If you haven’t read his pre-season previews yet, you can do so here:
“Millwall have never conceded more than once in successive games under Gary Rowett and I back them to re-establish the defensive basics once again in Cardiff, with a 1-0 win.”Gabriel Sutton
Cardiff City v Millwall
Millwall to win 1-0
Since Gary Rowett took charge in October 2019, Millwall have conceded more than once in 21 league games out of a possible 72, most recently in the 2-1 defeat to Fulham.
In each of the preceding 20 occasions on which this has occurred, the Lions have either conceded one goal or kept a clean sheet in the following game.
Such organisational reliability should be respected, so while Rowett was rightly unhappy with his side’s defending in the early stages on Tuesday – with his side falling two goals behind within eight minutes – recent history tells us these systematic issues rarely linger.
We can expect the South Londoners to play this game with tight gaps between units, with runners tracked diligently and with an immaculate shape.
Dan McNamara is expected to come in at right wing-back for Mahlon Romeo to secure the flank, but Ryan Leonard and Maikel Kieftenbeld are more than capable of keeping a defensive lid on the midfield ahead of competent centre-backs like aerial specialist Jake Cooper and talented Arsenal loanee Daniel Ballard.
The good news for Millwall is that while Fulham could easily run away with the title this season, Cardiff are likelier to be at a similar level in terms of quality.
Mick McCarthy’s side drew 2-2 at Peterborough last time out, thanks to Aiden Flint’s late header, but had been clearly second best for much of the contest.
The Bluebirds rely on crosses, set pieces and counter-attacks to carry a threat, with some individual ability from Ryan Giles and Kieffer Moore.
The latter could be nullified by Cooper, though, while Giles will not be able to get in behind in open play, so Cardiff may struggle to create chances against a solid rear-guard.
Going forward, meanwhile, there is every chance that a moment of individual magic from Jed Wallace or a clinical finish from Benik Afobe could hand the Lions all three points.
Fantastic roar as John Berylson takes to the pitch to address the fans on the return to the Den.
— Ryan Loftus 🦁 (@RyanJamesLoftus) August 14, 2021
“Although Coventry have only scored three and conceded two in three league games so far, I believe they’re better going forward than they are defensively and expect that to show in the scoreline on Saturday.”Gabriel Sutton
Coventry City v Reading
Both teams to score
Coventry won 1-0 at Blackpool in midweek but there were lots of chances in that game and a 3-2 victory might have better reflected the nature of the contest.
Mark Robins has attempted to introduce elements of the smooth, expansive 3-4-2-1 setup we saw from the 2019-20 League One title-winning outfit, but with risks.
The crux of the engagement off the ball has come from Callum O’Hare, who was among the best pressers in the Championship last season, and terrier Jamie Allen, in the two advanced midfield positions.
In the two deeper positions, Robins has paired tidy Ben Sheaf – who had troubles adjusting to the tempo of the league last season – with Gustavo Hamer, who is at his best when playing off the cuff and allowed plenty of creative freedom.
That combination gives Coventry the means to consistently progress the ball deep into the final third but, without the destructive qualities of Liam Kelly, they can be vulnerable to turnovers, which is good news for Femi Azeez.
The youngster is short of the technical nuance to be considered a stylistic replacement for Michael Olise, but the Frenchman’s exit for Crystal Palace has opened up a void on the right wing for the speedster to fill.
None of Coventry’s defenders – Dominic Hyam, Kyle McFadzean nor Jake Clarke-Salter – are likely to thrive in a footrace and while the former two might have got away with their limitations at League One level, the speed and intensity of the Championship is unforgiving.
Going forward, though, the Sky Blues created numerous chances for Viktor Gyorkeres, who is showing glimpses of building on his fine conclusion to the previous campaign and could have added to his solitary strike in midweek.
Expect goals – at both ends.
Want an example as to how Mark Robins is such a good manager, and can help rejuvenate a player, Viktor Gyokeres.
Lacking confidence upon arrival but has consistently improved and got better. A class act, his mentality has also shown improvement too. That's how you bounce back!
— Cameron Cairns (@CameronCairns87) August 17, 2021
“I wasn’t expecting Portsmouth to start this season as well as they have, but the Cowley brothers consistently eke out everything from the personnel they have. With Doncaster looking disjointed, I’m delighted to get Pompey at odds-against quotes here.”Gabriel Sutton
Doncaster v Portsmouth
Portsmouth to win
After Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over Shrewsbury, Portsmouth lead League One with maximum points from their opening three league games.
The performance was not thoroughly convincing, with manager Danny Cowley alluding to the imperfections in his interview, and Pompey have room for improvement.
The start to the campaign, though, goes against the expectations many had that the team would start slowly due to the delayed recruitment and, perhaps, find strength as the season goes on.
Key to this sizzling start has been the midfield performance of Ryan Tunnicliffe, who bagged the winner in midweek.
The former Millwall midfielder has always been incredibly strong, aggressive and tenacious, but he seems to be adding an extra layer of quality to his game under Cowley.
We have seen players like Lee Brown, who under Kenny Jackett would not have offered much in possession beyond the half-way line, find new levels to his game under the current regime, which shows how good the coaching is at present.
Cowley’s troops will be hopeful of extending their 100% winning record in South Yorkshire, where Doncaster are yet to record a single point.
Richie Wellens’ side mustered just three efforts at goal in the midweek 1-0 defeat at Accrington Stanley, hitting the target only once.
Of the XI that started that match, only Tom Anderson and John Bostock were at Donny last season, while the bench comprised a combination of senior players with a point to prove after a tough 2020-21 campaign and youngsters that have barely played.
With that in mind, it seems hardly surprising that Doncaster have endured a tough start and that may continue.
“I’m pretty sure that with a fit Danny Mayor, Argyle would have won in midweek. The brilliant ball-carrier may not start here but I do see him coming off the bench and making a huge impact in the second half, which is the crux of my thinking behind this 13/2 poke.”Gabriel Sutton
Shrewsbury Town v Plymouth Argyle
Half-Time/Full-Time: Draw/Plymouth Argyle
Shrewsbury and Argyle come into this game both slightly aggrieved by Tuesday night’s result.
Salop’s performance at Fratton Park did not merit the defeat they suffered at Portsmouth, while Ryan Lowe’s side created more than enough chances to comfortably defeat Cambridge – but ultimately drew 1-1.
The Devoners have a clear playing identity and are getting lots of things right, but are just missing an extra layer of incision in the final third.
Lowe deployed, in midweek, a midfield trio of Jordan Houghton, Ryan Broom and Panutche Camara: Houghton cuts out attacks and keeps the play ticking over, but there are issues in the more advanced roles.
Broom and Camara pride themselves on their athleticism, drive and high energy levels meaning either, individually, could be a regular part of a top six League One side.
Equally, Broom and Camara’s strengths overlap so much that they cannot be successfully incorporated simultaneously.
While both are capable of dribbling effectively, their dribbling tends to be linear because when running they stretch their legs so that the front foot lands much further forward than the back foot.
Danny Mayor is different: the former Bury promotion-winner can wriggle away from opponents and frequently change direction to elude challenges, because he does not rely on any athleticism to be consistently one of the top ball-carriers below the Championship over the last decade.
On top of that, the 33-year-old is more refined than Broom and Camara in terms of his end product: whether that be a reverse pass, a cute through ball or a trademark, curled effort at goal.
Mayor missed the last two games against Gillingham and Cambridge with a thigh problem, but could be ready to feature on Saturday.
It may be a stretch for Lowe to start the dribbler, but there is a strong chance he makes the bench and could influence proceedings in the second half.
Just imagine our team with mayor Cooper and Ennis back aswell as one or two more signings 🔥need them back ASAP #pafc
— Bradderz (@pafc_brad) August 18, 2021
“Carlisle have had a good start to the season, so my Orient draw no bet pick is mainly price-based. Kenny Jackett’s side were thoroughly convincing against Exeter last week and this 6/4 shot will land if they secure another victory, but the stake will be returned if the game finishes honours even.”Gabriel Sutton
Carlisle v Leyton Orient
Leyton Orient draw no bet
Leyton Orient kicked Kenny Jackett’s reign as manager into life last week with a 3-0 victory over Exeter.
Jackett arrived at E10 with a reputation for favouring direct football that is not always the most aesthetically appealing, but the former Portsmouth boss has certainly quashed any concerns in that regard in his early days.
Harry Smith managed 23 minutes from the bench on Saturday but the target man is still recovering from injury, so Orient needed to be clever about the routes to goal they carved.
The Os operated with disciplined, composed full-backs in Tom James and Connor Wood, with Darren Pratley guiding tenacious talent Hector Kyprianou in midfield, allowing Dan Kemp the freedom to push into the final third and show his individual skill.
The game was essentially about looking for clever forward passes into space for Kemp, Ruel Sotiriou or Theo Archibald to run onto, then centre for Aaron Drinan to provide the main goalscoring presence in the box.
On last week’s evidence, that plan could be working well for the East Londoners, though a tough afternoon awaits: hosts Carlisle have amassed five points from their opening three games.
The Cumbrians came away from Port Vale with a point in midweek, but that was more down to dogged defending from the likes of Rod McDonald rather than any real control on the game and, in the latter stages, they were hanging on for a point.
😎 All in a days work eh, Theo?
— Leyton Orient (@leytonorientfc) August 14, 2021
“Neither Oldham nor Colchester have exactly impressed me so far this season, but I have greater trust in the Us at the back which is why I think they’ll win this game – and keep a clean sheet in the process.”Gabriel Sutton
Oldham Athletic v Colchester United
Colchester win to nil
Oldham and Colchester are likely to finish in the bottom half this season – and victory on Saturday will be key for both teams in their attempts to distance themselves from the relegation dogfight.
The Latics have lost all three of their league games so far, after a 1-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers on Tuesday.
Assistant Colin West, standing in currently for Keith Curle, will have been unhappy with his side’s disorganisation in that game and, given the short turnaround, his main priority will have been to drill them into a solid shape.
Some teams, when operating with a back-three, like to play full-backs by trade as wide centre-backs, placing a lot of responsibility on the central defender: that is what Oldham have tried to do with deploying Jordan Clarke and Sam Hart on the right and left respectively.
The problem they have is that Carl Piergianni is not strong enough in the air, or a sufficiently commanding leader, to be the one dominant presence in the way Luke Chambers is for Colchester.
The former Ipswich stalwart’s major limitations are his lack of pace and ability in possession but, unlike Piergianni, he wins headers convincingly and brings excellent organisational qualities.
Because of that, head coach Hayden Mullins can get away with playing young right-back Miles Welch-Hayes on the right of the back three for his pace in the recovery, while Tom Eastman is a reliable operator on the left.
Colchester also possess a fantastic goalkeeper in Shamal George, who has produced man-of-the-match performances in the 0-0 draw at Carlisle on the opening day and in the 1-1 draw with Mansfield.
While it may be true that the U’s have not found the performance levels they are looking for just yet, they have established the defensive foundations to keep more clean sheets this season than approximately half the teams in the division.
Plus, Fulham loanee Sylvester Jasper has shown flashes of promise in attack and, with Oldham’s defence lacking physicality, there is every chance that Frank Nouble will thrive off crosses.