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EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks his best bets for the weekend’s action.

“If this game is level at the break, I see a huge momentum shift in the second half towards Barnsley, because they are the side that cannot accept a draw and their fans will urge the team forward. With Quina and Bassi, they have the quality to make the most of that pressure, too.”

Gabriel Sutton

Barnsley v Reading

Half-Time/Full-Time: Draw/Barnsley

Saturday’s clash at Oakwell is not only the very definition of a relegation six-pointer, it could play a huge part in shaping the Championship dogfight hereon.

If Reading win, the gap to safety for Barnsley is as big as eight points with seven to play, and Poya Asbaghyi’s side would be left needing another 15 points, approximately, not impossible but highly unlikely.

If the Reds win, though, the gap is just two points and they could conceivably climb out of the drop zone by winning at Millwall the following week.

The difference really is that big, but it’s the psychology of this fixture that causes most intrigue.

A draw would be considered a good result for Reading and while they might not exactly set out with a defensive approach, having recorded a deserved victory over Blackburn last time out, after a well-earnt point at Bournemouth, it is something that might play on their minds as the game wears on.

For Barnsley, it’s all about going for all three points.

Tarn have been lifted by the additions of Amine Bassi and Domingos Quina, taking 14 points from the nine games in which both have started, with the duo providing a more efficient link from midfield to attack.

With certain individuals beginning to recapture shades of last season’s form, Barnsley will be hopeful that a raucous home crowd can cheer them on to a crucial victory.

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“Luton have been free-scoring of late so this pick might come as a surprise, but I see Millwall’s solid rear-guard prevailing at Kenilworth Road: especially if Jed Wallace can provide a moment of individual magic at the other end.”

Gabriel Sutton

Luton Town v Millwall

Millwall win to nil

9/2

Millwall have hauled themselves back into the Play-Off conversation with an astonishing, timely run of form.

The Lions have accrued 20 points from their previous nine encounters, although they were defeated 2-0 last time out at Stoke.

Gary Rowett’s side have built this run on solid defensive foundations, with Dan Ballard, Jake Cooper and Murray Wallace forging a formidable trio.

Next on the agenda for the uncompromising rear-guard is the task of stopping Luton striker Elijah Adebayo, who has 15 goals for the season after finding the net in the 3-1 win at Hull last time out.

Adebayo and the Hatters have had joy, though, against sides like Preston North End and Hull who have left themselves open, whereas Millwall will have wing-backs Dan McNamara and Scott Malone close to the wide centre-backs, while midfielders Billy Mitchell and George Saville will be defensively switched on too.

With that in mind, Millwall might be able to keep out their Bedfordshire hosts, then attack through the explosive pace of Tyler Burey and the individual brilliance of Jed Wallace, as part of an attacking trio with Mason Bennett or Tom Bradshaw.

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“Oxford have absentees at both ends and while that’s also true of Argyle, I feel they have more depth to cope with the injuries, as well as welcoming key man Panutche Camara back into midfield. Victory would see Steven Schumacher’s side take a huge step towards tying up a top six berth.”

Gabriel Sutton

Plymouth Argyle v Oxford United

Argyle to win

Plymouth Argyle against Oxford is a huge game in the League One Play-Off scramble.

Argyle’s 1-0 loss at Ipswich means they may yet face heat from the Tractor Boys, as well as Wycombe and Sunderland in a congested picture.

It’s the same for the Yellows, who have been hit by injuries.

The absence of defenders Elliott Moore and Sam Long has disrupted things at the back and while Karl Robinson’s side have dealt with James Henry’s midfield absence well, the loss of in-form striker Sam Baldock hardly helps, especially with the team scoring 13 in four with him in the starting XI.

Their Devon hosts, meanwhile, are without key striker Ryan Hardie due to a thigh injury but luckily Steven Schumacher’s side have depth in that department, with Niall Ennis, Luke Jephcott and Jordan Garrick also in the mix.

To balance the loss of Hardie, Argyle can also welcome Panutche Camara back from international duty, with the athletic, relentless running midfielder having been so crucial to the run of six straight wins to nil prior to the defeat at Portman Road.

Schumacher will need Huddersfield loanee Romoney Crichlow to step up, however, in the possible absence of James Bolton, with the defender having been forced off last time out.

If Crichlow performs, Argyle have a great chance of cementing their place in the top six.

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“I back Neil Harris to keep Gillingham up – perhaps comfortably in the end – but League One is a split-division with a huge gulf in class between the better teams and the lesser sides. The Gills are still in the latter camp despite their resurgence, while Sunderland could show their top six credentials.”

Gabriel Sutton

Sunderland v Gillingham

Sunderland -1 handicap

Sunderland have taken 11 points from their previous five games, yet still find themselves outside the top six.

The Play-Off scramble in League One incredibly competitive: for context, Chesterfield made the cut in 2014-15 with the same final tally that seventh-placed Sunderland have now.

Alex Neil’s side created by far the better chances in their goalless draw last time out at Lincoln, with Jack Clarke’s combination play with Dennis Cirkin proving a likely route to goal in Alex Neil’s 3-5-2.

A similar performance, they hope, will give them the win they need of having a chance of moving into the top six, although this may not be the best time to play Gillingham.

Having been 10 points adrift of safety when Neil Harris first took the reigns at the end of January, the Gills are now four points clear of the drop zone.

An incredible turnaround which, although partly down to the poor form of Morecambe and Wimbledon, is also down to the Kent outfit’s re-organisation: six clean sheets in 12.

Aaron Chapman has produced some fine shot-stopping showings between the sticks, Max Ehmer and Conor Masterson have been very solid at centre-back, Stuart O’Keefe has battled gallantly in midfield while Vadaine Oliver has forged a strong strike-pairing with Charlie Kelman.

Gillingham will put up a gallant effort, but nonetheless there is still a huge gulf between the promotion contenders in League One and the relegation candidates: this match could offer a reminder of that.

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“Northampton are not third with seven to play by fluke, of course not, but I’m convinced Mansfield are the better side. The Stags have the superior first XI, and they have the strength in depth to change games in the second half.”

Gabriel Sutton

Mansfield Town v Northampton Town

Mansfield to win

League Two’s promotion race remains as tight as ever, so Mansfield against Northampton – two of the prime contenders to follow potentially Forest Green and Exeter in the top three – is a huge contest.

The Cobblers are guaranteed to stay in the automatic promotion spots if they avoid defeat in Nottinghamshire, but a draw would risk Port Vale, Tranmere, Swindon and Bristol Rovers closing the gap with favourable fixtures.

Their hosts, meanwhile, are in the unusual position of being outside the top seven at present, but also being arguably the likeliest team to finish third.

Plus, Nigel Clough’s side have two games in hand on Teyn and would go level on points with a victory, so maximum points really would put them in an excellent position.

Mansfield have taken seven points from their last three games and only used 16 players in that sequence, but equally they have the squad depth to rotate when the moment comes.

Jordan Bowery, for example, proved crucial from the bench to victories at Rochdale and Oldham, earning a start in the 2-2 draw at Hartlepool and looks to be a key asset going into the run-in.

Northampton’s main man, meanwhile, is Mitch Pinnock, who has been their creator-in-chief so far this term.

The big problem the Cobblers have, though, is that they do not have the personnel to play out from the back, but they always go long from goal-kicks, even though none of their attacking players are notably strong in the air.

We could have a situation, therefore, in which Oli Hawkins dominates Louis Appere in the air, and Mansfield then build a series of attacks for Bowery and co. from their strong midfield diamond.

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“Truthfully, I’m amazed that Oldham are 21/2 for a 1-0 victory, when their hosts – below them on goal difference – are 6/1 in the same market. John Sheridan has overseen 34 1-0 wins in his last 307 league games, which is 11% of his matches: and this particular game comes against a Stevenage side that have scored 34 goals in 38.”

Gabriel Sutton

Stevenage v Oldham

Oldham to win 1-0

With so much focus on the promotion race in League Two, the dogfight should not be forgotten.

Oldham fans could have been forgiven for feeling a sense of resignation after six straight defeats, but a midweek 2-0 win over Leyton Orient saw John Sheridan’s side climb out of the drop zone.

The Latics remain at a slight disadvantage, having played one more game than Stevenage, who dropped into the relegation zone because of Tuesday’s result at Boundary Park, but it did set things up perfectly for Saturday’s six-pointer.

Boro are hoping the appointment of Steve Evans will help them preserve their EFL status, but it was a losing start for the new boss at Exeter last time out.

Sheridan, meanwhile, brought Christopher Missilou into Oldham’s midfield for the midweek victory and the all-action dynamo made a massive difference alongside Callum Whelan, and there is potential for a settled XI to be established between now and the end of the season.

Jordan Clarke, Will Sutton, Carl Piergianni and Sam Hart looks a stable defensive quartet and at the other end, Davis Keillor-Dunn has enough quality to fire the Latics to safety, so a crucial narrow victory could be on the cards.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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