EFL pundit Gab Sutton looks ahead to the weekend’s action in EFL Gameweek 24 and selects his best bets.
Bournemouth -1 handicap
Bournemouth v Luton
Bournemouth had a great opportunity in midweek to move into the automatic promotion places with their rivals out of action. But a below-par display saw them drop two points against Millwall.
Considering the Cherries had Jefferson Lerma, Lewis Cook, David Brooks and Junior Stanislas in the starting XI, it seems surprising that they were not able to create too many chances for Dominic Solanke, even if the striker did manage to get himself on the scoresheet.
The problem for Jason Tindall’s side was not as much an underperformance from those players as a lack of pace in the wing-backs.
Bournemouth needed to exploit the wide areas better. But Jack Stacey was benched at right wing-back, after the former Luton man had managed a big 67 minutes on his return from injury in the 4-1 FA Cup Third Round victory over Oldham.
Unfortunately for Tindall, Adam Smith remains an unconvincing stand-in while Diego Rico is a technical rather than direct left wing-back.
Stacey, though, could come in for Smith here as the better-rounded option and his bold, penetrative runs deep into the final third, as well as his confidence and ability in possession, could make a huge difference to Bournemouth’s approach play.
That same flank is where Luton will be weakened, with left-back Rhys Norrington-Davies recently recalled by Sheffield United and loaned out to another Championship club in Stoke.
Norrington-Davies has been a vital player for the Hatters so far this season, with his incredible stamina allowing him to get up and down the pitch at will, making him a key component in Nathan Jones’ attacking system.
Dan Potts does not bring those same qualities and unless Luton bring in somebody at late notice, they could be weakened, as we saw in Tuesday’s 2-0 defeat to QPR.
Luton were guilty of some static set piece defending for the opener they conceded in midweek and a repeat of those vulnerabilities could see them come unstuck against a side with Premier League quality.
This game is all about the wide areas, for me. Bournemouth will be strengthened by the return of Jack Stacey while, on the same flank the right wing-back should do damage, his former employers have lost Rhys Norrington-Davies.Gabriel Sutton
Under 1.5 goals
Nottingham Forest v Millwall
Millwall cooled their relegation fears in midweek with a 1-1 draw at Bournemouth.
Gary Rowett refrained from employing a pressing game against promotion-chasing opposition, with forwards Jed Wallace, Kenneth Zohore and Troy Parrott keeping their powder dry when their hosts had the ball in their half.
That allowed the trio to put more energy into helping the cause of their midfield Ryans, Woods and Leonard, breaking up play just in front of the 18-yard area, which the duo did with superb tenacity, protecting the three-man defence.
Shaun Hutchinson sharpened up after a shaky start, Alex Pearce led with distinction while Jake Cooper allied his usual aerial prowess with an ability to step out and pressurize opposing forwards off the ball.
Factor in the shot stopping ability of Bartosz Bialkowski, combined with wing-backs – Danny McNamara or Mahlon Romeo and Scott Malone – carrying upfield to relieve pressure on the rear-guard and Millwall will be a tough side for Nottingham Forest to dislodge.
Chris Hughton’s men, though, have themselves conceded just two goals in their last six games in all competitions, after successive 1-0 wins.
Full-backs Carl Jenkinson and Gaetan Bong had found opportunities hard to come by this season but both gave Hughton dilemmas with solid showings against Cardiff in the FA Cup last time out, with the latter assisting Lyle Taylor’s opener.
With assured, left-footed defender Scott McKenna returning to fitness to partner Joe Worrall and Harry Arter laying down his case to bring tenacity in midfield, it’s hard to imagine any side Hughton names being easy to break down.
Only two centre-back have a 💯% tackle success rate this season 💪🏻
— The ChampionshipChat Podcast (@ChampChatPod) January 6, 2021
Neither Forest nor Millwall give much away and both have creativity issues, so I feel this game will either be goalless or decided by a solitary strike.Gabriel Sutton
Colby Bishop to score anytime
Accrington Stanley v Gillingham
Any team that is averaging 1.94 Points Per Game in mid-January must be considered serious promotion contenders. Accrington Stanley are no different.
John Coleman’s superbly coached side defy their doubters every week and now have the second-best PPG record in the division, after a 2-0 win at Charlton in their previous league outing.
Colby Bishop’s brace at the Valley is a sign of how well Stanley mix their game up, because the former Leamington striker’s opener came from a long kick from Nathan Baxter, but his second came from some exquisite build-up play.
Joe Pritchard responded to Sean McConville’s cross by playing a delightful first-time lay-off, for which Bishop had the confidence to let the ball run across his feet and then turn it inside the near-post.
That kind of finish belongs at a much higher level and the fact Bishop, with his non-league background, had the assurance to pull it off is testament to Coleman and Jimmy Bell’s ability to inspire players to new heights.
Coleman is a perfectionist, so while some Accy fans were enjoying a deserved win on a memorable night, the Liverpudlian boss uttered the words “sloppy” when describing passing early on – perhaps very harshly – which shows how high he is setting his standards.
Gillingham are struggling to live up to their own standards with three straight defeats, which have come against two newly-promoted outfits in Northampton and Plymouth Argyle as well as bottom side Burton.
There is some talent in this Gills squad but, especially given the tactical and man management approach of boss Steve Evans, the lack of experience down the spine has been a key problem – though Stuart O’Keefe’s return from injury is a plus.
The dual old school front 2 of Colby Bishop and Dion Charles are brilliant to watch in tandem. Bishop a target man capable of roughing up defenders and a good finisher. Charles constant motion, livewire, never lets anyone settle.
— BA Analytics (@Blades_analytic) January 8, 2021
Accrington Stanley will be brimming with confidence after victory at Charlton last time out and could continue their surprise promotion challenge on Saturday, nudging out-of-form Gillingham nearer to trouble in the process.Gabriel Sutton
Swindon draw no bet
Swindon Town v Doncaster Rovers
After a 3-2 win at Ipswich last time out, Swindon look like a different team to the one that has toiled in League One for much of this season.
The Robins are of course in a relegation battle. But, in fairness to John Sheridan, he had talked up performances whilst results, which included a four-game losing streak, were not going so well.
What may have changed since then is that not only have displays remained competitive, Town now have the tools to convert those performances into points.
Bournemouth loanee Mark Travers has played in the Premier League, Brentford loanee Dominic Thompson grabbed three assists on debut while Wigan recruit Matty Palmer brought dynamism in midfield.
Throw in the return of disciplined holding midfielder Jordan Lyden plus the recall of attacking midfielder Scott Twine, who hit a fantastic strike from outside the box at Portman Road and suddenly, the situation looks much brighter.
The rejuvenated Robins host a Doncaster side who have not played in the league since Christmas but progressed to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup thanks to a 1-0 win at Blackburn.
Darren Moore can take some heart from the displays of debutants Ellery Balcombe, who made a crucial double stop late on and Elliot Simoes, who carried the ball well upfield and won free-kicks from a left-sided attacking role.
Ben Whiteman, though, is heavily linked with a move and in a different type of game, in which Donny will see more possession, it remains to be seen whether a double-pivot of two full-backs by trade in Brad Halliday and Reece James would deliver.
How is this Swindon team struggling? Their squad is stacked with quality – mix of experience and youth! Dominic Thompson from Brentford looks a clever loan signing #IPSSWI
— Jack Goodwin (@JackGoodwin2001) January 9, 2021
Given performance data and recent changes of personnel, I don’t believe that the struggling Swindon traders are expecting based on their league position will be the version of Swindon we see on Saturday.Gabriel Sutton
Mansfield to win
Mansfield Town v Carlisle United
2021 promotion was not an expectation laid out for Nigel Clough when he took over as Mansfield boss in late Autumn, but it has become a possibility thanks to the experienced manager’s fine work.
In fact, from the former Burton boss’ appointment on 6th November, the Stags have played 12 games and accrued 22 points, more than any other side in the division.
The Nottinghamshire outfit press with tenacity which is testament to the industry of forwards Jamie Reid, Jordan Bowery and Andy Cook, who all started Wednesday’s 3-2 victory at Oldham.
The trio were supported by the energy, tenacity and dynamism of academy graduate Harry Charsley and Charlton loanee George Lapslie, while George Maris dictates with real assurance from a deeper role.
Mansfield threaten primarily from crosses and set pieces. Kellan Gordon’s direct running from right-back and Stephen McLaughlin’s quality of deliveries from left-back were especially problematic for opponents in midweek – though the latter’s star display represents overdue competition for stalwart Malvind Benning.
Clough’s troops can also counter through the pace of Reid, so they are an adaptable outfit with all the equipment to force their way into the promotion reckoning.
Carlisle deservedly lead League Two, but there is a possibility they might not have the sharpness to combat the intensity of Mansfield’s press.
The Cumbrians saw their hosting of Leyton Orient called off due to a frozen pitch and their clash at Harrogate postponed over a power cut, which means Chris Beech’s side have gone two weeks without any games.
Mansfield are looking strong and have elevated themselves into the thick of the Play-Off scramble with four straight wins. I think they could ruffle the potentially rusty leaders.Gabriel Sutton
Both teams to score
Walsall v Oldham Athletic
Oldham have taken 20 of their 27 points this season away from home and need their winning road habits to continue in the Black Country if they are to enter the Play-Off conversation.
The Latics have the feel of an incomplete jigsaw this season. On the one hand, they have players who can do damage at this level:
Dylan Bahamboula – strong, quick, skilful and productive – has been the consistent star man while forwards Conor McAleny, Zach Dearnley, Danny Rowe and Davis Keillor-Dunn have all found shorter patches of good form, while Leeds loanee Alfie McCalmont is capable of dictating games in certain situations.
The problem, though, is that there remains a shortage of leadership in key areas.
Ian Lawlor got criticized for his goalkeeping for the first two goals Oldham conceded, in the midweek 3-2 home defeat to Mansfield, but they were different types of mistakes within two minutes of one another.
For the first, Lawlor was too quick to punch and for the second, he was too timid on his line: both errors highlight the absence of a dominant centre-back who can take pressure off the goalkeeper by convincingly winning aerial duels, as well as an experienced midfielder who can collect in tight areas and look after the ball, giving Oldham the opportunity to play their way out of trouble.
That will be especially important when Harry Kewell operates without a recognized centre-forward but in the meantime, striker Rowe is likely to be rewarded for his positive impact from the bench against Mansfield with a start.
That could make the Lancashire outfit a threat going forward, but they will also be vulnerable defensively at Walsall.
Saddlers striker Elijah Adebayo is learning to use his raw physical attributes more intelligently this year, fit again Josh Gordon will add pace and direct movement from the right of the three-man attack while Wes McDonald shall bring quality from the left.
This Oldham team
They've proved they can score goals but their defence should come with a health warning
Giving the ball away far too often and only started playing football in the final five minutes
— D3D4Football (@d3d4football) January 13, 2021
Oldham have saved their best form for the road this season and have a terrific forward in Dylan Bahamboula, but their defence has looked suspect in recent weeks and I think Walsall can get at them too.Gabriel Sutton