EFL pundit Gab Sutton thinks Cambridge will secure a historic promotion to League One on Saturday afternoon in his EFL Weekend Preview – but what about results elsewhere?
Both Teams to Score
Bournemouth v Brentford
Brentford look destined to finish in the Play-Offs.
The Bees drew 1-1 with Cardiff on Tuesday night and, with Watford winning, they are now 10 points off the automatic promotion places with four games to play – so even if Thomas Frank’s side accrue maximum points, the current incumbents of second spot need just three more points to sow things up.
The challenge for the West Londoners, therefore, is to hone the 3-1-4-2 setup that Frank has switched to in time for the post-season competition.
The midweek held some positives for Brentford, who created good chances – so often a goalscorer this season, Ivan Toney turned provider by nodding a left-wing delivery back across goal, but Marcus Forss hooked over from inside the six-yard box.
Toney, meanwhile, was not his usual ruthless self, denied one-on-one after an uncharacteristically tame finish, but at least the midfield was strong, even if the strikers were not on top form on that occasion.
Bournemouth’s attack, though, certainly was on top form in Wednesday’s 4-1 victory at Millwall, with each of the goals coming because of neat, incisive build-up play.
The Cherries no longer look like a mere collection of gifted individuals, but rather a cohesive team and so much credit for that should go to head coach Jonathan Woodgate, who is defying Dorset doubters.
So too is midfielder Philip Billing, who was much maligned earlier in the season but now, in a competitive midfield area, is one of the first names on Woodgate’s teamsheet.
I was very sceptical of Woody’s appointment & lack of performances from many of our players throughout this season.
Never been so happy to say ‘I was wrong’ because whatever Woody has done, this group are now playing with confidence & a real swagger.
Few more to go. #afcb 👏🏼🍒
— Tom Jordan (@TomJordan21) April 21, 2021
Arnaut Danjuma and Ivan Toney have been the best players in the Championship in their respective positions this season, so I’m expecting strong individual performances from both this weekend.Gabriel Sutton
Watford to win to nil
Watford v Millwall
Watford took a giant stride towards the Premier League on Tuesday night by winning 1-0 at Norwich thanks to Dan Gosling’s second half strike.
A lot of Hornets fans were somewhat nervous based on the previous few performances, but Xisco Muñoz’s side were deserved winners at Carrow Road, implementing their pressing game superbly.
Watford’s work off-the-ball has been arguably an underrated component of their success this season, because they are on course to record the best defensive record at this level since West Brom in 2001-02.
The talented Francisco Sierralta has formed an excellent centre-back partnership with the powerful William Troost-Ekong, who should step up well to Premier League level with 47 caps under his belt for Nigeria.
At the other end, the Hertfordshire outfit possess match-winners like Ismaïla Sarr, João Pedro and Ken Sema.
Sarr stood out in Watford’s relegation campaign last season and, possessing pace, strength, link-up play and goalscoring ability, the wide forward had the ability to stay in the top flight but did not get the transfer due to the financial climate.
Watford have gained immeasurably from keeping their star man, but the key has been giving him the right role.
When Munoz first came in, he moved to a 4-4-2 because he did not initially trust any of his forwards – Pedro, Andre Gray or Troy Deeney – to lead the line on their own, but that left Sarr and Sema shoehorned into wide midfield roles, in which they were worrying about the opposition full-backs rather than pulling them back.
For the 6-0 thumping of Bristol City, though, Muñoz switched to 4-3-3 with Pedro acting as the central forward, an alteration which has proved crucial to the turnaround – his side have won 12 in 15 from that game onwards.
The return from injury of Adam Masina, an attacking left-back, has meant Watford can play the intelligent Kiko Femenia on his favoured right side, where he has forged an excellent understanding with Sarr.
Another left-footer, Will Hughes, has added class and vision to the midfield, while winter recruit Philip Zinckernagel adds creativity in a more advanced role, giving Munoz a rich array of options.
With that in mind, Watford should have more than enough to rubber-stamp promotion with victory over Millwall, who are mathematically guaranteed to be in the Championship next season.
Has really been impressive this season, his move to Watford is exactly what he needed in his career, has been crucial in Watford’s push for premier league football and has showed immense class in most of the international games this season. (1)
— ً (@ThePabloEra) April 21, 2021
Watford have a record-breaking defence and Millwall are short up top. I’m expecting the Hertfordshire hosts to win this and keep a clean sheet in the process.Gabriel Sutton
Both Teams to score
Charlton Athletic v Peterborough United
Charlton continued their great start to life under Nigel Adkins with a thumping 6-0 win at Plymouth Argyle in midweek.
The Addicks, who now have their Play-Off hopes in their own hands, produced an excellent counter-attacking performance in Devon.
Ben Watson anchors the Addicks midfield, freeing up Jake Forster-Caskey to step on and produce his accurate, left-footed deliveries and Alex Gilbey, to press forward with gusto.
Gilbey supports an attack comprising of the excellent movement of Diallang Jaiyesimi, the aerial focal point that Jayden Stockley provides and the touches of star quality from Liam Millar, who loves to cut in from the left and either produce a rocket of a shot or put in a pin-point delivery.
Peterborough, though, have obvious threats themselves, with Jonson Clarke-Harris, Sammie Szmodics and Siriki Dembele having scored a whopping 54 goals between them – more than fifth-placed Blackpool have scored collectively.
Clarke-Harris provides a reference point that allows Posh to beat the press from deep and get into advanced areas quickly, Szmodics brings an effervescent energy in and out of possession while Dembele is one of the most exciting skill merchants in the EFL.
2 braces ⚽️⚽️
3 hat- tricks ⚽️⚽️⚽️
League One Top Scorer
24 goals inside the box.
Jonson Clarke Harris is taking Peterborough United towards a huge promotion push. 😎 pic.twitter.com/NlzfbmMPt1
— The Third Tier (@TheThirdTier_) March 28, 2021
Charlton look rejuvenated under Nigel Adkins while Peterborough’s attack can be devastating at times, so I’m expecting a high-scoring contest.Gabriel Sutton
Ayoub Assal: Anytime Goalscorer
Ipswich Town v AFC Wimbledon
Ayoub Assal has enjoyed a wonderful breakthrough season for Wimbledon.
The 19-year-old has the pace to run in behind, yet the neatness of feet to deceive opponents, nippy movement yet enough strength to look after himself, the selflessness to link play, yet the ruthlessness to score three goals in his last four – all whilst staying grounded and humble.
It is hard not to get extremely excited about Assal’s long-term future and, starting games from the outset next season – for the Dons, one hopes – the Maidstone-born forward could really catch fire.
Assal is in excellent form and so too are Wimbledon, who are flying out of relegation trouble under Mark Robinson after four straight wins, in which the West Londoners have scored a whopping 14 goals.
Three of them came against Ipswich, who have not scored in 529 minutes of football.
The appointment of Paul Cook, Town hoped, would kick their promotion bid into life but in fact, the Suffolk outfit have taken just 11 points from 12 under the Liverpudlian’s guidance.
Focal point Joe Pigott, tall striker Ollie Palmer and left-footed technician Jack Rudoni can all do damage to the Tractor Boys, but Assal is unquestionably the star of the Wombles show.
'He's small, he's quick, he makes the wombles tick, Ayoub Assal… Ayoub Assal' ?? 😄#AFCW
— Simon Freisinger (@simonfreis22) April 17, 2021
Ayoub Assal is one of hottest prospects in League One, let alone at Wimbledon and I don’t think the traders have cottoned on to how good this lad really is. Truthfully, I’ve had to double-check that the 5/1 isn’t on the first goalscorer market rather than anytime, because that price, on a player that has just scored three in four, is quite frankly an astonishing offer.Gabriel Sutton
Cambridge United to win
Cambridge United v Stevenage
Cambridge’s 4-2 win at Leyton Orient in midweek means they can secure promotion with victory over Stevenage, regardless of results elsewhere.
If the U’s move onto 80 points, it will be impossible for third-placed Bolton and fourth-placed Morecambe to both catch them, because those two sides face one another on Saturday.
Mark Bonner has done a marvellous job in his first full season in management and there is something very romantic about somebody who was born in Cambridge working their way through different roles within the club over a decade and ultimately thriving in the dugout, likely inspiring them to third-tier football for the first time in 19 years.
Richard Money takes plenty of credit for getting Cambridge back in the league in 2014 but there’s an argument to say Bonner is the best manager the club has had since John Beck led them from the Fourth Division to the Second Division Play-Offs, where they missed out on their dream of being part of the inaugural Premier League season.
Dion Dublin spearheaded the club’s rise before earning a move to Manchester United and although Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might see slightly preferable striker options to Paul Mullin this summer, the 26-year-old has enjoyed a remarkable season.
Mullin has scored 29 goals this season and the remarkable thing is that unlike Eoin Doyle and James Vaughan – who are closest to the striker with 18 goals – the Cambridge front-man was not expected to be prolific.
The former Morecambe striker has never hit double-figures in a league season and the only time he has operated above this level is 2019-20, when he started just nine games before Tranmere added two strikers in January and were happy to loan him out to the Abbey.
Mullin had always been perceived as a bottom half League Two striker who has a good spring on him and will work hard, but perhaps that is because he has played under managers in Jim Bentley, Phil Brown and Micky Mellon who have almost made him be incredibly selfless – to the point of compromising his own goalscoring instincts.
Under Bonner, Mullin has regularly been partnered by a grafter in Joe Ironside – recruited from Macclesfield – which has freed the Litherland Lineker up to focus more on getting in areas where he can poach.
It has not harmed him either, having Wes Hoolahan behind the two strikers, acting as Cambridge’s main creative maestro, but “the Irish Messi” is used shrewdly by Bonner, playing only 90 minutes a week.
The fact Cambridge scored four goals in the veteran’s absence last time out shows they have alternative creativity in winter recruit Hiram Boateng, whose return from injury has been a massive plus.
If Hoolahan comes back in here, expect Cambridge to comfortably secure victory – and the possible mouth-watering League One trips that would come with it to Hillsborough, Portman Road and the Stadium of Light.
I absolutely loved watching football last night
– end of message – pic.twitter.com/01Ap6nSP5V
— Max Rushden 💙 (@maxrushden) April 21, 2021
In eight of the last nine occasions on which a League Two team could have secured promotion with a victory against an opponent with no obvious objectives left to play for, they have done so. That’s why I’m delighted to take Cambridge at handsome, odds-against quotes.Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: Draw/Newport
Exeter City v Newport County
Saturday’s game at St James’s Park is a pivotal one in the League Two Play-Off scramble.
Victory for Exeter and the floor opens up for not just Matt Taylor’s side, who would leapfrog their visitors into the top seven by virtue of goal difference, but also gives hope to Salford, Leyton Orient and Carlisle.
If Newport take the spoils, though, it will be difficult for the Grecians to make up a gap of four to six points – depending on how Forest Green get on at Crawley – and none of the outsiders could afford to stutter.
That puts the Exiles in a strong position coming into this game, after producing a dominant display in Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Crawley.
The South Wales outfit are benefiting from the move towards summer and improved conditions are helping them play the style Michael Flynn has attempted to implement this year – although, as they have showed in their goals against Bolton and in midweek, they can transition quickly as well.
That ability to win their midfield battles through Joss Labadie’s tenacity, then release Lewis Collins and Padraig Amond with opportunistic balls in behind could be a massive asset in this game, with circumstances putting the onus on Exeter to attack.
— Exiles Analysis Man 🦸 (@ExilesAnalysis) April 20, 2021
This is a pivotal game in the Play-Off scramble which could go some way to deciding whether teams currently outside the top seven can still challenge. The pressure will be on Exeter to win.Gabriel Sutton