EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks his best bets ahead of the weekend’s action
Hear more from Gabriel Sutton on this week’s BetVictor Podcast.
Under 1.5 goals
Coventry City v Derby County
Coventry and Derby come into this game off the back of poor defensive displays.
The Sky Blues led early on against Middlesbrough on Tuesday thanks to an own goal following a Sam McCallum long throw, but then gave away their position by conceding two cheap goals.
One was down to poor marking following a free-kick, the other some questionable positioning from the three centre-backs – Michael Rose, Kyle McFadzean and Dominic Hyam – which allowed their opponents a tap-in unchallenged in the six-yard box.
Derby, meanwhile, crashed to a 4-0 loss at Cardiff and simply were not prepared to deal with counter-attacks, set pieces or long throws.
Both performances were somewhat uncharacteristic because, since Wayne Rooney took charge on 26th November, the Rams have conceded just 17 goals in 20, while Coventry have kept a respectable eight clean sheets in their last 23 games.
We can expect both teams to focus on the defensive basics in the lead-up to this game with eradicating Tuesdays mistakes being a key priority for Rooney and Mark Robins.
It would not be hugely surprising if the latter sticks with a back-three so McFadzean can combat the physical presence of Colin Kazim-Richards, whilst re-establishing some solidity by pairing sitter Matty James with ball-winner Liam Kelly at the base of midfield.
With Tyler Walker out-of-form and Maxime Biamou unable to sustain his impact for 180 minutes of action a week, there are question marks over whether Coventry have the firepower to beat the drop – even with a fully fit Matty Godden.
Rooney, meanwhile, may shuffle the defensive pack and hope Andre Wisdom and Matt Clarke can negate any attacking combination Robins names by re-establishing the strong defensive performances they produced earlier in the campaign.
BREAKING NEWS 🗞
— Coventry City FC Bible (@CCFCBible) March 3, 2021
I’m expecting both teams to go back-to-basics after their defensive shortcomings in midweek, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this game is either goalless or decided by a solitary strike.Gabriel Sutton
Jed Wallace and Millwall 1-0
Millwall v Blackburn Rovers
Millwall have been involved in a lot of tight games this season.
The Lions have drawn 16, while five of their 10 wins and five of their eight defeats have come by a one-goal margin, which means just eight of their 34 encounters have been decided by a margin of two or more goals, fewer only than five Championship sides.
On top of that, Gary Rowett’s troops have kept 13 clean sheets, with Stoke being the only side outside the top six to register more – and the Londoners have scored one goal on 16 occasions, with nobody in the second tier doing so more frequently.
Rowett likes a 5-2-3 formation which gives his side plenty of protection, with George Evans – a midfielder by trade – proving an intelligent wide centre-back, to the right of the experienced Shaun Hutchinson and aerial specialist Jake Cooper.
Billy Mitchell has proved the inspired midfield partner for Ryan Woods, bringing drive and verve to compliment the latter’s class, while Scott Malone has been in excellent form at left wing-back.
Millwall’s go-to man, though, is Jed Wallace, who brings pace, direct running and plenty of quality.
The winger’s goalscoring potential has been unleashed as part of a front three, with the 26-year-old taking 61 of Millwall’s 390 efforts at goal and scoring seven of their 34 league strikes.
The visitors to the Den, Blackburn, have taken just one point from their last seven league games and three of the six defeats have come via the 1-0 scoreline.
Millwall are superb defensively and I think they might win 1-0 here with Jed Wallace getting the goal. This 20/1 shot is a touch audacious, so I wouldn’t put a more conservative punter off the outright home win at 29/20.Gabriel Sutton
Ipswich to win
Gillingham v Ipswich Town
Paul Cook is an excellent appointment for Ipswich.
The lively Liverpudlian will bring the passion back to Portman Road and, what’s more, he has an exceptional record as a manager, having delivered titles with Chesterfield, Portsmouth and Wigan, where his side performed competently at Championship level.
Cook is very much a 4-2-3-1 disciple who likes the attacking trio behind the main striker to rotate and interchange, so there is potential for a trio of Alan Judge, Troy Parrott, Josh Harrop and James Norwood to carry a real threat – especially with the latter in scintillating goalscoring form with three goals in three.
The former midfielder will be delighted to work with Andre Dozzell, who can dictate play with a delightful left-foot as part of a midfield duo next to box-to-box man Teddy Bishop, who could be playing in the top half of the Championship at this stage were it not for injuries.
Myles Kenlock, motivated since the arrival of Stephen Ward, has been putting in some excellent displays at left-back and Cook, who loves attacking full-backs, should take more of a shine than his predecessor to Wolves loanee Luke Matheson.
Cook’s arrival will give the squad a lift, likewise the imminent takeover from a US consortium led by Brett Johnson, something fans are eagerly awaiting after Marcus Evans’ regime went stale.
The rejuvenated Suffolkians should enjoy their short trip to Priestfield, where Gillingham beat MK Dons 3-2 in midweek.
Steve Evans’ side achieved that result courtesy of two excellent Ryan Jackson long throws, some clinical finishing and dogged defending, but that may not be enough of a blueprint for continued results.
If Luke Chambers moves to centre-back on Saturday, I expect him to snuff out much of what Gillingham and Ryan Jackson throw at him. There has been some positive developments at Ipswich in the last week and that’s bound to give them a lift on the field.Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: Northampton/Draw
Northampton Town v Portsmouth
Jon Brady looks a shoo-in for the Northampton job between now and the end of the season.
Performances have lifted under the Aussie, who oversaw a 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle in midweek.
Under Keith Curle, the Cobblers played a 3-5-2 every week but the 4-2-3-1 that Brady favours has helped them use the ball more effectively, even if there has not been a huge shift in the amount of possession they have had.
Fraser Horsfall has recently built a strong centre-back pairing with Lloyd Jones, while Shaun McWilliams and Jack Sowerby have done some excellent defensive work, which allows Ryan Watson to thrive.
The first thing Brady said to Watson after taking caretaker charge was “I want to get you higher up the pitch because I know you can score goals”.
The former Leicester man has always had a good shot in his locker, but because Curle wanted his midfielders at times holding hands with centre-backs in the defensive third, he struggled to find enough moments to show his ability.
Since hitting the crossbar against Burton and having three good chances against Rochdale, Watson has scored three goals in his last two games and could cause problems for Portsmouth.
Kenny Jackett’s side come into this game off the back of runs of one win in five and five defeats in 10 which have hindered their promotion hopes.
Pompey added Harvey White on loan from Tottenham and George Byers from Swansea to help them become more creative, but when all their passes are going wide or over the top, it is difficult for those players to make the desired impression.
Random thought – Fraser Horsfall is giving the impression he is a total professional.
— Mike Fuller (@MikeFuller_) March 3, 2021
Northampton boosted their hopes of staying up with a massive win in midweek and with Ryan Watson bringing them goals from midfield, I can see Jon Brady’s side making life difficult for out-of-form Portsmouth.Gabriel Sutton
Cheltenham to win to nil
Cheltenham Town v Port Vale
Thanks to a 1-0 win over Southend in midweek, Cheltenham went top of League Two.
The last time the Robins achieved that feat, they were six games into an ill-fated 2014-15 campaign, but it’s safe to say if they do leave the fourth tier this time around, it will be via the loft rather than the trap door.
That is partly because of the strength of character of Michael Duff’s side, exemplified by the defenders: right-sided centre-back Charlie Raglan and left wing-back Chris Hussey played through the pain barrier in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Scunthorpe, with both managing another 90 minutes on Tuesday.
Midfield concerns have been quashed by the loan signing of Callum Wright from Leicester, the return from injury of Liam Sercombe, the form of Finn Azaz and the composure of Conor Thomas, who is stepping up into a leadership role.
Going forward, meanwhile, Cheltenham boast one of the division’s best strikers in Alfie May, who will relish facing Port Vale.
The Burslem outfit are winless in five, having been led by new manager Darrell Clarke in four of those games, and are without a goal in three.
The Valiants rely heavily on David Worrall, who has assisted 10 of their 41 goals this season and scored another three, but the experienced wide forward has missed out recently through injury, leaving the team short on alternative ideas.
Callum Wright is well on his way to joining Luke Garbutt, and Jacob Greaves on my list of 'Loanees I get too attached to'
— Cxllum (@_CallumPal96) March 2, 2021
Cheltenham have kept 15 clean sheets this season with nobody in League Two recording more. The Robins’ last three wins, which have put them top of the division, have all come without them conceding – visiting Vale haven’t scored in three.Gabriel Sutton
Forest Green to win
Grimsby Town v Forest Green Rovers
Forest Green come into this game off the back of two defeats in three, with victory over Colchester mixed in with comprehensive 3-1 and 3-0 losses to Southend and Stevenage respectively.
Tuesday’s result is no doubt a big concern but luckily for Mark Cooper, he has the options to freshen up his side.
The former Swindon boss could name midfielders Jake Young, Ebou Adams and Isaac Hutchinson all on the bench in midweek, likewise striker Josh Davison and any one of those players could come into the XI and make an impact.
The Nailsworth outfit showed against Colchester that Jamille Matt is one of the best strikers in the division and the target man can be a huge threat, especially when crosses from the likes of Kane Wilson come into the box.
Forest Green should boost their promotion hopes with a win at Grimsby, who are bottom of the division with seven defeats in their last nine games.
The Mariners had 70 minutes to overturn the deficit against Leyton Orient last time out yet mustered just nine shots all evening, with only one of them being on target.
— Edward Walker (@edward_w97) February 28, 2021
The upshot of Forest Green’s recent two defeats is that the promotion contenders can be backed at a price very close to Evens to win at Grimsby, who come into this match off the back of successive defeats and look in grave danger of being relegated to the National League.Gabriel Sutton