The league tables are starting to really take shape and Gab Sutton is here to give us his predictions and tips heading into week 20 of the EFL.
“Blackpool are having an excellent season, but Birmingham should be much-improved this weekend if they can get only a couple of players back.”Gab Sutton
Birmingham City v Blackpool
Riley McGree to score anytime
Birmingham picked up a point at Coventry on Tuesday night with a scrappy, battling performance.
Blues have shown in other games this season that, with a fully fit squad, they can produce far more in possession, but the midweek encounter was always going to be about pragmatism.
Lee Bowyer’s side were without left-footed defenders in Kristian Pedersen and George Friend, without right wing-backs in Maxime Colin and Jordan Graham, without their star number 10 Tahith Chong and had to play the final eight minutes with 10-men, after Ryan Woods was sent off.
The volume of injuries is not the problem, so much as the concentration of them, which means that in two positions, Bowyer not only cannot pick his first choice player, but he also cannot pick his back-up option: with that in mind, is it any wonder the football on Tuesday was not especially inspiring?
Graham is expecting to be back for Saturday’s game, though and there is a chance of Pedersen returning, while Woods’ absence offers an opportunity for Jordan James – a promising, young, ball-playing midfielder – to grab the limelight.
Further upfield, meanwhile, Riley McGree has an opportunity to excel in the number 10 role in the absence of Manchester United loanee Tahith Chong.
Blackpool will press high up the pitch, but if their defence does not follow up correctly, there will be chances for McGree to pick the ball up in pockets of space between lines, drive at the visiting rear-guard and attempt efforts at goal.
I mean, that's never a red card… 😤
— Birmingham City FC (@BCFC) November 23, 2021
“Middlesbrough’s first win under Chris Wilder should be just around the corner and I think they might get it in West Yorkshire.”Gab Sutton
Huddersfield Town v Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough draw no bet - Evens
Chris Wilder has not quite been able to get off to the start he’s hoping for as Middlesbrough manager, taking one point from his first two games in charge.
Nonetheless, the performances have been promising and very early on, the former Sheffield United boss has got his ideas across to his players.
Lee Peltier, for example, is a conservative right-back by trade and already, Wilder has converted the former Cardiff man into an overlapping, left centre-back who is making bold runs off the ball.
McNair, on the right of the back three, needs no second invitation to push on and is perhaps more accomplished than Peltier at carrying the ball forward, but the movements of both mean midfield cover is required.
Alongside the dynamism of Marcus Tavernier and the quality of Matt Crooks is the defensive awareness of Jonny Howson, who always has the nous to drop in and cover spaces when McNair and Peltier overlap.
Middlesbrough have mastered the middle third, but they need one or two tweaks in the final third and getting Argentine magician Martín Payero back fit will be crucial.
Not only is Payero an excellent technician, his ball-carrying ability is outstanding and those moments of individual quality will be so crucial to turning what is already a respectable footballing side under Wilder into a chance creating machine.
Further progress would be bad news for Play-Off outsiders Huddersfield, who have either scored once or drawn a blank in each of their last seven league games.
This season, Middlesbrough are the third-best first-half team in the Championship, having trailed just once at the break all term. 😀
In the second half, Boro are the 19th-best side in the division. 😕
— The Championship Chat Podcast (@Champchatpod24) November 24, 2021
“Daniel Jebbison is a very exciting young striker who could have a really big season next year at Sheffield United. I think he’ll grab a fourth goal in four against troubled Doncaster.”Gab Sutton
Burton Albion v Doncaster Rovers
Daniel Jebbison to score anytime
Burton cruised to a 4-0 victory in midweek over Accrington Stanley, thanks to braces from Daniel Jebbison and Jonny Smith.
Oddly, for that type of scoreline, the Brewers did not truly have to get out of second gear: they were given free reign in midfield and were gifted three of the goals.
Nonetheless, the performance highlights how Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side have elevated themselves well above the pack of teams battling against the drop, accruing 14 points from seven games against bottom eight opposition.
That bodes well for the hosting of Doncaster and Jebbison, after looking sharp and lively on Tuesday, could kick-start an impressive run of form.
The Sheffield United loanee has scored three goals in his last three games in all competitions, including a strike in the 2-1 FA Cup win at Fleetwood – and the 18-year-old, it should not be forgotten, has already thrived in the Premier League for the Blades.
Jebbison could strike fear into Donny, who find themselves four points adrift of safety after a 4-0 loss at Bolton last time out.
Natives are almost resigned to relegation, even with 84 points still to play for, and some deem the current crop the worst they’ve seen.
The peculiar thing is that while boss Richie Wellens gets into trouble on the sidelines for his fiery antics, none of the players he manages show much fight or passion.
Ideally, one would want the players to be scrapping away and the matured coach to be the calming influence, but at Doncaster it’s almost the other way around.
Manager Richie Wellens has also been booked and has a worse disciplinary record than any of his players this season (3 yellows & 1 red) #drfc
— Tom Biltcliffe (@tombiltcliffe) November 23, 2021
“There are problems at Gillingham from all angles, which is why I see the short coastal trip to Kent being a comfortable one for Portsmouth, who were simply outstanding in midweek.”Gab Sutton
Gillingham v Portsmouth
Portsmouth -1 handicap
Everything is going against Gillingham.
Manager Steve Evans is 2/5 with BetVictor to go to Stevenage, and has been very open about the fact that nobody at the football club motivates him, which could be interpreted among other things as a dig at Paul Scally.
Despite the chairman’s initial heroics at Priestfield, having effectively saved the club back in 1995, he is now unpopular in Kent and many natives are calling for a change of ownership.
On top of that, the Gills had 11 senior players absent from the match-day squad that lost 2-0 to Cheltenham in midweek, and it’s not just the quantity that’s problematic: it’s the quality.
Experienced midfielder Stuart O’Keefe, versatile left-footer Alex MacDonald, midfield dynamo Kyle Dempsey, versatile forward Danny Lloyd and target man Vadaine Oliver would all have a good chance of starting, or at least making a valuable contribution, if available.
For that reason, the timing of this fixture works perfectly for Portsmouth who, after a three game winning streak in the league, are starting to prove their Play-Off credentials.
Danny Cowley’s side might have needed to ride their luck for the 1-0 victory at Wycombe, then come from behind to triumph over AFC Wimbledon, but Tuesday’s 3-0 win at Lincoln represented their finest performance of the campaign.
Connor Ogilvie’s return to defence has boosted Pompey, with the former Gillingham man forging an excellent centre-back pairing with Sean Raggett, while controller Joe Morrell, left-footed sitter Shaun Williams and box-to-box man Louis Thompson have all excelled in midfield.
On top of that, Cowley has shown the ability to coax the very best out of those disregarded elsewhere: George Hirst, for example, struggled massively in the Championship at Rotherham, but with Portsmouth his hold-up play has been outstanding.
First game home and away I’ve missed this season due to being “banned” on the spot due to being on a public footpath with fellow Gills fans who want change for our football club. No abuse shouted all evening. Police had no issues with us, just one person. Mr dictator
— Dom 🏴 (@DomGFCBallard) November 23, 2021
“I’m amazed Walsall are as big as 13/8 for victory at Brunton Park, given that Matt Taylor’s side have lost just one of their last nine league games – and hosts Carlisle are in crisis.”Gab Sutton
Carlisle United v Walsall
Walsall to win
There is a feeling of doom and gloom around Carlisle, who have hit their lowest ebb in 17 years.
Supporters have lost faith in the board, there are question marks about whether the players care enough and while it seems extremely harsh to pass any sort of judgment on new manager Keith Millen after four games, it may be fair to say he has not had an instant impact.
The good news for United is that Scunthorpe and Oldham are in similar jeopardy, and three into two doesn’t go, so mathematically speaking they do have a reasonable chance of beating the drop.
Nonetheless, apathy rules and most Cumbrians fans would give their right arm to have a situation like the one at Walsall.
The Saddlers have an honest and transparent owner in Leigh Pomlett, a competent Director of Football in Jamie Fullarton and a talented young coach in Matt Taylor, guided by an experienced assistant in Neil McDonald.
Progress off the field is starting to manifest itself in progress on it, too, with a run of one defeat in nine league games lifting the Black Country outfit from 22nd to 11th and in the Play-Off conversation.
Walsall got one over former manager Darrell Clarke in midweek and will be boosted by that 1-0 victory at tertiary rivals Port Vale, with Rollin Menayese and Manny Monthe proving titans in Burslem: their opponents did not muster a single shot on target.
— Blazing Saddlers (@BlazingSaddlers) November 23, 2021
“Swindon will look to sign a defender or two in January, but until then I anticipate them having lots of high-scoring games. This could certainly be one of them: Harrogate’s league games average 3.11 goals – the highest mean in League Two.”Gab Sutton
Swindon Town v Harrogate Town
Both Teams To Score
Swindon got a much-needed home win last time out, beating Hartlepool 3-1.
Town did not make it easy for themselves and, not helped by the absence of defenders Romoney Crichlow and Mathieu Baudry, defended poorly and were fortunate that their opponents were unable to capitalize.
What ultimately won the game for Ben Garner’s side was their incisive, clinical final third play, especially after the interval when the game opened up for them.
The man to thank for that has to be Tyreece Simpson: the big, physical centre-forward on loan from Ipswich has had a heavy weight on his shoulders, asked to start every game at 19 in the absence of a more experienced alternative.
Simpson, though, has thrived on that responsibility and been a crucial focal point, off which a cluster of classy, technical attacking midfielders have fed.
Harrogate, meanwhile, have the tools to do damage at the other end, especially via dynamic creator Alex Pattison, direct left winger Jack Diamond and predatory goalscorer Luke Armstrong, who has nine for the season.