EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton offers his six selections for Tuesday night’s action
Barnsley Under 0.5 Goals
Barnsley v Queens Park Rangers
Queens Park Rangers’ 5-3 defeat at Oakwell last season encapsulated their 2019-20 campaign: they scored for fun but leaked soft goals.
This season, the West Londoners are very much the opposite: water-tight at the back but short of inspiration in attack.
On the one hand, Rob Dickie has made a transformative impact on this Rs defence. The Oxford recruit has bulked up over the last 18 months which means that, as well as being comfortable distributing as Mark Warburton wants, he can do the raw fundamentals of defending too.
On the other hand, QPR are missing the flair provided by Eberechi Eze.
Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Birmingham was not for want of more forward ambition in Warburton’s starting XI, which included two strikers in Lyndon Dykes and Macaulay Bonne, two attacking wingers in Albert Adomah and Bright Osayi-Samuel as well as an advanced creator in Ilias Chair.
In theory, QPR have enough attacking players on the pitch to create as much as they did last season, but in practice, Eze’s ability to knit those pieces together in that final third with borderline elite quality is missed sorely.
The man who could be missed sorely by Barnsley, meanwhile is Gerhard Struber, who left to join the New York Red Bulls.
After a stint under the caretaker stewardship of Adam Murray, the Reds have appointed Valérien Ismaël as manager, poached from LASK.
Barnsley can attract a higher calibre of coach in the European market than they can domestically because foreign coaches often want to manage in England.
Ismaël, like Struber before him, rejected the chance to manage in the Europa League in Austria, because he knows that if he impresses in the Championship, he could earn a dream move.
Unfortunately for Ismaël, who took his first training session on Monday, he also inherits a Barnsley squad that is looking light up top.
Jacob Brown, who left for Stoke, was potentially replaceable if the Reds could have identified a front-man to replicate his athleticism, work rate and commitment to the press whilst offering a touch more quality.
The club had a month to find that striker but did not make an addition in that area before the early October deadline, so Conor Chaplin has been partnered up top by Dominik Frieser – who was signed as a utility man who can play in midfield, out wide or at wing-back – which makes it hard to see where the goals will come from.
QPR could keep them out.
Rob Dickie being the best cb itw isn’t talked about enough
— JakeQPR ⚡️ (@JakeQPR___) October 20, 2020
Barnsley might have made a mistake not bringing in a striker since Jacob Brown left, so QPR could continue their new-found solidity.Gabriel Sutton
Blackburn Rovers v Reading
After a lean patch of three games without a win, Blackburn got back in the groove on Saturday with a 4-0 victory at Coventry.
Of course, Tony Mowbray’s side were helped by the early penalty for which Michael Rose was sent off, with Adam Armstrong converting on the quarter-hour – and Matt Godden hit the post moments before.
Equally, it’s hard to avoid the feeling Rovers would have won that game without the dismissal, with a devastating front three of Armstrong, Ben Brereton and Harvey Elliott.
Brereton pushes up from the left directly into a second striker role while Liverpool loanee Elliott, a fine technician at just 17, can drift into pockets and use his delightful left foot to scintillating effect.
Reading, meanwhile, continued their stunning start to the season with a 3-0 win over Rotherham, which put them five points clear at the top of the Championship.
Blackburn possess nine fewer points than Reading yet have hit four or more goals on three occasions, while the Royals have accrued their victories in more industrial fashion.
Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent provide boundless energy off the ball, meaning excellent protection for centre-backs Michael Morrison and Liam Moore, though the latter was replaced last time out by Tom McIntyre.
Going forward, Paunovic’s side have relied on spontaneous moments of individual quality from Lucas Joao, who showed fabulous acrobatics in his brace on Saturday.
It could be that Reading are better placed than Blackburn’s previous opponents to cut out those transitional attacks with such a tenacious double-pivot, but equally they have taken just 51 shots, which is the fewest in the Championship, so there are still areas in which they can improve despite these excellent results.
❎Least goals conceded in England's top 4 tiers this season:
4⛔️: Sunderland, Birmingham
5⛔️: Aston Villa, Newport, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Lincoln, Charlton, Swansea, Millwall, Middlesbrough#ReadingFC #Royals pic.twitter.com/UvfWOhK6NG
— playmakerstats (@playmaker_EN) October 24, 2020
Blackburn and Reading were tipped for bottom half finishes in pre-season but both have started on fire and we could see a game to reflect that.Gabriel Sutton
Lincoln to win
Crewe Alexandra v Lincoln City
Lincoln are top of League One after a 1-0 victory over Ipswich last time out – and they look a side that can contend hereon in.
Michael Appleton made a brave call to drop springy striker Tom Hopper, bring in attacking midfielder Brennan Johnson and operate, essentially, without a recognized centre-forward.
Hopper would have given the Imps the direct option but that might have fed into the hands of the opposing centre-backs, whereas Johnson’s pace and canny movement throws a curveball.
Lincoln execute clever triangle sequences in wide areas – TJ Eyoma, Harry Anderson and James Jones on the right, Tayo Edun, Liam Bridcutt and Jorge Grant on the left – which meant they could select the moments at which to set Johnson away.
This high standard of football could be difficult to handle for Crewe, even if they have had a steady start to life in League One, after a 2-1 victory at Doncaster last time out.
The Railwaymen have been able to implement some of the key features of their play that saw them to promotion from League Two last season, such as the left-sided pairing of Harry Pickering and Charlie Kirk as well as Ryan Wintle’s distribution from the base of a talented midfield.
Crewe are a good side, they will control some passages of play and should comfortably stay up this season, but the table-topping Imps look that bit stronger.
Lincoln City's season by numbers👇
1⃣9⃣ points from 24
5⃣ clean sheets
1⃣3⃣ goals scored
5⃣ goals conceded only
1⃣st in League One
Sh*t loads of style 😎🤙#Imps
— D3D4Football (@d3d4football) October 24, 2020
Crewe have settled well in League One but Michael Appleton’s table-topping Lincoln could be serious contenders this year.Gabriel Sutton
Half-Time/Full-Time: Doncaster - Draw
Plymouth Argyle v Doncaster Rovers
After a 4-1 win at Ipswich on Tuesday, Doncaster might be disappointed not to have backed that up on Saturday, when they went down to a 2-1 defeat to Crewe.
It was nothing to worry about too much for Darren Moore’s side, who limited their opponents in terms of chances, with usual suspects Tom Anderson and Joe Wright at centre-back, as well as deep-lying midfielder Ben Whiteman, maintaining their consistent level of performance.
Donny were hindered mainly by a combination of a lack of quality out wide, after Jon Taylor was forced off early on and a questionable goalkeeping display from Stoke loanee Josef Bursik.
They now face an Argyle side that will have been disappointed with a 1-1 draw at Wigan last time out, because they had the chances to win that – manager Ryan Lowe is looking for more composure in the finishing.
Doncaster have the stronger first XI and that could tell in the first half of this game, but Argyle are likely to have three more strikers in their match-day squad – their ability to bring on fresh forwards from the bench could make a big difference to the latter stages of this game.
Fejiri Okenabirhie will rue putting two very good chances off target in the second half as well.
It's a shame how we lost our heads after going behind. The first half was a very good game from both sides' perspective but it has all come undone in the second period.#DRFC
— Into The Empty Net (@DRFC_ITEN) October 24, 2020
These are two good footballing sides who could produce an intriguing encounter with lots of chances.Gabriel Sutton
Tranmere to win
Crawley Town v Tranmere Rovers
Crawley Town boss John Yems will have been happy to claim a point on Saturday at Salford, where they drew 1-1 thanks to George Francomb’s equalizer.
Back on Sussex soil, The Red Devils will carry a threat from Sam Matthews’ creative play on the right and Jack Powell’s set pieces, while Jake Hessenthaler is not afraid to hit them from distance – the midfielder came close to grabbing a winner at the Peninsula Stadium last time out.
After Ollie Palmer departed in the summer though, Yems’ side look short of a focal point, which is the one thing that cannot be said of Tranmere Rovers.
James Vaughan, whose physicality, constant running and goalscoring nous has been crucial to Rovers this season, scored his third goal in five in the 2-0 win over Southend last time out, on his return from a short-term injury.
Vaughan and Sam Smith, on loan from Reading, are both strikers who play better with a partner and that was evident from the half-hour mark, when the latter replaced full-back Lee O’Connor as part of an early double substitution.
Left-sider Calum MacDonald also replaced attacking midfielder Otis Khan to facilitate a switch from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-3 that changed the contest, with defender Peter Clarke heading in the opener moments afterwards.
Not many managers make two changes at that stage of games, especially with scores level, so the fact Mike Jackson was willing to do so shows great courage.
If his players can show that courage on the field on Saturday, Tranmere have a great chance of getting the win they need to help the top half of the table come into view.
James Vaughan was on another level to everyone on the pitch.
— TranmereAnalytics (@TRFC_Analytics) October 24, 2020
Crawley's performance data suggest results may take a dip while Tranmere can climb the table after seeing their start disrupted by external factors.Gabriel Sutton
Oldham to win
Southend United v Oldham Athletic
Southend continued their difficult start to the League Two season on Saturday with a 2-0 defeat at Tranmere.
The early weeks have raised major concerns over the lack of leadership in this Shrimpers side, especially while experienced centre-back John White and midfield general Alan McCormack are sidelined – though both have been back in training.
Without those two, Southend have a combination of youngsters who have been rushed prematurely from academy football due to circumstances and other players who might consider themselves fortunate to be operating in the EFL.
The Essex club have off-field issues that have led to their plight and the same can be said for Oldham Athletic, who fell to 22nd after a 2-1 home defeat to Port Vale.
On the plus side for the Latics, they have shown flashes of promise going forward this season – their 11 goals is more than 7th placed Carlisle – with the likes of Conor McAleny and Zach Dearnley finding good form, while Dylan Bahamboula looks creative.
If Arsenal loanee Harry Clarke can have a positive impact on the defence and if the team can become a touch more aggressive at key moments, they should elevate themselves six points above table-propping Southend.
It was another tough day for Blues pic.twitter.com/Pjn3QDPq8o
— Chris Phillips (@CJPhillips1982) October 24, 2020
Oldham might be 22nd, but they have shown promise going forward and might have enough to see off a bottom placed Southend side lacking leadership.Gabriel Sutton