What has EFL pundit Gab Sutton got in mind for the midweek action? Here are his six best bets.
Swansea to win
Blackburn Rovers v Swansea City
Swansea continued their pursuit of automatic promotion last time out with a 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough.
Steve Cooper’s side have been fortunate in both that game and at Stoke that three refereeing decisions – 96th minute match-winning penalties that Andre Ayew converted and a disallowed goal for Boro – went in their favour.
The Swans will need to improve if they are to sustain their current form, which might in part explain why they are priced as 9/5 outsiders against a Blackburn side that had lost a lot of tight games, up until Saturday’s 2-0 victory at Millwall.
The Welsh outfit, though, have a solidity about them that has allowed them to tick over the points, even when they are not the dominant side.
Swansea boast a powerful centre-back in Ben Cabango, who was imperious last time out, flanked by the intelligent Kyle Naughton and the speedy Marc Guéhi.
The latter, on loan from Chelsea – where he could have a big long-term future under Thomas Tuchel – can break lines by carrying the ball deep inside the opposing half with his driving runs and winning free-kicks, as he did in the lead-up to Ayew’s opener against Boro.
Blackburn will need to make plans to stop Guéhi in the same way they would a midfielder, because the 20-year-old can often dovetail with controller Matt Grimes, who will at times drop into the three-man defence.
Swansea might not have been at their best going forward last time out, but that was partly because Cooper left Jamal Lowe on the bench.
With the speedy forward likely to come in for a midfielder here to facilitate a switch from 3-4-2-1 to 3-5-2, Lowe will stretch Blackburn’s defence and that should bring the creative qualities of Ayew and Conor Hourihane to the fore.
The former Portsmouth forward could cause problems on the break for Rovers, whose boss Tony Mowbray named an attacking starting XI last time out.
Wide man John Buckley, creator-in-chief Bradley Dack, mobile forward Ben Brereton, aerial attacker Sam Gallagher and the skilful Tyrhys Dolan all starting – the latter as a false nine as part of a narrow front-three.
The Lancashire outfit could rely on Tommy Trybull to break things up at the base of midfield and if Swansea can get past the former Norwich man, there is every chance they can release Lowe and get in behind their hosts.
Marc Guehi of Swansea who’s on loan from Chelsea!
Captain of England’s Under 17’s World Cup winning team playing behind Phil Foden throughout the tournament!
Future England Captain and will potentially be the best CB in the World!
Heard it here first! 😊
— Iwan Williams (@IwanWilliams9) March 5, 2021
Swansea have won 19 of their 33 league games this season. Although not all those victories have been massively convincing, I’m more than happy to back the promotion contenders at 9/5 to beat a Blackburn side that have won just one of their last eight league games.Gabriel Sutton
QPR to win -1 handicap
Queens Park Rangers v Wycombe Wanderers
Ilias Chair has won a lot of plaudits at QPR this season for the agile creativity he has provided in pockets of space around the penalty area, making the Belgian-born Moroccan a rival to Rob Dickie and Seny Dieng for the Player of the Year award on South Africa Road.
What Chair has not won many plaudits for, though, is aerial prowess: in fact, the creator has won just 10 headed duels all season, yet one of them resulted in a goal in a 2-0 win at Bristol City last time out.
Indeed, there cannot be too many players in footballing history who have a higher percentage of their headers result in goals!
Chair’s success puts to shame the efforts of Wycombe target men Adebayo Akinfenwa and Uche Ikpeazu – two of the strongest players in the world playing for the same club – who have won 258 headed duels all season but not scored from any of them.
Perhaps QPR have been using 5’2” Chair incorrectly all season: a battering ram in disguise?
Rather than representing the second coming of Tim Cahill, the 23-year-old’s moment of glory at Ashton Gate likely had more to do with the quality of delivery from Todd Kane, who has been in fine form with three assists and a goal in his last eight games.
Kane had been on the books at Chelsea for 18 years, without them having any plans on using him, with the technical right-back having had eight different loan spells.
The best thing the 27-year-old did was turn down a new contract in 2019 to move permanently to another part of West London, where he has an opportunity to settle down at a club that truly wants him.
More recent recruits, poacher Charlie Austin and goalscoring midfielder Stefan Johansen, have made a massive difference to QPR’s attacking play.
The Rs are hoping to send a club legend in Gareth Ainsworth a step closer to League One, as “Wild Thing”’s Wycombe side find themselves 12 points off safety.
The Chairboys gave themselves feint hopes of survival with February victories over Huddersfield and Reading, but have since lost 2-0 to Norwich, Watford and Stoke – without truly laying a glove on either of those teams.
Since Charlie Austin signed, QPR have won seven in 11 and the West Londoners should do damage to Wycombe, who are likely to see their relegation confirmed in the coming weeks.Gabriel Sutton
Oxford to win
Swindon Town v Oxford United
The best thing John Sheridan has done as Swindon boss is end a run of seven consecutive derby defeats to Oxford, overseeing a 2-1 win at the Kassam Stadium back in late November.
Town were second-best for much of that game but, with half an hour to play, Sheridan replaced right wing-back Paul Caddis with centre-back by trade Tom Broadbent.
On the face of things, it looked like a defensive change, but 6’3” Broadbent kept walking forward when he reached the half-way line and, it became clear, he would be used as an auxiliary target man.
Long-term, Broadbent might not have his career mapped out as the next Steve Walsh or Dion Dublin, but he changed the game in the reverse fixture: the 29-year-old scored the equalizer and assisted Tyler Smith’s injury-time winner.
That substitution certainly worked for Sheridan on that occasion, but it’s not something that has worked or been used much since: Broadbent has not featured much and when he has played, it has been in his normal position.
The normal position for Oxford goalkeeper Simon Eastwood had been between the sticks but the Yellows stalwart has been forced to watch on from the sidelines recently, watching Jack Stevens perform heroics.
Stevens has had to be patient but is establishing himself as League One’s penalty king, after preserving Karl Robinson’s side a point in injury-time against Charlton last time out.
Oxford might be five games without a win but four of those encounters have come against teams above them and they have been without numerous first teamers in certain matches including Alex Gorrin.
The key enforcer has started the last three games, though and should break up any Swindon attacks here, giving Cameron Brannagan and others the platform to do damage.
🎥 He helped end a 7203 day wait for @Official_STFC fans, beating Oxford Utd in the league for the first time since 2001. I caught up with @broadbent_tom to talk about the reaction from #stfc fans. pic.twitter.com/a2nVqJYQxz
— Alistair Durden (@alidurdenBBC) November 30, 2020
Oxford were the better side in the reverse fixture, even if that did not show in the final scoreline. I don’t see Tom Broadbent repeating his heroics so the Yellows should get the victory this time around.Gabriel Sutton
Sunderland to win
Portsmouth v Sunderland
Portsmouth and Sunderland might be at opposite ends of the country, but their matches always take on extra significance: the meeting of two massive clubs at this level with proud fanbases generally leads to some passion-fuelled encounters, though that is tempered this year by the absence of fans.
Pompey were victorious in October’s reverse fixture at the Stadium of Light, where John Marquis bagged a brace, but Kenny Jackett’s side were in a different place then to where they are now.
The Portsea Islanders come into the return fixture off the back of a 4-1 drubbing at relegation threatened Northampton, which leaves them with just four points from their last six games.
It’s a poor run of form for a side that has, on paper, some good individuals – Andy Cannon can bring drive and verve in midfield, George Byers adds creativity when deployed centrally, Marcus Harness and Ronan Curtis offer quality out wide while John Marquis is a serial goalscorer.
The problem, though, is that Jackett’s side so often play direct to Marquis from deep and, although the former Doncaster man can hold the ball up well on the deck, he is not an aerial front-man.
And yet, in most cases, Pompey’s whole game plan depends on whether Marquis can win a header, because it’s only then that Cannon, Byers, Harness or Curtis get on the ball.
Jackett has gone away from the aggressive, high-pressing 4-4-2 that got Portsmouth top of the league at Christmas and helped them record six straight clean sheets, instead moving towards a system that masks their strengths and exacerbates their weaknesses.
This could be a great time, therefore, for Sunderland to travel to Fratton Park.
The Black Cats endured an inconsistent start to life under Lee Johnson with sporadic all-star displays like the 4-0 thumping of Lincoln mixed in with flat performances against some of the division’s lesser sides.
More recently, though, the Wearsiders have been able to produce their best with more regularity and that is reflected in a run of five wins in their last six games.
The left-sided partnership of Callum McFadzean and Aiden McGeady is a real weapon for Sunderland: the latter brings elite quality and experience while McFadzean is used to playing with an enigmatic dribbler, having forged a similar relationship with Danny Mayor at Bury and loves to make bold, overlapping runs.
The spine of the team looks strong too: Dion Sanderson is using his pace to great effect at the back while up top, Charlie Wyke is in the form of his life, having hit 20 for the season in the 2-0 win over Rochdale last time out.
Balls whipped in the box.
Charlie Wyke: pic.twitter.com/E5hcmBijTf
— 🔴⚪️🇫🇷 (@KyleSAFC_) March 6, 2021
The timing of this fixture suits Sunderland perfectly. Portsmouth are in disarray after the capitulation at Northampton, while Lee Johnson’s side are launching a compelling promotion challenge with five wins in six.Gabriel Sutton
Stevenage draw no bet
Leyton Orient v Stevenage
Jobi McAnuff is likely to take charge of Leyton Orient until the end of the season and possibly beyond, after head coach Ross Embleton was dismissed.
There is a lot of talk of McAnuff’s potential as a head coach and that is understandable: the former midfielder is a respected figure not just in E10 but also in the national game and the 39-year-old always speaks well.
It would be premature, though, for Orient to make any immediate decisions about McAnuff’s long-term future at the club.
The concern would be that the former Wimbledon man had been a prominent member of the first team right up until Embleton’s final game in charge, meaning he has not had an opportunity to focus solely on coaching before taking the hot seat, making this a seismic career shift.
McAnuff can take some inspiration from the progress Alex Revell is making at Stevenage.
Revell, though, was struggling somewhat at Boro until early Winter and it could be argued that his fortunes have hinged on the appointment of Dean Wilkins as an assistant.
Wilkins, 58, has worked under Nigel Adkins in the Premier League with Southampton and Reading, so it has helped Revell enormously to have somebody with a wealth of experience by his side, advising him in terms of tactics and man management whilst sometimes taking the reigns.
McAnuff, by contrast, is working with Danny Senda, Matt Harrold and Dean Brill, none of whom having yet reached 40 or had a great deal of coaching experience at this level let alone a higher one.
Senda, Harrold and Brill might of course be as good coaches as the latter’s name suggests, but Orient could be short of knowhow in the dugout – and in defence, where the East Londoners will be without the injured Adam Thompson.
💬 "The attraction for me was to help a first time manager. 70% of first time managers don't manage again, which is alarming really". 🚨
Dean Wilkins discusses his time so far at #StevenageFC on Live at The Lamex. 👇
— Stevenage FC 🔴⚪ (@StevenageFC) March 4, 2021
Only Cheltenham have lost fewer League Two games than Stevenage since late-November, so I’m thrilled to back Alex Revell’s troops via the draw no bet option. Elliott List’s pace is causing problems for lots of defences at this level.Gabriel Sutton
Newport to win
Newport County v Bradford City
Life’s a pitch for Newport County.
Michael Flynn has evolved the style this season by converting midfield controller Matt Dolan into a half-back, deploying a back-three in 25 league games.
That worked a treat initially as the Exiles were seven points clear in the race for automatic promotion in early December, before being dealt several blows.
Firstly, key loanees Brandon Cooper and Scott Twine were recalled in January but, even more significantly, the high volume of games and Winter weather took their toll on the Rodney Parade turf, which is shared by two rugby teams.
Newport have not been able to maintain their smooth football in the muddy conditions and games like last month’s 0-0 draw with Stevenage highlight that Flynn has had to return to tactics more familiar to his oval-shaped fellow tenants.
The club, though, have addressed this issue by playing two home fixtures – including this one – at the Cardiff City Stadium.
As Saturday’s 2-0 win at Colchester shows, Newport can play some good football – especially with midfielder Josh Sheehan at the centre of things – and it could help them massively playing at an international venue.
Thought @NewportCounty were outstanding today some of the football they played on a poor surface was excellent bet they are looking forward to playing their next 2 home games at the CCS will suit their style of play 👏👏👏👏
— Iwan Roberts (@iwanwroberts) March 6, 2021
Opponents Bradford managed to secure a point against Bolton last time out thanks to Danny Rowe’s 93rd-minute equalizer, but they were 2nd-best in that one and I fancy Newport to win here in improved conditions.Gabriel Sutton