EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks his six best bets ahead of the midweek EFL action in his EFL Midweek Preview.
Derby to win 1-0
Cardiff City v Derby County
Cardiff’s six-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday with a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough.
On the balance of chances, the Bluebirds may be grateful for the point that keeps them unbeaten under Mick McCarthy because, while Will Vaulks’ bullet of a long throw led to Sean Morrison’s opener, they also allowed their opponents chances.
McCarthy, known at Ipswich for being a 4-4-2 disciple, has plumped for a 3-4-3 in the Welsh capital to incorporate a third centre-back in Aden Flint between leader Sean Morrison and ball-player Curtis Nelson.
The downside to that system is that it can leave Morrison stranded in wide areas because right wing-back Perry Ng, used to playing in a far more expansive system at Crewe, does not have protective instincts.
Opposing teams, therefore, could have some joy against Cardiff by pinging diagonals into the corridor between Ng and Morrison.
That is something Derby, unafraid to mix up their game under Wayne Rooney, could exploit.
Midfielders Max Bird and Graeme Shinnie have the technical range to pick out Kamil Jóźwiak, who will look to find that chasm between Ng and Morrison, intimidating the latter with his quick feet and from there, the Rams can create chances.
Colin Kazim-Richards may not have too much joy as Derby’s focal point up against three centre-backs, but there are ways for the East Midlanders to find alternative routes to goal.
👏 “I believe I’ve got the ability & to get us about out of the bottom 3 by the end of the season.”
💪 “I said to the players that I demand a lot. If you don’t want to put the work in, you can leave the club.”
Wayne Rooney reveals why he took the #DCFC job 🐏 pic.twitter.com/ZtpCXI9Col
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) February 28, 2021
Mick McCarthy deserves credit for taking Cardiff into Play-Off contention but, with middling shot data, I’m not yet sold that his side are the real deal. Five of Derby’s 10 league wins have come via the 1-0 scoreline.Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: Draw/Luton
Nottingham Forest v Luton Town
Luton have been a mixed bag in recent weeks.
Nathan Jones was scathing of his side’s performance in the 3-0 loss at Stoke and they responded in the 1-1 draw with Millwall, in which the Hatters deserved to win but were pegged back by a 96th-minute equalizer.
The first half against Sheffield Wednesday, Jones described as being worse than the Stoke game, yet thanks to three alterations at the break – anchor man Glen Rea, legendary midfielder Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu and lively forward Harry Cornick all entered the fray – Luton overturned a two-goal deficit to win 3-2.
They are a side that can go from the sublime to the ridiculous, often within the same game.
Their stronger periods highlight how well their manager is doing to deliver competitive results on a bottom two budget, while their weaker moments offer a reminder that the squad has come a long way in a short space of time.
The Bedfordshire outfit rely heavily on Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, on loan from Leicester, for creativity and James Collins for goals – at least until recently.
Collins has bagged 10 for Luton this season, with nobody else hitting more than three, but the good news is that Elijah Adebayo has scored two in four appearances since joining from Walsall, thus taking some of the pressure off the long-serving hitman.
The Hatters are a possession-based side that can struggle to reclaim their defensive stance when opponents turn the ball over in their half, but that’s not something Nottingham Forest are likely to take advantage of.
Alex Mighten is the only Reds player to provide pace and he has been in and out of the side, with Chris Hughton opting for a front quartet of Anthony Knockaert, Filip Krovinovic, Luke Freeman and Glenn Murray last time out.
If the attack looks similar here, then whenever the hosts turn the ball over, there will be a tendency for them to pause, allow their opponents to get back into position and then have a spell of possession in the opposing half.
Hughton has built a controlled, calculated outfit that manages games shrewdly, but tends not to rush through different phases of play with the prudence of older heads generally favoured over youthful exuberance.
That template has allowed Forest to climb the table, but they may lack the attacking instincts to take advantage of Luton’s weaknesses.
“Now score the winning goal” 😁#COYH pic.twitter.com/33nr5egKUc
— LutonTown (@LutonTown) February 28, 2021
Forest are making progress under Chris Hughton but, given that they are still below Luton and that the difference in shot data between the teams is negligible, I don’t think the visitors should be as big as 31/40 to avoid defeat on Trentside.Gabriel Sutton
Lincoln to win
Lincoln City v Fleetwood Town
Lincoln suffered their first defeat in six league games on Saturday, losing 4-3 at Plymouth Argyle.
The Imps did superbly to overturn an early two-goal deficit thanks to a Conor McGrandles strike just before the interval, then two Jorge Grant penalties which put them ahead.
Michael Appleton’s side missed chances to extend their lead but then fell to defeat, owing to a lack of game management nous.
Appleton likes to develop young players and, as we saw at Home Park, the likes of Morgan Rogers and Brennan Johnson can play with a real swagger.
Sometimes they enjoy the game so much that it can take away from their concentration which is where Lincoln miss the leadership qualities of midfield enforcer Liam Bridcutt and centre-back Joe Walsh.
That lack of concentration might have been problematic against an enterprising Argyle outfit, but Fleetwood have just one win to their name in their last 14 games, six of which led by Simon Grayson.
The concern for the Trawlermen would be that they did not muster a shot at goal in the 2-0 defeat at Sunderland and if they show a lack of attacking intent at Sincil Bank, then the absence of Bridcutt or Walsh may not matter as much.
Lincoln City manager Michael Appleton has signed a new four-year deal at LNER Stadium. He has done an incredible job there this season as they sit second in the League One table. The transition he's made on the club has been absolutely fantastic. Really good news for the club.
— Josh Bunting (@Buntingfootball) February 25, 2021
Lincoln remain in the top two despite a 4-3 defeat at Argyle last time out and Michael Appleton’s side play some great stuff. This has been a season to forget for Fleetwood.Gabriel Sutton
Panutche Camara to score anytime
Northampton Town v Plymouth Argyle
Panutche Camará came off Argyle’s bench on Saturday to assist two crucial late goals in the 4-3 win over Lincoln.
Camará is a valuable player to the Devon outfit, just because the qualities he brings are very different to what the rest of the team has.
Ryan Lowe likes his teams to have lots of technical players, many of whom having either played at this level at previous clubs or having been part of elite academies.
Camará though, has come into the professional game via a different route: he was released by Barnsley as recently as 2017 before a short stint in non-league with Dulwich Hamlet.
That period during which it looked doubtful whether he would earn a career in the EFL may have influenced the attitude we have seen from the Guinea-Bissau born athlete, who seems to play every game as though it could be his last.
Crawley initially used Camará as a striker, where he would have the energy to press the opposing goalkeeper for 90 minutes, before converting him into a midfielder which was the role which saw him pique Plymouth interest.
Camará can support strikers – two of Luke Jephcott, Ryan Hardie and Niall Ennis – in the press, whilst still having enough in the tank to track back: his incredible tenacity has seen him complete 3.1 tackles per 90 minutes, which is the fourth-most out of League One midfielders who have played 20 or more games this season.
Plus, the 23-year-old loves to make bold runs off the ball which drags defenders back, creating space for more technical players like Danny Mayor, Tyrese Fornah or Conor Grant.
Because Camará can get into advanced areas so quickly, there is that potential for him to find himself in goalscoring positions and that is something Northampton must be wary of.
The Cobblers are bottom of League One, having taken two points from a possible 15 under the caretaker stewardship of Jon Brady.
Happy birthday @PanutcheCamara – the midfielder has the highest average distance covered per 90 in the entire of British football!
— Ryan Shiner (@AwayArmy) February 28, 2021
Camará has taken 37 shots this season, with 20 coming inside the area – the fourth-most in the current Argyle squad on both counts. Our traders believe the midfielder to be the eighth-likeliest player to score against Northampton, which I think is incorrect.Gabriel Sutton
Salford to win -1 handicap
Salford City v Port Vale
A well-backed club now led by a nuanced tactician after a mid-season managerial change: Salford are in some respects the League Two equivalent of Chelsea.
After a convincing thumping of leaders Cambridge preceded victory over Barrow, the Ammies had an opportunity to elevate themselves into the thick of the automatic promotion race, but a three game winless run leaves them needing approximately 35 points from their remaining 16 games to secure a top three berth.
Richie Wellens’ side certainly have the potential to wrack up those kinds of numbers, because they could easily have won each of their previous three games.
Salford were all over Carlisle after lively forward Brandon Thomas-Asante entered the fray with 27 minutes to play but could only draw 1-1, they led Morecambe in the 92nd minute yet conspired to lose 2-1 and peppered Southend in a goalless encounter.
One of Wellens’ strengths as a manager is that he is does not see a player’s position as being static: rather he looks at the skillsets of his players and finds fluid roles that suit them.
Di’Shon Bernard, for example, started his time working with Wellens as a right-back but, when it became clear he did not have the pace for a classic full-back, the former Swindon boss converted the Manchester United loanee into a roaming, right-sided centre-back.
Bernard has since made numerous excellent runs deep into the opposing half to link up with the midfield, which means his position has often been higher than that of Jason Lowe, on paper a central midfielder in the 3-4-3 but more pointedly someone who plugs gaps when centre-backs get forward.
Bernard and Lowe will have plenty of opportunities to rotate and interchange against Port Vale, who are winless in four.
Darrell Clarke has taken charge in three of those games and the work rate has generally been there, but the only player to provide any sort of quality has been David Worrall, who is likely to miss out at the Peninsula Stadium.
🗣 Warren Joyce on the draw against Southend at Roots Hall…#WeAreSalford 🦁🔴 pic.twitter.com/JQ8oKRcqBM
— Salford City FC (@SalfordCityFC) February 27, 2021
Salford have had a blip recently but could easily have taken nine points from their last three games rather than two and I still think they’re playing well enough to challenge for the top three. Port Vale have looked a touch bland lately despite the change of manager.Gabriel Sutton
Tranmere to win
Tranmere Rovers v Newport County
Rovers are the very definition of streaky.
30 of the Wirral outfit’s 51 points this season have come as part of two, five-game winning streaks and another six represent the back-to-back wins from which they lead into this game.
That leaves just three remaining victories all season that have not been part of a winning sequence, which tells us two things.
Firstly, that Tranmere can struggle to churn out a reliable volume of points when confidence is not particularly high but secondly, that when they are running hot, they are a difficult side to stop.
Hill’s troops have lots of quality out wide – where Liam Feeney, Danny Lloyd and Kieron Morris can all do damage – as well as up top – where the boss has the option to rotate the youngest ever Premier League goalscorer in James Vaughan with a former England international in David Nugent.
Vaughan, in particular, has been a key focal point for Rovers and provides not only a vital physical presence, but also a goalscoring nous – he now has 18 for the season – whilst also running with the enthusiasm he once showed as a teenager.
Tranmere are not the finished article just yet, but they have momentum on their side and could do damage to Newport, who have won only two of their last 14 league games.
James Vaughan scores goals.
— Tranmere Rovers FC (@TranmereRovers) February 23, 2021
Tranmere have twice matched the longest winning run in the division this season and, after back-to-back wins, I fancy them to continue another streak when they host out-of-form Newport.Gabriel Sutton