Gabriel Sutton runs the rule over the Championship Gameweek 42 midweek action.
Charlton +2 handicap
Brentford v Charlton Athletic
Charlton lost 1-0 at home to Millwall last time out but Jake Cooper’s late winner for their opponents was just the first goal the Addicks have conceded since the restart. Lee Bowyer’s side have looked well-organised with defenders such as Jason Pearce and Tom Lockyer giving goalkeeper Dillon Phillips good protection. Darren Pratley has been putting in some solid midfield shifts too, with the Londoners looking stronger without the ball than they are with it.
The Addicks will need to be on their guard when they face a Brentford side who beat Wigan 3-0 on Saturday thanks to a Saïd Benrahma hat-trick – including one slightly fortuitous strike from a crossing position. The Bees know that their season will likely be decided by the Play-Offs and it’s plausible that Thomas Frank will shuffle the pack to keep match fitness levels up, so his squad are prepared for two Semi-Final legs in the space of three days later this month. Any rotation would favour Charlton, who have accrued a remarkable 15 points from nine games against top-six opposition and are unbeaten in that sequence, which shows they relish the underdog status. Some would understandably say they do not have the quality to match Brentford after an off-colour passing game from tidy midfielder Josh Cullen and a costly close-range miss from energetic striker Macauley Bonne against Millwall; a game which saw Deji Oshilaja, a right-footed centre-back by trade, forced to fill in uncomfortably at left-back.
Regardless of the personnel available, though, Lee Bowyer’s side consistently produce individual performances that allow them to compete against the division’s finest, typically through spirited pressing in the first half and dogged, last-ditch defending in the second. This blueprint could allow them to nullify Brentford who, despite looking fantastic going forward in a fair proportion of their games, have also failed to score 11 times in the league. They have drawn blanks five times in 13 meetings with bottom eight opposition, including their trip to the Valley back in August. Though the difference in quality should not be disregarded, there are generous odds on Charlton to either win, draw, or limit the margin of defeat to a solitary goal.
Under 2.5 Goals
Luton Town v Barnsley
Luton and Barnsley have much in common. Both were automatically promoted from League One last term, both have changed manager since their seasons began, both are propping up the Championship, and both had promising runs of form interrupted by a heavy defeat against ordinary opposition last time out. Luton were thrashed 5-0 at home to Reading while the Reds went down to a 4-0 loss at Stoke. In both cases, it had been hoped that the defensive issues from the first half of their respective campaigns had been minimised by a January addition at centre-back: Cameron Carter-Vickers has given the Hatters more comfort in possession than their other defenders, Sonny Bradley and Matty Pearson, while Michael Sollbauer had provided the assurance and leadership to successfully guide the talented but inexperienced Mads Andersen. Carter-Vickers and Sollbauer, though, were both unable to maintain their respective influences last time out in collectively weak displays.
— holz (@_HollyLee) June 30, 2020
Managers Nathan Jones and Gerhard Struber will be keen to re-establish the defensive basics to ensure there is to be no repeat of Saturday’s horror show – the upshot of that may be a low-scoring encounter.
Millwall to win
Millwall v Middlesbrough
Millwall kept themselves within touching distance of the top six last time out with a 1-0 win at Charlton. The Lions have based their push fundamentally on solid defending from the likes of Shaun Hutchinson and Jake Cooper, along with excellent goalkeeping from Bartosz Bialkowski. That is clearly reflected in the fact they have conceded just 27 goals in 29 games since Gary Rowett took charge – the fewest outside the top three and the same number as leaders Leeds.
Things you don’t normally see at a football match ⚽️ Millwall Manager Gary Rowett getting interviewed by a mop 🤷🏽♂️ 😂🤣 pic.twitter.com/cvoc1xVv2H
— Chris Kamara (@chris_kammy) June 27, 2020
They have not always been quite as formidable going forward, but they could be making progress in that regard. Ryan Woods brings a certain level of quality to central midfield and can spot through balls that others at this level cannot, while Ben Thompson is a dynamic attacking talent. The fit-again 24-year-old was given an extended run-out on Friday.
In the preceding game, a 1-1 draw with Swansea in which the South Londoners deserved more than a point, Jed Wallace became the first Championship player this season to register double figures on the goals and assists tally. Wallace will be a threat to Middlesbrough, who were defeated 1-0 at home to QPR on Sunday.
On paper, Neil Warnock’s starting line-up looked positive enough with creative dribbler Patrick Roberts and enigmatic technician Ravel Morrison starting simultaneously behind two strikers; the athletic Ashley Fletcher and poacher Britt Assombalonga. And yet, they did not look like scoring. Without agile right-back Djed Spence, who was injured, and adventurous left-back Hayden Coulson, who Warnock left on the bench, they were short on width, leaving little space for Roberts, Morrison, Fletcher, or Assombalonga to influence the game as either of them would like to. If Middlesbrough’s only attacking impetus is going to come from central areas against Millwall, then they could have a difficult evening – the Lions have specialised in defending those areas all season.
Double Chance: Hull or Draw
Bristol City v Hull City
Bristol City dismissed manager Lee Johnson after Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Cardiff which means, for the first time since February 2016, they will kick off a match without the former midfielder at the helm.
Whether you like it or not he's left the club in a better place than he found it and you'll never find a manager who loves the club more. Thank you Lee Johnson. ❤ pic.twitter.com/YScnbWcWW6
— iestyn 🧼 (@genreneutraluno) July 4, 2020
Johnson deserves a lot of credit for his work in the first three and a half seasons. He kept them up comfortably in 2015-16, he established a progressive playing identity in 2016-17, he implemented a coherent pressing game in 2017-18, and he introduced some adaptability to the side in 2018-19 when they started mixing up their game by going direct from deep to Famara Diedhiou. This season, that adaptability became more of a hindrance than a help and arguably interfered with the playing identity he had initially created. While Johnson could justifiably point to the numerous good players who have been sold during his tenure, he was given a transfer budget in the region of £30 million this season to strengthen the squad and the results after January – eight points from 12 games – have been hugely disappointing.
The question is, under the interim stewardship of Dean Holden, whether the recent problems for City will be solved sufficiently and quickly enough to justify odds-on quotes for victory against Hull City. Grant McCann’s side lost 4-2 at West Brom on Sunday but they gave the prime promotion contenders a scare. The Humbersiders were arguably the better team until Albion’s second goal, showing some potential with Mallik Wilks’ powerful running from the right as well as the combination play between George Honeyman and Jon Toral. After conceding the third, they spurned numerous good opportunities to equalize, so McCann can take some heart from certain aspects of their performance – it was among their most promising attacking displays since the January sales of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki.
Hull will need to sharpen up at the back, but they could be good value to avoid defeat at Ashton Gate.