The League One play-offs begin on Friday, and our resident third tier tipster Alan Dudman returns with his best bets for Portsmouth against Oxford at Fratton Park...
"It could be a tight, nervy game, as neither will want to concede an advantage because of the need to "stay in" a match over 180 minutes."
Portsmouth v Oxford United
League One play-off semi-final first leg
Friday July 3, 17:30
Live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event
Pompey top the betting for Friday and promotion
Twelve months ago, Portsmouth were embarking on their play-off semi-finals against Sunderland following a campaign that saw them accrue a massive 88 points - yet they didn't get to the holy grail of the Championship. This time round, under unique circumstances, I am more tentative about not only taking the [2.2] on offer for the win on Friday evening, but also Pompey's chances of going up.
They trade as favourites in the Promotion market, just, at [3.15]. But there isn't much between them, Fleetwood at [3.45] and Oxford at [3.65]. And is I often repeat verbatim; anyone can beat anyone in this division.
Kenny Jackett's team finished fifth in the table with 60 points (fourth in PPG money), and whilst they started slowly and drew far too many games - they found their stride and clicked into groove from January. Although don't get fooled into thinking they are a cavalier, swashbuckling team. Jackett places faith in organisation, shape, and solidity.
Their home record pre-lockdown was a strong one, though - with 12 wins and six draws from 18 games. Whilst Jackett also has the play-off experience - only Neil Warnock (five) has reached more play-off finals.
U's were in great shape prior to lockdown
Up to March, Oxford were THE form team in League One following five successive victories (and plenty of goals). They had thumped Wimbledon 5-0, and followed up by hammering Accrington 3-0 - both at home. Before lockdown, the U's had scored 14 goals in those five matches and had moved to third in the league.
In terms of style, Oxford are one of the most attractive passing teams to watch in the third tier. That's not a surprise with Karl Robinson at the helm. I've long been a disciple of the school of Robinson since his MK Dons days, and whilst it hadn't worked out for him at all at Charlton, the U's have all the hallmarks of one of his teams.
They had a slightly wobbly January, but that included an FA Cup run, a backlog of fixtures and a growing injury list. So it was even more meritorious with how they finished with those five straight wins.
Backing the draw looks the value call
The standard League One market is often [2.2] v [3.65], and we've got exactly that. It will be interesting to monitor the betting ahead of Friday's kick-off, whether the Oxford price at [3.65] comes under a bit of pressure.
Anyone backing Pompey as the shorter of the two in betting, will have nagging doubts at the back of their minds with the way they were held to two shut-outs against Sunderland in the semi-finals last year. In fact, the 1-0 defeat at the Stadium Of Light was an appalling match to watch. Dreadful. Hopefully the Sky viewers will be treated to something a little more pleasing on the eye.
In terms of striking a bet, the Pompey one to win is not for me. If I was backing the hosts, I would rather have a go at the 1-0 on the Correct Score - which throws up the option of trading and cashing out. However, the 0-0 makes most appeal. We can start with a back at around [8.0], and hopefully get to around 20 minutes with no goals. That's one of the trades I like with a game that offers up the potential to be quite cagey.
This will be a clash of styles too, and it could be the sort of fixture the duo played out at Fratton Park (1-1) last November. Robinson's game-plan back then comprised of fielding a compact 4-3-2-1 that saw them breakaway in packs and play through the middle. Whereas Pompey played one up front and had a lot of joy with their wing-backs - especially down the right. Jackett likes both to play high up the pitch to create the overloads.
However, like quite a few of those Portsmouth games, they couldn't quite finish Oxford off - who nicked a late equaliser thanks to a header at the back post from Matty Taylor.
Robinson might try and squeeze this game and pack out the central areas to allow Pompey the width - and they are more than capable of soaking up spells of pressure. They had a makeshift team for that 1-1, and they were still good enough to earn a point.
The back bet of Oxford makes a fair bit of appeal at [3.65], as does the Draw No Bet, but I am quite tempted to play the Draw outright here at around the [3.35] mark. It could be a tight, nervy game, as neither will want to concede an advantage because of the need to "stay in" a match over 180 minutes. Plus, there's the element, or non-element of the crowd - and without the famous Fratton Park faithful, that could play into the hands of the visitors.
Therefore, by expecting a close game, backing the Draw also gives us leeway to trade - especially with a close first-half.
Base bets on game with few goals
If you are looking to play in the Under/Over 2.5 market, I would favour a low-scoring affair based on Pompey's fine defensive record of conceding just 15 at Fratton Park in 18 matches.
I get the feeling Jackett still hasn't got over the fact that Taylor was allowed a bit of space in the box - and that was months ago. That's how Jackett works - he likes drills of organisation, discipline, and shape. I can't see the hosts going "all out" here.
It will be interesting to see if he lines up with one striker up front or two.
Taylor, Marquis or Harrison to score?
The always popular First Goalscorer markets might have a bit more liquidity with the non-followers of League One joining in for a bit of the TV action on Friday.
Matty Taylor is a fine goal-getter, and he's been granted an extension from parent club Bristol City to feature in the play-off games. He bagged 13 from 26 in the league and is the sort of player that only needs one chance. He was priced up at 5/1 on the Sportsbook in midweek.
John Marquis is 4/1 for First Goalscorer honours, and he embarked on a run of nine in 17 from January, although he hasn't quite hit the same prolific form as he reached last season with Doncaster. Portsmouth midfielder Ronan Curtis often pops up with goals, and the system seems to work better when Ellis Harrison is in the line-up. Harrison has been the missing link that Jackett required, as he brings others into play with his hold-up ability. He gets Pompey up the pitch quickly, which is crucial to how this game could pan out.
Alan Dudman's P&L (inclusive ante-post, playoffs and regular season)
*All bets to a 0.5pt stake unless stated otherwise
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Back The Draw @ [3.35]
Back 0-0 Correct Score @ [8.0]