Sunderland to win & Under 3.5 goals
Oxford United v Sunderland
It was a disappointing start to Sunderland’s third consecutive season at this level last week, a 1-1 draw at home to Bristol Rovers.
There was a lot of pre-season optimism regarding the sharpness of Will Grigg but in truth, he is not a Phil Parkinson centre-forward.
“Parky”’s successful teams have a strong target man, like James Hanson at Bradford or Gary Madine at Bolton.
Grigg wants the ball either to feet or knocked just ahead of him and that influences how the team must play to get the best out of him, but Parkinson never coaches sides to play on the deck – it’s simply not in his DNA.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, the Black Cats were disjointed in the first half against the Gas, which is why they were so often caught in possession in their own half.
Once Danny Graham came on, they had a reference point and thus finished the game strongly, equalizing through Chris Maguire.
It seems likely that Graham, a 2017-18 promotion winner with Blackburn, will start at the Kassam Stadium which would mean, for the first time, Sunderland can judge Parkinson based on what he can do with a centre-forward to facilitate his methods.
Oxford United have also added well up top with Matty Taylor signing permanently after a great loan spell and Sam Winnall adding depth, but the two strikers now have respective hip and calf injuries which could see both miss Saturday’s game.
Hardly ideal, that is, considering the nature of last week’s 2-0 loss at Lincoln, which manager Karl Robinson described as “a nearly performance”.
The Liverpudlian acknowledged his side did not manage a shot on target in the first half, but he also felt they got into some good areas and just missed the end product, while one or two refereeing decisions went against them.
It could be difficult for Oxford to refine their end product with an exciting but raw centre-forward in Daniel Agyei, who must battle three Sunderland centre-backs in the athletic Jordan Willis, organiser Bailey Wright and the intelligent Tom Flanagan.
The visiting trio will gain solid midfield protection in the fierce Max Power and terrier Josh Scowen, who is the likeliest to replace the suspended George Dobson.
Oxford will challenge this season, but they are currently short up top and Sunderland may have the tools to prevail.
🗣️ 'To come back and get this football club out this league is the main priority and I feel as though I can help…'
Danny Graham's first interview after rejoining #SAFC 🎬👇
— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) September 7, 2020
Middlesbrough draw no bet
Middlesbrough v AFC Bournemouth
Middlesbrough and Bournemouth were on different ends of even season openers.
Boro carried a threat at Watford, especially through the first half combination play of Ashley Fletcher and Britt Assombalonga; they applied pressure after the break too but fell to a 1-0 defeat.
Bournemouth, by contrast, beat Blackburn 3-2 but their manager, Jason Tindall, admitted “physically we looked a bit tired”.
They were fortunate to be victorious, but Jack Stacey, Jefferson Lerma and Arnaut Danjuma all had the individual quality to deliver from outside the box.
The question is whether, at Middlesbrough, Bournemouth can either replicate that long-range craft, or up their performance levels to take shots from more favourable positions, because hitting balls from distance is not a sustainable route to goal.
Plus, while Blackburn had difficulty protecting the areas in front of their centre-backs, Boro may be grittier in their defensive third.
Neil Warnock* talks his team up and makes players want to run through brick walls for him; arguing with the decision not to award the official man-of-the-match to a Middlesbrough player last week was a clever way of creating a siege mentality.
The Teessiders have added a true, tenacious leader in Sam Morsy who should help Boro put pressure on the ball and deny Bournemouth chances to get clean strikes at goal.
Plus, Fletcher and Assombalonga managed to test a three-man Watford defence and it took the opposing midfield dropping a lot deeper for their threat to be quelled.
Up against just two centre-backs in Steve Cook and Chris Mepham who are not yet fully fit, the duo can do even more damage and trouble the scoresheet.
Bournemouth do have quality, which is why in this selection Boro will not be backed outright, but the 9/10 quotes on them will pay out if they win and return the stake if the game ends honours even.
*Editor’s note: Neil Warnock has unfortunately returned a positive test for COVID-19 and will be taking some time to self-isolate; we at BetVictor would like to wish him a speedy recovery.
*Club in the relegation zone*
Neil Warnock: https://t.co/gthlLD9H7Y
— dan (@ccfcdan1) September 11, 2020
Watford to win to nil
Sheffield Wednesday v Watford
Watford kicked off the Championship season last Friday by beating Middlesbrough 1-0 in a tactical victory, rather than an enthralling one.
João Pedro looked a skilful and creative false nine while Ken Sema produced some excellent deliveries, including the one for Craig Cathcart’s winner. However, the Hornets looked better without the ball than with it.
Cathcart, Christian Kabasele and Ben Wilmot were all roundly solid and stopped a lively opposing front-two getting into goalscoring areas, helped by new manager Vladimir Ivic’s move to protect the second half lead by asking midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah and Tom Cleverley to drop deeper.
The three centre-backs are capable of outmaneuvering a strike-pairing, especially when neither front-man has any real physicality.
Josh Windass and Jordan Rhodes both got off the mark last week in a 2-0 win at Cardiff, which gives Sheffield Wednesday the winning start they needed to cut down the initial 12-point deficit.
Windass found space to threaten against two Cardiff centre-backs but Watford, with an extra defender, could make it harder for the former Rangers forward; he could spend more time than he would like searching for space out wide, potentially leaving poacher Rhodes isolated.
Watford are yet to refine their work in possession and need to do some business before Ivic has a squad he is wholly happy with, but they are still a far stronger side than their hosts and look good for a win to nil at Hillsborough.
Watford lead 1-0!
Craig Cathcart with a bullet header!
— The Second Tier (@secondtierpod) September 11, 2020
Bristol Rovers draw no bet
Bristol Rovers v Ipswich Town
Bristol Rovers can take huge encouragement from last week’s first half performance at Sunderland, in a game they drew 1-1.
The Gas turned the ball over in the opposing half several times and had numerous opportunities to build on Luke Leahy’s early penalty, with Brandon Hanlan enjoying an excellent debut ahead of Jayden Mitchell-Lawson and Sam Nicholson, while Zain Westbrooke dictated play in a deeper role in Ben Garner’s 3-4-2-1 setup.
Rovers struggled to keep hold of the ball after the interval, when they needed stout defending from league debutant Max Ehmer and others to repel attacks, but it was great that they could avoid defeat.
That result for Garner’s side is arguably more impressive than the 2-0 win over Wigan was for Ipswich Town.
As much as The Tractor Boys looked tidy in midfield, it is hard to read too much into the performance due to the circumstances surrounding their opponents.
Plus, Ipswich gifted the opposing right-back two free headers and saw the beleaguered Latics hit the bar with the game in the balance.
Lambert could play Luke Chambers, a centre-back by trade, at right-back and Alan Judge, a number 10, on the right of a front-three, meaning we could see a yawning chasm on Town’s flank.
This could lend Gas technical wing-back Leahy and inverted winger Mitchell-Lawson plenty of time to construct attacks.
Bristol Rovers lost the EFL Cup clash 3-0 at Portman Road earlier this month but they should fare much better this time around.
— Bristol Rovers (@Official_BRFC) September 16, 2020
Walsall to win
Harrogate Town v Walsall
It has been a dream start to life in the EFL for Harrogate Town, who ran out 4-0 winners last week at Southend United.
They also made their presence felt at West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday night in a high-octane pressing display, despite honourably going out of the EFL Cup with a 3-0 defeat.
The Sulphurites can mix their game up, too, sometimes attempting tidy football through midfielders George Thomson, Lloyd Kerry and Josh Falkingham with intelligent movement from full-backs Ryan Fallowfield and Warren Burrell, but they are not afraid to use the aerial prowess of striker Mark Beck.
It would be premature, though, to read too much into that victory against a woe-ridden Southend side and while performance at the Hawthorns should be a source of immense pride, it will be difficult for likely a very similar XI to maintain that energy three days later.
It could be good timing in that sense, for Walsall, who got their promotion push off the ground with a 1-0 victory over Grimsby, thanks to a trademark tap-in from Elijah Adebayo.
Darrell Clarke’s side could have scored more, such was their dominance after the interval and while Adebayo deserved his goal, Cameron Norman also made an excellent case for himself to start regularly at right-back despite the arrival of Hayden White – Rory Holden looked creative in his number 10 role too.
After a dream start, the EFL’s new boys could get a rude awakening.
— Walsall FC Official (@WFCOfficial) September 12, 2020
Morecambe draw no bet
Morecambe v Cambridge United
Derek Adams is changing the mentality at Morecambe and their opening day 2-1 win at Cheltenham was evidence of that.
The Shrimps were second best in the first half-hour but they improved drastically after conceding, which shows the Lancashire outfit have the strength of mind to respond defiantly to setbacks.
Half-time substitute Liam McAlinden made a huge impact with his selfless running, which made him the perfect foil for the enthralling Carlos Mendes Gomes, who scored the winner after Adam Phillips levelled from the spot.
Morecambe have previously lacked midfield quality due to resources but the board have pushed the boat out for Adams; with technician Ben Pringle and controller Toumani Diagouraga, they can assert themselves on more games.
Another of last season’s bottom half outfits off to a winning start is Cambridge United, who beat Carlisle 3-0 in their last league game, scoring from three of their five efforts at goal.
Mark Bonner’s side operate with a disciplined double-pivot of Paul Digby and Liam O’Neil, allowing full-backs Kyle Knoyle and Harrison Dunk freedom to fly forward in a 4-2-2-2 of sorts.
The problem for the Yellow and Black this time, though, is that O’Neil picked up a back injury in the first half against Carlisle and, as we saw in the second half of that match and Tuesday’s 1-0 EFL Cup defeat at Newport, the team can lose elements of its structure without him.
Bonner hopes the midfielder will be back here, but it’s hard to say whether he will be performing to full capacity and Morecambe look good to continue their unbeaten start to the campaign.