EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks his six best bets for Easter Monday’s tasty action – and fancies a kinda surprise at Blundell Park.
Under 2.5 Goals
Reading v Derby County
Reading’s fate got taken out of their own hands on Good Friday, after a 1-1 draw at fellow Play-Off chasers Barnsley.
A good point on paper, perhaps, against in-form opposition who have pressed so many into submission, but a bad one considering Lucas João’s horrendous miss with the goal gaping.
The Portuguese front-man, having been so crucial to the Royals in the opening five months of the season, has looked short of confidence since missing the penalty against Preston North End.
At the other end of the field, though, Liam Moore was imperious at Oakwell with brave defending of his own penalty area, limiting their opponents to few chances.
Reading are looking over their shoulders at in-form Bournemouth, while Derby are hoping to ease towards safety.
The Rams could be in an even more comfortable position without the injury to anchor man Krystian Bielik, who has been part of eight clean sheets in 13 league games this season.
Wayne Rooney’s side recorded another in the 2-0 victory over Luton last time out, but injuries are their nemesis once again as forwards Lee Gregory and Martyn Waghorn – who along with Louie Sibley starred in the opening half an hour – were forced off.
If both are absent on Monday, Rooney will bring in Colin Kazim-Richards, hoping the veteran striker is sufficiently refreshed to recapture his strong winter form.
😨 It was easier to score than do that!
😬 Lucas Joao missed an absolute sitter, in what could have put Reading in 5th place on the table.
⚽ What has been the miss of the season so far in the Championship?pic.twitter.com/gl6fw1Ugg7
— BetVictor (@BetVictor) April 2, 2021
Reading’s forwards look short of confidence and two of Derby’s could be unavailable. I’m expecting a tight affair.Gabriel Sutton
Swansea to score under 0.5 goals
Swansea City v Preston North End
Three consecutive defeats have left Swansea all but out of the automatic promotion race, so the remainder of their campaign is all about securing a top six berth.
The Swans have been competing with the likes of Norwich, Watford and Brentford for much of the campaign because they had, for a long time, a sturdy defensive rear-guard, combined with the attacking threat of Jamal Lowe and Andre Ayew.
Lowe offers pace and Ayew, flair, but Steve Cooper has found it difficult to identify a third forward to compliment the duo, with neither Yan Dhanda, Kasey Palmer nor Viktor Gykores at various points this season quite doing the job.
That issue has seen Cooper move towards a 3-5-2, which is rather conservative given that Ayew drops deep a lot and left wing-back Jake Bidwell is not the best going forward.
For a side that has a reputation for playing smooth, free-flowing football in recent history, Swansea are surprisingly rigid under the current regime and that could show against North End.
Frankie McAvoy will lead the Lilywhites until the end of the season, hoping to build on Good Friday’s point against Norwich, secured by Brad Potts’ injury-time leveller.
The Lancashire outfit, though, were fortunate to avoid defeat, thanks to a combination of wasteful opposition finishing and resilient goalkeeping from Daniel Iversen, who has impressed since joining on loan from Leicester.
Awful night at the office for Swansea.
Alarmingly sloppy given that they were looking to keep pace with Watford on the back of a two-week break.
Subs were far too late too, and Swansea have ended up losing what was another turgid game.
— Ian Mitchelmore (@IanMitchelmore) April 2, 2021
Swansea, we can expect, will create far fewer chances than Norwich did against North End, so if Iversen maintains his standard performance levels, the visitors could well record a clean sheet.Gabriel Sutton
Bristol Rovers -1 handicap
Bristol Rovers v Doncaster Rovers
This season has held so much promise, for so long, for Doncaster, but they are now slipping out of promotion contention.
Darren Moore’s last five games in charge saw one point accrued and, though caretaker gaffer Andy Butler won his first two, Donny have since taken just two points from six after a 1-0 defeat to Charlton last time out.
Rovers could have gotten away with one of those terrible runs of form, but having them both at similar stages of the season kills any sort of positivity or momentum.
The South Yorkshire outfit had lots of possession last time out, but they never really threatened the opposition goalkeeper and Omar Bogle – signed from the previous opponents in January – looks short on confidence.
Butler does not quite have the tactical acumen to change things up for Doncaster and it is a massive ask for him to go from being a first team regular to managing the team as a number one, without any real guidance in the shape of an experienced assistant or Director of Football.
It would not be a huge surprise, therefore, if Butler’s side capitulated at the Mem, where Bristol Rovers are fighting for their League One lives.
The mentality of this Gas side has been questioned, with the team criticized for caving in when a goal goes against them.
Good Friday’s 2-1 loss at Ipswich, though, would not support that narrative – even if it was a fifth straight defeat – because after a nightmarish opening 11 minutes, Rovers rallied and made it a nervy finale.
Joey Barton’s side enjoyed much of the play against Sunderland, let down only by one moment of poor marking from a corner, they had their moments at Home Park through Ed Upson and Luke McCormick, they lost to Swindon in a game that could easily have gone the other way and had led by two goals in defeat at the Valley.
Prior to the losing streak, only a goalkeeping masterclass had denied Rovers successive victories in the draw with AFC Wimbledon, following the 4-1 thumping of Accrington Stanley.
The Gas dominated against Stanley with left wing-back Luke Leahy and midfielder Luke McCormick starring and they have that type of performance in their locker.
In fact, despite their position, the BS7 outfit have won more games by a margin of more than one goal (five), than they have by a solitary strike (four).
We all love Andy Butler, and I hope he is with the club for many years but it feels like he's out of his depth at the moment, or not getting the right support. It was a gamble but it hasn't worked up to now and the board have a big, big decision to make.#DRFC
— Into The Empty Net (@DRFC_ITEN) April 2, 2021
Whenever Bristol Rovers win, they seem to win heavily and, if they do start this game well like they did against Accrington Stanley, they have the quality in Hanlan, Ayunga, McCormick and Leahy to take the game away from their out-of-form opponents.Gabriel Sutton
Hull to win to nil
Hull City v Northampton Town
Hull kept their place at the top of League One last time out with a 2-1 victory at Crewe, thanks to goals from Josh Magennis and Mallik Wilks.
Grant McCann described it as “a good footballing game” and his side needed goalkeeper Matt Ingram to make one or two good saves, but they had the quality to do damage at the other end.
Mallik Wilks’ athleticism and goalscoring ability – 18 for the season – has made him a handful at this level, much like he was for Doncaster in 2018-19.
Keane Lewis-Potter, is the next prodigy on Humberside and the lively wide forward, who loves to make direct runs from the left channel into dangerous goalscoring areas, looks to have the pace, skill and quality to replicate Jarrod Bowen’s rise to English football’s top table.
George Honeyman, one of the best players in League One this year, triggers the press as the most advanced of three midfielders, while Magennis competes with Tom Eaves to lead the line.
We can expect Northampton to be wary of Hull’s dangerous attacking quartet, which can hurt opponents – especially in transition – so a deep-block is expected from the visitors.
A double-pivot of Shaun McWilliams and Bryn Morris will likely sit close to centre-backs Lloyd Jones and Fraser Horsfall, so the challenge for Hull will be to use the ball well enough in deep and wide areas to create space for the awesome foursome.
Alfie Jones – who uses the ball well enough to be used frequently in midfield – should have a good passing range from defence while Jacob Greaves – outstanding at Cheltenham in 2019-20 – loves to drive forward with the ball as well as being accomplished at the basics of defending.
Throw in the width provided by Lewie Coyle and Callum Elder, combined with the technical ability of Greg Docherty in a deep midfield role and Hull should have the tools to dislodge their visitors.
— Hull City Aus 🎗️ (@HullCityAFCAus) April 2, 2021
Northampton are much-improved under Jon Brady, but there is still a huge gulf in quality between themselves and Hull so I’m expecting the hosts to further their promotion push here and keep a clean sheet in the process.Gabriel Sutton
Grimsby to win 1-0
Grimsby Town v Cheltenham Town
Cheltenham re-affirmed their credentials on Good Friday with a 4-0 victory over promotion rivals Tranmere.
It was in many respects a classic Robins performance, with their first two goals – scored by Conor Thomas and Will Boyle – coming via Ben Tozer’s excellent long throws.
The third, meanwhile, came from stealing the ball high up and Liam Sercombe playing a pin-point through ball in transition for Alfie May, who capped a fine display by tucking the ball home, before Callum Wright fired in a fourth – again from Tozer’s throw.
On the one hand, all those goals show Cheltenham are not only a massive threat in transition, as they had proved against Salford in the previous home game, but that they can instantly threaten goal as soon as the ball goes out of play anywhere near the penalty area.
On the other hand, though, one could argue that Michael Duff’s side have slightly regressed this season as a passing, ball-playing side; unlike 2019-20, very rarely have they broken teams down over prolonged passaged of play.
Stopping the rampant Robins, therefore, requires two things.
Firstly, a compact setup, which Grimsby – unbeaten in six – have proven capable of, having limited Tranmere in that sequence to just one shot on target, whilst granting them 59% possession.
Paul Hurst’s Shrewsbury side were extremely well-organized, with the unique ability to control games without the ball, which is a skillset the 46-year-old is gradually implementing at Blundell Park.
Secondly, the Mariners will need to be prepared for the long throws, but they are not short on aerial specialists; Rollin Menayese is a very athletic centre-back who could be assigned a man-marking job on Will Boyle – the usual reference point for Tozer – while target man James Hanson wins 12.7 headers per 90 minutes of action.
Cheltenham only have two aerial specialists in Boyle and striker Sam Smith, so if Menayese and Hanson can nullify their threat, with Lenell John-Lewis also helping out with his height and physicality, Grimsby might be able to handle Tozer’s deliveries and perhaps scrape a goal at the other end.
After the last few hours deep in thought Hurst keeping us 7 unbeaten and deserving to win all 7 imo is quite a turn around. Giving him a competitive budget and decent prep for next season I’m confident he’s the right man to take us forward whatever division we are in #GTFC
— Oliver Swaby🏴☠️ (@OliverSwaby1) April 2, 2021
Grimsby have drawn lots of games lately that they could – and in some cases should – have won. I’m expecting Paul Hurst’s side to have a coherent plan to deal with the obvious Cheltenham threat and get the victory they need to keep their survival hopes alive.Gabriel Sutton
Cambridge to win
Tranmere Rovers v Cambridge United
After a fourth win in succession, the last three of which having come against a fellow promotion contender, Cambridge are threatening to run away at the top of League Two.
The performance data has never quite backed up the U’s results this season and, for a long time, it looked like they were a good side reliant on great moments, produced by the creative Wes Hoolahan and the potent Paul Mullin, who is enjoying by some distance the best goalscoring season of his career.
More recently, though, Mark Bonner has switched to a 4-4-2 diamond system which, helped by the return from injury of midfielder Hiram Boateng, has diversified the attacking threat.
The athletic Kyle Knoyle and the technical Jack Iredale have thrived in the full-back positions, with the duo given extra freedom by the defensive discipline of Paul Digby at the diamond’s base.
The success of the tactical alteration shows Bonner’s tactical flexibility and the rookie, who has worked at the Abbey for 10 years in various roles, has done an outstanding job in his first full season in management.
His opposite number, Keith Hill, is comparatively experienced but the Tranmere boss will not have seen too many more striking defensive capitulations in his career than he did in his side’s 4-0 loss at promotion rivals Cheltenham.
Rovers are badly missing striker James Vaughan, partly for his goalscoring ability and partly for his physical presence as an initial reference point from deep.
Vaughan’s absence meant Hill’s side had to take more risks when playing out from the back, which partly explains their defensive woes, but they also failed to defend simple balls into the box.
Manny Monthe, who was also absent last time out, was crucial to Tranmere’s last run to promotion at this level in 2018-19 and his shear size and physicality allows him to dominate his penalty area, in a way that Peter Clarke and George Ray struggle to do.
That meant goalkeeper Joe Murphy, standing in for the injured Scott Davies, felt extra pressure to collect the deliveries which added to the chaos when he did not do so effectively.
Momentum is with Cambridge.
— BBC Cambs Sport (@BBCCambsSport) March 30, 2021
Cambridge have lifted their performance levels in the last month thanks to a shrewd strategic shift and I’m amazed the leaders are as big as 2/1 for victory at Tranmere, who were thrashed 4-0 on Good Friday.Gabriel Sutton