EFL pundit Gab Sutton has six fancies from the midweek week card in League One and League Two in his EFL Midweek Preview.
Blackpool v Peterborough United
Blackpool’s form has been impressive and frustrating in equal measure.
The Tangerines have won at Blackpool, Charlton, MK Dons and Oxford last time out, but drawn at home to Burton, Fleetwood, AFC Wimbledon and Crewe.
16 points is an excellent return from those games all things considered, tinged with a feeling that it could have been more had they produced par performances in matches they were expected to win.
Kenny Dougall got his first goal in English football at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday; the former Barnsley midfielder sees himself naturally as a ball-winner, a job he does with some tenacity. But, if he can add goals to his game, that’s a huge plus.
Another unlikely goalscorer was centre-back Daniel Ballard, who was compared in the Arsenal youth setup to a young Tony Adams; the centre-back was unable to show the resemblance last season at Swindon, where he struggled with injuries, but he has been imperious for the Pool – he has had to step up in leadership terms, too, in the absence of Daníel Leó Grétarsson.
Ballard could be a miss for Blackpool when they face Peterborough’s deadly attacking trio of Sammie Szmodics, Siriki Dembele and Jonson Clarke-Harris.
All three got on the scoresheet in Saturday’s 3-3 draw at Rochdale, the latter scoring a 93rd-minute equalizer from the spot, but Darren Ferguson admitted it was two points dropped for his side, who led by two goals at the interval.
Ferguson declared Posh “unrecognizable” in the second half and was unable to publicly put his finger on what went wrong, but the PE2 outfit are somewhat top heavy.
There is a gulf in quality between the front-three and the rest of the side, so when the team collectively is on song and frequently entering the final third, they can be deadly.
Often, though, there is a 45-minute period in which opponents force them back and the quality of the front-three becomes almost irrelevant.
Blackpool will look to stop Peterborough at source in the first half with their high press but, when the Tangerines’ energy levels drop, that’s when the visitors could come back into the game.
👍 Thats a thumbs up from Critch.
— Blackpool FC (@BlackpoolFC) March 20, 2021
Blackpool perform better in the first half of matches and Peterborough, for all their quality, struggle to string two good halves of football together, so I’m willing to have a 16/1 poke on Neil Critchley’s side leading at the interval with Posh earning a point.Gabriel Sutton
Scott Twine: Anytime Goalscorer
Bristol Rovers v Swindon Town
Since Joey Barton took charge in late-February, Bristol Rovers have been a hard side to pin down.
The Gas thumped promotion outsiders Accrington Stanley 4-1, but lost to relegation rivals Wigan, led by two goals at Charlton, but crumbled once their opponents halved the deficit and lost 3-2.
Flashes of brilliance have diluted long periods of mental fragility, sometimes within the same game.
Rovers appeared to have built a competent squad on paper last summer, but the problem was that players were seemingly recruited based on their individual ability and, perhaps, not their character.
That would explain why a Barton side, who one would think would be driven, committed and defiant in adversity, is the exact opposite.
Bristol Rovers need to give the 38-year-old a lot of control over recruitment this summer, come what may, to change the culture at the club.
In the meantime, the BS7 outfit could have trouble keeping quiet Scott Twine, who bagged a brace for Swindon in 2-0 victory at Fleetwood.
Twine started his career as a poacher who could not quite break into Town’s first team but, in his loan spell with Newport, the 21-year-old hit five goals from outside the box and, since being recalled, has hit another five goals.
Two of those were long-range stunners, but another three – including Saturday’s brace – came from inside the penalty area, which shows the attacking midfielder can score different types of goals.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 20, 2021
Red, Red Twine has found higher ground since being recalled from Newport and, after a brace at Fleetwood last time out, Swindon fans can’t help falling in love with him.Gabriel Sutton
Shrewsbury Draw No Bet
Burton Albion v Shrewsbury Town
Since Steve Cotterill took charge on 27th November, Shrewsbury have taken 34 points from 20 games – the fifth-best return in the division in that timeframe.
Unfortunately for Cotterill, he has not been managing from the touchline for much of that time for health reasons, which is testament to two things: his own determination to manage remotely, plus the interim presence of Aaron Wilbraham and David Longwell.
The management team like a 3-5-2 formation with two mobile centre-backs – Matt Pennington and Ro-Shaun Williams – flanking aerial powerhouse Ethan Ebanks-Landell, protected by two sitting midfielders, likely the tenacious David Davis and fit again skipper Oli Norburn at the Pirelli.
Josh Vela, who helped Bolton to promotion from this level in 2016-17, presses ahead of Davis and Norburn to support the front two, which generally comprises of one physical, hardworking front-man – Curtis Main or Daniel Udoh – and one more withdrawn forward who can provide some magic from outside the box – Harry Chapman or Shaun Whalley.
Salop have reasonable depth and they earnt a valuable point against Hull last time out thanks to a fortuitous free-kick from Nathanael Ogbeta, a talented former Manchester City youth product, which cannoned in off the opposition goalkeeper.
The Shropshire outfit restricted arguably the best team in the division to just one shot on target all game – and they could have done little about former Shrew Greg Docherty’s excellent strike – which suggests they have a good chance of getting something out of their fellow Midlanders.
Burton have themselves made huge strides after a managerial change, with no League One side averaging more than the two points per game than Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Dino Maamria’s side have recorded, but lost 2-1 to MK Dons on Saturday.
FT: Shrewsbury 1-1 Hull. Decent point for #salop against the flying L1 leaders. Decent game broke out towards end but largely spoilt. Excellent effort from Town who were just as dangerous as the Tigers, if not the better side. Feel for Ogbeta who deserves that goal.
— Lewis Cox (@LewisCox_star) March 20, 2021
These two Midlands clubs show the importance of having the right managers in charge: both were among prime relegation candidates but are now arguably overachieving with their respective squads.Gabriel Sutton
Under 2.5 Goals
Barrow v Grimsby Town
Grimsby’s bid for League Two survival bears increasing resemblance to Vince Vaughn’s character in the 2006 film: The Break-Up.
“Gary” behaves appallingly in his relationship for much of the movie, then his selfless acts come at a time when Jennifer Aniston’s character doesn’t have “anything left to give”.
The Mariners won six of their first 30 games, the same number as relegation rivals Barrow, so they entered March with an outside chance of beating the drop despite barely turning up most weeks.
More recently, the Cleethorpes club have drawn four games in succession with performances, finally, picking up under Paul Hurst.
In ordinary circumstances, Grimsby could look at ties with Carlisle, Colchester, Tranmere and Mansfield – aided by dynamic, all-action midfield displays from Jay Matete and solid defending from Elliott Hewitt – as foundations upon which to build.
Unfortunately for them, though, those results have coincided directly with Barrow winning four on the spin, most recently triumphing 3-2 against Crawley thanks to a 95th-minute winner.
The Bluebirds are now 10 points above the DN35 outfit having played one game more, thanks to the work of caretaker gaffer Rob Kelly.
The former Leicester boss stepped in to replace Michael Jolley, who the board felt was unable to deliver the attacking football they wanted, but it is difficult to play that style in a League Two dogfight, not least with pitches being especially muddy due to the volume of games.
Kelly is hardly a tiki-taka merchant – Barrow have had 32% and 39% possession in their last two games and their goals came from opposition errors at Cheltenham, then set pieces on Saturday – but he has to be credited for delivering much-needed points.
Three of both Barrow and Grimsby’s last four games have seen Under 2.5 goals scored and I’m expecting a repeat of that. A draw would suit the hosts, while Paul Hurst’s side will be looking to build on recent solidity and eke out a 1-0 win.Gabriel Sutton
Tranmere To Win
Colchester United v Tranmere Rovers
Tranmere drew level on points with Forest Green, who occupy the final automatic promotion place, with a 2-1 victory over Exeter on Saturday.
Keith Hill has shown great adaptability to guide Rovers close to the top three, even though he does not yet have a group of players that can truly control games in midfield in the way his successful Rochdale sides did.
Jay Spearing and Lee O’Connor won plaudits for their performances against the Grecians, the former for his ball-winning qualities – which we have come to expect from the one-time Liverpool man – and the latter, a right-back by trade, for nullifying a key opposing number 10.
Spearing and O’Connor’s solid work, ahead of the imperious Peter Clarke, gave Tranmere the platform to turn the game their way on substitutions: box-to-box midfielder Paul Lewis brought fresh energy and versatile forward Danny Lloyd netted the winning penalty.
The Wirral outfit have depth, especially in attack and in wide areas: Hill has been able to see injury to proven spearhead James Vaughan, the youngest ever Premier League goalscorer and replace him with a former England international in David Nugent.
The veteran should do damage to Colchester, who have given Grimsby – not to mention a certain Essex rival down the road – fresh hope of staying up due to a run of one win in 20.
The U’s have failed to score in their last 466 minutes of action, despite numerous attacking combinations being deployed.
Wayne Brown is now banking heavily on Courtney Senior – who created a chance after coming off the bench in the 1-0 loss at Port Vale with a strong run and cross for Aramide Oteh – becoming the dribbling king he was two seasons ago.
Average Player Positions | Exeter(H)
▫️Fresh legs from the start through Kahn, Morris, O’Connor
▫️3 pts from game 3 in 6 days against solid opp.
▫️O’Connor addition: slightly higher than usual Spearing
▫️Woolery switch: Inverted wide players (KM)
▫️Strong impact from bench#SWA pic.twitter.com/megYTdYRz8
— NextGen (@TRFCNextGen) March 21, 2021
Since Keith Hill took charge on 21st November, Tranmere have taken 46 points from 23 games while Colchester have 18 in 24 from the same timeframe. I’m thrilled to back Rovers at 11/8.Gabriel Sutton
Under 1.5 Goals
Southend United v Walsall
Should Southend’s 101-year stay in the Football League come to an end, the primary reason will be simple: a chronic shortage of goals.
The Shrimpers’ defence, baring capitulations against Harrogate and Port Vale, has been passable for a relegation candidate, but going forward there has been no firepower and no attacking spark: strikers Simeon Akinola, Emile Acquah and Brandon Goodship have five goals between them, while their top scorer with three is left-back Tom Clifford!
Mark Molesley’s side ended a run of 549 minutes without a goal when Ashley Nathaniel-George netted last time out from a penalty that saw Scunthorpe reduced to 10-men. Yet still, their opponents equalized in the 90th-minute with a numerical disadvantage.
The full-time deflation at Glanford Park suggests that might have been a pivotal moment in the League Two dogfight. But the good news for the Essex outfit is that they are still to play the three teams directly above them.
One of them is Walsall, who are also finding it difficult to place the curious spherical instrument between the two white sticks.
Since Brian Dutton took charge in mid-February, the Saddlers are winless in nine, having lost six of those encounters, scoring only five times.
It may be harsh to pin their attacking struggles solely on Dutton, given that striker Elijah Adebayo was sold to Luton in January for financial reasons, leaving the Black Country outfit short of a reliable goalscoring presence.
Adebayo also gave Walsall a focal point and, without a striker who can hold the ball up on the deck, the team has a major dilemma: direct passes to Caolan Lavery are unlikely to bear much fruit yet equally, the team lacks the ball-playing competency to build from the back.
Simply heartbreaking for the loyal fans of our great football club @SUFCRootsHall games that are there to be won are running out and we are not winning them. Our lack of a goal scorer is going to send us down as defensively we are solid but it’s goals that win games
— Jonathan Humphrey 🦐⚽️🦅🏏 (@shrimperjon) March 20, 2021
These two sides, who played in the Championship in the noughties and faced one another in League One as recently as 2018-19, could lose their EFL status. Southend are in greater peril but neither side carry much of a threat up top which is why I don’t think there’ll be more than one goal.Gabriel Sutton