“Harry Wilson could be key for Fulham this weekend. The Liverpool recruit was excellent in midweek: we might be looking at one of the stars of the Championship season.”Gabriel Sutton
Fulham v Reading
Harry Wilson to score anytime
Fulham won 4-1 at Birmingham on Wednesday in a night of supreme, final third incision.
This was by no means a vintage, all-round Whites performance: far from it. Marco Silva’s side looked rather ordinary for large periods, in the first half especially, and their optimum performance level lies well above what they produced at St Andrews
It is that, though, that is the source of fear for the rest of the Championship. The West Londoners can have almost an off-night and still win by three goals away from home against a team that was fourth going into the midweek action.
The key for Fulham is Harry Wilson, who produced a man-of-the-match performance.
Not only did the £12 million recruit from Liverpool swing in the corner for Denis Odoi’s headed opener, he showed outstanding movement to latch onto Nathaniel Chalobah’s first-time, through ball that gave the Cottagers their third goal.
Wilson is not particularly quick, but he anticipates space very effectively which allowed him to get in behind Harlee Dean for his goal, and his first touch instantly took the ball away from the defender, before he finished with excellent assurance.
The 24-year-old might not have been a constant influence on the game but, having had three full seasons in the Championship, he had the quality to do damage at key moments: like Aleksandar Mitrovic, who bagged a brace and like Ivan Cavaleiro, who came off the bench to set up the fourth goal.
Wilson has the potential to do damage again this weekend against Reading, who have seven points from their first seven games.
John Swift has found excellent goalscoring form this season for the Royals, having scored in the midweek 3-1 victory over Peterborough along with a Tom Dele-Bashiru brace, but defensively Veljko Paunovic’s side have been suspect.
In fact, the Berkshire outfit have had on average 15.4 shots per game taken against them this season and any generosity will be exploited emphatically by their visitors, especially Wilson.
Marco. Silva’s. Black. And. White. Army. ⚫️⚪️
— Jack Collins (@jackjcollins) August 17, 2021
“If Birmingham play as they did against Fulham, they should create lots of chances and ultimately get the victory against a Peterborough side possessing, on paper at least, a fraction of the quality of the previous opponents.”Gabriel Sutton
Peterborough United v Birmingham City
Birmingham to win
In many cases, a 4-1 home defeat would leave the players incurring the wrath of some supporters, before having an inquest in the dressing room.
Birmingham’s case, though, after the loss to Fulham, is rather different because, for large portions of that match, they made the stand-out side in the Championship look ordinary.
Blues won their midfield battles through the tenacity and energy of Ivan Sunjic and Ryan Woods as well as the ball-carrying ability of Tahith Chong, on loan from Manchester United.
The B9 outfit had Maxime Colin drifting infield from right wing-back to create, they had left wing-back Jeremie Bela – though predominantly a right-footed player – crossing early left-footed from the byline.
Bowyer, though, may be tempted to make small tweaks to aid their chance creation on the deck, with Dion Sanderson potentially coming in as a right-sided centre-back: the Wolves loanee is arguably quicker and more effective in possession than Marc Roberts, making him better suited to overlapping Colin as well as stopping opposing counter-attacks.
Troy Deeney, after scoring his first goal for the club, could come in for Lukas Jutkiewicz – even after the target man won 16 aerial duels in midweek – as an option to feet.
If Sanderson and Deeney come in, Birmingham have the look of a side that can challenge for the Play-Offs this season and should be a level above Peterborough, who are struggling to adjust to the Championship.
Darren Ferguson’s troops have lost their first four league matches, conceding 10 goals in that sequence, including the 6-2 thumping they suffered at Sheffield United.
#bcfc have lost 2 league games this season and I think both opponents will be in the Premier League next season. Onto the next one.
— Blues Analytics (@BluesAnalytics_) September 15, 2021
“Bolton and Rotherham, via different routes, look capable of creating lots of chances. I’m expecting a high-scoring game, with Oladapo Afolayan and Daniel Barlaser standing out.”Gabriel Sutton
Bolton Wanderers v Rotherham United
Both teams to score
Only AFC Wimbledon have scored more goals than Bolton this season, but only the Dons, Ipswich and Cheltenham have conceded more too.
The Trotters have adjusted well after promotion from League Two last season, especially Oladapo Afolayan, who has become a more complete player, ironically, in the division above.
Afolayan had been a useful part of the promotion winning side, making penetrative runs from the left to carve opponents open, helping the run of 16 wins from the final 22 games that secured a top three berth.
Although the West Ham loanee only managed one goal and two assists over the whole campaign, most Bolton fans could see the value he brought to their attacking play and without his pace, there would have been far less service for striker Eoin Doyle.
In the third tier, though, Afolayan has allied his usual speed, work rate, trickery and dexterity with an extra layer of productivity.
In fact, the 24-year-old has scored four goals already – only Lincoln’s Anthony Scully and Morecambe’s Cole Stockton have bagged more in the league.
With Afolayan, creative maestro Josh Sheehan and many others, Bolton have the means to carve many chances for themselves via possession play, while Rotherham mix up their game.
Paul Warne has been criticised at times for neglecting the most gifted technician in the squad, Daniel Barlaser, but in the 1-1 draw at Sincil Bank the former Newcastle academy graduate operated at the base of midfield in a 3-1-4-2.
With relentless runners like Ollie Rathbone and Jamie Lindsay also in midfield, the South Yorkshire outfit can cope with Barlaser not being quite as mobile out of possession because enough ground is already covered.
Rotherham have the means to go from back-to-front quickly too, though and get crosses into the box, because of the target man presence of Michael Smith.
— Bolton Wanderers Fans (@BwfcFans) September 7, 2021
“Cambridge are rated by the traders as massive underdogs for this one, but I suspect as well as the big club bias there is an overreaction to one horror-show against Lincoln. With a few tweaks, Mark Bonner’s troops can be competitive once again.”Gabriel Sutton
Portsmouth v Cambridge United
Double Chance: Draw/Cambridge
Saturday’s 5-1 home thumping by Lincoln was a setback for Cambridge, after an otherwise solid start to life in League One.
The U’s remain in a steady position, though – 15th with eight points from their first six games – so the task for head coach Mark Bonner is to ensure that the issues against the Imps do not resurface.
Bonner admitted, post-match, that the 4-4-2 he favours – with two out-and-out strikers in grafter Joe Ironside and target man Sam Smith – can lead to the risk of being overrun in central areas.
For that reason, the 35-year-old could switch to a 4-2-3-1, dropping Smith for James Brophy, who would take up a left wing position to allow Wes Hoolahan to take up his favoured central role.
Having more numbers in the middle would also mean Bonner can select a ball-playing midfield partner for anchor man Paul Digby, bringing highly-rated Brighton loanee Jensen Weir in for the more destructive Liam O’Neil.
On top of this, there is even the possibility of technical wide man Jack Lankester – who has a good left foot and has played at Championship level with Ipswich – coming in on the right, to allow speedster Shilow Tracey to be a potential game-changer on the bench.
With these plausible alterations, Cambridge will not only have more defensive protection for centre-backs Lloyd Jones and Conor Masterson, but they will also have the means to control far more phases of play.
With that in mind, the visitors have the means to be competitive at Portsmouth, who might have a sturdy defensive structure – just two goals conceded in six league games – but are struggling to find the net themselves.
John Marquis, Marcus Harness, Ronan Curtis and Ellis Harrison are strong attacking players at this level on paper, but none of them have truly found form.
"We got taught a few lessons"
Mark Bonner on Cambridge United's 5-1 defeat vs Lincoln in League One
— BBC Cambs Sport (@BBCCambsSport) September 12, 2021
“After a man-of-the-match performance last weekend against Mansfield, Walsall’s George Miller looks ready to do damage again.”Gabriel Sutton
Newport County v Walsall
George Miller to score anytime
George Miller looks a handful.
There were a series of games in which Matthew Taylor looked set to keep faith with an attacking quartet of Brendan Kiernan, Jack Earing, Kieran Phillips and Conor Wilkinson, but was forced to change tack after the latter got suspended.
The early evidence is that Miller, known as a pressing striker while at Bury, can give Walsall the cutting edge they have missed earlier in the season.
At the same time, Miller’s presence allows Phillips to play on the right of the attacking quartet, which suits him more than operating as an out-and-out striker; the Huddersfield loanee is tricky, agile and smart in tight areas, but has not proven to be the instinctive finisher that Miller is.
Elsewhere, Joss Labadie’s suspension has seen Taylor drop Earing, initially the attacking midfielder, into a deeper role.
The Eastleigh recruit has always had a touch of grace about him, especially in terms of ball control, but his productivity in the final third has not always matched the aesthetics.
As the midfield partner for Liam Kinsella in Taylor’s 4-2-3-1, though, Earing can have a greater influence on games and could be an emerging League Two star if he can acquire the defensive side.
While Walsall are beginning to settle on a blueprint that can make them challenge in the top half of the division this season, Newport look in danger of regression.
The Exiles lost 1-0 to Northampton in midweek, typically playing back to the goalkeeper before hoofing the ball upfield, with Michael Flynn unable to change proceedings from a tactical perspective.
Unless there is a drastic improvement, Miller could do damage.
🙌 One of our own 🙌 pic.twitter.com/i3UCYFggw7
— Walsall FC Official (@WFCOfficial) September 12, 2021
“Forest Green are top of the league and should stay there on Saturday with victory over Stevenage, who are starting to look too narrow in Alex Revell’s 4-2-2-2 setup.”Gabriel Sutton
Stevenage v Forest Green Rovers
Forest Green to win
With 16 points from their first seven games, Forest Green look the stand-out team in League Two.
It might have taken Rob Edwards’ side 77 minutes to breach Northampton last weekend, but there was a feeling that Jamille Matt’s headed winner had been coming.
The Nailsworth outfit control games in central midfield, where Regan Hendry is capable of a lofted diagonal while partner Ben Stevenson – after a tough couple of seasons at Colchester – is showing his technical prowess by slotting numerous through balls in behind defences.
The wing-backs in Edwards’ 3-4-1-2 system have also starred: Nicky Cadden’s form, including a hat-trick in the 6-3 victory over Crawley, is not quite as surprising as that of Kane Wilson, who has thrived since the change of management.
Wilson is an incredibly intelligent right wing-back, who is extremely brave on the ball: if the game asks him to take on his opposing left-sider, he can do that, but if he needs to veer inside to maximize central areas, he can do that too.
Wilson’s wide range of skills enhances the variety in Forest Green’s attacking play, which extends to their forwards.
Matt is a target man who thrives off crosses, Matty Stevens is a nippy poacher who runs off his strike-partner’s flick-ons while Jack Aitchison is the ultimate ball-carrier at this level.
With so many tools at their disposal, Forest Green will be confident of staying top of the tree at Stevenage, who have dropped alarmingly by going five games without a win.