EFL pundit Gab Sutton shares his thoughts ahead of the weekend’s action
Cardiff to win and Under 3.5 goals
Swansea City v Cardiff City
Cardiff come into this game off the back of four consecutive league victories, something they last achieved in March 2018.
That year, of course, the Bluebirds went on to win promotion and what will please manager Neil Harris most is the varied manner of those victories.
This blog has recently discussed the threat that Kieffer Moore poses and the striker was crucial to heavy victories over Luton and Huddersfield, but what followed was a test of character.
Cardiff had to defend heroically in the second half for a 1-0 win at Watford and Sean Morrison, imperious in that victory at Vicarage Road, had a more challenging afternoon at Stoke, where he conceded the opener via an own goal and gave away a penalty.
Alex Smithies, though, saved that spot kick to allow Robert Glatzel to equalize, meaning “Morro” could redeem himself by nodding home a late winner.
Even when Morrison is not having the best game as an individual defender, the skipper’s inspirational leadership qualities and strength of character remain a massive part of City’s promotion push.
Cardiff will need Morro and co. now more than ever, as they face old enemies Swansea, who are among their rivals for a top six berth.
The Swans’ form has dropped slightly, though, with a modest four points from their last three games – and Steve Cooper’s side did not create too much in the 2-0 victory over Luton.
Andre Ayew is a key forward for Swansea with his flair and finesse while Jamal Lowe stretches games with his pace, but Cooper has taken some time to find the right third forward to compliment that duo.
Creators like Yan Dhanda and Kasey Palmer have taken on that role with mixed results, while Viktor Gyökeres is yet to convince as a striker.
Cardiff are compact defensively and will force Swansea wide, which is where wing-backs Connor Roberts and Jake Bidwell may not give them a great deal of attacking thrust.
Cardiff City manager Neil Harris says determination and experience led to Sean Morrison's winner at Stoke ⚽ pic.twitter.com/jP20FAWwSQ
— BBC Sport Wales (@BBCSportWales) December 8, 2020
Cardiff have developed that knack of winning games in different ways recently so I feel they are well prepared for this local derby and could thrive in a low-scoring encounter.Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: draw or Huddersfield
Bournemouth v Huddersfield Town
Bournemouth have been praised a lot on this blog for their form since relegation to the Championship.
Jason Tindall has done a fine job and the Cherries have lots of depth with some very exciting individuals.
The 17/4 on a defeat to Huddersfield, though, looks very chunky considering the visitors are just seven points worse off.
Town average 57.7% possession – the second-most in the Championship – and Carlos Corberan is unlikely to change his philosophy in Dorset.
Bournemouth’s deep-lying playmaker, Lewis Cook, could therefore grow frustrated at getting fewer opportunities to put his foot on the ball and dictate terms, plus while Sam Surridge is reasonably mobile, it is not as if their attack is absolutely bursting with raw pace.
There is reason to think, therefore, that a possession-heavy strategy could work against Tindall’s side, who have found ways of carving open more conservative opposition in Reading, Birmingham and Nottingham Forest.
Plus, the Terriers come into this game off the back of three wins in four including most recently back-to-back 2-0 victories over QPR and Sheffield Wednesday, which have elevated them into the top half.
The in-form Josh Koroma’s left-sided partnership with Harry Toffolo is well-documented and the West Yorkshire outfit have young talent.
Ball-playing centre-back Ramarni Edmonds-Green is relishing the step up after a positive loan stint in League Two last season with Swindon, while energetic midfielder Lewis O’Brien loves to make selfless runs into the channels to create space for wider players running inward.
One of those is Isaac Mbenza, whose Huddersfield career last season looked irretrievable – yet the 24-year-old proved there is more to his game than just pace with a perfectly-placed free-kick against Wednesday.
That goal from Mbenza, along with Koroma’s improvement, shows Corberan is finding new technical levels in his existing squad, which is vital given the limited scope for change he had in pre-season.
👏 “I think the start of the game from the team was really good"
Carlos Corberán analyses #htafc's performance against Sheffield Wednesday.
— Huddersfield Town (@htafc) December 8, 2020
I was very critical of Huddersfield’s decision to dismiss the Cowley brothers in the summer but Carlos Corberan has performed a lot better than I expected as head coach and his side could be underrated at Bournemouth.Gabriel Sutton
Over 2.5 goals
Bristol Rovers v Plymouth Argyle
Bristol Rovers managed a first league win under Paul Tisdale on Saturday, with a 4-2 victory at AFC Wimbledon.
Those three points came thanks to braces from Brandon Hanlan and Sam Nicholson, whose delightful solo equalizer helped convert what seemed a potentially arduous afternoon early on, into one that could kick Tisdale’s regime into life.
The athletic Hanlan’s direct movement, often into the right channel, compliments the inverted running of Nicholson, who loves to cut inside from the right onto his left foot.
Erhun Oztumer, meanwhile, brings technical quality that belongs at a higher level – and at 5’3”, the diminutive playmaker last time out managed a quirky headed assist!
Hanlan, Nicholson and Oztumer all have the ingredients to cause teams problems, especially with the likes of Zain Westbrooke and Josh Grant pushing on from midfield.
The Gas must be careful, though, to contain Argyle, who carry a threat themselves.
The Devoners might have lost 2-1 to Ipswich last weekend but that was only because, possessing a one-goal lead with 20 minutes to play, dribbler Danny Mayor was sent off.
Ryan Lowe was happy with his side’s performance – a fervent reaction to the shock 4-0 defeat to Rochdale in the previous game – with Frank Nouble in particular a handful up top.
Few possess Nouble’s physicality, so the former Colchester forward can hold off defenders through sheer brute force, then use his intelligence to feed poacher Luke Jephcott and persistent runner Panutche Camara, retaining possession in good areas.
Sam Nicholson isn’t actually from Scotland at all, he was in fact born In Tekkerslovakia 👍
— ͏tom 🧀 (@brfctom) December 5, 2020
There is much to like about both teams going forward. I’d expect Argyle to use Nouble as a prompt for attacking movement, while Rovers will look to release their dangerous trio briskly.Gabriel Sutton
Shrewsbury +2 handicap
Hull City v Shrewsbury Town
Stop off at any pub between Bristol and Nottingham, once lockdown ends, and you could spark off a heated debate about Steve Cotterill.
The 56-year-old is an extremely outspoken, forthright boss whose influence on clubs can vary wildly, as the characteristics some perceive as arrogant and coarse, others see as authoritative, driven and bold.
Birmingham and Nottingham Forest fans deem Cotterill among their club’s worst ever managers, but Cheltenham, Notts County and Bristol City supporters rank him among the best, with the Bristolian leading each to a title in three different divisions.
One thing is for sure… Cotterill will not be ignored and that is certainly the case at Shrewsbury, whose performances have picked up as soon as he first stepped into reception.
Salop drew 2-2 with Accrington Stanley in Cotterill’s first league game in charge, in which his side were cruelly denied all three points after an injury-time penalty.
The Shropshire outfit were then beneficiaries of a stoppage time spot kick last week against Charlton, with Oli Norburn levelling from 12-yards to grab a point.
What will please Cotterill most from that game is the response from his players to falling behind with less than a quarter of it to play, with Norburn and Josh Vela forcing fine saves and Matt Millar – who had struck the woodwork earlier – swinging in numerous crosses from right wing-back.
Ironically, Cotterill’s choice of formation – 3-4-1-2 – is like the 3-5-2 Sam Ricketts favoured for much of his reign but crucially, there is far more emphasis on attacking with gusto.
The centre-back trio of Ro-Shaun Williams, Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Aaron Pierre under Ricketts was strong in 2018-19, so if Shrewsbury can revisit those defensive levels whilst adding more control, a more spirited press and a clearer playing identity, they could close the gap on safety – even with a tough set of fixtures ahead.
Hull are one of those tough fixtures – Grant McCann’s side are of course top for a reason – but they started slowly last week at Oxford and fell behind through giving the ball away sloppily in their own half.
The Tigers have strength in depth to change games that are not going their way, with McCann having the luxury of being able to bring lively forward Keane Lewis-Potter and aerial specialist Tom Eaves off the bench in that 1-1 draw at the Kassam Stadium.
For that reason, the best bet here may not be to back Shrewsbury via the outright win or the Double Chance – but rather the +2 handicap.
This will see us in profit if Cotterill’s rejuvenated troops avoid defeat or are beaten by a solitary goal.
📖 | Steve Cotterill reflects on Town's 1-1 draw with Lee Bowyer's Charlton Athletic. #Salop
💬 | "We have a real tough month but I thought our lads were brilliant today – we are looking forward to another week now."
— Shrewsbury Town FC (@shrewsweb) December 5, 2020
Shrewsbury Town are being priced similarly to how they would be if they were playing this match under Sam Ricketts, but there has been a fresh energy, a new mentality about this Salop side since Steve Cotterill has taken charge, which is why I think they should be treated slightly differently.Gabriel Sutton
Barrow draw no bet
Crawley Town v Barrow
A change of luck could be afoot for Scott Quigley and Barrow.
The Bluebirds have never won a game their 6’4” striker has featured in, with late October victories over Mansfield and Bradford coming in his absence.
Performance wise, though, Quigley always looks the stand-out individual for David Dunn’s side.
His first start of the season sparked a strong display against Colchester that was rewarded with just a point and in his most recent starts, the ex-Blackpool man was a handful in 1-0 defeats to Morecambe – in which Barrow played 75 minutes with 10-men – and moneybags Salford.
Additionally, it could be argued that Dunn’s decision to take Quigley off was a factor behind the concession of a late lead against Bolton – and putting him on was key to clinching a point at Cambridge.
Quigley has a unique ability to receive the ball at shoulder height, swivel then run directly at goal, giving Dunn’s side the ability to quickly change the pace and direction of play when their more patient, probing approach turns sterile.
That is something Crawley Town are arguably missing this season, having sold target man Ollie Palmer to AFC Wimbledon in the summer.
Forwards Tom Nichols, Ashley Nadesan and Max Watters have found good form but all three like the ball to feet, so the only time Crawley pose any kind of threat above ground level is from set pieces, when they bring centre-backs Tom Dallison and Jordan Tunnicliffe forward.
The Red Devils can be a fun side to watch at their best but they are also guilty of an off-day, having picked up just one point in recent clashes with out of form sides like Walsall, Harrogate and Grimsby.
Thank you yesterday for your support. Was a great feeling running out to that atmosphere again 👊 results hard to take but stick with us! We need you now 👊 and I’ll leave this picture with you to make your own decision… 😡😭😭 @BarrowAFC pic.twitter.com/7FRCDT4Avs
— Quigs (@ScottQuigley1) December 6, 2020
My feet are firmly on the Scott Quigley bus: we may be an obscure local service for now but with the target man leading the line, Barrow are posting some strong shot data without quite getting the results. I’m expecting that to change.Gabriel Sutton
Forest Green to win
Forest Green Rovers v Cambridge United
Mark Cooper’s previous sides have been criticized for being mild and lightweight, but Forest Green team has a mix of aggression, physicality and quality.
With Udoka Godwin-Malife’s athleticism, Ebou Adams’ willingness to overload channels with penetrative forays, Jamille Matt’s physicality and Aaron Collins’ bright runs off the target man, the Green have the tools to earn the right to play.
Rovers needed to dig out their 1-0 victory last week at Harrogate, but each of the traits and qualities of players listed above has a way of threatening opponents and forcing them back, which allows Cooper’s troops to settle into their rhythm.
The Nailsworth outfit hope to do just that on Saturday and might have found a good time to play Cambridge.
The U’s have taken just two points from their last four games and, against Barrow and Cheltenham, Mark Bonner’s side might consider themselves fortunate to have avoided defeat.
Those 1-1 draws preceded defeats to bottom half opposition in Mansfield and Oldham, with the lack of midfield creativity being a major concern.
Adam May is dynamic while Paul Digby can do a solid job of screening the defence, but that midfield combination can leave Cambridge short on creativity, meaning a significant reliance on Wes Hoolahan – who can only play so many minutes at 38.
Mark Bonner needs to re-invent a formula that can keep Cambridge in contention, while Forest Green look a real force.
💬 "It was a different kind of performance."
— Forest Green Rovers (@FGRFC_Official) December 5, 2020
Forest Green have the best shot data in League Two and deserve their place in the automatic promotion spots, so I’m happy to back them to beat out-of-form Cambridge at odds-against quotes.Gabriel Sutton