EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks his best bets for Easter Monday’s ups and downs
“Huddersfield are close to tying up a Play-Off spot and I’m happy to back the Terriers to avoid defeat on their jaunt to Teesside at quotes so close to evens.”Gabriel Sutton
Middlesbrough v Huddersfield Town
Double Chance: Draw/Huddersfield
Defeats for Sheffield United and Blackburn on Good Friday were welcomed by Middlesbrough and Huddersfield, despite Chris Wilder’s history with the Blades.
The results mean Boro’s fate is in their own hands: they will extend their season if they win all five of their remaining games, the final four of which coming against sides without their divisional status on the line.
The same can be said of the third-placed Terriers, who require a maximum of nine points from their final four encounters to tie up a place in the top six.
Carlos Corberan’s side face Barnsley, Coventry and Bristol City after Monday’s meeting with a Play-Off rival, which is a reasonably favourable set of fixtures – depending partly on whether the Sky Blues are still in the equation by the time of the penultimate game.
With that in mind, the West Yorkshire outfit may see conservatism to be the order of the day and it could be a case of using the strengths of Sorba Thomas, on the left, primarily to combat the threat posed by fit again Isaiah Jones.
Lewis O’Brien will have a key part to play in the press along with Jonny Russell, while Jonathan Hogg will sit and break up play from a deeper position, protecting Tom Lees and Levi Colwill, who have been imperious this season.
If Lees and Colwill keep out Middlesbrough’s inconsistent strikers, Huddersfield should make the short trip back with a point or three in their pocket.
Imagine thinking there's a better midfielder in the championship than Lewis O'Brien 😂
— Declan Rattigan 🇪🇪 (@HTAFC_Declan) April 15, 2022
“Coventry have a strong core but Bournemouth’s superior strength in depth could be crucial, especially considering both sides last played on Friday.”Gabriel Sutton
Coventry City v Bournemouth
Bournemouth to win
Bournemouth need a maximum of 12 points from their remaining six league games to guarantee promotion to the Premier League.
The Cherries drew 0-0 with Middlesbrough last time out in an uninspiring showing from Scott Parker’s side, who were hamstrung by the absence of left-back Jordan Zemura.
Despite this, the Dorset outfit have gained a point on their only realistic rivals for automatic promotion, Nottingham Forest, and are seven points better off than them.
The task for Bournemouth is to make sure that gap is not cut to fewer than four points between now and the penultimate game of the season, when they host Forest.
That means Parker’s troops could secure promotion by either avoiding defeat against the Reds, or beating Millwall on the final day.
A maximum of nine points from their next four games would guarantee the Cherries that scenario, but they do still have to host leaders Fulham, so victory in the Midlands is essential.
Coventry rely on a core of Ben Sheaf, Gus Hamer, Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres, but sometimes it can be difficult to keep their best players fresh in the absence of favourable alternatives.
Bournemouth, meanwhile, can bring the likes of Ben Pearson, Jaidon Anthony, Siriki Dembele and Jamal Lowe into the XI and any one of those players could be a real game-changer.
🍒 With six games to go in the 14-15 promotion season, Cherries sat second on 74 points.
W21 D11 L8 GF 83 GA 41
At the same stage this season they sit second on 74 points.
— Tom Crocker (@TomCrockerEcho) April 15, 2022
“If you’re asking me who I’d rather have as my manager for a high-stakes relegation six-pointer – Neil Harris or Stephen Crainey – it’s Harris hands down. That’s why I’m backing the Gills for what would be a crucial victory.”Gabriel Sutton
Gillingham v Fleetwood Town
Gillingham to win
Gillingham and Fleetwood find themselves either side of the relegation line, separated by just a single point: the one the Gills picked up against Cheltenham on Good Friday.
To make matters more complex, the Trawlermen have a game in hand and, while it is still plausible that Morecambe are more relegated or Wimbledon stay up, form would suggest neither of those things are likely.
The Shrimps have won three of their last four to go three points clear of the drop zone, while Wimbledon are winless in 24, poised to go down with Crewe and probably Doncaster.
For that reason, it looks like being one of Gillingham or Fleetwood going down and the other staying up, which is why this is such a crucial contest.
Neil Harris’ side are under more pressure to attain a positive result under this match because of the late equalizer they conceded last time out at Cheltenham, in a 2-2 draw.
Vadaine Oliver looked sharp in that game, though, and could have the physicality to bully Fleetwood’s defence, Charlie Kelman presses efficiently alongside the target man, while Ben Thompson is a threat carrying the ball from midfield and Ben Reeves brings plenty of quality too.
Harris is a good manager to have to deal with the high-stakes, while Fleetwood have someone in Stephen Crainey who had not managed a senior team six months ago and he, as well as a youthful side, could struggle with the pressure.
We’ve got super Neil Harris Gillingham FC pic.twitter.com/Ep3clVHEkq
— Chris Embleton (@ChrisEmbleton) April 15, 2022
“Argyle and Sunderland still have to play three automatic promotion contenders between them and with the standard of the Play-Off scramble being ridiculously high, neither side can be happy with a point. I think we could be looking at a crazy, high-scoring game.”Gabriel Sutton
Plymouth Argyle v Sunderland
Over 4.5 goals
The standard of the League One Play-Off scramble is arguably the highest it’s ever been.
In each of the previous 11 full League One campaigns, at least one team with fewer than 75 points has achieved a top six berth.
This season, however, 75 points is not enough to be in the top six with three/four games to play: that’s how crazy it is.
In ordinary circumstances, Plymouth Argyle deserve to at most be in automatic promotion contention, and to least be assured of their Play-Off spot, but these are not ordinary circumstances: and two very good sides will miss out.
Nonetheless, Argyle can take one huge step towards extending their season by beating competitors Sunderland, because victory would give them a five-point buffer to the Black Cats, who are currently in seventh.
Alex Neil’s side still have one game in hand on the Devoners, and could potentially cut the gap, but victory for Steven Schumacher’s side would go a long way to solidifying their position ahead of two more crunch clashes with Wigan and MK Dons.
For Sunderland, though, this is a great opportunity to capitalize on late goals in recent weeks, two of which coming from forward Nathan Broadhead, which have given them five wins in six – and move into the box seat.
If the Wearsiders could win this game, and defeat midtable Cambridge, it would give them the leeway they may need for the meeting with automatic promotion contenders Rotherham.
With the onus on both teams to win, expect a thriller.
This season we have played the best football since the Holloway era, have a group of players with a proper connection to the fans, we’ve rolled over team after team at home and took the European champions all the way.
Stick with the lads and we’ll do this #pafc
— Chris Webb (@Chris_Webb1) April 16, 2022
“Forest Green will be itching to right the wrongs of a not-so Good Friday at Barrow, and emphatically securing promotion would be a great way to do it. Truthfully, I suspect they might have to wait another few days to pop open the champagne, but I see them taking care of their own business against relegation-threatened Oldham.”Gabriel Sutton
Forest Green Rovers v Oldham Athletic
Forest Green -1 handicap
Forest Green will mathematically rubber-stamp promotion to League One on Easter Monday if they secure victory over Oldham, Mansfield lose while Northampton and Bristol Rovers fail to win.
It’s likely that Rob Edwards’ side do their bit, it’s plausible that the Gas drop points at Port Vale, but more of a long shot that the Stags are defeated at Carlisle, or that the Cobblers are unable to see off Harrogate with the latter two opponents being out of form and potentially on the beach.
Whether or not the Green Devils complete the job in this match, it is important that they win promotion with a sense of pride in their own performance.
The Nailsworth outfit lost 3-0 at Barrow on Good Friday, shipping three goals from set pieces, and the team were slow to second balls, reluctant to engage in basic duels and could be accused of complacency.
That’s not something we can expect from Edwards’ troops for two games running, however, and if Forest Green perform to their best, they should defeat Oldham, who have their own reasons for needing the points.
John Sheridan’s side lost 2-0 to Northampton on Friday which, combined with that unlikely thumping for Barrow and Stevenage’s more predictable victory over Rochdale, meant they are now three points adrift of safety.
Stevenage are likely to win at relegated Scunthorpe, so if Barrow play as they did on Friday in their game at Salford, then it’s possible that a defeat for the Latics – which may be considered acceptable in normal circumstances – would leave them four or six points adrift with three to play.
It could be the wrong time for them to face Forest Green, who will be desperate to repay their fans – especially those who made the long trip north – by celebrating a comprehensive victory, and perhaps promotion.
🗣️"A couple of them called me over, and I thought I might be getting a headbutt.
"We owe them a performance on Monday."
— Laurie Martin (@lauriemartin263) April 15, 2022
“It’s great to see Vale boss Darrell Clarke back out there after compassionate leave, and you could see how much the win meant to him after everything. The job is far from done – defeat to his old club would throw everything up in the air again – but I see the Valiants taking another leap towards League One.”Gabriel Sutton
Port Vale v Bristol Rovers
Port Vale to win
The full-time scenes at Hartlepool on Good Friday were beautiful.
Port Vale manager Darrell Clarke had recently phased back his return after a period of compassionate leave due to a family bereavement and was emotional after a 1-0 win for his side, thanks to an improved second half showing.
Assistant Andy Crosby had led the team with honour and dignity in Clarke’s absence and the gaffer was so keen that Crosby, rather than him, should receive the adoration from supporters.
Crosby is not one to seek out attention anyway, far from it, but he maybe did not get quite the love he deserved in the interim period: fans may not have wanted to sing “Andy Crosby’s Black and White Army” as opposed to Darrell Clarke’s, out of loyalty to a revered manager.
For that reason, it was so special when Clarke dragged Crosby over to the travelling fans at full-time and pointed at him, so that he could get the credit and have a moment with supporters.
The job is not done yet, though, which was why despite the glory of the moment, Crosby was keen not to stand on ceremony: Port Vale need a maximum of 10 points from their remaining four games to secure promotion to League One.
In fact, the earliest the Valiants can mathematically rubber-stamp promotion is their hosting of Newport on Monday 2nd May.
Clarke will get another great reception at Vale Park, though and not just from his own supporters, having won back-to-back promotions previously with Bristol Rovers.
The Gas have their own promotion designs this year and if they could win in Burslem, it would move them within two points of Vale with three to play and offer another late twist in the tale.
Joey Barton’s side possess a star individual in Elliot Anderson, but the hosts have the spirit of the collective: and they look irresistible on current form.