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After a reduced schedule last week, we are back with a full billing and EFL Pundit Gab Sutton picks his best bets.

Under 1.5 goals

Millwall v Cardiff City

Neil Harris had a lot of success as manager of Millwall and now he returns there as Cardiff boss to face his successor, Gary Rowett.

Under Rowett, the Lions have looked solid defensively, with the experienced Shaun Hutchinson, leader Alex Pearce, aerial specialist Jake Cooper and the versatile Murray Wallace competing for three centre-back slots.

That would explain why Millwall have kept successive clean sheets, but they also failed to score in those clashes with Norwich and Sheffield Wednesday, as well as the prior 3-0 defeat to Huddersfield.

Neither midfielder in Rowett’s 5-2-3, Ryan Woods nor Ryan Leonard, is a particularly incisive passer, with the former preferring to recycle the ball while the latter likes to break up play and arrive late into goalscoring areas.

The lack of creativity with which the front three are fed can be problematic, especially when wing-backs Mahlon Romeo and Scott Malone are pinned back, so there is a reliance on wide forward Jed Wallace to do a lot of the attacking work on his own.

Cardiff’s key individual, meanwhile, is Kieffer Moore.

The Bluebirds average 83 long balls per game, the second-most in the division and many go towards Moore, who has won a mean of 10.5 aerial duels per game.

The problem for Harris’ side is that, when Moore is pocketed by an opposing centre-back – as we saw against Bristol City – they rarely have an alternative plan of attack.

Millwall have a good chance of nullifying Moore with Cooper supported by two other centre-backs and, when their target man does win flick-ons, Cardiff need more players running off him.

During Moore’s best form at Wigan, he had quick players around him such as Jamal Lowe and Kieran Dowell, but at Cardiff the likes of Junior Hoilett, Harry Wilson and to an extent Sheyi Ojo are all players who prefer to work in pockets of space behind a main striker, rather than dart beyond.

Opposing centre-backs tend to be able to defend against Cardiff with their backs to goal, without much fear of the dangers of squeezing up.

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Millwall are a good defensive side that can be short of ideas going forward while Cardiff look overly reliant on Kieffer Moore. If there is a goal here I think it'll be the winner.

Gabriel Sutton

Stoke to win -1 handicap

Stoke City v Huddersfield Town

Stoke headed into the international break with a 3-0 win at leaders Reading.

It was a fine transitional display with centre-backs Harry Souttar and Danny Batth gobbling up everything in the air, Jordan Thompson and John Obi Mikel providing a sturdy defensive platform in midfield with the likes of Tyrese Campbell and James McClean carrying a threat in behind.

The Potters are better without the ball than they are with it: they have scored 11 goals in five games with less than 50% possession, but four goals in six with 50% possession or more.

They may be glad, therefore, to face a Huddersfield side who average 56% possession this season – the second-most in the Championship.

Carlos Corberan likes to push full-backs or wing-backs Pipa and Harry Toffolo high up the pitch, because the duo are so important to providing width.

As we saw in the 2-1 loss at Birmingham, though, the Terriers can concede clear cut chances when their opponents execute counter-attacks effectively, because there is so much space behind Pipa and Toffolo.

Huddersfield have a selfless midfield grafter in Lewis O’Brien, a willing runner in Josh Koroma who is in slightly better form this year and a speedster in Adama Diakhaby, but their end product remains raw.

If Fraizer Campbell is dominated by Souttar and Batth, therefore, they could find themselves short of alternative ideas and get hit on the break.

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If Huddersfield try to play their natural, expansive game, they could be in for a tough afternoon. Stoke virtually live off those transitional moments.

Gabriel Sutton

Double Chance: Draw/Crewe

Portsmouth v Crewe Alexandra

Successive 2-0 wins has left Crewe Alexandra closer to the Play-Off places than the drop zone.

The Railwaymen had suffered three consecutive 1-0 defeats beforehand but they had been unlucky in those games, hitting the woodwork twice against Gillingham whilst seeing the opposing goalkeeper produce a masterclass.

David Artell’s side are now seeing the fruits of their labour and are playing some fantastic football.

Centre-backs Omar Beckles and Luke Offord play out from the back with real assurance under pressure, supported ably by deep-lying playmaker Ryan Wintle, while their attacks are very well co-ordinated.

Intelligent right-back Perry Ng and the athletic wide forward Daniel Powell look for the inside spaces from their flank, allowing Tommy Lowery to overlap.

On the left, we see Harry Pickering drift infield and Charlie Kirk hold the width for long periods, allowing Oli Finney to make penetrative runs deep into the final third.

The unpredictable combination play on either side means that the player producing the final delivery is rarely the one opposing teams are expecting to defend against, so Crewe could cause problems for Portsmouth.

Kenny Jackett’s side drew 2-2 at Plymouth Argyle on Monday night and looked better at the start of the second half, when they switched from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 with Ellis Harrison putting himself about up top in support of John Marquis.

Jackett is likely to bring Harrison – and fellow half-time substitute Jack Whatmough – back into the starting XI here. But if Crewe can play through the two-man striker press then the game could open up for them.

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I've been really impressed by Crewe lately and, after dominating leaders Peterborough last week, I don't see the trip to Fratton Park fazing them.

Gabriel Sutton

Bristol Rovers draw no bet

Swindon Town v Bristol Rovers

John Sheridan is renowned for his ability to re-organise struggling teams. But Swindon’s defensive woes have so far continued under his guidance with a 3-3 draw at Shrewsbury last week and a 3-0 defeat to Accrington Stanley on Tuesday.

The Robins looked in disarray at the back with anchor man Anthony Grant off the pace, right-back Paul Caddis beaten one-on-one very easily, defender Akim Odimayo making poor decisions and Jonathan Grounds lacking strength and aggression. All problems compounded by a nightmare display from keeper Joe Fryer.

Sheridan’s side looked, perhaps, more organized after Mathieu Baudry came on for the second half – though Stanley had a three-goal lead by that stage – and we could see back-three here with extra emphasis on defence.

Bristol Rovers are also having a change of manager after Ben Garner was dismissed following a 4-1 defeat to Fleetwood last time out.

Paul Tisdale is the 1/4 favourite with BetVictor to be the permanent replacement for Garner and the move would make sense geographically, with the former Exeter and MK Dons boss favouring locations realistically commutable from Bath.

Tisdale’s development of saleable assets was crucial to stabilizing Exeter as a financially sustainable EFL club. He also led the Grecians to 8th in League One in 2010-11, which is higher than any position Rovers have managed since 2000.

He has since struggled in the third-tier. But with low-budgeted Exeter and injury-stricken MK Dons, perhaps he has not had the personnel to replicate his impeccable record in League Two.

Bristol Rovers have, by contrast, a very good squad.

Centre-back Max Ehmer, for example, was a key part of one of League One’s best defensive units last season with Gillingham and advanced midfielder Zain Westbrooke played regularly for title-winners Coventry.

Before Tisdale comes in, Tommy Widdrington should do a sound job in temporary charge.

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It was a defensive horror-show for Swindon in midweek, so I was surprised to see Bristol Rovers priced as big underdogs here. I’m taking them at draw no bet, so if Sheridan shuts up shop for a point, the stake is returned.

Gabriel Sutton

Exeter to win

Exeter City v Oldham Athletic

Oldham’s 2020-21 campaign is so far following the themes of their previous three seasons: off-field chaos ensues whilst flashes of potential going forward are undermined by a lack of leadership in their defensive unit.

The Latics can trouble teams in attack, with Dylan Bahamboula looking skilful and Danny Rowe offering a physical presence up top while forwards Conor McAleny and Zach Dearnley have found patches of goalscoring form.

The latter two, though, were absent for Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to Scunthorpe and Rowe struggles a lot more without another forward possessing both energy and quality to flick the ball onto; the likes of Davis Keillor-Dunn and George Blackwood are perhaps not quite at the same level as McAleny and Dearnley.

The other problem manager Harry Kewell has is that his side are short of a seasoned midfielder capable of imposing themselves on the game and an experienced centre-back to bring the best out of Carl Piergianni.

Deep-lying midfielder Alfie McCalmont and aggressive centre-back Harry Clarke, on loan from Leeds and Arsenal respectively, have the natural ability to fill those positions successfully but, at 20 and 19, lack knowhow.

Exeter City, meanwhile, are not only a far stabler ship off the field, they also have experienced heads in the areas Oldham are lacking, with Rory McArdle at centre-back and Jake Taylor in midfield.

Those players offer the solidity that allows dribblers Randell Williams and Joel Randell to carry the ball forward into the final third, where the likes of Matt Jay and Archie Collins can create for hold-up striker Ryan Bowman.

Exeter are unbeaten in 10 after a 2-2 draw at Bradford last time out and the Grecians should continue that run with a victory here.

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Oldham have only scored four fewer goals than Exeter but conceded nine more: they have a similar level of individual quality, but are missing strength and experience in key defensive areas.

Gabriel Sutton

Double Chance: Draw/Bradford

Salford City v Bradford City

Salford did not get the start they wanted to the Richie Wellens era last Friday, with a 2-0 defeat at Bolton.

Wellens is trying to build a passing team akin to the one that won the title with Swindon last season, but a change of style is not easy to execute mid-season.

The Ammies are used to being a direct side under Graham Alexander and whenever the ball went long, all the players who weren’t directly involved in play were not asked to offer an option in possession or move very much because the ball would be going up to the other end.

Although Salford played 580 short passes in Wellens’ first game in charge, in contrast with a seasonal average of 354, the nature of the short passing was static and pedestrian because the players still had the behavioural habits they developed under Alexander.

Although a full week’s work on the training ground might help Wellens slightly, Bradford may feel the timing of this game suits them.

The Bantams are unquestionably underachieving so far but there have been positive signs in recent weeks with a 3-0 win over Southend, a 7-0 thumping of Tonbridge Angels and last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Exeter.

Stuart McCall has recently switched to a wing-back system which has helped. And if striker Austin Samuels comes in here, the combination of his pace, Billy Clarke’s creativity and Clayton Donaldson’s hold-up play could cause problems for a Salford side in transition.

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Underachieving Bradford may have turned a corner in recent weeks and on last Friday’s evidence, Salford might take some time to adjust to Richie Wellens’ methods.

Gabriel Sutton
Odds are correct at the time of posting

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