We have our first midweek round of league matches coming up, so EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton picks out his best bets.
Swansea to win
Coventry City v Swansea City
If Coventry were feeling like they were settling into life in the Championship with four points from their first three games, defeats either side of the international break to Bournemouth and Brentford handed them a sobering reality check.
The wing-backs were so integral to the Sky Blues’ League One title win, but at this higher level, Fankaty Dabo or Josh Pask – who has come in in Dabo’s absence – and Ryan Giles – who has started at left-back until Sam McCallum returned on loan from Norwich – are getting forced back by better quality opposition.
The problem is that Coventry are still vulnerable even when their rear-guard resembles a back-five, because they are giving opponents more space in areas in front of the defence to deliver whilst struggling to handle the quality of those deliveries.
If defensive tweaks are not helping them, the Sky Blues must be brave and try to impose their natural game against Swansea, who suffered their first league defeat of the season on Saturday.
The 2-1 home loss to Huddersfield, though, was not for want of trying – Andre Ayew looked very busy for the Swans, who managed to get lots of clean strikes at goal and had by far the better of the shot data.
The three month injury to dribbler Morgan Gibbs-White has not helped Steve Cooper, but the head coach moved quick to add Kasey Palmer, who will bring plenty of creativity in open play and from set pieces – the attacking midfielder made an instant impact from the bench on Saturday.
In fact, the deal for Palmer was part of a busy deadline day for Swansea, who used the fee for departing centre-back Joe Rodon to sign defenders Ryan Bennett and Joel Latibeaudiere, as well as utility man Ryan Manning.
Bennett has won a title from this level with Wolves playing on the right of a back-three, making him the ideal player for Cooper to bring in for Naughton, while Manning provides much needed competition for left wing-back Jake Bidwell.
Swansea were three divisions above Coventry as recently as 2017-18 and while Robins’ side will be keen to show how far they have come, we could see a gulf in class between them and most clubs recently relegated from the Premier League.
📽️ The latest addition to the squad 💪
— Swansea City AFC (@SwansOfficial) October 16, 2020
The arrival of Ryans Bennett and Manning could really lift Swansea when they face a Coventry side that seem to be having real difficulty competing with the better sides in this league.Gabriel Sutton
Derby Draw No Bet
Huddersfield Town v Derby County
Huddersfield have sparked their season into life with seven points from their last three games, following an impressive 2-1 win at Swansea last time out.
It would be premature to make too many sweeping judgements off the back of that victory, for which Carlos Corberan switched to a 3-5-2.
Richard Stearman, Christopher Schindler and Naby Sarr were all outstanding at centre-back, making numerous heroic blocks, but midfielders Juninho Bacuna, Jonathan Hogg and Carel Eiting allowed their opponents to get lots of clean strikes at goal – so a similar display will not necessarily lead to the same results.
Town may need to up their levels further for the visit of Derby, who have had a tough start to the season and will be without the self-isolating Wayne Rooney.
In footballing terms, Rooney might not be as big a loss as his profile – and that sublime late free-kick in the 1-0 win at Norwich – might suggest; he toiled as a false nine in Friday’s 1-0 home loss to Watford.
Plus, the Rams have Kamil Jóźwiak to come back into the squad as well as Tom Lawrence, who looked bright from the bench and both players can give them some extra guile.
Furthermore, midfielder Max Bird is adept on both feet, a rare skill that helps him dictate games, while adventurous ball-playing centre-back Matt Clarke is a huge asset on the left of the three-man defence.
Corberan looks a talented coach and has had a good start at Huddersfield, but Derby have been competitive against two recently relegated clubs and should not be underestimated.
— Unofficial DCFC reports (@DCFC_reports) October 18, 2020
The return of Lawrence and Jozwiak should make a big difference for Derby at Huddersfield, who got a great result at Swansea - but a similar Town performance won’t necessarily deliver the same result.Gabriel Sutton
Portsmouth Under 0.5 Goals
Gillingham v Portsmouth
Gillingham defended their lead in their last home game, a clinical 3-1 win over Oxford, with staunch determination.
They blocked shots within a few yards of them being taken and made it hard for their opponents to get clean strikes at goal, whilst Jordan Graham and Vadaine Oliver did damage at the other end.
Unfortunately for Steve Evans’ side, they had much more difficulty on Saturday when chasing an early deficit, losing 3-1 at MK Dons with just a solitary shot on target – though Dominic Samuel and Vadaine Oliver had half-chances in the first half.
There is no denying that the Gills were second best after the interval, but defensive problems rarely linger in an Evans side.
Before Saturday, Gillingham have conceded three goals just twice in the Scot’s reign and both games were followed by victories.
The Kent outfit have two talented centre-backs in Jack Tucker and Zach Medley, led by the experienced Connor Ogilvie, while Coventry loanee Declan Drysdale – at the base of the midfield – is earning comparisons with 2019-20 star Alfie Jones.
Gillingham will be tough opposition, therefore, for Portsmouth, who saw their promotion hopes take a hit with a 1-0 defeat to Doncaster last time out.
The Marcus Harness-inspired 4-2 triumph at Burton gave hope, followed by a gritty, last-ditch 2-1 win over MK Dons that completed successive wins, but this loss came with a secondary blow:
Striker Ellis Harrison was forced off in the second half, leaving Kenny Jackett with John Marquis as the only out-and-out centre-forward.
Harrison has the athleticism and spring to sometimes make Jackett’s crossing-heavy strategy work; Marquis, by contrast, does not win many aerial duels, having been used to playing on the deck at Doncaster.
The pattern of this game, therefore, will likely be Gillingham keeping a compact setup and allowing their visitors free reign in the wide areas, knowing that Pompey will cross the ball and that they will not have the means to carry a clear aerial threat.
The Gillingham clean sheet looks excellent value.
💬 | SE: "In the second half they were much better than us.
— Gillingham FC (@TheGillsFC) October 17, 2020
We can expect Gillingham to respond defiantly to defeat last time out and, without Ellis Harrison, Portsmouth do not have a focal point.Gabriel Sutton
MK Dons Double Chance
Oxford United v MK Dons
Oxford slipped to the bottom of League One after a 2-0 loss at Peterborough compounded a disjointed start to the season.
There are arguably only four players – goalkeeper Simon Eastwood, defender Elliott Moore, midfielder Liam Kelly and striker Matt Taylor – who are fully sharp and unquestionably playing in a role that suits them.
Plus, Eastwood is in perhaps the worst form we have ever seen him since his return to the Kassam in 2016 and Josh Ruffels still isn’t 100% match fit after injury.
Sam Long is suffering at centre-back as a right-back by trade, Anthony Forde has been deployed in midfield when his direct running is generally best used out wide while Daniel Agyei, a striker, has operated from the left of a front-three – in short, it all feels muddled at times.
MK Dons, meanwhile, have taken huge heart from controlled performances against Ipswich and Portsmouth, which could easily have given them six points but ultimately just one with a 1-1 draw and 2-1 defeat in those respective game.
Russ Martin has added a striker in Cameron Jerome who has played in the Premier League with Birmingham and Norwich; having grabbed a goal on his first start for the club on Saturday, Jerome could give MK the clinical edge they need.
The Buckinghamshire outfit boast a huge asset in Scott Fraser, a creative midfielder who was expected to get a Championship move this summer, while David Kasumu brings plenty of energy at the base of the midfield as Louis Thompson – an injury-hampered midfielder with second-tier potential – breaks forward.
Performance wise, MK Dons are making immense progress under Russ Martin and now we may be starting to see the results back that up.
Dominant performance from #mkdons xG wise yesterday!
— The MK1 Podcast (@MK1Podcast) October 18, 2020
Oxford have had a nightmare start to the season and Karl Robinson could come unstuck against his long-term former employers.Gabriel Sutton
Cheltenham to win and Under 3.5 goals
Cheltenham Town v Scunthorpe United
Cheltenham continued their strong start to the season with a 2-0 win at Southend last time out.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of that match for the Robins was not who made Michael Duff’s starting XI but rather, who didn’t.
Versatile midfielder Conor Thomas, physical front-man Reuben Reid, tenacious striker Alfie May, speedster Alex Addai and defender Lewis Freestone are players who any other side at this level would love the luxury of being able to call upon from the bench.
Cheltenham have stability in their back-three of Charlie Raglan, Ben Tozer and Will Boyle, who have played together regularly since February 2019, but they also have depth in midfield and attack which is a recipe for success.
The Gloucestershire outfit beat Scunthorpe 4-1 on the second week of the previous campaign and the two clubs have gone in completely different directions since then.
After a 20th-placed finish last season, the Iron have endured a worrying start to the current campaign and look in relegation danger.
Neil Cox’s side mustered a point at home to Newport on day one and beat Carlisle 1-0, but only got the latter result through a man-of-the-match display from Rory Watson – and given that the young goalkeeper came in for some criticism last season, there was always a limit to the extent to which Scunthorpe could rely on him.
Indeed, the Lincolnshire outfit suffered a 5-0 defeat at home to Cambridge last time out and, missing a strong character with experience to provide crucial leadership at this tough time, it’s hard to see them responding particularly well.
— James (@JamesBrownCTFC) October 18, 2020
Cheltenham and Scunthorpe are two clubs that have gone in completely different directions over the last couple of years and there is every reason to think that will be borne out on the field.Gabriel Sutton
Mansfield to win to nil
Morecambe v Mansfield Town
Mansfield Town sit in the League Two relegation zone with a meagre three points from their first six games, but they could very easily be on 10 points at this early stage.
The Stags dominated much of their first two games, against Tranmere and Leyton Orient, only to end up with just a point from each, they then led against Exeter and Newport yet lost both games.
After that, Graham Coughlan’s side had the better chances in the goalless draw with Stevenage, hitting the post, then were let down by a surreal early error from Marek Stech that massively hindered them in the 3-1 defeat to Bradford last time out.
Coughlan has been questioned on team selection by fans – some question his use of Jordan Bowery up top over a more natural target man in Andy Cook – and certainly results must improve, but Mansfield are not far off being a side that can compete for the Play-Offs under his guidance.
The Nottinghamshire outfit are hoping to get their first league win of the season at Morecambe, who have won four of their six games by a one-goal margin, but also lost 5-0 and 4-0, suffering the latter result at Crawley last time out – they may be trying to win promotion with a negative goal difference!
There were question marks in pre-season about whether they had enough firepower with Cole Stockton, Liam McAlinden and AJ Leitch-Smith as the out-and-out strikers available to Derek Adams – and of those three, Stockton has found the net once.
Equally, Morecambe have taken the joint-seventh fewest shots from inside the penalty area this season, 33 and scored six goals from that zone, the fifth most; with the likes of Aaron Wildig and Adam Phillips chipping in, finishing chances has not been too much of a problem, even if it hasn’t tended to be the strikers rounding things off.
The Lancashire outfit do, though, seem to be creating a low-volume of chances and the heavy defeats they have suffered makes one question whether the one-goal victories are sustainable.