It might be the international break but there is still domestic action and Gab Sutton is here to provide his preview of the weekend EFL action.
“This young Wimbledon side are struggling to get to grips with the pressure of the dogfight, so if already safe Cambridge play with a swagger, I could see them coming away with a resounding victory.”Gabriel Sutton
AFC Wimbledon v Cambridge United
Cambridge -1 handicap
Wimbledon made a club statement on Wednesday, re-affirming the board’s decision to back Mark Robinson as manager.
It was a brave call, with the team winless in 20 (19 league), and there are compelling arguments to be made either way.
On the one hand, Robinson is a very good coach, he has links with the academy setup, he has played a part in convincing the club’s biggest assets like Ayoub Assal to sign long-term contracts and has the potential to build something special.
On the other hand, this winless streak is eight games longer than any team went throughout the whole of 2020-21 and the longest anyone has seen at this level since Bury in 2016-17: and failure to win on Saturday would match the Shakers’ unwanted run.
Although the Dons led up until the 80th minute in the 3-1 defeat at Cheltenham, the defending was at best chaotic and at worst reminiscent of school children running after the ball in the playground.
Plus, while the hierarchy have committed to supporting ‘Robbo’ better in recruitment, this does not help the Londoners with the here and now, in their bid to avoid a first ever relegation in their current incarnation.
Ideally, what the manager needs is an experienced assistant who can give him guidance, as well as bringing a new voice into the dressing room, but it does not look like such a figure will be forthcoming.
For that reason, there is a danger that things unravel for the Wombles against Cambridge, who are playing without pressure.
If Wes Hoolahan brings his dazzling best, if a rejuvenated Adam May comes into Mark Bonner’s side, if Joe Ironside is on song, then the visitors can exploit the uneasiness at Plough Lane.
The boards of AFCW PLC and the Dons Trust believe that Mark Robinson is the right man to remain as our Head Coach.#AFCWhttps://t.co/m3Ql4aWKet
— AFC Wimbledon (@AFCWimbledon) March 23, 2022
“Argyle have just won six games on the spin without conceding in any of them and the promotion-chasers are above Ipswich in the table, so I see the Pilgrims as massively underrated at Portman Road.”Gabriel Sutton
Ipswich Town v Plymouth Argyle
Double Chance: Draw/Argyle
Ipswich are hoping to make a late Play-Off push under Kieran McKenna.
The Tractor Boys have accrued 37 points from 22 games under the former Manchester United coach, moving them from 12th and nine points off the top six to ninth and six.
The Suffolk club, though, require approximately 19 points from their remaining seven games to make the cut on current PPG projections: a huge ask, with Rotherham, Wigan and Saturday’s opponents, Plymouth Argyle, still to play.
While McKenna has Ipswich far better organised than they were under Paul Cook, with talented defender Luke Woolfenden key to 10 clean sheets since his appointment, it’s been a different story going forward.
Ipswich have one of the best creators at this level in attacking midfielder Bersant Celina, a dynamic box-to-box man in Tyreeq Bakinson and an all-action right wing-back in Wes Burns, but they miss a top centre-forward capable of converting chances.
Since McKenna took charge, Macaulay Bonne, Conor Chaplin, Kayden Jackson and James Norwood have scored only nine goals between them, so change in the forward department could be in store this summer.
For that reason, Argyle look underrated to avoid defeat at Portman Road, off the back of six consecutive victories to nil.
Ryan Hardie and Danny Mayor have been grabbing headlines for Steven Schumacher’s side but right-wing-back Joe Edwards – consistently energetic and dynamic – remains captain fantastic.
Most externally underrated player in League One? Joe Edwards.
Consistently brilliant at this level with Yeovil, Walsall and Argyle across a variety of positions, yet no-one from outside ever mentions him.
Kind of like a secret cider that only locals know about.#PAFC 💚⚓️
— Gabriel Sutton (@GabSutton) March 24, 2022
“If anything close to the Wednesday side that thrashed Cambridge turn up, then Cheltenham could be in for an arduous afternoon in South Yorkshire.”Gabriel Sutton
Sheffield Wednesday v Cheltenham Town
Wednesday -2 handicap
After Sheffield Wednesday thrashed Cambridge 6-0 thanks to a hat-trick from Saido Berahino and a man-of-the-match showing from Barry Bannan, it looked like the Owls were ready to tighten their grip on a top six berth.
Instead, what followed was underwhelming draws with Accrington Stanley and Gillingham, but the mauling of the U’s showed what Darren Moore’s side can conjure up when they bring their A-game.
If Berahino comes back into the XI and Massimo Luongo brings the drive from midfield, Wednesday could dish out another demolition against Cheltenham.
Michael Duff’s side got to 50 points when they defeated AFC Wimbledon 3-1 last Saturday thanks to three goals in the closing 10 minutes, and the end of any threat of relegation means they could become liable to one or two no-shows.
Plus, because Bannan looks after the ball so well, popping it around midfield, there will be spells in which the Robins’ back-three becomes a back-five, the midfield gets forced into the defensive third.
When that happens, there is the risk of Alfie May along with his strike partner – whether that’s Andy Williams or George Lloyd – get isolated and unable to influence the game.
May is a persistent runner, but he does not have the strengths to hold the ball up for long, but rather does his best work when he has players around him to link up with – such players may be in short supply at Hillsborough if the game pans out as Moore hopes.
247 ahead of third-best. An absolute shambles of a stat.
We’re all guilty of this – media very much included – but because Barry Bannan is Barry Bannan, his monstrous contribution sometimes gets taken for granted.#SWFC🦉 https://t.co/9OQoRHzBxu
— Alex Miller (@AlexMiller91) March 23, 2022
“Cards on the table… I had to double-take when I saw promotion contenders Tranmere are the same price for victory on Saturday as their hosts, who still have to tick off the points they need to stay up.”Gabriel Sutton
Colchester United v Tranmere Rovers
Tranmere to win
Colchester chairman Robbie Cowling has come under pressure from locals, with the club declining under his leadership and the EFL status having been in question this term.
Nonetheless, Cowling should be credited for allowing proceeds from Monday’s 1-0 home defeat to Forest Green to go to supporting refugees, in light of the war in Ukraine.
On the field, the U’s put in a gallant effort against the division’s champions-elect and made it a nervy finale, but missed those final touches of quality in the final third.
The Essex club have a good goalkeeper in Shamal George, while Cole Skuse keeps things ticking over in midfield, but going forward they rely heavily on 10-goal man Freddie Sears.
Despite this, Colchester are the same price for victory as their promotion-chasing visitors, who have taken seven points from their last three games.
Tranmere fans could have been forgiven for fearing a struggle in the absence of Jay Spearing, but the all-action Lee O’Connor has forged an excellent midfield partner in the skipper’s absence with Lewis Warrington.
The Everton loanee glides past opponents with ease and brings Rovers a level of creativity in the opposing half that they have not had previously this season.
Josh Hawkes continues to bring the flair on the left wing, with the Sunderland recruit cutting inside from the left to get sumptuous shots away, but Micky Mellon’s side have grit and resilience at the other end in the defensive partnership of Tom Davies and Peter Clarke.
Tranmere have a great chance of getting the points they need to potentially move back into the top three.
"I just believe that we have the mentality amongst us to cope in these last ten matches."@phildenton81 is this week's News Show guest and he still fancies Tranmere's chances of promotion. Listen in full by subscribing for £3 a month #TRFC #SWAhttps://t.co/dNZgcngkLa pic.twitter.com/rxqrVLWAVE
— A Trip To The Moon (@ATTTMPod) March 24, 2022
“If Timothee Dieng returns to the Exeter XI this weekend, I believe that will make a huge difference to the Grecians, who are hoping to tighten their grip on second spot – and deny Steve Evans the start he wants as Stevenage boss in the process.”Gabriel Sutton
Exeter City v Stevenage
Exeter to win to nil
Exeter will have been delighted to take a point at Port Vale in midweek.
The Grecians were far from their best in Burslem but, having been without numerous key players including all their senior midfielders by trade bar Archie Collins, it was a case of avoiding defeat to their promotion rivals.
Matt Taylor’s side dug in and defenders Cheick Diabate, Sam Stubbs and Alex Hartridge all held firm in a goalless draw at Vale Park.
City are hoping that Timothee Dieng will be available to slot back into midfield for Saturday’s contest, having been arguably the Devoners’ Player of the Season.
Dieng is the sort who does the dirty work that no one else wants to do, which is why he can be such a big miss when absent.
Aerially accomplished, powerful, combative, willing to keep things it simple defensively whilst having plenty of flair in his locker at the right moments as well as loving a well-timed run to the back stick, the former Southend midfielder has been crucial to Exeter’s promotion bid.
If Dieng returns as hoped, Exeter have a great chance of getting the victory they need to ensure they spend the weekend in second place, even with Steve Evans taking charge of Stevenage for the first time.
Luckily for Evans and co., Oldham are showing few signs of a resurgence at the bottom, so it will not take much for Boro to tick off the points required to secure their EFL status
Timothee Dieng v Crawley Town:
Passing Accuracy – 71.4%
Aerials Won – 6
Dribbles Completed – 2
Clearances – 2
Goals – 2
Shots Blocked – 1
Tackles Won – 1@timdieng8 #ECFC #LeagueTwo #EFL pic.twitter.com/uSx6zo48UJ
— The Near Post (@TheNearPostEFL) March 16, 2022
“Mansfield’s strength in depth could really come to the fore at the business-end of the season and I see Nigel Clough’s promotion contenders inflicting a fifth straight defeat on relegation-threatened Oldham.”Gabriel Sutton
Oldham Athletic v Mansfield Town
Mansfield to win
Mansfield bounced back from successive defeats thanks to Jordan Bowery’s midweek goal, which handed them a 1-0 victory at Rochdale.
The victory puts the Stags two points off the Play-Offs and four points off the top three, with three games in hand on most of their promotion rivals and two on Port Vale and Exeter.
77 points is the projected requirement for automatic promotion which, if accurate, would be the lowest tally for a top-three side at this level since John Beck’s Lincoln went up with 75 in 1997-98.
Nigel Clough’s side have a great opportunity, therefore, to make the most of their games in hand and they have the depth to do it.
It looked as though the Nottinghamshire side might have to settle for just a point from Tuesday’s jaunt across the Pennines, but intelligent left-sider Kieran Wallace, energetic presser George Lapslie and striker Bowery all changed the game.
Even George Maris, who has at times been one of the most technically accomplished midfielders in the division, did not get off the bench at Rochdale, nor did Danny Johnson, who scored 20 goals last season for Leyton Orient.
Mansfield have options that allow Clough to rotate, something that could come in handy for this trip to Oldham.
After a positive start to John Sheridan’s return to the dugout, the Latics have lost four games on the spin after a midweek loss to Sutton, putting the club’s 115-year Football League stay in serious jeopardy.
Jordan Bowery that is the tweet.
— James Perrin (@JamesPerrinMTFC) March 22, 2022