Sheffield Wednesday +2 handicap
Bournemouth v Sheffield Wednesday
Bournemouth find themselves at their lowest point in seven years after Friday’s 3-1 loss at Reading.
The fact such a point can come with the Cherries still in the Championship’s top six is, perhaps, indicative of recent heights. But three consecutive defeats have led fans to call manager Jason Tindall’s position into question.
Tindall appears to be picking the most technically gifted individuals, without placing much emphasis on how they will come together as a team – which is ironic given that pressing was a key feature of performances earlier in the campaign.
Diego Rico, for example, keeps getting picked at left-back for his natural quality, even though the Spaniard has not been pulling his weight for several weeks and Jordan Zemura is a highly-rated option from the Under-23s.
Striker Sam Surridge starred as part of a front two in 3-1 and 4-0 wins at Coventry and Barnsley respectively, bringing valuable physical qualities, an excellent work rate and an ability to bring Dominic Solanke into play. Yet, he has also been arguably underused.
Surridge has started just one of Bournemouth’s last 10 league games, with Tindall favouring a front-three to incorporate wide forwards Arnaut Danjuma and Josh King, who have looked devoid of energy.
Ben Pearson, who signs from Preston North End, will at least bring the tenacity their midfield has been crying out for in recent games and could have an influence on those around him.
Given how poor Bournemouth have performed in recent games though, it would be a big ask for them to not only re-establish the basics, but also rediscover the fine, free-flowing football we saw from them earlier in the campaign, especially against a resurgent Sheffield Wednesday side.
The Owls have won three of their four league games under the caretaker tutelage of Neil Thompson, who is a popular figure on the training field and appears to have the respect of the players.
𝗜𝘀 𝗡𝗲𝗶𝗹 𝗧𝗵𝗼𝗺𝗽𝘀𝗼𝗻, 𝘄𝗶𝘁𝗵 𝟮𝟭 𝗴𝗮𝗺𝗲𝘀 𝗹𝗲𝗳𝘁, 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝘀𝗶𝗯𝗹𝗲 𝗼𝗽𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗮𝘀 𝗽𝗲𝗿𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗺𝗮𝗻𝗮𝗴𝗲𝗿? @domhowson raises some points here about Thompson's level of involvement with recruitment 🔄
— SWFC_Live (@LiveSwfc) January 31, 2021
The contrasting form of these sides suggests resurgent Wednesday are underrated. It’s possible that Pearson makes an impact on his Bournemouth debut which is why I’ve not selected a more daring bet, but I don’t see the hosts winning by more than one goal – if at all.Gabriel Sutton
Under 1.5 goals
Coventry City v Nottingham Forest
These Midland relegation candidates come into this game off the back of draws with ordinary opposition, in which their work without the ball was a bigger plus point than their work with it.
Coventry drew 1-1 with Birmingham last time out and protected the middle strip of the field well, thanks to the pressing of Callum O’Hare, Maxime Biamou and Viktor Gyokeres, while midfielders Matty James, Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf rarely let a loose ball go unchallenged.
With those six players making life difficult, the job for centre-backs Leo Østigard and Dominic Hyam became easier.
Mark Robins will employ a similar strategy, whilst hoping for better decision making from his players in possession against Nottingham Forest.
The Tricky Trees drew 0-0 with Barnsley last time out and manager Chris Hughton was pleased with how centre-backs Tobias Figueiredo and Joe Worrall dominated their box, as well as the work of athletic midfielders Samba Sow and Ryan Yates in picking up second balls in the defensive third.
Hughton has added advanced playmaker Filip Krovinovic and deep-lying playmaker James Garner to add a more delicate form of creativity to this Forest side, but either could struggle if Coventry’s pressing is at the same level.
What Forest will need most against this narrow Sky Blues setup is pace on the wings, something Anthony Knockaert and Sammy Ameobi – though capable in other respects – do not provide.
Alex Mighten does offer searing pace but Hughton only gave the youngster three minutes of action with scores level last time out.
If Mighten is on the bench again, Forest could have lots of scenarios in which they can use the extra space in wide areas, but Knockaert or Ameobi overplay to give their visitors the chance to cover.
Coventry have done a very good job as a newly promoted side. They started slowly but have continued to improve through the season, despite constant injury set backs. 17th and around some established Championship sides. Mark Robins and his players have done a fantastic job. #PUSB
— Cameron Cairns (@CameronCairns87) January 30, 2021
Four of Coventry’s last 10 games and three of Forest’s previous six have seen fewer than two goals scored. I think chances will be at a premium.Gabriel Sutton
Charlton to score under 0.5 goals
Charlton Athletic v Portsmouth
Charlton signed target man Jayden Stockley last month but it’s hard to say with too much confidence that they will get the best out of him.
The Addicks, under Lee Bowyer, have been at their best when turning the ball over high up the field, then playing fast-paced, one-touch football.
That style suits the wide forwards and attacking midfielders in their squad like Chuks Aneke, Jonny Williams, Liam Millar and Andrew Shinnie, who all have plenty of quality.
The way to maximize that quality though is to have a mobile, selfless centre-forward who will create space for others, which is not Stockley’s game.
Stockley has built his career on his ability to lurk in the box within the width of the goal, then get himself into goalscoring areas when crosses come in.
Charlton are not a crossing side because, firstly, they do not have classic wingers and secondly, the ability of the players who can create for them are too good to be wasted in a system that bypasses the areas in which they can do damage.
There is a danger that Stockley’s movement will be too static, meaning opposing rear-guards can stay in the central positions where they are most comfortable, meaning less space for Charlton’s maestros in areas they want.
The Londoners could be disjointed here, so Portsmouth have a great opportunity to rediscover the defensive basics that allowed them to keep six consecutive clean sheets in the league – and win five of those games.
Kenny Jackett’s side have since lost successive matches – and the 4-0 defeat to Hull was no doubt deeply disappointing – but Pompey lost 1-0 to Lincoln having played 69 minutes with a man disadvantage.
The Portsea Islanders possess in Sean Raggett, the most aerially dominant centre-back at this level and, in Tom Naylor, the best ball-winner.
2 defeats in 4 days against 2 top League One sides a big blow to #Pompey’s automatic promotion chances. Can’t fault the effort this evening but an hour with 10 men proved too much.
— Andrew Moon (@mrandrewmoon) January 26, 2021
Apart from one off-day against Hull, Portsmouth have been a great defensive side this season and I feel they can quieten a Charlton outfit that may have a disjointed feel.Gabriel Sutton
Shrewsbury to win
Shrewsbury Town v Crewe Alexandra
Shrewsbury took a step closer to League One safety with a 2-0 win over Peterborough.
Aaron Wilbraham was pleased with how his players stuck to the game plan in “a proper team performance” capped off by a sprinkling of quality from Harry Chapman, who has made a great impact since joining on loan from Blackburn.
Chapman, an attacking midfielder in a 3-4-1-2, has been told to operate as a number eight without the ball and a number 10 with it.
That onus on responding to losing the ball quickly by pressurizing the opposition is key to Salop’s revival and their work is led by Daniel Udoh, who is having undoubtedly the best season of his career up top.
Udoh came to Shrewsbury from Telford in 2019 but Nathanael Ogbeta, with a contrasting background developing at Manchester City, was fantastic on debut.
Ogbeta has enough pace and power to be a key outlet for the Shropshire outfit at left wing-back, but has as much technical proficiency as his footballing education would suggest.
With the more experienced Oli Norburn and Josh Vela breaking up play at the base of a midfield protecting a stable defensive trio of Ro-Shaun Williams, Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Aaron Pierre, there is much to like about Shrewsbury.
The hosts will therefore fancy the timing of their hosting of Crewe Alexandra, who may be affected by the loss of right-back Perry Ng to Cardiff and, to an even greater extent, the anticipated departure of left-back Harry Pickering to Blackburn.
Pickering’s ability to get up and down the flank, his intelligent use of possession and willingness to make inverted runs had been key to maximizing the strengths of Charlie Kirk.
It remains to be seen how effective Kirk can be in the absence of his wing partner, because that left-sided combination has been a key feature of Crewe’s game over the last 18 months.
Shrewsbury Town have taken 1⃣8⃣ points from the nine league games since Steve Cotterill took charge
They only managed nine in the previous 13 under Sam Ricketts this season#Salop
— D3D4Football (@d3d4football) January 30, 2021
It’s great to hear that Shrewsbury boss Steve Cotterill is recovering well – on Saturday, he had the strength to make key tactical calls and perform the half-time team talk from his hospital bed!Gabriel Sutton
Salford to win -1 handicap
Salford City v Colchester United
Salford boss Richie Wellens was devastated after his side’s 2-1 loss at Oldham last time out.
The defeat was inflicted by an injury-time goal, after Salford had created enough first half chances to put the game to bed.
Once Wellens has time to reflect, he can be encouraged by the impact of his January recruits.
Right-back Tom James, for example, hit the post after producing a defence-splitting pass to release Ian Henderson, who proved his finishing ability – the ex-Rochdale man scored more League One goals than any other player in the 2010s.
Robbie Gotts’ pressing from an advanced midfield role also helped the Ammies create openings, while Paul Coutts’ balance, composure and vision in a deeper position helped them beat the press of their opponents.
The fluidity of play and rotation of movement, which we saw from Wellens’ title-winning Swindon side last season, was all there for Salford – it’s just a case of them translating those good 45-minute periods into full 90-minute performances.
The Greater Manchester outfit should do so against Colchester, who are in very poor form.
The U’s are without a win in their last nine league games and have not registered so much as a goal in their previous three.
This alarming run of form has seen Steve Ball’s side drop to 18th and face the possibility of a relegation battle, which their early season shot data suggested they could be due.
The Essex outfit mustered just two shots on target against Scunthorpe last time out, despite having been behind for 85 minutes of the contest.
Really good half from Robbie Gotts. Playing almost as an inside left forward, pressing the hell out of Oldham's defence. Making some good runs in behind as well.
— Thomas Wilson (@thomas_wilson95) January 30, 2021
Salford lost last time out, but some of the football they played in the first half was very advanced for this level. I expect the Ammies to bounce back with a comfortable victory over out-of-sorts Colchester.Gabriel Sutton
Exeter to win
Stevenage v Exeter City
Stevenage’s only defeat in their last seven league games came against Exeter, while Exeter’s sole victory in seven league games came in that same fixture.
Despite this, the Grecians are 11 points and 12 places better off than their hosts and remain the division’s highest goalscorers with 44 goals in 24, while Boro have scored 25 fewer in the same number of matches.
Form suggests Stevenage are underrated, but the league table – and the reverse fixture at St James’s Park – implies Exeter remain a class above.
The key to figuring out where the value is in this game, therefore, could be found in judging opponents.
Exeter drew in their recent sequence with Harrogate and Bolton whilst creating enough chances to win those games and otherwise – aside from the defeat at Harrogate – have dropped points against Morecambe, Forest Green and Carlisle who are all in the mix for the top three.
Stevenage have accrued just six points from 10 against top 10 opposition all season, which suggests they are not quite ready to compete with those sides.
Although Boro won 2-1 at 23rd-placed Grimsby last time out, they were arguably 2nd-best in the first half of that game and this one will be tougher.
In creative forward Matt Jay, hold-up striker Ryan Bowman and vibrant talent Archie Collins, Exeter have players who have been doing damage for much of the campaign and it will not take much for them to get their mojo back.
🔥 @mattjay__ netted his 🔟th league strike of the season on Saturday!
That’s 1️⃣2️⃣ in all comps now 👏🏻
— Exeter City FC (@OfficialECFC) January 25, 2021
Recent form might not suggest it, but I still think Stevenage and Exeter are at different levels, so am happy to take the away win at odds-against quotes.Gabriel Sutton