EFL pundit Gab Sutton gives us his best bets for the Halloween weekend’s action.
“We’re in for a treat at the top of the Championship with Fulham and West Brom both hoping to close the gap on leaders Bournemouth: the hosts may prevail in the second half.”Gabriel Sutton
Fulham v West Brom
It looks unlikely that automatic promotion from the Championship, this season, will be attained by a team that isn’t Bournemouth, Fulham or West Brom.
With that in mind, the result of a league fixture between any two of those sides will have a huge impact on the race, but this match feels especially significant, with Bournemouth currently unbeaten, five points clear of the 2nd-placed Whites and six ahead of 3rd-placed Albion.
While it is by no means a given that the Cherries will maintain this form for the remaining two-thirds of the campaign, them doing so would leave Marco Silva and Valerien Ismael’s sides jostling for second spot.
We can expect the Baggies to start at a high-intensity, as Ismael demands, with industrial front-man Jordan Hugill looking to profit from any early over-composure from Tosin Adarabioyo or Tim Ream, while Karlan Grant and potentially Callum Robinson will look to threaten in transition.
If Fulham can ride out what could be an awkward first half, though and get to the interval with scores level, they have a great opportunity to secure a huge victory.
In controller Jean Michel Seri, wide technician Harry Wilson and predatory front-man Aleksandar Mitrovic, the Whites have the means to capitalize on their more prominent periods.
Although Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored 15 goals in 14 Championship appearances this season, Charlie Austin still holds the record for the most goals after 14 appearances at the start of a season.
— The Championship Chat Podcast (@Champchatpod24) October 27, 2021
“Talk of a takeover offers genuine hope for Derby and we can expect Pride Park to be a cauldron of noise this weekend. Two of the Rams’ three victories have come by the 1-0 scoreline.”Gabriel Sutton
Derby to win 1-0
Derby County v Blackburn Rovers
Unusually for a club that is bottom of the table and six points adrift of safety, there are positive vibes around Derby County.
Wayne Rooney has handled the off-field strife – which includes transfer restrictions, a lack of boardroom transparency and a 12-point deduction – with enormous class, distinction and courage to fight for the club rather than walk away.
Rooney has done superbly to keep Derby competitive – they would be a mere four points off the Play-Offs without the deduction – and the former Manchester United’s legend’s perseverance could be rewarded.
US businessman Chris Kirchner has interest in buying the club, with the chief executive of Dallas-based shipping and logistics company Slync.io having attended matches recently and has spent time with Rooney, who feels “he’s got some really good ideas”.
The progression of those talks is fantastic for the Rams and the mood should be lifted for the visit of Blackburn.
Tony Mowbray’s side beat Reading 2-0 last time out, but they have accrued just four points from their previous five league games.
If the East Midlanders do win, though, it is likely to be a narrow margin of victory, because they have veteran centre-backs in Curtis Davies and Phil Jagielka who can defend their penalty area gallantly but will need to be adequately protected throughout.
A list of Championship players with over 100 Tackles + Clearances this season:
𝐂𝐮𝐫𝐭𝐢𝐬 𝐃𝐚𝐯𝐢𝐞𝐬 (102)
* End of List
— CLUB (@clubgame_app) October 27, 2021
“Seeing his side give away a two-goal lead last time out was a nasty shock for Steve Evans, and there are question marks over whether Gillingham have the right attacking options to impact games from the bench.”Gabriel Sutton
Half-Time/Full-Time: Draw/Accrington Stanley
Gillingham v Accrington Stanley
Gillingham’s 2-2 draw at Bolton last time out exposed their shortage of attacking options in reserve.
Steve Evans started with a 4-4-2 system with two out-and-out centre-forwards in John Akinde and Vadaine Oliver, with both being strong, cumbersome and aerially accomplished, but lacking in pace.
The pairing of Akinde and Oliver caused problems for the Trotters in the first half, which saw the Kent outfit establish a two goal lead, but the second half was when problems occurred.
As Bolton enjoyed long spells of possession, the front-two tired and thus became truncated from the Gills’ two banks of four, meaning Evans’ troops ultimately gave away the two-goal lead they held with four minutes to play.
As a consequence, some questioned the Scot’s in-game management, and perhaps justifiably so.
What this late capitulation also shows, though, is that Gillingham left themselves with gaping holes in their squad over the summer.
In the club’s best season under Evans, 2019-20, they had a mix of strikers including tall, physical options as well as quick, nippy operators like Brandon Hanlan.
The closest equivalent to Hanlan in the current crop is Gerhard Sithole, and the youngster was not entrusted with joining the action last time out until injury-time.
Without reliable game-changing options, Gillingham could come unstuck against Accrington Stanley, who have changed tack a lot this season.
John Coleman began the campaign hoping to have four appealing striking options, but the contract dispute with Dion Charles, the poor form from Joel Mumbongo and the absence of Joe Hardy has left Stanley with a risk of relying too heavily on Colby Bishop.
Coleman responded to that challenge, though, by converting Harry Pell into an auxiliary target man and the 6’5” midfielder has carried a threat in the last two games.
The whole Dion Charles thing might be a blessing in disguise…
Without that, we probably would have never realised that Harry Pell is almost as good as, if not a better striker as a prime Alan Shearer!!
— Baldy (@baldy984) October 20, 2021
“After horror-shows against Rotherham and Ipswich, Danny Cowley took some encouragement from his side’s performance at Stanley last time out and there is an opportunity for Portsmouth to build on that here.”Gabriel Sutton
Portsmouth to win -1 handicap
Portsmouth v Bolton Wanderers
Portsmouth remain three games without a win after a 2-2 draw at Accrington Stanley, which followed heavy defeats to Rotherham and Ipswich.
Danny Cowley saw lots of positives, though, in his side’s performance in East Lancashire, especially the contributions of Reeco Hackett.
While Hackett is unproven at this level, having previously played in the National League with Bromley and in League Two last season for relegated Southend, he is learning off more established performers.
Wide man Ronan Curtis, left-footed forward Marcus Harness and front-man John Marquis have all, previously, had very good seasons at this level: get them to click and Pompey are onto a winner.
Defensively, though, it is vital that Cowley’s side provide the right protection for aerial centre-back Sean Raggett, who is rarely comfortable playing out from the back or when drawn into wide areas.
The support of Mahlon Romeo, Connor Ogilvie and Lee Brown is therefore essential, while Cowley may be tempted to bring ball-winner Ryan Tunnicliffe into midfield for extra protection.
Get the defensive basics right whilst creating chances at the rate they did last week and Portsmouth could defeat Bolton, who have troubles at the back: Ian Evatt’s side have shipped 25 goals in 15 games.
🗣 Danny Cowley: “We’ve been rightly criticised in the past week, but I thought we showed the qualities that maybe we’ve been criticised for, that resilience, determination and grit. It’s a game we should win, and probably would 99 out of 100 times.” #Pompey
— PompeyNewsNow🎙PO4cast (@PompeyNewsNow) October 23, 2021
“Gavin Skeleton hands the Carlisle reigns to Keith Millen, who will be hoping for a solid showing in his first game in charge.”Gabriel Sutton
Under 1.5 goals
Northampton Town v Carlisle United
The appointment of Keith Millen has not yielded the most enthusiastic reaction from Carlisle fans.
Millen has had no prior successful stint as a permanent number one and has reportedly been considered by some clubs to be “too nice” to earn that gig.
On the flip side to that, the 55-year-old has worked in the Premier League with Crystal Palace and is a highly respected figure within the game, bringing with him a wealth of experience.
The ideal for Carlisle would have been to appoint Millen in conjunction with an exciting, talented young coach, but that would not have been practical while the club still has Gavin Skelton on the coaching staff and the unpopular David Holdsworth on a large salary as Director of Football.
Millen might not be capable of taking the Cumbrians forward over the next few years – and very few managers would be without more meaningful change upstairs – but he can help the club stabilize it’s league position.
Millen is better equipped for the survival mission than, for example, Neil Cox at Scunthorpe, or Hayden Mullins at Colchester.
Early thoughts on Keith Millen 💭
Surely a good coach having been at Palace for so many seasons.
For his age doesn’t have much experience of first team management.
No experience in management or coaching at L2 level.
The Holdsworth’s old pal thing.
Hope it goes well
— cufcstuff (@cufcstuff) October 26, 2021
“After securing successive league victories in impressive fashion, Hartlepool could give the out-of-form O's a scare.”Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: Draw/Hartlepool
Leyton Orient v Hartlepool United
Dave Challinor is one of the most exciting managers in League Two.
What makes the Liverpudlian so impressive is his ability to respond quickly and decisively to different challenges.
After the National League Play-Off Final victory over Torquay, Hartlepool had just 50 days to prepare for the opener with Crawley: they started with four straight home wins.
After in-form, on-loan forward Tyler Burey got injured, Challinor drafted in Luke Molyneux who has done enough to hold down a place.
When Gary Liddle, the centrepiece of the three-man defence, got injured, the 46-year-old switched from 3-5-2 to a 4-4-2 diamond system, which not only problem-solved but also allowed him to incorporate Matty Daly in midfield alongside last season’s trio of Nicky Featherstone, Mark Shelton and Gavan Holohan, when the latter returned.
Challinor showed his adaptability again last week, when his side overturned a two-goal half-time deficit against high-flyers Harrogate to win 3-2.
Pools have also shown signs of correcting their away form, producing a convincing performance to win 3-1 recently at Bradford.
Wing-backs Jamie Sterry and David Ferguson are crucial to the way the north-east outfit play, because they get so high up the pitch and are so often making telling contributions in the final third which, with two strikers in the box, makes the team difficult to defend against.
Plus, now might be a reasonable time for Hartlepool to face Leyton Orient, who have produced an uninspiring set of performances and are six games without a win.