EFL pundit Gab Sutton thinks Peterborough will be celebrating promotion to the Championship this weekend in his EFL Weekend Preview – but what else is he predicting?
Alex Mighten to score anytime
Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest
Sheffield Wednesday’s 3-1 loss at Middlesbrough last time out means if Derby match or better their result against Nottingham Forest when they play Swansea, the South Yorkshire club’s relegation will be confirmed on Saturday.
The Owls’ likely drop to the third tier is devastating for supporters of a club that has a grand history in English football, but it has been coming for five years.
Since reaching the Championship Play-Off Final in 2016, Wednesday have recruited poorly, relying too heavily on self-interested agents. The failure to evolve their squad effectively has left them relying on a declining core.
To make maters worse, the club was docked 12 points this season for breaching Profitability and Sustainability Rules and, although that deduction was reduced to six, it was always likely to affect an already struggling side.
Wednesday have already had five managers in the dugout this season – Garry Monk, Tony Pulis, Neil Thompson, Darren Moore and now Jamie Smith – with the latter standing in for Moore for health reasons.
These circumstances have been less than ideal for the Owls, who are in desperate need of a victory.
Wednesday’s issue, though, is that their best player, Josh Windass, is most likely to be effective in a counter-attacking system in which he has the freedom to run in behind, but circumstances mean the team must attack proactively.
That, in turn, could mean that it is difficult for them to release Windass and Andre Green in behind, so Nottingham Forest could be the side that attacks in transition.
That makes this the perfect game for Alex Mighten, who possesses searing pace and, under Hughton, the right-footed 19-year-old has been used on the left, where he can cut inside and find goalscoring positions.
There’s a good chance Mighten will do that against a side in desperate need of victory.
People can have their opinions on Alex Mighten but he is the type of player you go to watch football for. Everytime he gets the ball, gets you watching a bit more. The more he plays, the better he will get. #NFFC
— ReissNFFC (@ReissNFFC) April 2, 2021
Wednesday have nothing to lose here and with them likely to be on the front foot for long spells, there is a good chance of Forest’s Alex Mighten having some joy on the counter-attack.Gabriel Sutton
Swansea City v Derby County
Most teams in relegation trouble grow stronger as the season goes on because, while the games become increasingly important to them, some opposing teams have little to play for – but that has not been the case in the Championship this season.
When it matters most, Derby have lost five games in succession – but so have Rotherham, which means they could stay up more by virtue of the failings of their divisional rivals than their own merit.
The season has hinged on the injury to Krystian Bielik, with the Rams accruing a mere 15 points in 18 games since the Pole’s injury.
Wayne Rooney has attempted to account for Bielik’s absence by operating with a back-three, in which the talented George Edmundson and veteran Craig Forsyth flank Matt Clarke.
The presence of three defenders, though, did not stop the East Midlanders from looking vulnerable from crosses in the second half of Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to Birmingham.
Rooney, we can imagine, will prioritise the basics of defending in training ahead of the trip to Swansea, who are less likely to carry an aerial threat in open play.
Steve Cooper’s side have speedster Jamal Lowe and flair forward Andre Ayew up top – and the latter often drops deep to link play – so the Swans can be short of a reliable goalscoring presence.
— Simpsons Watford FC (@SimpsonsWatford) April 24, 2021
I expect Derby to set up to avoid defeat here and Swansea, with their Play-Off place already booked, may lack the drive and verve to break them down. This one could be goalless.Gabriel Sutton
Blackpool to win -2 handicap
Northampton Town v Blackpool
Northampton showed immense spirit to earn a point at Gillingham in midweek, coming back from two down late in the game.
Substitutes Danny Rose, Mark Marshall, Ryan Edmondson and Caleb Chukwamenka all turned the game for Jon Brady’s side, who still have a mammoth task ahead of them in the final two games to beat the drop.
To give themselves a chance of doing so on the final day, the Cobblers must either better Wigan’s result at Hull, or win and hope Wimbledon lose to Portsmouth – although Brady’s troops would require a 10-goal swing as well as a six-point swing to haul the Wombles in.
What it boils down to is that there is huge pressure on Northampton to win, which may feed into Blackpool’s hands.
Neil Critchley’s side took a big step towards securing a Play-Off berth on Tuesday, when they won 1-0 at Sunderland thanks to Sulley Kaikai’s stunning volley.
The Pool have an in-form striker in Jerry Yates, who has scored 18 goals in his last 34 league appearances; the former Rotherham man used to only be able to score from close-range in acres of space, but over the last two years he has bulked up and become more aggressive, enabling him to score scrappier goals.
Yates is thus one of the first names on the team sheet and Critchley’s dilemma has often been whether to play Elliot Embleton just behind the main striker, or pair him with Ellis Simms.
Embleton is hugely talented – and has in fact played wide right in recent games – but here Simms’ strength and pace could make the Everton loanee an appealing option, given the nature of the contest.
Northampton will commit numbers to their attacks due to their need for victory, so if Blackpool can pin two athletic strikers onto home centre-backs Lloyd Jones and Fraser Horsfall, they could have numerous opportunities to get in behind.
Yesterday I asked is it acceptable at the age of 27 to go out in public in a signed Jerry Yates thumbs up T-shirt? Turns out the answer is well and truly yes. Yes it is. 🍊 @yates_jerry pic.twitter.com/59axPpDnWN
— Jason (@JaseBFC1887) April 28, 2021
If Ellis Simms plays for Blackpool here, I feel him and Jerry Yates could have a field day against a Northampton side that has to throw everything at their visitors.Gabriel Sutton
Peterborough United v Lincoln City
Peterborough were unable to secure promotion to the Championship in midweek, when they drew 2-2 with Doncaster having led by two goals and dominated much of the contest.
The Posh will be hopeful of repeating that performance against Lincoln and avoiding defeat, which would see them clinch a return to the second-tier after eight seasons in League One.
The front-three for Darren Ferguson’s side – Sammie Szmodics, Siriki Dembele and Jonson Clarke-Harris – get a lot of credit, but versatile operators go under the radar.
With everyone fit and available, Ferguson has picked largely the same XI throughout the season, but the formation has switched between 3-4-3 and 4-2-3-1, sometimes within the same game.
That would not be possible without the adaptability of Nathan Thompson, Dan Butler and Joe Ward.
With the former system, Thompson is the right-sided centre-back, Butler the left wing-back and Ward right wing-back, but when “Fergie Jr” shifts to the back-four, they move to right-back, left-back and right wing respectively.
Thompson’s aggression and ball-carrying ability plus Dan Butler’s intelligence and quality of delivery combined with Joe Ward’s selfless running means the trio maintain the equilibrium of this Peterborough side through the shifting shapes.
A moment to remember those poor Championship clubs who didn’t think Nathan Thompson wasn’t good enough for that league on a free #pufc
— Matt Evetts (@Matt_Evetts) April 16, 2021
Lincoln are back in form which could be great news for their prospects in the Play-Offs, but Peterborough should get the result they need to secure promotion.Gabriel Sutton
Bolton to win
Bolton Wanderers v Exeter City
Bolton can confirm an instant return to League One on Saturday afternoon if they match or better the results of Tranmere and Morecambe.
The Trotters are in that strong position thanks to a 1-0 victory over the latter, in which their job was made easier when their opponents were reduced to 10-men with the game goalless.
Ian Evatt’s side have leaders at the back in former Blackpool teammates – goalkeeper Matt Gilks and centre-back Alex Baptiste – with the latter having formed an excellent partnership with Ricardo Santos, who has been described as the best defender outside the Championship.
Wanderers have been helped by the January addition of MJ Williams, who anchors the midfield superbly to give George Thomason the platform to express himself and allow the classy Kieran Lee to press in attack with Eoin Doyle.
There are partnerships developing all over the field which is credit to Evatt, who had a lot to say in the first half of the season but is now undoubtedly walking the proverbial walk.
Hoping to delay Bolton’s promotion party are Exeter, who beat Grimsby 3-2 last time out to keep themselves in the Play-Off hunt.
The Grecians will move into the top seven ahead of the final day if they win while Salford and Forest Green fail to do so against Colchester and Tranmere respectively. But that could be a tall order.
Ricardo Santos 🇵🇹
— bagged at 15K (@FUTJack___) April 24, 2021
Bolton have accrued an enormous 48 points from their last 20 games and, on that form, they fully deserve to clinch promotion – which they can do on Saturday with a victory.Gabriel Sutton
Forest Green to win
Forest Green Rovers v Tranmere Rovers
Mathematically speaking, Tranmere can win automatic promotion but realistically, their remaining two games are all about attaining the two points they require to ensure a Play-Off berth.
Achieving the latter is all Forest Green will be focusing on, after a midweek defeat to Barrow, which – combined with victories for Salford and Newport – means the Nailsworth outfit are currently outside the top seven for the first time since October.
The Green Devils have been much improved under Jimmy Ball, there is a brighter mood in the camp and the shot data backs that up; 1.69 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game over the last four matches and 1.12 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 60.20%.
Forest Green need a reaction to the performance against Barrow, though, in which the 4-2-4 system, with Scott Wagstaff and Jake Young flanking Aaron Collins and Odin Bailey in attack, gave defenders few options in possession.
This has been a common issue for the team since Carl Winchester left for Sunderland in January, so the last two games may represent a huge opportunity for Isaac Hutchinson.
The Derby loanee, who was brought in to replace Winchester’s quality of ball progression, has not started quite as much as he would have liked – under Ball, though, he might have another opportunity to prove himself and make the difference for the Play-Off contenders.
If Hutchinson can do the trick, then Forest Green have a good chance of beating Tranmere Rovers, who are simply not the same side without injured talisman James Vaughan.
— Laurie (@lauriemartin263) April 27, 2021
Tuesday night aside, Forest Green have performed well under Jimmy Ball and their need for three points is greater than that of Tranmere, who are highly unlikely to either make the top three or miss out on the top seven.Gabriel Sutton