EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks his six best bets from the Championship, League One & League Two in his EFL midweek preview.
Luton to win
Luton Town v Coventry City
Luton lost 1-0 to Swansea last time out but, after falling behind early on, they created enough chances to win that game let alone draw it.
The versatile Kal Naismith led from central defence, whether as part of a duo or trio, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall showed his elite left-footed quality in midfield, where stalwart Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu himself produced some excellent deliveries for Elijah Adebayo, who looked a handful up top.
The Hatters were let down by a combination of an individual lapse in concentration combined with a failure to finish their chances, but if they can maintain Saturday’s performance level whilst ironing out issues at both ends, they could have some joy against Coventry.
The Sky Blues were perhaps more fortuitous last time out than their forthcoming opponents, boosting their survival hopes with a 1-0 win over Derby.
Mark Robins opted, in that game, for a 3-5-1-1 setup which had yielded disappointing results in previous matches.
Kyle McFadzean lacks the pace to hold a high line so the no-nonsense centre-back is flanked by Leo Ostigaard and Dominic Hyam, while ball-winner Liam Kelly and sitting midfielder Matty James started simultaneously.
Robins has looked for a defensive strategy in hope of grinding out enough points to beat the drop. But his conservatism may hand Luton the initiative to call the shots here.
We aren’t far away. Just missing that final ingredient but we can take positives out of our performances. Stick with us🙏🏻 @LutonTown
— KDH (@KiKiDHall) March 13, 2021
If Luton play like they did against Swansea, it’s highly likely they’ll win. I don’t see Coventry being as clinical as the Hatters’ previous opponents and I fancy Adebayo or James Collins to put away at least one of their chances.Gabriel Sutton
Dominic Solanke to score anytime
Bournemouth v Swansea City
Swansea are pretenders not contenders.
Of course, every team that is third with 11 games to play deserves an element of respect, but Steve Cooper’s side have ridden their luck.
The Swans have not recently got close to the performance levels of Norwich nor Watford, but have got by thanks to sharp shooting from Conor Hourihane and Andre Ayew penalties, some of which have been hotly disputed.
The Welsh outfit’s promotion challenge looks unsustainable with their numbers over the last 12 games: 1.07 Expected Goals For per game (xGF) and 1.08 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 49.69%, only the division’s 12th-best in that sequence.
Bournemouth are similarly unconvincing and have gone from being prime promotion contenders in December to now struggling to claim a Play-Off spot over Barnsley, having lost 3-2 at home to them on Saturday.
Dominic Solanke scored one of the Cherries’ goals in a positive first half and had three of their 10 shots, making him their likeliest goal threat.
Since Shane Long has come in, Solanke has occupied the number 10 position for Bournemouth, which means the Championship’s seventh-top scorer will have lots of opportunities to get on the ball in dangerous areas and attempt to extend his tally of 11 league goals.
Dominic Solanke has been directly involved in more league goals this season than any other Bournemouth player 🍒
— The ChampionshipChat Podcast (@ChampChatPod) March 13, 2021
I’d be surprised if Bournemouth or Swansea are in the Premier League next season and am sceptical of the credentials of both teams, so I’m skipping the outright markets here and backing a goal for Cherries top scorer Dominic Solanke.Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: Draw/Burton
Blackpool v Burton Albion
Burton are one of the country’s form teams.
Since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Dino Maamria took charge, the Brewers have won nine in 11, conceding just six goals in that time with seven clean sheets.
Hasselbaink and Maamria have enhanced the quality of coaching at the Pirelli Stadium, while January recruitment has been strong.
Long throw specialist Tom Hamer, talented centre-back Hayden Carter, technical midfielder Sean Clare and skilful wide forward Jonny Smith have all improved Burton, who look a different side to the one that looked beaten at the foot of the table.
The East Staffordshire outfit will feel they can take on anyone and are well-placed to avoid defeat at Blackpool.
The Tangerines are unbeaten in six but they have also been held at Bloomfield Road recently by Crewe, AFC Wimbledon and Fleetwood.
Neil Critchley’s side denied their Fylde Coast rivals any meaningful efforts at goal, but only had two chances themselves.
The mobile Jerry Yates and the speedy Ellis Simms are forwards who relish playing in transition, as we saw for the only goal at MK Dons.
Against a well-drilled Burton rear-guard, though, it could be difficult for the duo to find those opportunities and they may have to work back-to-goal, which is a scenario neither striker thrives in – and target man Gary Madine is unlikely to be fit enough to feature here.
Sunderland had joy against the Brewers with shots from outside the box, but Blackpool have only scored one long-range effort throughout their league campaign and could struggle to penetrate their unyielding visitors.
Happy with that one, @Dino_Maamria?
— Burton Albion FC (@burtonalbionfc) March 13, 2021
The traders have looked at the bare league table when pricing this game and, on this occasion, I don’t think that’s the correct approach. There is such a contrast between Burton’s pre-New Year form and their output under Jimmy and Dino that the odds aren’t reflecting their true capabilities.Gabriel Sutton
Lincoln to win
Lincoln City v Gillingham
The Liam Bridcutt effect: palpable when the midfielder is playing for Lincoln yet even more so when he is not.
Michael Appleton is building a young, talented side at Sincil Bank, with two wonderfully gifted on-loan forwards in Brennan Johnson and Morgan Rogers.
The Imps, though, have recently been relying perhaps too heavily on the latter’s individual brilliance from range, due to their difficulties in creating chances organically.
It may seem unusual to link that to the absence of an experienced anchor man, but because Bridcutt is such a disciplined leader who breaks up opposition play so well, his very presence gives teammates freedom to express themselves.
Recent displays from Lincoln suggests James Jones, Tayo Edun and Conor McGrandles, as a midfield trio, are all playing somewhat within themselves.
In the 2-1 defeat to Rochdale last time out, not one of the midfield trio had an average position ahead of the centre-circle while Edun and McGrandles were placed below the half-way line, which is remarkably deep considering they were not ahead at any point against a side that started the day bottom of the table.
That, we can be confident, will change when Bridcutt comes into the XI, which the former Brighton man is expected to do on Tuesday night after making Saturday’s bench.
Bridcutt’s return could have a transformative impact on this Lincoln side, even against in-form Gillingham.
Steve Evans’ side have won three of their last four games thanks to some excellent showings from physical front-man Vadaine Oliver, but are more likely to consolidate in their current position than challenge for the Play-Offs.
Lincoln City this year with Liam Bridcutt:
P16 W10 D4 L2
Without Liam Bridcutt:
P18 W8 D3 L7
— Impanalytics (@Impanalytics_) March 13, 2021
I’m expecting Lincoln to be transformed when Liam Bridcutt comes back into the XI, which Michael Appleton effectively confirmed he would on Saturday, so I’m happy to back the Imps to respond to their recent blip.Gabriel Sutton
Carlisle to win
Mansfield Town v Carlisle United
As recently as Tuesday, Carlisle were staring down the barrel of a sixth defeat in seven heading into injury-time.
Luckily for the Cumbrians, substitute Offrande Zanzala popped up with a 93rd-minute equalizer which might prove a defining moment in their season.
The goal looks especially significant given that the 1-1 draw with Grimsby was followed by a convincing 3-1 thumping of Bradford, putting Chris Beech’s side nine points off the Play-Offs with four games in hand.
Beech has been pleased with the energy levels in his side in the last two games and, on Saturday, there was lots of quality in possession on top of that.
Josh Kayode, on loan from Rotherham, has suffered injury recently but that setback makes it all the more important that Beech added attacking depth in January by bringing in numerous forwards including Offrande Zanzala, who has scored three goals in his last two games.
Zanzala’s pace has been obvious from the start of his EFL career at Accrington Stanley and the threat he carries means opposing defences cannot afford to hold a high line, as such Lewis Alessandra can cut inside from the left and use his intelligence to link-up with Joe Riley and Callum Guy.
George Tanner, back from injury, is a huge asset at right-back with the quality of deliveries the former Manchester United academy graduate provides, setting up the second for Zanzala.
While at Stanley and Crewe, the striker had the raw athleticism but did not always know how to use it, often going down too easily despite his build, which meant he struggled to find consistency – and the only goals he scored were ones in which he could run in behind.
Each of Zanzala’s goals in the last week, though, have been either a header or a scrappy, close-range finish, which shows he is evolving his game – something many Mansfield players must do to remain part of Nigel Clough’s plans.
After a 1-0 loss at Crawley condemned the Stags to a sixth defeat in eight, Clough implied doubt that the current crop will be able to arrest the errors and inconsistencies that have affected his side this season.
A month ago, it looked like being a case of Mansfield polishing their squad this summer in order to challenge for promotion, but recent form and comments suggest we could see a more comprehensive re-build.
Loads of positives there, Zanzala being the main one obviously. Looked a bit nervy once it got to 3-1 but that was to be expected after so long without a win. Excellent performance for an hour. Really need to use this as a springboard. #cufc
— cufcstuff (@cufcstuff) March 13, 2021
Following a recent shower, Carlisle have got their Beech party back after a massive win in midweek and I expect them to rediscover the form that made them prime promotion contenders for the majority of this campaign.Gabriel Sutton
Newport to win to nil
Port Vale v Newport County
These are worrying times for Port Vale.
The Burslem outfit are yet to record their first win of Darrell Clarke’s reign, having played seven games under the former Walsall boss and failed to score in five of them, after a 1-0 loss to Bolton on Saturday.
The problems predate Clarke, with the Valiants having recorded just two wins in 19 and having not beaten a side outside the current bottom two since early December.
All the more reason, that is, for a Newport County side who have won their last three league games to travel to Vale Park in confident mood.
Manager Michael Flynn was praising of his players after a 3-1 victory last time out at Morecambe, where Aaron Lewis showed excellent stamina from left wing-back while Ryan Taylor rediscovered his early season form by holding the ball up for persistent poacher Padraig Amond.
Josh Sheehan oozed class as ever in midfield but the glory was with Kevin Ellison, who scored against his former club and manager.
The 42-year-old had given the Shrimps nine years of service but new boss Derek Adams froze him out of the group and, when he could not join in with the youth team due to being unable to play on Astroturf, made the veteran train on his own.
Ellison, therefore, showed his feelings on the matter by celebrating the settling goal aggressively in front of Adams.
Morecambe manager Derek Adams froze out Kevin Ellison and made him train on his own after nine years at the club…
Today, Ellison scored for Newport County against his former side and celebrated in front of Adams! 😯 pic.twitter.com/scd3OMdxWM
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) March 13, 2021
Newport have got their promotion push back on track with a run of three straight wins and I expect them to pile the pressure on Port Vale, who are on a horrendous run of form.Gabriel Sutton