EFL Pundit Gab Sutton offers his best bets for the weekend’s action and is expecting heavy wins in the Championship.
Bournemouth -1 Handicap
Rotherham United v AFC Bournemouth
This is Paul Warne’s third shot as a manager at Championship level and it’s hard to say with too much confidence that he is learning quickly.
Warne is unquestionably one of the best man managers in the EFL and his ability to galvanize people is fantastic, as is his record at League One level.
In the second tier, though, coaches need to be more advanced tactically and Warne has so far been found wanting.
Player for player, Rotherham have a far better squad than the one that was relegated from this level in 2018-19 – Marek Rodak and Semi Ajayi are the only players from that crop who would unquestionably get into their current best XI – and the technical standard of players available to Warne looks much higher.
Despite this, the tactics remain the same and the lone striker is still isolated for large portions of their games.
For that reason, we can expect total domination on Saturday for Bournemouth, who continued their excellent form with a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night.
The Cherries operate with a 4-1-4-1 formation of sorts with Lewis Cook dictating terms at the base of midfield, then David Brooks and Arnaut Danjuma cutting inside from the right and left wing respectively to create, while Jefferson Lerma supports play intelligently from behind.
As the play crescendos, Junior Stanislas makes bold runs beyond Dominic Solanke, who drops in from the striker position to link play and confuse defenders, acting almost as a false nine.
The movement and quality in this Bournemouth side will be too much for Rotherham to handle.
Such a shame that #afcb were deprived of David Brooks for so much of last year. Super talented player. Seems to be getting sharper game by game now, hitting those pre-injury levels.
— Peter Rutzler (@peterrutzler) November 24, 2020
Rotherham’s performance levels have dropped alarmingly since the international break and I fully expect Bournemouth to record a convincing win here.Gabriel Sutton
Blackburn -1 Handicap
Blackburn Rovers v Barnsley
Blackburn and Barnsley might only be two points apart, but there is a gap in performance levels between them.
Rovers at their best can blow teams out of the water with devastating transitional play, while Barnsley are roundly strong in most games but guilty of throwing in the odd display that is miles off the level, as we saw at Middlesbrough and Cardiff.
Under Valérien Ismaël, the Reds employ a high-pressing game which has given them two successful campaigns, but there are risks to this aggressive style.
Barnsley must get the right distances between units and while they do that well in some of their games, there was evidence in Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Brentford of them leaving wide open spaces in behind.
Those same vulnerabilities could be exploited even more ruthlessly by Blackburn, who are the Championship’s strongest counter-attacking side.
Rovers won 3-0 at Lancashire rivals Preston North End on Tuesday night with speedy finisher Adam Armstrong flanked by two other strong runners in Sam Gallagher and Ben Brereton.
Tony Mowbray could add extra creativity to his options here by bringing in Liverpool’s on-loan teenage starlet Harvey Elliott, while Tyrhys Dolan is a fantastic option from the bench.
Blackburn can get the ball into that final third, too, thanks to the excellent ball progression of midfielder Joe Rothwell, who is enjoying the best season of his career while Lewis Holtby adds craft from deep next to the tenacious Tommy Trybull.
The two top-scorers in the Championship by far this season are Blackburn's Adam Armstrong (11)+Brentford's Ivan Toney (10), both of whom have come a long way since they were on at Barnsley from Newcastle in successive seasons about 5 years back. Reds will face them both next week
— Doug O'Kane (@dougokane88) November 18, 2020
Where Barnsley are involved, there tends to be space in behind and with Adam Armstrong among others up top, Blackburn have the tools to take full advantage.Gabriel Sutton
Over 3.5 Match Goals
Ipswich Town v Charlton Athletic
These two sides were dealt a blow to their promotion hopes in midweek with heavy defeats, as Ipswich lost 3-0 at home to Hull while Charlton were defeated 4-2 at Burton.
The Addicks were without aerial specialist Ryan Inniss and ball-playing defender Akin Famewo, while there were also question marks over the fitness of Jason Pearce, which really hindered them.
In the circumstances, Lee Bowyer opted against youthful options of Charlie Barker and Jade-Jay Mingi and instead named an experienced but makeshift centre-back pairing of Chris Gunter and Darren Pratley, a right-back and a midfielder by trade respectively.
The South Londoners were caught playing out from the back for the first two goals and looked short of an aerial presence when defending set pieces, giving Bowyer food for thought for this weekend’s trip to Portman Road.
The Tractor Boys had a reasonable amount of general play last time out but again, they looked vulnerable whenever their opponents put the ball in their box.
Ipswich had the opposite problem to Charlton in that, although their two centre-backs were naturals in that position, there was a lack of experience.
Luke Woolfenden and Mark McGuiness are talented defenders individually, but the former’s decision making was questionable and neither offer a truly commanding presence.
Paul Lambert might be tempted to move veteran Luke Chambers back to central defence for knowhow but, given that there was no natural right-back on Town’s bench, options may be limited.
In sharpshooter James Norwood, speedster Kayden Jackson and mobile target man Oli Hawkins, though, Ipswich have three strikers capable of bringing different qualities which suggests they should find the net.
Similarly, Charlton had the luxury of being able to bring attacking quality in creative forward Chuks Aneke, speedy Conor Washington and lively wide playmaker Jonny Williams off the bench in midweek – and have found the net in each of their last eight league encounters.
Bowyer likened tonight's game to that 5-3 loss we had at Scunny a couple of years ago in the promotion season. A really weird one where we just gift goals away. He's not happy, as you'd expect. #cafc
— Louis Mendez (@LouisMend) November 24, 2020
Both teams look defensively vulnerable whilst having lots of appealing options going forward. We could be in for a thriller.Gabriel Sutton
Oxford to Win to Nil
Oxford United v Swindon Town
Karl Robinson was delighted with his side’s display in last Saturday’s win at Wigan.
Although the scoreline was a modest 2-1, the Liverpudlian likened the performance to the 6-0 win at Lincoln, where they went to Sincil Bank with a fire in their belly, a point to prove – and in that game the Yellows created arguably fewer chances than they did in West Lancashire.
It’s a common assumption that Oxford had been in a false position, struggling near the bottom having reached the Play-Off Final last season and a lot of their displays had been on the front foot, but still a touch disjointed in the final third.
What has helped things click for the U’s more recently, though, is the signing of Jordan Obita.
Oxford’s first XI has normally been 10 right-footed players and Josh Ruffels, who is a technical rather than direct left-back anyway, so Obita has played a vital role in terms of his ability to diversify the play and provide thrust in a different direction.
In terms of natural ability, Obita could be playing in the Premier League by now and it is only injuries over the last half-decade that have held him back, so at League One level he can be a real force.
That is bad news for Swindon, who are looking to solidify under John Sheridan.
It was a defensive horror-show for the Robins in the recent 3-0 defeat to Accrington Stanley and the return of Mathieu Baudry has seen them look sturdier in the 1-0 win over Bristol Rovers and the defeat to Lincoln by the same scoreline.
It remains to be seen, though, whether Sheridan’s methods will maximize the control of Matt Smith, the creativity of Jack Payne, the wide pace of Jordan Stevens, the skill of Jonny Smith or the poaching instincts of Brett Pitman.
Sheridan was appointed for his record as a survival specialist, but his methods may not suit the personnel.
Oxford fans will be keen to point out they are eight unbeaten against their local rivals and unfortunately for Swindon, I expect that run to continue on Saturday.Gabriel Sutton
Leyton Orient to Win
Port Vale v Leyton Orient
Leyton Orient create a low volume of clear cut chances.
Ross Embleton’s side are not the type to dominate a game from minute one to 90 but rather, they are extremely productive whenever they do get into the final third.
Conor Wilkinson, on the right of their attacking trio, brings pace, skill and quality that is almost unique for a man who is 6’3”.
James Brophy, meanwhile, has been handed a more advanced left-sided role in recent games and relished the transitional opportunities that has afforded him, with the ex-Swindon man causing havoc with his direct running.
Danny Johnson, meanwhile, is League Two’s second-top goalscorer with nine, after becoming the first O’s player to score an East London hat-trick since Matty Lockwood achieved the feat in 2007.
Orient will be ominous opposition, therefore, for Port Vale, who have suffered four consecutive league defeats after a 2-1 loss at Stevenage last time out.
For that game, the Valiants were without aerial centre-back Leon Legge, right-backs James Gibbons and Zach Mills, anchor man Luke Joyce, midfield dynamo Tom Conlon, unpredictable wide forward David Amoo and talismanic target man Tom Pope.
Each of those players, if available, would likely have made the XI, so while fans like to think they have more depth this season, it appears that the quality of that depth is not strong enough to sustain them through such a long list of key absentees.
✨Sunday Stat Attack!
Danny Johnson Total League Shots: 22
Danny Johnson Total League Goals: 9
🦊That's a goal every 2.4 shots for our Fox in the Box #LOFC
— The LO Down #LOFC (@LO_Podcast) November 22, 2020
Given the contrast in form, I’m amazed the Leyton Orient win is priced as big as 13/5. Wilkinson, Johnson and Brophy can cause problems for an out-of-sorts Port Vale side.Gabriel Sutton