keeper Glenn Morris. But Crawley's tails are up enough to earn a draw.
Opta give us a hint: Northampton have alternated between failing to score and scoring twice in their four home league games against Crawley, winning once. The latest was a 2-2 draw in September 2019. There of the last four games between the two have ended level, they add.
Season's surprise package can win again
Oldham 3.211/5 v Sutton 2.466/4; the draw 3.613/5
On FA Cup third round weekend, it wouldn't be the biggest shock if League Two's surprise package this season continued their excellent campaign with a win at Oldham. The layers think so, too. Sutton had a run of four successive wins in October, Opta remind us. Victory here would be a third in a row for the first time since then.
Oldham, add the stats compilers, have failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last six home league games. Having recorded successive goalless draws in their past two matches, a third would be the first run of three since January 2001. In one sense, the chances seem high, because they have played out five nil-nil League Two matches this season - but four of them away.
In contrast, goals flow more freely at Boundary Park, given the 5-5 home draw with Forest Green on December 11. Boss Selim Benachour will hope Davis Keillor-Dunn can recapture the spirit of that match, in which he scored to lead and also to start the comeback from 4-1 down.
The visitors have won four and drawn one from their most recent five. Omar Bugiel and Rob Milsom clearly benefited from an enforced Christmas break for the team. Boss Matt Gray now has Covid, but assistant Jason Goodliffe is more than capable of inspiring the team, as he proved with a 2-1 win over Colchester in the EFL Trophy in midweek.
The U's would love to continue to bounce around the automatic promotion spots. Keeping Isaac Olaofe, on loan from Millwall, could be key. As could improving their away form when five defeats have been inflicted.
Bottom club Oldham did upset the odds and beat Port Vale at home in mid-November, but Sutton might well prove too strong even for the hosts to hold out for a draw.