Reading to win
Stoke City v Reading
Stoke won 3-0 at Reading in the reverse fixture but, this time around, the game could have a different feel.
The Royals have re-established their promotion credentials with 14 points from their last six games whilst, crucially, looking more inventive in attack than they were during their early season winning streak.
Lucas Joao has toiled with injury for parts of this campaign but, when he starts, Reading are so much better because, not only does he have the ability in possession to join in with the link-up play, he also has the strength and size to hold off defenders when the team needs to play through the press in a more direct manner.
Joao was unplayable in the first half of last Friday’s 3-1 victory over Bournemouth, likewise Ovie Ejaria and Michael Olise.
Those players have the freedom to attack because Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent do the midfield dirty work so well; Laurent is the more aggressive of the two with Rinomhota plugging gaps but both have shown an exceptional work rate which is a key part of Reading’s success story.
Veljko Paunovic’s side look well placed to challenge for the top two, whereas hosts Stoke are in danger of slipping out of promotion contention.
Michael O’Neill’s side did well to secure a point last time out at Huddersfield, where they had to defend with 10-men for 45 minutes, but the draw leaves them seven games without a win.
The Potters have struggled badly with injuries this season and have been hit badly by the knee problem that Tyrese Campbell suffered just before Christmas.
The Staffordshire outfit have also had instability in the goalkeeping department and, as soon as key target man Steven Fletcher returned to fitness, in-form attacking midfielder Nick Powell got injured.
On top of that, high-pedigree midfielders like Joe Allen and John Obi Mikel have not made as big an impact on the side as hoped since returning from the sidelines in late December.
Just watching ‘I am Bruce Lee’ on sky documentaries. Let me tell you, the great man couldn’t even stop Lucas Joao at the moment.. I’m hoping to watch ‘I am Lucas Joao’ next week!! Oi oi …
— Ady Williams (@willow1871) January 29, 2021
Considering the contrast in form between these two sides, I’m amazed Reading are as big as 21/10 for victory here and am more than happy to take the outright price.Gabriel Sutton
Forest to win and under 2.5 goals
Wycombe Wanderers v Nottingham Forest
Forest are by no means safe from relegation this season, but their January additions might just help them over the line.
James Garner and Filip Krovinovic add grace to a combative midfield, while Glenn Murray may prove a useful addition up top.
There has not been a massively enthusiastic reaction to the 37-year-old’s arrival, which is understandable, because the Reds are still missing pace – especially when Alex Mighten is absent.
Murray does though, have that willingness to hassle defenders, as well as that devilment required to buy free-kicks at crucial moment and alleviate pressure on the back-line, qualities Lewis Grabban does not have.
The fact the Cumbrian has played much of his career in the lower leagues means that he has not trained at as high an intensity as those who have always worked in the top two divisions, meaning he has more in the tank at this twilight stage.
Murray scored 30 goals to inspire Crystal Palace to promotion in 2012-13 and 23 when Brighton went up in 2016-17 under Chris Hughton, with whom the veteran is re-united.
He could therefore make a crucial impact at Wycombe, who needed an excellent goalkeeping performance from Ryan Allsop to draw 0-0 with Birmingham last time out.
The Chairboys are unlikely to extend their extraordinary Championship stay for another season, sitting on 16 points from their first 25 games.
The projected total required for safety is 48 points, which means the Buckinghamshire outfit would need to take 32 points from their final 21 games – borderline Play-Off form – to beat the drop.
The good news for Wycombe is that they have extended the contracts of crafty attacking midfielder Garath McCleary, tall centre-back Ryan Tafazolli, ball-winning stalwart Curtis Thompson and springy utility man David Wheeler.
Those deals certainly improve their chances in League One next season – should the worst happen.
I may surprise a few here..Glenn Murray….I don't actually mind it. Still believe he'll have the quality to offer something at this level. We are the highest crosses in the league, it's easier to bring in someone who is better at att crosses than changing style right now. #NFFC
— ForestAnalytics (@AnalyticsForest) January 28, 2021
I think Glenn Murray will find the net in a low-scoring victory for Forest at Adams Park, where Wycombe look unlikely to extend their remarkable Championship stay for a second season.Gabriel Sutton
Over 4.5 goals
Doncaster Rovers v Oxford United
Oxford made it seven league wins on the spin on Saturday thanks to a 1-0 victory at Fleetwood.
Karl Robinson felt his side made it nervier for themselves than it should have been against 10-men for 84 minutes, with various chances spurned.
Cameron Brannagan cannoned against the bar with a left-footed piledriver and substitute Sam Winnall came close before Dan Agyei was unable to convert the re-bound.
In fairness to Agyei, that close-range profligacy may not have been his finest moment but the athletic, versatile forward scored from outside the box in the 4-3 victory at Rochdale in the previous game.
Full-backs Sam Long and Josh Ruffels have massively upped their productivity for the U’s in recent weeks, while Matty Taylor – who has emerging competition from Sam Winnall – is arguably the division’s most complete centre-forward on current form.
Oxford’s excellent run says much about their goalscoring potential, but none of their victories have come against a team higher than 14th in the table.
An opportunity to prove their big game credentials comes in South Yorkshire, where Doncaster are also in outstanding form – eight league wins in nine – putting them strongly in the mix for the top two.
Darren Moore’s side have added Omar Bogle to their attacking options and the former Grimsby man will likely compete with Fejiri Okenabirhie to lead the line in a 4-2-3-1, while Taylor Richards – on loan from Brighton – has been a joy to watch in attacking midfield.
Josh Sims returns on loan to strengthen an already appealing set of wide options, while John Bostock adds quality in midfield after Ben Whiteman left for Preston North End.
Omar Bogle completes the puzzle of this January window for Rovers then, bringing something different to the attacking ranks.
There's no doubt the club went out and got Darren exactly who he wanted to retool this squad for a push for promotion. Fair play.#DRFC
— Into The Empty Net (@DRFC_ITEN) January 29, 2021
Two in-form promotion contenders could produce a real spectacle in South Yorkshire. The price for Over 4.5 goals has been boosted to 13/2 and I’m snapping that one up.Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: Burton/Draw
Burton Albion v Hull City
Bottom of the league Burton are, undoubtedly, huge underdogs for the visit of top of the league Hull.
There may, though, be a contrast between the version of the Brewers the table shows – the one that has taken 16 points from 24 games – and the version that will be in action on Saturday.
The East Staffordshire outfit re-appointed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as manager last month and the cool Dutchman, assisted by the fiery Dino Maamria, has already replicated the organisational qualities he showed when leading the club to the League Two title in 2014-15.
Hasselbaink’s side have conceded just one goal in two games, before the club made numerous excellent additions late in the transfer window.
Josh Earl brings Championship experience to the left of a defence that already has Hayden Carter, who has made a massive impact since joining on loan from Blackburn.
Thomas Hamer is another versatile talent and the 21-year-old signs from Oldham, where quick-footed goalscoring winger Jonny Smith – who signs permanently from Bristol City – thrived last season.
Terry Taylor, on loan from Wolves, will bring midfield composure next to box-to-box dynamo Ryan Edwards and creator Joe Powell, while athlete Ryan Broom – who starred at Cheltenham last season and has frequently impressed from the bench for Peterborough this term – can play in various positions.
With Wycombe promotion winner Josh Parker arriving to replace Charles Vernam, Burton’s squad may well be revitalized for a late push for survival.
The Midlanders have had three weeks to prepare for this fixture, too, which has given them a window to work on core fitness, whereas Hull were in EFL Trophy action against Lincoln in midweek.
Grant McCann named a strong side for the penalty shootout defeat and if his side are jaded due to playing their ninth game in 28 days, there is every chance Burton can take advantage and produce a shock result.
I wrote a piece about Dino shortly after they were appointed and Jonny Smith came up in that.
— BAFC Analysis (@RobBAFCAnalysis) January 29, 2021
Hull deserve their place in the automatic promotion spots and are rightly favourites, but after positive additions in the dugout and on the field, I feel Burton will produce a competitive display.Gabriel Sutton
Newport to win
Newport County v Grimsby Town
Newport come into this match off the back of an eight-game winless run but there are two factor that will give them reason to believe that the blip will end this Saturday.
Firstly, the Exiles have recruited superbly in late January, with strikers Nicky Maynard and Dom Telford along with midfielder Anthony Hartigan joining the ranks.
Maynard and Telford led the line in Bury’s promotion from this level in 2018-19; the former is a potent finisher at this level while the latter is extremely persistent and loves to run in behind.
Hartigan, meanwhile, can dictate the tempo of games and create, which is something Newport do not have in their midfield when Josh Sheehan is absent, as the Welshman has been recently through suspension.
Secondly, Michael Flynn’s side last league victory came against Grimsby back in December.
The Mariners have taken a paltry two points from their previous eight games after losses to relegation rivals Scunthorpe and Stevenage that were painful for different reasons.
A 3-0 Lincolnshire Derby defeat is always tough to take but in the following game, Paul Hurst’s side thought they had salvaged a point thanks to Stefan Payne’s 93rd-minute equalizer on debut, only to fail to defend a simple Boro long ball from the subsequent kick-off and lose 2-1.
— BenRJH ⚫️🟠🏴 (@ExiledBen) February 1, 2021
If Nicky Maynard and Dom Telford can rekindle the partnership they showed at Bury two seasons ago, Newport will get back to winning ways in no time.Gabriel Sutton
Stevenage draw no bet
Stevenage v Morecambe
Had the League Two season started on 22nd November, Stevenage would be 15th.
Alex Revell’s side have lost three games in 12 in that period, with only four in the division losing fewer, while just seven sides have conceded fewer goals than their 13.
The shot data backs up the notion that Boro have, essentially, turned into a safe, midtable side: they average 0.91 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.11 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 45.20% – ranking them 14th in the division in that metric.
The Hertfordshire outfit strengthened their squad, too, on deadline day by loaning in speedy Derby striker Jahmal Hector-Ingram and Tottenham playmaker Jack Roles.
Stevenage already possess, in Charlie Carter, a versatile midfielder capable of covering long distances with excellent stamina and, in Romain Vincelot, a battle-hardened campaigner who anchors the diamond with experience and height.
With creativity also coming in Arthur Read, Jack Aitchison and even forward Elliott List, Boro may be playing Morecambe at a convenient time.
The Shrimps come into this game off the back of a 1-0 defeat to Tranmere and have lost key goalscoring midfielder Adam Phillips, recalled by Burnley.
There is a danger that Derek Adams’ side are almost losing two players in one, because Phillips’ relationship with Carlos Mendes Gomes had been a key feature of their attacking play.
Really good capture.
Jack is a classy midfielder who stood out during his loan at Cambridge last season
— D3D4Football (@d3d4football) February 1, 2021
Stevenage have only been defeated by the best team in the division and the highest goalscorers in their last 12 games, so I fancy them to cause problems for Morecambe, who could suffer in the absence of Adam Phillips.Gabriel Sutton