The EFL weekend preview is here from EFL pundit Gab Sutton.
Gab discusses his six best bets for the weekend with action coming from across the Championship, League One and League Two.
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Cardiff City v Burnley
Burnley to win
Burnley have caught the eye in the Championship in the first 10 games, even if they’re behind the likes of Norwich and Sheffield United in the table.
Vincent Kompany’s side have been playing fluid, free-flowing football, with an emphasis on being patient in playing out from the back, then looking for bursts of acceleration in the wide areas after inviting the press.
The Clarets have added substance to style, too, in recent weeks, unbeaten in seven league games to move onto 17 points and up to fourth.
Manuel Benson and Nathan Tella, flanking Jay Rodriguez up top, have both caught the eye in attack for the East Lancashire outfit, bringing skill and flair in wide areas with Josh Brownhill breaking forward from midfield.
This quartet could do damage to Cardiff, who are in an interim period after dismissing Steve Morison as manager.
Mark Hudson is our current favourite at 6/4, having been granted an extended interim period and opportunity to take the gig full-time, but Rob Edwards could be the value play at 4/1.
Edwards was very harshly sacked at Watford, just 10 games in, and would like the opportunity to work with the likes of Perry Ng, Ryan Wintle, Romaine Sawyers, Jaden Philogene-Bidace and Rubin Colwill.
Burnley are in a far more stable position, though, and with Jack Cork running midfields for Kompany’s men, they should get the result they need to put some heat on the top two.
“Burnley have taken 11 points from the last 15 available and with that sort of form, they should be confident making the long trip south, especially with Cardiff in flux after the controversial, early dismissal of Steve Morison.”Gab Sutton
Rotherham United v Wigan Athletic
Double Chance: Draw/Wigan
It’s been a busy fortnight for Rotherham, even though they’ve not kicked a ball in that time.
Long-serving manager Paul Warne departed for Derby, out of the blue, with the team in the strongest position it has been in during his tenure.
The Millers have lost just one of their first nine league games, a sequence they had experienced at this level just once under Warne’s guidance (technically twice, entwined in 2018-19), and sat eighth in the table.
In some ways, the job holds appeal because the next manager is not walking into a relegation battle, nor a team with expectation of immediate results: at the same time, there’s a perceived glass ceiling and improving the current position feels almost unrealistic.
That may have played on the mind of Mark Bonner, who was reportedly close to agreeing to take charge before making a late U-turn, leaving Tony Stewart, Rob Scott and company in need of Plan B.
Matt Taylor is the current 10/11 favourite with us to become next Millers boss, although the Exeter City manager played down speculation in his recent interview.
Dean Holden has also been linked, likewise former Crewe promotion-winner David Artell and Sutton United boss Matt Gray, while there’s an outside chance that Richard Wood and Lee Peltier do a good enough job in caretaker charge to stay in post for the rest of the season.
The likelihood is that neither have gained enough coaching experience, separately from playing, to get the job long-term, as much as Wood is a Millers legend and a fantastic character who represents his club incredibly well.
With that in mind, Wigan could be the value play to avoid defeat here at 3/5, seeing as Leam Richardson’s side have just one point fewer than their hosts.
Thelo Aasgaard, Will Keane and Callum Lang have all had some good games this season in those three positions behind the striker in Richardson’s 4-2-3-1, and if they click simultaneously, the Latics could thrive.
“After Paul Warne left for Derby, Richard Wood is a popular figure leading Rotherham as caretaker, but the Millers may miss some expertise in the dugout when they host Wigan, who will be hoping Aasgaard, Keane and Lang are all on-song.”Gab Sutton
Wycombe Wanderers v Plymouth Argyle
Joe Edwards to score anytime
By one definition, it seems absurd to talk 17th in League One for Wycombe Wanderers being underachievement, seeing as the club didn’t get into the Football League until the 1990s.
And yet, what’s been accomplished under Gareth Ainsworth, combined with the structure of the club under the Couhig family, means expectations have been raised.
If the Chairboys are to be held to top six standards this season, they have a lot of catching up to do, because their competitors are setting the bar high.
78 points is the projected requirement for the Buckinghamshire club to repeat last season’s 6th-placed finish, which would mean them taking 67 from 36 league games: a big ask. Not impossible, far from it, but a big ask.
Wycombe will be hoping for a repeat of the stellar showing they produced against Argyle in this fixture back in April, but Steven Schumacher’s side look even stronger this time around and could be in the mix for automatic promotion.
Joe Edwards hasn’t scored yet this season for the Pilgrims, but the right wing-back has averaged the third-most shots per game in their squad, 1.7, and the joint-most in the penalty area, 1.3.
While Edwards isn’t always overly involved in build-up play in the middle-third, he does have a tendency to make late, driving runs into danger areas, often be undetected, and have a scrappy effort at goal.
The Argyle skipper looks a fun outside poke at 11/2 to grab his first of the campaign.
“Joe Edwards hasn’t yet scored this season, but the right wing-back is getting closer and having a lot of shots from dangerous positions, so I fancy taking a speculative punt on him finding the net at 11/2.”Gab Sutton
Ipswich Town v Portsmouth
Double Chance: Draw/Portsmouth
There are four or five teams who are likely to compete for automatic promotion from League One this season: Ipswich and Portsmouth are unquestionably among them.
In one sense, it’s very easy to imagine these two sides sharing the top two positions but in another, the possibility of both missing out can’t be discounted due to the threat posed by Plymouth Argyle, top of the league, Sheffield Wednesday, who have the best squad in the league, not to mention Bolton.
Defensive efficiency has been at the core of these side’s Autumn form, with Town and Pompey shipping just eight goals in 10 and nine league games respectively.
The Tractor Boys have needed that solidity, partly to account for not having any one goalscoring hitman, but they do share out the productivity with eight different players finding the net.
Danny Cowley’s side, by contrast, are hoping Colby Bishop and Dane Scarlett can fire them to promotion, having come into the game via different routes.
Bishop entered the EFL at Accrington Stanley, where he led the line superbly for three seasons, after his form at Leamington, whereas Scarlett has had a more glamorous path coming through the youth ranks at Tottenham, the club from which he joined Portsmouth on loan.
Bishop and Scarlett are already forging an excellent strike-pairing, hoping to cause problems at Portman Road for Ipswich’s uncompromising defence: Janoi Donacien, Luke Woolfenden and George Edmundson give little away.
Nonetheless, the visitors will be tight themselves and the Cowley brothers, with their meticulous preparation, can excel at finding individual strategies to combat the top teams in the league in one-off games.
As EFL managers, the Cowley brothers have faced teams that finished in the Play-Offs or above of their division 36 times with Lincoln and Portsmouth sides themselves aiming for promotion: their teams have amassed 49 points from those encounters, essentially top half form.
Danny and Nicky’s big-game nous could come to the fore in Suffolk.
“There’s little to choose between Ipswich and Portsmouth, but there’s more evidence that the Cowley brothers can deliver tactical masterplans for big games due to their experience, than perhaps there is for Kieran McKenna. The visitors are close to evens to avoid defeat.”Gab Sutton
Carlisle United v Crewe Alexandra
Double Chance: Draw/Crewe
Carlisle’s 2-1 victory at Grimsby in midweek might not have been the most dominant, spellbinding showing in the world, but it was a three points they deserved.
Paul Simpson’s side have struggled to convert high-quality chances so far this season, so it makes a nice change for them to score two from five efforts at goal all game, and offer that clinical edge.
Plus, the Cumbrians are missing effectively half a senior squad of first-team players through injury, which is a huge frustration for ‘Simmo’, who had to name a youthful bench at Blundell Park.
The lack of depth is partly why it would be difficult to back United at odds-on to beat a solid Crewe side, who have lost just three of their first 10 encounters: all defeats coming against top seven opposition.
The Alex are not as possession-heavy as they have been in previous seasons, but there is a shape, an organisation, a doggedness about them, helped by the additions of Conor Thomas and Rod McDonald.
Plus, Courtney Baker-Richardson has found excellent form for Alex Morris’ side, bagging six goals already: keeping the former Newport striker fit will be crucial.
“I don’t begrudge Carlisle their win in midweek, because they defended very well at Grimsby, but I’m reluctant to back them at odds-on for Saturday’s hosting of a solid Crewe side, who seem to have a spine in place.”Gab Sutton
Salford City v Grimsby Town
Lewis Richardson to score anytime
Lewis Richardson changed the game from the bench for Grimsby in midweek, although his impact was not enough to prevent a 2-1 defeat to Carlisle.
Once Richardson and Danilo Orsi came on, the tempo lifted, Michee Efete turned the ball home from a set piece soon after, and the Mariners were putting the pressure on their opponents.
As it happened, the visitors stood strong on that occasion, but giving the ball to the Burnley loanee was a key part of Town’s strategy to get back into the contest.
Richardson has the raw pace, but he’s also an excellent ball-carrier, he’s skilful, exciting and unpredictable, whilst having a deadly eye for goal.
The 20-year-old has represented England at Under-16s level, scoring on debut for the Young Lions, then bagging a hat-trick for Burnley Under-23s two months after that, and has since gone on to feature in the Premier League for the Clarets – that’s how highly-rated he is.
Richardson will be all-out to do individualistic damage to Salford, who have their eyes on the top three spots.
The Ammies have had to rejig their attack slightly since Brandon Asante departed for West Brom, and Neil Wood is still searching for the right forward to complete the equilibrium with Callum Hendry and Conor McAleny.
“I rate Lewis Richardson incredibly highly and would be amazed if he doesn’t come into Paul Hurst’s XI here - after his impact from the bench in midweek – and could see him doing counter-attacking damage.”Gab Sutton