The first promotion of the season could be confirmed this weekend and EFL pundit Gab Sutton reckons, if Brentford and Swansea fail to win, Norwich will be cracking open the champagne…

Norwich to win

Derby County v Norwich City

Norwich’s stunning 7-0 victory over Huddersfield on Tuesday night means they can rubber-stamp promotion on Saturday.

Victory at Derby, combined with failure to win for Brentford and Swansea, will mathematically confirm the Canaries’ instant return to the Premier League.

The Norfolk outfit won the title at this level in 2018-19 but their success this year is impressive for different reasons.

More money through parachute payments, yes, but more pressure, greater expectations and little time to get over the hangover from last season, with the NR1 outfit having finished bottom of the Premier League following 10 straight defeats.

When Norwich do come back up, many experts will be sceptical given that they have been relegated in each of their last three seasons at that level, but if they keep two or three of Max Aarons, Emi Buendia, Todd Cantwell and Teemu Pukki whilst recruiting from a loftier market than they did in 2018, there is no reason why they cannot surprise a few people.

Unlike the class of 2018-19 that won high-scoring, helter-skelter encounters with late goals, Daniel Farke’s side are strong defensively this time around thanks to the partnership of Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson, who will sign permanently from Burnley this summer.

Arranging another deal for Tottenham loanee Oliver Skipp, though, may be more problematic – especially if Spurs are playing Europa League football next season – with the all-action midfielder reportedly rated very highly by Jose Mourinho and seen as a potential future captain.

For now, though, Skipp is a key cog in this fantastic Norwich side who will be very keen to book their return to the top flight at Derby, who have work to do to secure their Championship status.

The club have reached a definitive agreement with No Limits Sports Limited to buy the club from Mel Morris, but it remains to be seen whether Erik Alonso has the footballing acumen to take the club forward or the money, given that the identity of his backers is unclear.

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Norwich have been an absolute joy to watch this season, they have been an inspiration to many Championship sides and, no doubt, the likes of Emi Buendia and Max Aarons can go right to the pinnacle of world football.

Gabriel Sutton

Under 0.5 first half goals

Huddersfield Town v Rotherham United

Huddersfield and Rotherham come into this game off the back of their most embarrassing results of their respective seasons to date.

While the Terriers were thrashed in Norfolk, their fellow Yorkshire relegation candidates lost 3-0 to bottom side Wycombe.

The standard response to having one’s fingers burnt is a prompt retreat and that is what we could see from both sides this weekend.

Huddersfield, we can expect, will revert from the 3-1-4-2 that toiled at Carrow Road to a more familiar 4-3-3, with Aaron Rowe, Fraizer Campbell and potentially Sorba Thomas among those coming in, with Lewis O’Brien shifting from the left wing-back role to the left of a midfield trio.

Their visitors, meanwhile, could do the opposite switch: a move from 4-4-2 diamond to the 3-5-2 that has worked in spell this term, if Richard Wood is available to come back into defence, flanked by Michael Ihiekwe and Angus MacDonald.

Wood has struggled when deployed in a back-four because he no longer has the pace to cope when forced into wide areas, but playing centrally in a back-three allows him to bring his unique organisational qualities without being exposed.

Ryan Giles will almost certainly come in at left wing-back with deep-lying playmaker Daniel Barlaser and individualistic striker Freddie Ladapo potentially dropping out as Warne looks to re-establish some solidity.

These sides will initially prioritize shape and organisation in their respective bids for a respectable response to Monday’s capitulation and that dynamic may dictate the first half.

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I’m expecting Huddersfield and Rotherham to respond to Monday’s capitulation by starting this game with a “back-to-basics” approach, which could see both defences on top. I reckon this one will be goalless at the interval.

Gabriel Sutton

Double chance: Draw/Rochdale

Fleetwood Town v Rochdale

5/6

Rochdale may be bottom of League One, but they are by no means a lost cause.

Brian Barry-Murphy’s side have been defeated just once in their previous four encounters, each of which coming against sides eighth or above.

The Dale played Lincoln off the park, despite their hosts having been in the top two at the time, they came from behind to be within moments of defeating Peterborough, they lost to a rejuvenated Portsmouth side and denied Paul Cook’s Ipswich as much as a single shot on target.

In those games, Rochdale averaged 1.79 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 0.76 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 70.04% – the best in the division in that timeframe.

Granted, the Lancashire outfit were not great going forward themselves last time out, missing focal point Stephen Humphrys, who Barry-Murphy is hoping will return for this westerly trip.

In Ollie Rathbone, Rochdale boast a tenacious, selfless midfielder who many sides towards the top of the division would envy and the one-time Manchester United trainee has a massive part to play in helping the club beat the drop.

Going forward, meanwhile, teenage wide forward Kwadwo Baah has attracted elite attention off the back of some exciting individual displays this term, while Alex Newby – loved at Chorley for his work ethic – can bring quality from the right off the bench.

Rochdale are not out of this and look massively underrated on the Fylde coast, where Fleetwood are safe from relegation, out of the Play-Off scramble and – with just five scored in their last six – are struggling for goals in every sense of the word.

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Rochdale have avoided defeat in half their games this season, while Fleetwood have failed to win in 64% of their own, so the raw stats suggest a 57% chance of a repeat, which is greater than the 5/6 odds imply. On top of that, Dale are playing to stay up whereas their hosts know they will be in League One next season.

Gabriel Sutton

Blackpool draw no bet

Lincoln City v Blackpool

Lincoln were top of League One after their win at Wigan in late-February, but everything that could have since gone wrong for Michael Appleton’s side, has done.

In the 2-1 loss at Oxford last time out, Appleton could name just five out of a possible nine substitutes with key defender Joe Walsh, Brighton loanee Max Sanders, technician Jorge Grant and focal point Tom Hopper all injured while Adam Jackson and Callum Morton were self-isolating.

Liam Bridcutt, whose experience as an anchor man is crucial to an otherwise youthful side, was then forced off in the first half at the Kassam Stadium.

Lincoln subsequently had two games called off – vital for health reasons – but developments leave the Imps winless in a month and with some work to do to solidify a top six berth, while they re-amalgamate their squad in preparation for what they hope will be a Play-Off showdown in May.

Blackpool, meanwhile, may be more comfortable in their pursuit of an extended campaign, unbeaten in 13 and having taken 13 points from the previous 15 available.

Jerry Yates is having an outstanding season for the Tangerines with 18 goals, intelligent movement and great link-up play, so the former Swindon man will be playing Championship football next season, be that with his current employers or second tier suitors.

Neil Critchley has recently been deliberating over whether to pair Yates with Everton loanee Ellis Simms – quick, strong and potent – in a 4-4-2 to push centre-backs deeper, or with Elliot Embleton – bright and inventive – in a 4-4-1-1 to give them quality between the lines.

Both options are appealing but, in the 4-1 thumping of Gillingham last time out, Critchley has moved Embleton to the right side of midfield in a 4-4-2, in order to incorporate Yates and Simms.

Sulley Kaikai massively impressed in that game too, so the Seasiders possess lots of players who love to break forward and threaten goal, which could make them a hard side for the under-strength Imps to contain.

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Form favours Blackpool, who also have far more of their first teamers fit and available. Michael Appleton has done a great job at Lincoln but it has been very difficult for him lately to get results with the health issues at the club and so many players absent.

Gabriel Sutton

Tom Conlon to score anytime

Port Vale v Morecambe

7/2

Port Vale and Morecambe have made history in the last week.

Morecambe’s 1-1 draw with Southend might not have been the result Derek Adams was looking for, but it left them on 63 points – their second-highest ever tally as a Football League club and with seven games to play – which shows remarkable progress.

Their forthcoming opponents, meanwhile, secured a 2-0 victory at Harrogate, giving the Valiants five consecutive league wins for the first time since 2010.

Darrell Clarke’s side might have relied on goalkeeper Scott Brown to keep them level at the break in North Yorkshire, but their resurgence in results is backed up by the underlying data.

In the 12 games since Clarke took charge, Vale have averaged 1.22 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 0.92 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 57.09% – the fourth-best in the division.

Athletic forward Devante Rodney has been key to this form, likewise creative wide man David Worrall, but Tom Conlon has also starred.

The left-footed midfielder brings bags of energy and dynamism, as well as an aptitude for shooting from range.

In fact, Conlon has taken 71 shots this season, which is more than any other midfielder in League Two; seven of those efforts have found the net but two of those have come in the winning streak, so there is every chance the former Stevenage man could take centre-stage.

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I’ve been an admirer for Tom Conlon for a couple of seasons now and the energetic midfielder has been a key part of Vale’s fine form. When the 25-year-old gets into a shooting position, he is not shy to pull the trigger.

Gabriel Sutton

Walsall to win 1-0

Walsall v Forest Green Rovers

7/1

Forest Green are simply not the same team without Jamille Matt.

For much of this season, Mark Cooper’s side have been very much a crossing outfit, looking to play the ball into wide areas then get the likes of Kane Wilson and Nicky Cadden delivering for their talismanic target man.

Matt’s height, physicality, experience and goalscoring nous made him the ideal focal point for the Nailsworth outfit, but since the former Blackpool man got injured early on against Bolton, the promotion contenders have lost three on the bounce.

If this was a previous version of Forest Green, with a deep-lying playmaker like Reece Brown – or even somebody who moves the ball well like Carl Winchester, who left for Sunderland in January – they would have been able to cope without Matt by probing patiently.

With workmanlike deep midfield options such as Elliott Whitehouse and Dominic Bernard, the team will have difficulty changing it’s style, which is a huge problem with forwards such as Aaron Collins, Josh Davison and Jake Young built to play off a target man rather than be one themselves.

Walsall can nullify their visitors, therefore, if they are reasonably organised, so the fact they have conceded just one goal in their previous four games is encouraging, even if they are looking for the first victory of Brian Dutton’s reign.

The defensive quartet of athletic right-back Hayden White, intelligent centre-back James Clarke, experienced Mat Sadler and hardworking Max Melbourne looked solid last time out, with Liam Kinsella breaking things up in midfield.

Replicate that performance on Saturday and Walsall could get the win they need to haul themselves away from danger.

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Forest Green are simply not the same team without Jamille Matt, so I’ve got a feeling Walsall might grind out their first win of Brian Dutton’s reign, after some good defensive performances recently.

Gabriel Sutton
Odds are correct at the time of posting

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