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With some huge clashes this weekend across all three leagues, Gabriel Sutton returns with his EFL weekend preview.

“Huddersfield and Bournemouth both struggled to create chances last time out, so this could be a low-scoring encounter.”

Gabriel Sutton

Huddersfield Town v Bournemouth

Under 2.5 goals

Bournemouth might only be three points clear in the automatic promotion race, but they do have three games in hand on Huddersfield, their closest competitors.

The Cherries’ projected requirement for second spot is 76 points, which would be the lowest tally anyone has ever gone up with automatically from the second tier since Wimbledon in 1985-86.

Scott Parker’s side, therefore, have been able to coast into this position thanks to a productive season from Dominic Solanke, as well as a January recruitment drive that saw the club accrue the likes of Nat Phillips from Liverpool and Todd Cantwell from Norwich.

Bournemouth do not have a clear playing identity, they simply have strong individuals and the nature of the competition this term means that has been enough.

The Dorset club conceded a late equalizer against Reading on Tuesday and the Terriers had an opportunity to liven up the promotion race off the back of that, but it was a chance they missed by losing 2-0 at Millwall.

Carlos Corberan admitted that his side were unable to bring their attacking game to the fore in South London and it was the same last time out for their opponents, so chances could be at a premium on Saturday.

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“Blackburn have won 17 of their 38 league games this season while Reading have lost 21 of 37, so simplistically I’m content with odds-against quotes for the away win.”

Gabriel Sutton

Reading v Blackburn Rovers

Blackburn to win

5/4

It had not been the best start to Paul Ince’s tenure as Reading boss, with one win and three defeats, so his side needed a lift in midweek.

The former midfielder felt his side were the better side at Bournemouth for much of the contest so, when son Tom levelled late on, it was not a shock despite the apparent gulf between the sides.

With Barnsley in a resurgent mood, and looking likeliest to climb out of the drop zone after a 2-0 victory over Bristol City, Reading cannot afford to go through the motions.

They do host a Blackburn side, though, who are well in the mix for the top six, after a 3-1 victory over Derby last time out.

Tony Mowbray’s troops trailed at the interval, but the half-time introductions of Sam Gallagher and Bradley Dack turned the tide for the Lancashire outfit, who were victorious thanks to goals from Scott Wharton, Tyrhys Dolan and Gallagher.

That strong second-half showing could be the blueprint for Rovers to rediscover some form, even while Ben Brereton Diaz remains absent.

Dack was not long ago one of the best players in the Championship and while injuries have affected the technician, there is that chance for him to come back and make a difference to Blackburn’s promotion challenge.

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“In the last four games involving either Portsmouth or Wycombe, one or no goals have been scored: so I’m quite happy to take Under 1.5 goals at 9/4 for this clash of the solid Play-Off outsiders.”

Gabriel Sutton

Portsmouth v Wycombe Wanderers

Under 1.5 goals

9/4

Portsmouth’s Play-Off hopes have taken a hit after a 1-0 loss at Plymouth Argyle last time out, leaving Danny Cowley’s side eight points off the Play-Offs with a game in hand.

Cowley pinpointed a crucial refereeing decision with the game goalless, but his side did not muster a shot on target all evening, which the head coach put down to falling short on the final actions and the best chances coming to the wrong people.

Nonetheless, after two games without a goal, it’s difficult to see Pompey picking up the 23 points they may need from their remaining nine encounters to break into the Play-Offs.

The Portsea-Islanders do, though, have a strong defence, with Hayden Carter, Sean Raggett and Connor Ogilvie already having established a reliable trio.

Wycombe have a strong defensive base themselves lately, with Jason McCarthy, Anthony Stewart, Ryan Tafazolli and Joe Jacobson keeping things tight for back-to-back clean sheets against Rotherham and Fleetwood.

The visitors will attempt an intense press, which has been the hallmark of their team all season, and the Chairboys may respond by trying to bypass it by going direct to Sam Vokes, but then the target man will have to get the better of three centre-backs.

We could see a stalemate at Adams Park, therefore, between two sides who may miss out on the top six.

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“It’s difficult to see Morecambe staying up after a 5-0 loss at Shrewsbury, especially with the fixtures they have coming up. The next is a trip to Wigan, who look well-placed to tie up a top two berth.”

Gabriel Sutton

Wigan Athletic v Morecambe

Wigan -1 handicap

Wigan look well-placed to secure automatic promotion from League One.

Leam Richardson’s side are three points better off than third-placed MK Dons with two games in hand, requiring approximately 13 points from their remaining 10 games to clinch a top two berth.

The attacking trio of Josh Magennis, Stephen Humphrys and Will Keane has proved potent for the Latics, because they all bring different qualities.

Magennis is a strong, selfless runner, Humphrys brings moments of individual brilliance and Keane has a creative element to his game, and when they combine they can be hard to stop.

It looks ominous for Morecambe, who are now winless in 11 after a 5-0 thumping by Shrewsbury in midweek.

Salop and Cheltenham had looked, on paper, winnable fixtures for Derek Adams’ charges, so the defeats in both encounters represents a missed opportunity to capitalize on the continued struggles of Wimbledon and Fleetwood.

The results leave the Shrimps still with five of the top 10 to play and with their work cut out, while top goalscorer Cole Stockton – on whom the Lancashire side have come to rely – having scored just one in nine.

If Jack Whatmough and co. can keep Stockton quiet, Wigan are in with a great chance of taking another step towards the Championship.

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“The way Rovers are playing, I’m delighted to get them at 2/1 quotes against anyone at this level; Elliot Anderson and Aaron Collins look so dangerous right now. Northampton have flattered to deceive in recent weeks.”

Gabriel Sutton

Northampton Town v Bristol Rovers

Bristol Rovers to win

2/1

League Two’s promotion race is incredibly competitive, with not only a mere seven points between second and 10th but also the lower teams in that sequence having numerous games in hand.

With nine full gameweeks to go, this weekend will have a huge say in events, as four sides in the mix face one another, two of which being Northampton and Bristol Rovers.

The Cobblers have been in the mix almost all season, but their visitors are an emerging threat, having been 16th back in December but now seventh, and two points off the automatic spots.

What separates these sides more than anything is events in January: Northampton lost key striker Kion Etete, on loan from Tottenham, and while Jon Brady has been able to bring in lots of attacking players like Louis Appere and Bez Lubala, none have quite filled the void.

The Gas, however, have added Elliot Anderson on loan from Newcastle and the attacking midfielder has proved a game-changer.

Sharp, agile, creative and with an eye for goal, Anderson has a big future ahead of him – possibly at the top level – and he could inspire the south-west club to an instant return to League One.

Equally influential is Aaron Collins who, despite not having the build of a typical lone striker, has brought the best out of others as an energetic false nine with fine link-up play.

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“Sutton are not the same proposition when one or both of Louis John and Craig Eastmond are absent, which is good news for Micky Mellon’s promotion-chasers. Tranmere at 2/1 is a really attractive play here.”

Gabriel Sutton

Sutton United v Tranmere Rovers

Tranmere to win

2/1

Back-to-back defeats have dropped Sutton outside League Two’s top seven for the first time since November.

These away losses at Walsall and Swindon will tempt many to almost write off Matt Gray’s side, who are working with much more modest resources than their competitors.

The Amber & Chocolates have a small squad without much strength in reserve, which in certain positions leave them reliant on key players.

When centre-back Louis John has started this season, the South Londoners have accrued 50 points from 28 games (1.79 PPG) but taken seven from eight (0.88 PPG) in the defender’s absence: Coby Rowe is talented, but at a very different stage of his development.

Elsewhere, Sutton have taken 43 points from 25 games with midfield general Craig Eastmond (1.72) but 14 from 11 (1.27) without him.

John and Eastmond were both absent last time out and it showed in a 2-1 defeat, and Matt Gray will be desperate to get key men back for the hosting of Tranmere.

Rovers have strengthened their promotion ambitions with back-to-back victories over Mansfield and Harrogate as Lewis Warrington, a creative midfielder on loan from Everton, is already proving a hit with the Super White Army.

In fact, the locally born Warrington has already been dubbed “The Wirral Pirlo”.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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