We have a full billing of Championship action and the FA Cup 2nd round to look forward to this weekend. Here is my selection of tips across all the weekend fixtures involving EFL clubs.


Championship: Leeds v Middlesbrough

Leeds to win and Under 3.5 goals

Leeds won 1-0 at Reading on Tuesday night thanks to a late header from Jack Harrison, but it was not the most convincing performance.

Marcelo Bielsa’s 3-3-3-1 formation left them short on width, at least until Ezgjan Alioski came off the bench.

A back-four may work better for the Whites against conservative opposition, so they can have full-backs receiving the ball with the space to pick a pass.

Here, we saw wider players Luke Ayling and Harrison dropping deep to collect the ball off Ben White or Liam Cooper, but that triggered the opposition press and slowed down the build-up play.

Here, we could see Alioski come in for the injured Tyler Roberts to spark a switch to a formation more akin to 4-1-4-1; the Macedonian’s introduction would mean, crucially, that Leeds have a left-back to pick the ball up in their own half and somebody to overlap Harrison, who loves to come inside.

These tweaks should mean more chances created for Patrick Bamford, who is recapturing his August form with two goals in three; even when Bamford was not scoring goals, he was still putting in a shift and linking up play very well.

Bamford will fondly remember his star seasons at Middlesbrough, for whom he scored 28 goals in a combined 77 Championship appearances.

This year, Boro are pinning their hopes on Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher, who combined well in the first half of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Hull.

Assombalonga is an accomplished goalscorer at this level and his link-up play is improving, but there’s a problem when he is too far away from the midfield, which was the case after Marvin Johnson’s sending off last week and is likely to be the case at Elland Road.

Boro got their first win in 11 on Tuesday night, a 1-0 victory at home to bottom side Barnsley, but 10 of Leeds’ 18 league games this season have seen them win a game with fewer than four goals scored, which makes up the basis of our best bet.


Derby v QPR

Derby to win

This looks a re-building season for Derby County, who are unlikely to challenge for promotion, but their home form has been impressive.

The Rams have taken 18 points from nine games at Pride Park and, while they lost 3-0 at Fulham on Tuesday, their first-half performance in last week’s 2-0 victory over Preston North End was described as the best 45-minutes they have produced all season.

Rather than relying heavily on sporadic moments of individualism from Tom Lawrence, as we have so often seen from Phillip Cocu’s side this season, they showed more fluency in their build-up play; while Lawrence was impressive as ever, the players around him went up from a 6/10 to a 7 or 8/10.

The same could not be said for Queens Park Rangers in their first half performance against Nottingham Forest on Wednesday.

A lot of the play got congested in the right channel and while left wing-back Ryan Manning was always a lively outlet, he wanted to come inside into crowded areas, due to being right-footed.

It all meant that the Londoners lacked width and while Jordan Hugill was brought on at the break to offer an alternative focal point, Lee Wallace’s sending off within five minutes of the re-start scuppered their chances.

Hugill will likely come into the starting XI here and the striker scored in last Friday’s 2-1 loss at Fulham, but the Rs have accrued just a solitary point from their last five games, so Derby should be backed to continue their positive home form.


Nottingham Forest v Cardiff

Nottingham Forest to win

It seemed like the absence of athletic midfielders, Alfa Semedo and Samba Sow, could really hold Nottingham Forest back.

Instead, it has offered an opportunity for Tiago Silva to prove himself.

The Feirense recruit is more technical than Semedo and Sow, better close control with perhaps a superior range of passing.

The Reds remain a threat in wide areas, too, with Albert Adomah and Sammy Amoebi both looking bright in Wednesday’s 4-0 win at QPR; Adomah has formed a positive right-sided partnership with Matty Cash, who is a very direct runner.

Defensively, the Tricky Trees have the diligent Ben Watson sitting in front of the back-four protecting academy graduate Joe Worrall and Tobias Figueiredo, the opening goalscorer last time out who threatens to displace Michael Dawson.

Cardiff, meanwhile, are two games into life under Neil Harris.

The Bluebirds were good value for their point last week in his first game in charge, a 2-2 draw at Charlton.

Having been two goals behind at half-time, they showed plenty of fight to avoid defeat and Lee Tomlin made a huge difference from the bench.

Tomlin has historically been an enigmatic technician but, in his last few appearances, he has played with uncharacteristic energy and desire.

Although Harris was often a 4-4-2 disciple at Millwall, he may veer towards a 4-2-3-1 in South Wales to incorporate Tomlin as the jewel in the crown, playing off target man Gary Madine.

That was the strategy with which Cardiff secured a 1-0 victory over Stoke on Tuesday, restricting their hosts to just one shot on target.

The question is whether they can retain that solidity on the road, having conceded 18 goals in nine Championship games away from the Welsh capital.


FA Cup 2nd Round: Maldon & Tiptree v Newport

Double chance: Maldon & Tiptree or Draw

Backing Maldon & Tiptree certainly worked for us in our FA Cup 1st Round preview earlier this month – they won 2-1 at Leyton Orient.

Despite that result, Wayne Brown’s side are as big as 8/1 to win another clash with League Two opposition in 90 minutes – and that’s with home advantage.

Speedy striker Jorome Slew will be the primary threat for the Jammers, who are rocking in the BetVictor Isthmian League.

Maldon aspire to upset the side that have become kings of FA Cup upsets.

As well as consistent league progression over the last two years, Newport County have beaten Leeds, Leicester and Middlesbrough in this competition; they have also held Tottenham to an honourable draw at Rodney Parade and have given Manchester City a run for their money, too.

Ironically, though, the Exiles have won just one of their last six FA Cup trips to non-league opposition – and last season’s 2-0 smash-and-grab at Metropolitan Police was daylight robbery.

Michael Flynn has cultivated a siege mentality that means Newport embrace the role as giant-killers but are less comfortable when theoretically inferior sides play them at their own game.


Eastleigh v Crewe

Crewe to win

Eastleigh are only the 15th-highest goalscorers in the National League this season, having been the eighth-highest scoring team the year before.

Clearly, the Spitfires have been hit hard by the summer sale of 26-goal man Paul McCallum to Solihull Moors.

Tyrone Barnett was signed to replace McCallum but he is more of a standard target man with not quite as much mobility or technical prowess, which may limit Eastleigh more in the final third – although ex-Crewe midfielder Danny Hollands stepping up on the goal return has helped.

Crewe Alexandra, by contrast, are joint-top goalscorers in League Two and will be looking to replicate the display that saw them thrash Morecambe 5-0 last week.

The Railwaymen can at times be delightful to watch when they get the co-ordination of their passing and movement right, especially with the way left-siders Harry Pickering and Charlie Kirk rotate and interchange.

Tommy Lowery, little more than a substitute option for much of last season, has developed very quickly and is now a key part of their midfield; he is the one who drives forward to create with positive energy, while Ryan Wintle dictates from deeper areas next to warhorse Paul Green.

We back David Artell’s side to progress to the Third Round.


Solihull Moors v Rotherham

Rotherham to win

Tim Flowers is doing a fine job at Solihull Moors, who are again competing for promotion from the National League.

The Moors reached the Play-Offs last season on one of the lowest budgets; subsequently, a shift from part-time to full-time combined with the TV revenue from the FA Cup clash with Blackpool last season has helped the club sustain its progression.

They have an old-school centre-back in Alex Gudger and a midfield rottweiler in Kyle Storer, key components of last season’s side, but the summer additions – chiefly that of eight-goal man Paul McCallum – has added further quality and EFL nous.

Still, Rotherham United have not just a good League One first XI, but a very deep squad.

For Tuesday’s 3-2 loss at Portsmouth, Paul Warne felt able to leave goalscoring midfielder Matt Crooks, wide forwards Jake Hastie and Chiedozie Ogbene along with target man Michael Smith all on the bench.

One could name five or six players who did not make Rotherham’s last starting XI but would comfortably get into most of the teams below them, so they possess a lot of strength in depth.

That could be key to their chances of navigating this awkward cup tie because, while the hosts will no doubt be well-organised, as they always are under Flowers, the Millers possess the quality to pose a threat from outside the penalty box.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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