EFL Pundit Gabriel Sutton offers us his six best bets for the weekend’s action.
Bristol City to win
Nottingham Forest v Bristol City
Nottingham Forest and Bristol City both missed out on the Play-Offs last season, but have started this campaign in contrasting form.
Forest have lost their first three games, piling pressure on manager Sabri Lamouchi, while Bristol City have maximum points.
Some City fans were underwhelmed by the appointment of Dean Holden as manager, but the 41-year-old has picked up from his positive run as caretaker, getting the best out of Andreas Weimann and Jamie Paterson, the advanced midfielders in a 3-5-2.
Holden has always used that system; welcome tactical stability after chopping and changing during Lee Johnson’s regime.
Nottingham Forest, by contrast, had eight new players in last Friday’s XI, including the whole back four. They looked like a team of strangers in a 1-0 loss at Huddersfield.
It has been an alarming decline from the East Midlanders, who went from being seven points inside the top six with six to play last season to missing out on the Play-Offs and starting this campaign so poorly.
Forest appear overly reliant on their wide players – Luke Freeman and Sammy Ameobi plus Alex Mighten off the bench – for any sort of spark or creativity.
At Huddersfield, Lamouchi opted for 4-3-3 with a samey midfield trio of Samba Sow, Jack Colback and Harry Arter – each take more pride from work off the ball than on it.
In the first two league games, it was a 4-2-3-1 with Luke Freeman as number 10, but there is a big gap between units, with nobody capable of controlling the game or carrying the ball from deep.
With huge problems on Trentside, Bristol City look well-placed to prolong their impressive start.
bristol city and reading fans realising we’re both in automatics pic.twitter.com/77DdDmPxpY
— kelsie (@kelsie_batten17) September 27, 2020
Forest look like a team of strangers, whereas City are playing with so much fluency and cohesion at this early stage. The 15/8 on the away win looks excellent value.Gabriel Sutton
Under 1.5 goals
Swansea City v Millwall
Swansea City continued their unbeaten start with a 2-0 win at Wycombe last weekend.
Speedy Jamal Lowe was a relentless runner up top and Morgan Gibbs-White provided thrust from the left to compliment the excellent right-sided movement of Andre Ayew.
While that performance was great, especially in the first half-hour, it came against a wide open Wycombe side whereas Millwall, who have conceded just once and accrued five points in their first three league games, are made of sterner stuff.
Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Brentford was the most creative Gary Rowett’s side have looked, but they have always been well organized.
The experienced Shaun Hutchinson and aerial specialist Jake Cooper flank leader Alex Pearce in a defensive trio that compliments one another superbly; the centre-backs are given excellent midfield protection, too, by midfielder Ryans Woods and Leonard.
Lowe, Gibbs-White and Ayew could therefore be fenced off, in which case Steve Cooper’s side may require more creativity in other areas. Although Matt Grimes can dictate well from deep, midfield partner Korey Smith is fundamentally defensive minded.
Jake Bidwell has started better than expected, but if he cannot be released high up like in previous games, he may struggle to outpace opposing wing-back Mahlon Romeo.
If Morgan Gibbs-White does not offer Bidwell a combination option on the flank, Swansea will not be able to make any progress down the left but if he does, then life is made harder for Lowe and Ayew up against three imposing centre-backs.
Millwall won this fixture 1-0 last season and we could see another low-scoring encounter here.
Alex Pearce's best game in a Millwall shirt for me.
— Dan Poore (@DanPoore3) September 26, 2020
Four of the six league games involving these sides so far have seen fewer than two goals scored and that trend may continue at the Liberty. Swansea will have the possession but may struggle to breach a fierce Lions rearguard.Gabriel Sutton
Hull City v Plymouth Argyle
After a disastrous second half of their Championship campaign, Hull City needed a great start in League One and, on paper, they have got that, with three wins in their opening three league games.
George Honeyman has produced some workmanlike displays in midfield while Keane Lewis-Potter has been a livewire on the left of their attack and Josh Emmanuel has got forward well from right-back.
Reece Burke has formed a strong centre-back pairing, too, with Jordy de Wijs and the duo deserve credit for helping the Tigers to three consecutive clean sheets.
And yet, it would be premature to get too carried away with these results.
Hull were solid if unspectacular 2-0 opening day victors at Gillingham, fortunate to win 1-0 against Crewe on week two and unconvincing in a 2-0 triumph over Northampton last time out.
Plymouth Argyle may give Hull the strongest examination yet with a favourable crop of strikers: the athletic Frank Nouble, the mobile Dominic Telford, direct runner Ryan Hardie and poacher Luke Jephcott are competing for two spots in Ryan Lowe’s expansive 3-1-4-2 setup.
Hindered perhaps by a lack of defensive leadership, the Devoners have conceded 13 goals in six in all competitions, but the loan addition of left-sider Jerome Opoku – outstanding for Accrington Stanley last season – may help them.
Honours could be shared on Humberside.
Who are you giving the goal to, Green Army?#pafc
— Plymouth Argyle FC (@Only1Argyle) September 26, 2020
Give me their twitter tags pls who voted pic.twitter.com/w2oiBbL3Fe
— Frank.Nouble (@FrankNouble) September 26, 2020
Hull finished September sitting on maximum points, without ever getting out of second gear. Argyle could give them the biggest test yet of their promotion credentials.Gabriel Sutton
Rochdale or Draw
Rochdale v Fleetwood Town
Rochdale lost 2-0 at Ipswich last week but they had the better of the first half, with the pick of the chances falling to a lively Ollie Rathbone.
All the experts have tipped Dale to go down, so they must create a siege mentality to stay competitive, but Brian Barry-Murphy is doing well.
The attacking combination of Alex Newby and Jake Beesley, in some ways, highlights where Rochdale are as a club; both are more familiar with non-league football than the EFL and have points to prove.
Newby, though, never stops running and is so far adjusting admirably while Beesley has an excellent first touch, pace and a knack of scoring vital goals.
Rochdale might have picked a decent time, too, to play Fleetwood, who have just suffered successive league defeats.
The Trawlermen held an injury-time lead at Peterborough yet conspired to lose 2-1, with manager Joey Barton taking criticism for his approach to managing that lead, before a 1-0 home defeat to AFC Wimbledon with 70% possession.
Barton is hoping four new signings can be made before window’s end and he will want to bring in a right-back, where young centre-back by trade James Hill has been forced to cover last time out, and an experienced, dominant centre-back partner for Morgan Boyes.
Until Fleetwood replace the likes of Lewie Coyle and Harry Souttar, they could be vulnerable favourites.
Great to be interviewed by @AndyMitten last night for the @ManUtd @UWSmag podcast about the reputation we have for the music we play at @officiallydale / supporting new music. It goes out later this week. Top man with a great taste in music. pic.twitter.com/AqKFdBZzc7
— dave sweetmore (@davesweetmore) September 30, 2020
Fleetwood are yet to truly replace key players from last season so the timing might favour a spirited Dale side, who are 17/20 to avoid defeat and could frustrate Joey Barton's troops.Gabriel Sutton
Barrow or draw
Carlisle United v Barrow AFC
Neither Carlisle United nor Barrow will be entirely happy with their start to the season.
For the Cumbrians, a 2-0 win over Southend was sandwiched by defeats at Cambridge and Scunthorpe, while Barrow remain winless.
The Bluebirds though had the better of the play in last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Colchester, in which manager David Dunn was delighted to welcome back Scott Quigley.
The tall front-man missed the start of the season through suspension as Jack Hindle and Luke James were both given chances but neither possess Quigley’s hold-up qualities, which make him the perfect foil for the lively Dior Angus.
Quigley looked a handful last week and came close on numerous occasions from clear cut chances – ironic given that Barrow’s goal was a long-range strike from Mike Jones.
The midfielder returns to his old stomping ground to face a Carlisle side that, having been tipped as potential promotion contenders before a ball was kicked, are thus far struggling to live up to their lofty billing.
Chris Beech’s side lost 1-0 last time out at Scunthorpe, where the absence of speedy wide forwards Gime Toure and Omari Patrick, combined with a lack of creativity and limited final third production.
Quigley’s return could have a transformative effect on Barrow, who should avoid defeat.
— Quigs (@ScottQuigley1) September 27, 2020
Barrow look a different proposition with Scott Quigley in the side and his presence should be considered a massive factor. Considering Carlisle's underwhelming start, the chances of David Dunn's side avoiding defeat looks greater than the 8/13 odds imply.Gabriel Sutton
Tranmere to win
Tranmere Rovers v Scunthorpe United
Tranmere Rovers produced the best performance of their season so far last week at Cambridge, even though they could not find the first victory their display arguably merited.
James Vaughan came close twice as well as having a goal dubiously disallowed and Liam Feeney hit the crossbar.
Mike Jackson’s side had been beaten 3-0 by Cheltenham on the second week and needed a response, so it will please him that his troops created the better chances at the Abbey in a 0-0 draw.
Although Scunthorpe were able to get their first victory, beating Carlisle 1-0, they perhaps rode their luck.
Manager Neil Cox declared himself “over the moon” with the win after a “gritty performance”, praising the determination of his players, but the stats suggest he was perhaps accentuating the positives.
Even Cox acknowledged that the open, passing football he wants to introduce is not quite there yet and that Rory Watson made three brilliant saves to preserve the clean sheet – Watson has faced his fair share of criticism in his time at Glanford Park to date, so it remains to be seen whether he can repeat his heroics.
If these teams replicate last week’s performance levels, both may see a change of luck.
We are 50/50 about this…
— Bristol Rovers (@Official_BRFC) September 29, 2020
Rovers have not quite had the start they wanted but that performance at Cambridge should be a springboard for them to get their first win against Scunny, who could be in for another arduous campaign.Gabriel Sutton