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The Championship returns this weekend so we have a full billing of matches for EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton to select his best bets.

Under 2.5 Goals

Birmingham City v Sheffield Wednesday

3/5

If Birmingham City fans were offered, before the season, eighth place after four games with the team unbeaten and just two goals conceded, they would have taken that gleefully.

After a disastrous end to the previous campaign, Aitor Karanka has converted Blues from being one of the Championship’s leakiest outfits to one of the tightest.

The signing of intelligent defender George Friend and disciplined midfielder Adam Clayton – promoted with Middlesbrough under Karanka in 2015-16 with just 31 goals conceded – have been massive factors behind this re-organization.

Much of Birmingham’s attacking play, meanwhile, has gone through left-footed wide man Ivan Sanchez and stopping their main creative outlet will be the key priority for Garry Monk.

The returning former Blues boss is somewhat under pressure at Sheffield Wednesday, having accrued just 52 points from his 44 games in charge, though early season performances have held some promise.

The Owls won 2-0 at Cardiff on the opening day, then had the better of first halves against Watford and Bristol City despite taking just one point from those two games combined.

Against QPR before the international break, they deserved a win they would have got were it not for a 96th minute equalizer, after Tom Lees’ injury forced them to play the closing stages with 10 men.

Both sides have had solid starts so we could see a tight, cagey clash.

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Neither Birmingham nor Sheffield Wednesday have played a match involving Over 2.5 goals in any competition so far this season, so this clash between two workmanlike outfits should produce a low-scoring encounter.

Gabriel Sutton

Double Chance - Rotherham or Draw

Rotherham United v Norwich City

All at BetVictor offer our thoughts with the family of Rotherham United manager Paul Warne, who is self-isolating due to a positive test for a loved one and will not attend this match in person.

The good news is that the family member in question, like Warne, is not displaying any symptoms – so we can be hopeful of a favourable conclusion.

In footballing terms, Warne has built a group of players who connect with one another on an emotional level – he sees difficulties in general life as a motivational tool and for that reason, Rotherham could be better prepared for this situation than any other club in the EFL.

The Millers have made a solid start to life in the Championship, too.

They got their only win of the season with perhaps their worst performance of the four, 1-0 at Wycombe, but then they suffered their only defeat with their best display, 1-0 at home to Millwall, while 1-1 draws with Birmingham and Huddersfield fairly reflected both games.

Aerial specialist Michael Ihiekwe has started the season well at centre-back, barring one costly slip against the Lions while Daniel Barlaser rejoins to compliment a strong set of midfielders.

The South Yorkshire outfit look much tighter than the side that conceded 98 goals at this level, though even the infamous class of 2016-17 beat Norwich City at home.

Like that season, the Canaries are back in the Championship after a truncated Premier League stint, under a boss who still has some but not absolute goodwill for his achievements two seasons ago.

Daniel Farke will have hoped for more than four points from the opening four games.

Although the Norfolk outfit arguably deserved a point in the 1-0 loss at Bournemouth – the home defeat to Derby by the same scoreline could have been different too had Teemu Pukki converted the penalty with the game goalless – they were also lucky to pinch a point at home to Preston North End on week two, so the misfortune balances itself out to some extent.

In Norwich’s midfield, Oliver Skipp and Lukas Rupp give them lots of energy – as does Marco Stiepermann in the number 10 role – but they look short of someone who can drop into space, freeze the picture and open the game up in a more cultured, considered way.

Mario Vrancic could be that player after two good substitute appearances, but Rotherham look good value to avoid defeat.

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Rotherham should respond to the absence of manager Paul Warne with defiant spirit and could put pressure on Norwich, who have not had the start they wanted to their promotion push.

Gabriel Sutton

Fleetwood to win

Fleetwood Town v Lincoln City

After defeats to AFC Wimbledon and Rochdale, Fleetwood Town needed something to kick their season into life – and boy, did they get it on Friday.

In front of the nation, the Trawlermen delivered an outstanding second half display in a 4-1 victory over Hull, in which Harvey Saunders proved the star of the show.

Ched Evans and Paddy Madden have both been top scorers at this level previously and it is easy to assume they are all they will need going forward, but the one thing both lack – at 31 and 30 respectively – is pace.

Saunders, who scored an EFL Trophy hat-trick the Tuesday before the Hull game, has that ability to penetrate defences with direct runs in behind from the right channel; that speed, combined with incredible persistence, allows him to bring more out of the physicality of Evans, the movement of Madden and the link-up play both provide.

The target for Fleetwood will be to move within three points of Lincoln City, who missed key players in last week’s 2-1 home loss to Bristol Rovers.

Callum Morton provides pace up top, Max Melbourne keeps the left side balanced and Brennan Johnson brings creativity from an advanced midfield role, so it was a big ask for the Imps to deliver the same results without all three of those players, or a refereeing decision going their way.

This was a tolerable if uninspiring display in which the midfield trio of Liam Bridcutt, James Jones and Conor McGrandles – who have started all five league games – did not quite click as they usually do.

Lincoln are making progress under Michael Appleton and look well placed to challenge for a top half berth this year, but Fleetwood’s victory over Hull was a performance that will give them the confidence to get their promotion push back on track.

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Harvey Saunders has had a transformative impacct on this Fleetwood attack and they should pick up from where they left off against Hull, even against a good Lincoln side.

Gabriel Sutton

Hull to win to nil

Rochdale v Hull City

5/2

Defensively, Hull City have lurched from one defensive extreme to another.

They started the season with four consecutive clean sheets for the first time since the 1920s but, in last Friday’s 4-1 loss at Fleetwood, looked more like the side that leaked goals habitually in the second half of their Championship campaign.

Just before the hour mark, Grant McCann withdrew Daniel Batty – the most disciplined of a midfield trio also comprising of George Honeyman and Greg Docherty – in hope of chasing the one-goal deficit, but it left his side wide open; Callum Elder was caught a touch too high up at times too.

This game, though, should be different for two reasons:

Firstly, McCann will have done a lot of work on the training ground this week on defensive shape to ensure Fleetwood was a fleeting Fylde-coast fiasco.

Secondly, their last opponents had pace, a tool missing in Rochdale’s armoury.

The Dale struggled to play their way through Accrington Stanley, in a 2-1 defeat last time out, but the long balls to Jake Beesley they attempted were gobbled up by opposing centre-backs.

If Batty can do a job on Alex Newby, the Lancashire outfit’s key creative fulcrum, Hull should recover their good defensive habits – and if they can keep a clean sheet, they should have enough going forward to take the points.

Even last Friday, Hakeeb Adelakun was a threat before the speedster was dubiously moved centrally, Keane Lewis-Potter had lively moments too and Mallik Wilks occupied centre-backs in the first half with his athleticism.

Four of Hull’s first five games have been victories without conceding so 5/2 quotes on a win to nil looks good.

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Hull fell apart at Fleetwood last Friday but they have also won four games to nil so far this season and could do likewise against a Rochdale side lacking pace.

Gabriel Sutton

Harrogate to win

Harrogate Town v Barrow

Harrogate Town were promoted from the National League via the Play-Offs last season yet have adjusted far better to life in the EFL than title-winners Barrow.

It helps that the Sulphurites have kept long-serving manager Simon Weaver as well as all key players barring Sunderland loanee Jack Diamond, whereas their fellow promotees lost manager Ian Evatt plus midfielders John Rooney and Tom White.

The other factor, though, is that Harrogate are brisker in their approach – they managed 25 shots in Monday’s 1-0 victory at Bradford.

With an extremely tenacious midfielder in captain Josh Falkingham, they can steal the ball in the opposing half and are not afraid to play direct.

Barrow have had a man advantage for a combined 116 minutes of their last two games and not been able to capitalize in either, losing 1-0 at Carlisle and drawing 1-1 with Leyton Orient.

They look a side happy to have the ball in their own half in hope of drawing the press and playing through it, but a lot of the time they haven’t been able to do the latter part as well as manager David Dunn would like.

Pressing is the main thing Harrogate have got right so far and if they are able to execute their game plan accurately, they should continue their fine start.

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Harrogate look good value at odds-against quotes to defeat fellow promotees Barrow, who are so far winless.

Gabriel Sutton

Walsall to win

Walsall v Exeter City

Walsall have drawn two games 1-1 recently but in vastly different circumstances.

The Saddlers were extremely fortunate to escape the New Lawn with a point, having mustered a paltry three efforts at Forest Green’s goal and scoring from their only shot on target, whilst benefiting from a goalkeeping masterclass from Liam Roberts.

At home to Colchester, though, Darrell Clarke’s side were on the front foot throughout and, despite one off-moment apiece from centre-backs Dan Scarr and James Clarke, should have won the game.

That match was arguably among Elijah Adebayo’s best in a Walsall shirt, because he’s always had physical qualities, but it’s in this game that last season’s top scorer has learnt to use them intelligently in a way that benefits the team.

It was the Colchester performance they were able to build on in Tuesday’s hosting of Leyton Orient, in which the Black Country outfit came from behind to record a 2-1 win.

Walsall hope to keep their unbeaten record going against Exeter City, who have had a mixed start to their promotion push.

On the one hand, their only defeat came against Port Vale – when they created three clear cut chances – but they had their worst display of the season in last Saturday’s 2-2 draw at strugglers Southend.

Matt Taylor was criticized for taking off forward Matt Jay, whose link up play with Joel Randall had been their likeliest route to goal, but then the former centre-back also brought on Alex Fisher, who salvaged a point with an extraordinary 95th minute curler.

If Exeter play like they did at Southend – and Walsall play as they have in their last two games – the 17/10 quotes on the home win will look excellent.

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Walsall are still unbeaten and stand a good chance of continuing that record against Exeter, who will be looking to bounce back from a below-par display last week.

Gabriel Sutton
Any odds mentioned in this article are correct at the time of posting

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