Gab Sutton is keen on Plymouth Argyle and Harrogate in his EFL Midweek Preview and our EFL pundit has a left-field selection in the anytime goalscorer market
Cardiff to score under 0.5 goals
Rotherham United v Cardiff City
Cardiff got their first victory of Mick McCarthy’s reign in style: a 2-0 Severnside Derby victory thanks to headers from Curtis Nelson and Kieffer Moore.
Both goals came from crosses – in fact, the Bluebirds played as many as 25 of them during the match – which highlights how big a feature of McCarthy’s side the deliveries from wide will be.
That approach worked at Bristol City, but it may draw less success against Rotherham, who have recently moved to a three-man defence – a switch that has coincided with an improvement in form.
Paul Warne can pick three from four centre-backs in aerial specialist Michael Ihiekwe, organiser Richard Wood, the driven Angus MacDonald and fit again Clark Robertson, who has been a rock in the last two games.
With Jamie Lindsay sidelined, the Millers will line up with dynamo Lewis Wing playing to the left of deep-lying playmaker Daniel Barlaser and ball progressor Ben Wiles, who all have an excellent work rate.
The solidity of that central trio means Cardiff will try their luck from wide areas, but the three centre-backs will back themselves to deal with the primary threat posed by Moore, as well as Sheyi Ojo.
Moore is yet to score against a team that plays three centre-backs by trade and the nature of Rotherham’s setup could mean that he does not have the option to peel onto an aerially weaker defender and still find a goalscoring position, which is such a crucial facet of his overall niche.
If Rotherham can keep Moore quiet, they will go a long way to keeping Cardiff quiet – the former Millers front-man has scored 11 goals for his current employers, for whom no-one else has scored more than four.
— Josey Webb (@Joseywebb) February 6, 2021
I don’t see Kieffer Moore getting much joy against three aerially dominant centre-backs and if Rotherham nullify him, I think they nullify Cardiff.Gabriel Sutton
Anis Mehmeti to score anytime
Sheffield Wednesday v Wycombe Wanderers
A 3-0 defeat last time out to Nottingham Forest leaves Wycombe needing a minor miracle to escape the Championship’s trap door.
The run-in looks increasingly like being about enjoying the remainder of their remarkable adventure in the second tier, whilst producing some competitive displays to take with them into League One next season.
Manager Gareth Ainsworth has kept his positive spirit throughout this campaign, which has seen the Chairboys accrue just three wins all season.
“Wild Thing” may be tempted to freshen up the midfield for the trip to Sheffield Wednesday, with ball-winner Curtis Thompson likely to come in for Daryl Horgan to allow the selfless David Wheeler to assume his natural right-wing role.
With Thompson partnering the powerful Nnamdi Ofoborh to form a solid double-pivot, Ainsworth may feel he can take more of a risk in the third midfield spot and hand a start to Anis Mehmeti.
The Albanian has single-handedly changed games from the bench this season, away to Birmingham and at home to QPR being the primary examples – plus, late-December’s 2-1 victory over Cardiff came in one of Mehmeti’s four league starts.
The Buckinghamshire outfit average one Championship goal every 130 minutes this season but, when Mehmeti is on the field, that average is one every 56.
Ainsworth’s reluctance to start the 20-year-old may be down to concerns over his defensive awareness, in contrast with evergreen stalwart Matt Bloomfield, but he may prove to be the most talented player in the squad.
Given that Wycombe are already 12 points off safety, Ainsworth might deem adventure to hold more merit than conservatism.
The best-case scenario of giving Mehmeti a run of games now is that he turns into a star and keeps them in with a slim chance of survival going into March, but in worst-case, he will gain valuable experience to help him become a top player in League One next season.
Bloomfield is likely to focus on coaching in 2021-22 and will not start too many games, whereas Mehmeti has the potential to become a key player and would benefit from the game time far more.
If Ainsworth hands Mehmeti a start in South Yorkshire, he won’t regret it.
Full time: Wycombe 1-1 QPR
— Wycombe Wanderers (@wwfcofficial) December 19, 2020
I suspect Anis Mehmeti will start for Wycombe at Hillsborough and the 20-year-old has the quality to make a name for himself.Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: Draw/Burton
Blackpool v Burton Albion
Since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink returned to the Pirelli, Burton have taken six points from three league games.
The Brewers have conceded only once in that time and are yet to be breached in open play, so the solidity they showed to keep 21 clean sheets in 50 during the cool Dutchman’s first spell in charge has returned.
In a 1-0 win over Hull, the stingy Staffordshire side reduced the leaders to just seven efforts all game and did not allow them so much as a single shot on target, which is testament to the defensive pairing of young Blackburn loanee Hayden Carter and the experienced John Brayford.
That organisation allowed Burton to absorb spells of pressure from their opponents, but they had the wherewithal to grow into that game in an attacking force as the second half wore on.
Jonny Smith’s jinking runs from the right, Lucas Akins’ canny movement from the centre, Josh Parker’s neat feet from the left and Joe Powell’s advanced link-up play from midfield caused havoc in the latter stages, with Smith latching onto Parker’s through ball to slot home the 90th-minute winner.
Hasselbaink’s side now face Blackpool, who dropped into the bottom half after a 2-0 loss at Ipswich last time out – they mustered only nine efforts all game at Portman Road, hitting the target just once.
What a fantastic win for the Brewers today. Fantastic composure & finish by @JonnySmith_11 to secure all 3 points. Burton looked more organised and composed. Good performances all round, & a 1st clean sheet at home for 12 months. Looking forward to Blackpool on Tuesday #bafc
— Tony Bentley (@BrewersTony) February 6, 2021
Jimmy and Dino’s Brewers did the business for me last week with that victory over Hull. They could be a team to get on side between now and the end of the season, just because it might take a while for the traders to fully cotton onto their resurgence.Gabriel Sutton
Plymouth Argyle draw no bet
Accrington Stanley v Plymouth Argyle
John Coleman’s wing-back system has worked a treat this season for Stanley, who have launched an unlikely promotion bid.
The Reds, though, could be without their first-choice wing-backs for their next fixture, with Joe Pritchard likely to be suspended after his red card in the 0-0 draw with Northampton last time out and Tariq Uwakwe a fitness doubt.
Harvey Rodgers is likely to come in for Pritchard on the right but, as a centre-back by trade, would be a far more conservative option for that position.
Similarly, Cameron Burgess could come in for Uwakwe on the left but he, too, would see himself as a centre-back.
Burgess is far more suited to the role of overlapping left-sided centre-back due to being left-footed, so if he plays left wing-back with right-footed Michael Nottingham behind, Stanley could struggle to dislodge their opponents in the way they normally can.
The absence of Pritchard and Uwakwe could be good news for Argyle, who drew 2-2 at Portsmouth last time out, having led by two goals going into the closing stages before conceding twice in the space of a minute.
Ryan Lowe hinted that his side need to fine-tune their game management, but they did score two excellent goals through Luke Jephcott, who is now the division’s top scorer with 16 goals.
The left-sided combination play between Conor Grant, Danny Mayor and Ryan Hardie has often been the key to creating chances for Jephcott but, last time out, the Devoners instead used the right-hand side to their advantage.
Niall Ennis, who signed from Wolves this month, made a real impact from the bench with his direct runs down the flank while Panutche Camara rampaged forward from the right channel into central areas which created space for Jephcott to poach.
Argyle now have the threat on either side which could make them a difficult side for under-strength Stanley to read.
Niall Ennis has been brilliant making an impact from the bench these last 2 games and has really put himself in a good way to get a start Tuesday. Looks an unreal find #pafc
— Josh Rogers (@Josh_Rogers22) February 6, 2021
Stanley could be weakened in the wing-back areas while Argyle can be heartened by their showing at Portsmouth on Saturday. I fancy the away win.Gabriel Sutton
Harrogate to win
Harrogate Town v Cheltenham Town
Harrogate have improved their chances of marking their debut season in the EFL with a top half finish, after securing back-to-back victories over Newport and Crawley.
The Sulphurites have had a tough run of fixtures, but they have proven themselves more than capable of competing against the best in the division, taking four points off Exeter.
The North Yorkshire outfit’s improvement in form has much to do with the arrival of wide men Simon Power and Josh McPake.
The latter loves to cut inside from the left and produce moments of quality, while the former is more of a classic, direct right winger. The 22-year-old’s arrival from Norwich has seen George Thomson, one of the division’s most creative players a more central role.
Will Smith’s return to central defence has aided Harrogate’s pursuit of happiness but, most importantly, Aaron Martin has formed an excellent strike-pairing with January recruit Josh March.
Martin is an athletic forward who has generally been partnered with a classic target man like Mark Beck or Jon Stead, making him the man running onto flick-ons and knock-downs.
March, who joined from Forest Green, is a wirier, livelier figure who likes to run in behind, which changes Martin’s role within the side: he becomes the de facto reference point and he has taken on that role equally well.
It can be difficult for Championship sides to find a striker with a variety of skillsets, so what Harrogate have in Martin is very rare at League Two level and the 29-year-old could do match-winning damage once again.
These two 😍
— Harrogate Town AFC (@HarrogateTown) February 7, 2021
In-form Harrogate have proved they can compete on their day with the best in the division, while visitors Cheltenham have seen recent games postponed for health reasons.Gabriel Sutton
Scunthorpe to win
Scunthorpe United v Bradford City
Thanks to three straight wins, Scunthorpe have gone from being prime relegation candidates to 18th in League Two.
That improvement in form has coincided with the arrival of Jem Karacan who, having played at Championship level with Reading and Bolton, adds much-needed experience in midfield.
Athlete Manny Onariase, meanwhile, has returned from injury to forge an excellent centre-back pairing with the intelligent George Taft.
The Iron protect the duo with a 4-4-1-1 shape but, on turnovers, they morph into a 4-3-3 with Alex Gilliead tucking in from the right to allow Devarn Green on the left to join withdrawn forward Abo Eisa in flying beyond Ryan Loft.
The lanky front-man is better technically than his size suggests and in recent weeks, Scunny have got better service into his feet which has transformed their attacking output.
Defensively, the Lincolnshire outfit have conceded just 20 goals in 19 games since experienced goalkeeper Mark Howard joined the club in late-October.
Bradford, meanwhile, suffered their first defeat under the interim stewardship of Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars, losing 3-2 at Exeter last time out.
The Bantams have remained defensively unconvincing under the duo despite the improvement in results and have averaged, in the last four games, 0.78 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.44 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 35.09% which is the fourth-worst in the division in that time frame.
Scunthorpe, by contrast, have an xGR of 54.11% which is the eighth-best, so their resurgence looks more sustainable.
⚽️ Ryan Loft has been involved in 5️⃣ goals in his last 3️⃣ games (3 goals, 2 assists).#UTI
— Iron Stats (@iron_stats) January 29, 2021
Scunthorpe have won their last three league games and I’m happy to back Neil Cox’s side to continue their excellent form. Ryan Loft, Abo Eisa and Devarn Green have formed an exciting attacking trio.Gabriel Sutton