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Gabriel Sutton‘s EFL Weekend Preview, with his best bets from the Championship, League One and League Two.

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Scott Hogan to score anytime

Birmingham City v Queens Park Rangers

2/1

Scott Hogan will not have got much sleep on Tuesday night, after Birmingham’s 3-1 loss to Norwich.

With the game level in a first half that Blues had the better of, the former Brentford striker misfired from close range after a great through ball from Gary Gardner.

Hogan has suffered from a lack of service for much of this season but has been getting more chances in recent weeks and often taken them, scoring four goals in his last eight games.

The main issue for the B9 outfit had been not having a reference point in a 4-2-3-1, with Lukas Jutkiewicz out of favour and Sam Cosgrove yet to impress, especially problematic given Aitor Karanka’s defensive style of football.

Recently, though, Gardner has earnt more starts and the midfielder has pushed up in earlier phases of play, providing enough of an aerial presence to make the ball stick in the final third, which makes Hogan’s job easier.

Now that Blues are having more of the ball in the final third, we are starting to see inverted wingers Ivan Sanchez and Jeremie Bela conjure up more moments of quality to create for Hogan.

While it would be foolhardy to back Birmingham to win given their position, performances have picked up in recent weeks.

They deservedly beat Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday, came close to defeating Coventry, were denied only by a goalkeeping wonder-show at Wycombe, could have gone two goals ahead at Bournemouth, had chances at Millwall and, against Norwich last time out, produced the best half of football Karanka’s side have shown all season.

That, alone, is not enough evidence to back Birmingham to win, because the Midlanders do have a propensity for costly errors – but there is reason to think Hogan will find the net.

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Scott Hogan scored a brace against QPR last season and could do more damage to Mark Warburton’s side this weekend, having scored four in his last eight.

Gabriel Sutton

Reading to win

Rotherham United v Reading

Veljko Paunovic came in for criticism for how he set his Reading side up in Tuesday’s 1-0 loss at Wycombe, picking four centre-backs by trade and three combative midfielders.

It feels as though the Royals were defeated based on the tactics more than the individuals, but what that does mean is that it will not take much at all for them to rediscover their winning habits.

Paunovic has done a wonderful job overall and he is shrewd enough to recognize the issues at Adams Park, whilst having ideas of how to rejig the balance.

Omar Richards, reportedly close to agreeing a deal with Bayern Munich, could come in at left-back for Tom McIntyre, while versatile right-sider Esteves may replace Tom Holmes, with both alterations likely to upgrade the full-back areas.

Andy Rinomhota, deployed on the right last time out, could return to his central role to rediscover his excellent partnership with Josh Laurent with Michael Olise taking his place, then George Puscas coming into the XI to operate as a second striker behind Lucas Joao.

Those simple changes would make Reading a far more effective side that could dominate against Rotherham, who have lost their last four games.

The Millers had enjoyed an excellent run between mid-January and early February, but the intensity has gone out of their displays in recent weeks.

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Reading were poor in midweek, but I think it’ll only take two or three attacking alterations for them to get back to their best against a Rotherham side that have lost four on the spin.

Gabriel Sutton

Half-Time/Full-Time: Draw/Peterborough

Peterborough United v Wigan Athletic

Peterborough are the definition of a second half team.

Darren Ferguson’s side have issues creating in the first halves of their games as, when opponents have the energy to press, they are held back by several issues.

Firstly, not having a left-footed centre-back who can progress the ball vertically down that flank, which most teams need when beating the press.

This issue is made more problematic when opponents target right-siders Nathan Thompson and Joe Ward as well as midfield general Jack Taylor.

The Posh’s foes tend to be happy to let Reece Brown drop deep and collect the ball off the back three because, while he can caress the ball smoothly and play some superbly weighted passes over short distances, he does not have the drive to utilize the space in front of him by breaking lines.

For those reasons, Peterborough can be held in a tactical vice in the first half of their games but, once the opposing press drops off after the interval due to fatigue, getting into the final third becomes much easier.

It is in those dangerous areas that the trio of Siriki Dembele, Sammie Szmodics and Jonson Clarke-Harris do damage.

Dembele and Szmodics move in tandem with one another because, when the former drops in to collect off the midfield, the latter runs in behind to stretch rear-guards, who are given a dilemma:

Too deep and Dembele has space to showcase his electrifying skill and quality, but too high and Szmodics can get in behind.

Either stance means Clarke-Harris will get chances and the physical front-man can dominate boxes, having scored 18 goals from inside the penalty area this season.

Wigan, who got a crucial 2-1 win at Bristol Rovers in midweek, are well-coached in adversity by Leam Richardson and could put up an energetic first half fight.

The cash-strapped Latics, though, have conceded 34 second half goals, which speaks to a lack of quality in reserve.

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Peterborough have scored 19 goals in first halves of matches – the joint-11th most in League One – but no divisional rival has scored more in second halves than their 30.

Gabriel Sutton

Double Chance: Wimbledon or Draw

AFC Wimbledon v Hull City

Wimbledon have secured two league wins in three since Mark Robinson took the reins.

Robinson is a popular figure with the club, he speaks well and discussed, after the 1-0 victory over Gillingham, how “elite behaviours” can be cultivated in an environment in which players can look around them and see people they can trust.

The Wombles boss brought Ben Heneghan into the XI and, next to stalwart Will Nightingale, the centre-back was imperious, despite his lack of recent match practice.

Alex Woodyard and George Dobson are very tenacious midfielders who will get through a lot of work without the ball, while Ethan Chislett and Jack Rudoni can produce neat link-up play to create for the mobile Ryan Longman and hold-up striker Joe Pigott.

The Londoners set up as a 4-2-3-1 on paper, but as play progresses we tend to see Rudoni – who hit an excellent winning strike from distance in midweek – drift infield from the right into pockets of space while Longman, who starts on the left, will push up as a striker alongside Pigott to keep opponents guessing.

Wimbledon may therefore have picked the right time to play Hull, who are enduring a tough February with one win in six league games, failing to score in four of those encounters.

In Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat to Ipswich, the Tigers had 75 minutes to overturn the deficit yet they mustered just six efforts at goal and none of them were on target.

The Humberside outfit’s passing was slow and pedestrian, which head coach Grant McCann admitted and his side can ill-afford a repeat of those issues against the rejuvenated Dons.

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AFC Wimbledon look much improved under Mark Robinson while Hull are out of form. The Tigers have a good squad on paper so I’m not going to back the home win outright, but the Double Chance bet means we’re also in profit if the game ends all square.

Gabriel Sutton

Exeter to win

Crawley Town v Exeter City

5/4

Exeter boosted their promotion hopes with a 2-1 victory at Colchester last time out.

There were concerns about how the Grecians would react to the absence of hold-up front-man Ryan Bowman, but Ben Seymour has proved a capable deputy.

Seymour, who came through the academy, is always on the move and loves to run in behind, which means defenders rarely have a moment’s peace up against the 21-year-old, who scored in Essex on Tuesday.

Matt Taylor’s side are also helped by the January acquisition of Robbie Willmott, as well as the return from injury of Joel Randall.

Willmott and Randall are direct runners who love to attack the flank, so creative forward Matt Jay has so many options in possession, especially with Josh Key and Lewis Page pushing on from full-back roles.

City look great value, therefore, at odds-against quotes to win at Crawley, who have won just one of their last six league games.

The Red Devils look short of natural full-backs due to absentees, as manager John Yems was forced into switching to 3-5-2 last time out to deploy Sam Matthews and James Tilley in unnatural wing-back roles.

With Willmott and Randall on the flanks, Exeter could tear their hosts apart in wide areas.

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There is lots of pace in this Exeter side at the moment and with Crawley out of form, I’m delighted to be able to back the Grecians at odds-against quotes.

Gabriel Sutton

Grimsby Draw no bet

Harrogate Town v Grimsby Town

Grimsby got their first win of Paul Hurst’s second spell in charge in midweek, beating Crawley 2-1 thanks to Joe Adams’ delightful flicked finish.

It was not a notably good performance, but the result was vital and gives the Mariners an opportunity to build confidence with a group of players that have been assembled quickly.

The starting XI comprised of eight January recruits and the players Hurst has been backed to add should enhance the quality of the side.

Goalkeeping talent Jake Eastwood has been a welcome addition replacing out-of-form stalwart James McKeown while Jay Matete – someone Fleetwood fans were disappointed to see leave on loan – brings a vibrant energy in midfield.

Stefan Payne starred under Hurst in Shrewsbury’s promotion push in 2017-18 and could do so again for the Cleethorpes outfit, who will be hopeful of securing back-to-back wins against Harrogate.

Simon Weaver’s side are 15 points clear of danger after a 1-0 win over Mansfield continued their good form, but the danger for the Sulphurites is that they have maintained almost the same starting XI in every game for a month.

That tactical consistency has unquestionably had it’s benefits, but there could come a time at which fatigue – combined with their safety in midtable – leads to one or two lethargic displays.

We saw in the first quarter of the campaign that Harrogate pressed opponents into submission, then declined in the run-up to Christmas as they struggled to maintain that intensity.

The January additions of Ed Francis, Simon Power, Josh McPake and Josh March have since lifted the North Yorkshire side, but a similar drop-off would not be a huge surprise.

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Grimsby have a fresh, new-look side after January’s recruitment drive, whereas Harrogate could struggle to maintain their energy levels having rarely rotated in recent weeks.

Gabriel Sutton
Odds are correct at the time of posting

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