EFL pundit Gab Sutton thinks Norwich will be celebrating promotion to the Premier League on Saturday night in his EFL Weekend Preview.
Watford to win
Luton Town v Watford
Watford need 10 points from their remaining five games to mathematically rubber-stamp automatic promotion, but if Brentford and Swansea maintain their current PPG ratio, just one more win will suffice.
The Hornets can therefore go one giant leap towards securing an instant return to the Premier League with victory at local rivals Luton.
The “M1 Derby” has not been played at Kenilworth Road since 2006, because the clubs have spent long periods apart: from 2009, the Bedfordshire outfit endured half-a-decade in non-league before their local foes, from 2015, had the same amount of time at English football’s top table.
Were fans present, there may be more adrenaline behind Luton’s performance, but the absence of spectators may tip the game towards the expensively assembled visitors.
Watford have benefited massively from being able to retain the services of key man Ismaïla Sarr, who proved his quality in last Friday’s 2-0 victory over Reading.
Xisco Munoz’s side boast another elite attacking talent in João Pedro, who has justified his head coach’s decision to entrust him with leading the line, while Ken Sema has provided pace, width and excellent deliveries from the left all season.
The Hertforshire side possess two of the divisions most intelligent full-backs in Kiko Femenia and Adam Masina, while Nathaniel Chalobah, Will Hughes and Philip Zinckernagel bring tenacity, control and craft respectively from the three-man midfield.
The difference in ability between these sides is vast, even if Luton do possess Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, with 15 of the 20-man squad that won 3-1 at Wycombe last time out having previously played in League Two or below.
The only reason the home side are not at the other end of the table to their hosts is Nathan Jones and while the fiery Welshman is working wonders, the gap in quality could show.
Kiko Femenia is my player of the season. Sarr rightly gets the plaudits for the goals but Kiko gets us going, is essential to Sarr doing so well and has been defensively sound. The key player for me. We are lucky to have him. #watfordfc
— Paul H 💙 (@WFCPaulH) April 10, 2021
Given the gulf in individual quality between these sides, I’m more than happy to back Watford for an 11th win in 13 league games at narrow odds-against quotes.Gabriel Sutton
Norwich to win
Norwich City v Bournemouth
Norwich could not wrap up their promotion to the Premier League last Saturday, with Swansea and Brentford victories making them wait another week.
Their inevitable return to the promised land is likely to be confirmed this weekend because the Canaries no longer need results elsewhere to seal their fate – although if Swansea and Brentford fail to win at lunchtime, the evening’s events will cease to matter.
Daniel Farke’s side possess a few experienced players like Tim Krul, Grant Hanley and Teemu Pukki, but they continue to impress when it comes to developing youngsters.
Max Aarons, along with fellow right-sider Emi Buendia, will be courted by some of the biggest clubs in Europe this summer, but a less familiar name is Andrew Omobamidele.
The 6’2” defender was recruited from Leixlip United in Ireland in 2019 and has risen into the first XI ahead of schedule, due to recent injuries to Ben Gibson and Christoph Zimmermann.
At 18, Omobamidele is already playing at Under-21s level with the Republic of Ireland and has shown remarkable confidence and composure in his first few appearances for the Canaries, whilst also putting in some solid blocks.
Farke generally likes to reward teenagers for good performances with more starts so, even if Gibson or Zimmermann were to return from injury, they might not necessarily jump straight back in.
It is with that approach that Norwich are developing players good enough not just for the Premier League, but the Europa League and potentially even the Champions League.
They might be a selling club, but with the caveat that they hold out for big fees for their top talent and want their players to get big moves which will influence other exciting players considering joining Norwich.
There is a positive working culture at Colney Training Ground which did not exist four years ago, so Stuart Webber deserves immense credit for his work in that time as Sporting Director.
Norwich will be the ultimate test, therefore, for Play-Off challengers Bournemouth, who will feel their best chance of leaving Norfolk unscathed is if the hosts’ fate is decided before kick-off.
The Cherries have won five on the spin, but Saturday night should belong to the Yellows.
🗣 ‘When it is on a 12-year-old’s social media account, it’s usually rubbish.’ 😂😂
Classic Stuart Webber
— The Pink Un (@pinkun) February 10, 2021
I’d expect Brentford and Swansea to win their respective games at lunchtime, which would mean Norwich can secure the inevitable top flight return on their own terms.Gabriel Sutton
Lincoln to win
Bristol Rovers v Lincoln City
If the film The Wolf of Wall Street were to represent the League One promotion picture, Lincoln City star as Leonardo Di Caprio’s character Jordan Belfort.
Injuries, health issues, postponed matches and a six-game winless run all pointed to the Imps falling out of contention, but a late resurrection in the 2-2 draw with Blackpool laid the foundations for Tuesday’s 4-0 thumping of MK Dons.
Quite simply, Michael Appleton’s side are not leaving and with renewed hope, they pursue back-to-back wins for the first time since January.
Lincoln have been able to welcome key centre-backs Adam Jackson and Joe Walsh back into the fray in recent games, while energetic forward Callum Morton is also back to support the supremely talented Morgan Rogers, with the Man City loanee having assisted twice last time out.
It was Brennan Johnson, though, who stole the headlines with a second half hat-trick.
Rogers carried a threat with his dribbles in from the left channel and his eye for a through ball, which meant the 18-year-old drew attention which freed up Johnson to find gaps between the left of the ‘D’ and the 6-yard box, making his two open play finishes look simple from close-range before completing a treble from the spot.
Tayo Edun is also thriving for Appleton, who moved the former Fulham utility man from left-back into midfield.
Edun had always been a more technical full-back than his right-sided counter-part, the athletic TJ Eyoma, so his coach fancied him in midfield and thus facilitated that shift by adding Cohen Bramall from Colchester.
Bramall has endured an injury-disrupted few seasons that stopped him building on his move to Arsenal in 2017, but the 25-year-old has Championship ability when fit.
Possessing searing pace and excellent stamina, Bramall is also sufficiently technical to take set pieces, making him a massive asset to the resurgent Imps, who could thrive at relegation threatened Bristol Rovers.
— Luke Kempson (@kempson_luke) April 13, 2021
Rovers are struggling for goals. They are lucky that technical left wing-back Luke Leahy has hit double-figures because strikers James Daly, Brandon Hanlan and Jonah Ayunga have bagged only once between them since Joey Barton took charge two months ago.Gabriel Sutton
Rochdale to win
Rochdale v Accrington Stanley
Rochdale have scored 49 goals this season, which is more than Play-Off chasing Ipswich and they have scored more than twice on seven occasions – only four League One sides have done so more frequently.
If Brian Barry-Murphy’s side go down, therefore, it will be because of the defence, which has leaked 71 goals – but if they stay up, it will be because they have found the solution.
61 of the league goals conceded have come in the 33 games in which Dale have operated with a back-four, whereas 10 have come in seven encounters played with a back-three.
Averaging 1.8 goals conceded per game with the four, their defensive record improves by 22% to 1.4 when Barry-Murphy deploys the wing-back system.
Since MJ Williams left in the summer, Rochdale have not had a reliable anchor man – Ollie Rathbone is extremely tenacious but he was favoured in a more advanced role last time out – which puts an unfairly heavy defensive burden on energetic talent Aaron Morley.
With the insurance of three centre-backs, though, Rochdale can get away with not having a classic holding midfielder; Morley is the deepest of the three and Barry-Murphy thinks the team can gain some control by getting him on the ball frequently, with the resurgent Stephen Dooley and the exciting Conor Grant pushing on.
With an improving defence and a capable midfield, Rochdale’s problems are now – somewhat ironically, given the reputation they had two months ago – finding a cutting edge in the final third.
Get Stephen Humphry back fit quickly whilst inspiring Kwadwo Baah to replicate the flashes of brilliance that alerted Europe’s elite to his talents and survival is possible – but victory over Accrington Stanley is a must.
Can we just take a minute to appreciate 𝙅𝙞𝙢𝙢𝙮 𝙆𝙚𝙤𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙚 👏
👤 Mr Versatile – RB , LB , CB , CM , RM , LM … Basically Anywhere!
🔋 100% Effort Every Time He Plays
✅ You Can Always Rely On Him
⚽️ 7 Goals
🅰️ 2 Assists
— ROCHDALE AFC FAN PAGE (@RochdaleFan) April 14, 2021
Rochdale have always had the upper-hand over Accrington Stanley and I fancy them to continue that record here, where Brian Barry-Murphy’s side urgently need their ninth win of the campaign to give themselves a chance of beating the drop.Gabriel Sutton
Under 2.5 Goals
Exeter City v Southend United
Exeter missed an opportunity to move into the top seven with a 2-1 loss at Barrow in midweek.
The Grecians had thumped leaders Cambridge 4-1 on their own turf the previous Saturday, but that side looked unrecognizable in LA14.
With Joel Randall out for the season, Matt Taylor is somewhat hanging his hat on the form of fitness of Randell Williams, who starred in his first start in three months at the Abbey but was comparatively ineffective last time out.
Taylor, therefore, must strike an awkward balance between managing Williams’ minutes so that he does not have to play too much, too soon, without weakening the team.
Ben Seymour, who replaced Williams – a tricky wide man by trade but a second striker in a 4-4-2 diamond at Barrow – is at a different stage of his development, bringing plenty of pace and energy, but not much star quality.
The latter is something Exeter could be missing when asked to break down a compact Southend side battling to beat the drop.
Early in the campaign, the Shrimpers were second-best to most teams in all departments but over the last 10 weeks, they have seen Shaun Hobson lead a solid defence, midfielders like Nathan Ferguson have given the team more of a foothold in their games but going forward, they have stayed at the same level throughout.
Players operating up top for Southend this season have scored a combined four goals in 51 starts, with one of the efforts coming from Timothee Dieng – a defensive midfielder by trade.
The fact Dieng and veteran centre-back Greg Halford started in attack in last week’s 0-0 draw with Crawley, when Emile Acquah and Brandon Goodship were on the bench, suggests a lack of faith in the natural strikers.
Phil Brown when he saves Southend from relegation 🎤🤣pic.twitter.com/6pS1VPe5WK
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) April 9, 2021
Since the introduction of the Football League Fourth Division in 1958, no team has scored fewer goals at that level than 27, the number Southend are projected to finish on if they maintain their current goals per game return. The fact the Shrimpers still have a realistic chance of staying up is remarkable.Gabriel Sutton
Forest Green to win
Forest Green Rovers v Scunthorpe United
After a run of four straight defeats hurt their promotion chances, Forest Green have this week dismissed Mark Cooper as manager.
Chairman Dale Vince has moved to put Jimmy Ball in charge until the end of the season, whilst beginning the process of identifying the person to lead them into the following campaign.
Cooper, who led Swindon to the League One Play-Off Final in 2014-15 and has had two successful seasons in four years with the Nailsworth outfit, is far more established than Ball and likely a savvier tactician.
The fact Vince has instead entrusted the Under-18s manager with the temporary number one gig, therefore, suggests the previous incumbent was struggling to motivate his players.
Cooper might have reasonable credentials, but there can be a frosty dimension to some of his interviews and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest he may be a difficult person to warm to.
Plus, Forest Green have signed 72 different players since promotion to this level in 2017 – 18 a year – and one could imply from this that Cooper can fall out with his players frequently and thus finds himself needing new ones.
Vince, therefore, is prepared to take the risk that Ball might not be as tactically astute as his predecessor, in hope that the rookie can freshen the team up for the finale with a fresh, positive energy.
Ball will hope to lift the troops for the visit of Scunthorpe, who have won just one of their last 10 games and are ambling towards safety.
Under-18s Manager Jimmy Ball will be interim Head Coach of the first-team until the end of the season.
— Forest Green Rovers (@FGRFC_Official) April 11, 2021
They think it’s all over for Cooper… it is now. Forest Green’s head coach until the end of the season, Jimmy Ball, is the son of Alan Ball, who starred for England in 1966.Gabriel Sutton