Gabriel Sutton looks ahead to the weekend EFL action, as we approach the business end of the season with promotion and relegation on the line.
You can see how accurately Gab’s mid-season review predicted the current landscape of the Football League.
“Cardiff look a transformed side under Steve Morison and have won four of their last six home games. I reckon they’ll close the gap on the top half with victory here.”Gabriel Sutton
Cardiff City v Preston North End
Cardiff to win
To say that Steve Morison hung up his boots as recently as 2019-20, with just a couple of years’ worth of coaching experience, the ex-Millwall striker has started life as a number one surprisingly quickly.
For years, Cardiff have been perceived as a ‘long ball’, ‘ugly’ side, and one would think based on the former target man’s playing career, he would look to maintain that legacy, but instead he’s building a more enterprising outfit.
Yes, “Moro” has been helped by the January loan arrivals of Jordan Hugill, who leads the line superbly even when out of goalscoring form, as well as midfielder Tommy Doyle from Man City and Cody Drameh from Leeds.
However, Cardiff have soared to 18 points clear of danger under the 38-year-old, having been a mere two points above the drop zone when he took charge.
The capital club could even have their eye on a top half finish if they can secure victory over Preston North End, who overturned a second-half deficit last time out to defeat Bournemouth 2-1.
It was very bold of Steve Morison to withdraw Will Vaulks in favour of Isaak Davies after 55 minutes on Saturday, and it paid off. I would always rather Cardiff throw caution to the wind when in a losing position. I wonder if that confidence was a result of his permanent deal?
— Scott Johnson (@roathboy) March 7, 2022
“Surridge, Garner and Yates look excellent for Forest: I see the in-form Reds pilling the pressure on Paul Ince’s relegation-threatened Reading.”Gabriel Sutton
Nottingham Forest v Reading
Forest -1 handicap
Forest may still be on cloud nine, after securing an FA Cup Quarter-Final against Liverpool at the City Ground by beating Huddersfield on Monday.
It was a fabulous evening for the Reds, especially Sam Surridge, who has had to bide his time to make an impression on Trentside due to the competition up top.
Surridge did not enjoy the best time of things at Stoke and some questioned whether he could be a goalscorer as well as an athletic, springy, hardworking reference point, but the 23-year-old will allay those doubts if he produces more excellent finishing like he showed in his brace.
Elsewhere, James Garner – billed initially as a deep-lying playmaker – is thriving in a more advanced role, bringing quality and poise to his remit as well as an exemplary work ethic, something that was on show in abundance from star teammate Ryan Yates.
Some fans have questioned whether the academy graduate – strong, hardworking and aerially dominant in either penalty area – has the technical ability to take Forest to the next level in central midfield.
Aggressive and positive, the box-to-box midfielder has not made 116 appearances for the Reds for nothing and if he can replicate his showing more consistently, the Premier League awaits for him and Forest.
It’s a gloomier picture, though, for Reading, who suffered a dour 1-0 loss to Millwall last time out.
The Royals have, in Paul Ince, a manager who has been out of the game for eight years and there is no real identity to their game, other than to give the ball to John Swift and hope he can produce something out of nothing.
Lucas Joao has returned from injury recently but he was marked out of the game last time out, and the Berkshire outfit had no idea how to channel alternative routes to goal.
Unbelievable performance. To a man we were excellent but special praise for Ryan Yates, thought he was absolutely outstanding. If he can string that level of performance together over a consistent period like Worrall did after Rangers spell, he'll have PL clubs after him. #NFFC
— Lee Clarke (@Clarkey_No1) March 7, 2022
“Troy story: Parrott has come through various challenges at MK Dons and looks well-placed to finish this season strongly. I back him for a third goal in two in this key promotion clash.”Gabriel Sutton
Milton Keynes Dons v Wigan Athletic
Troy Parrott to score anytime
When MK Dons accrued just one point from hostings of prime relegation candidates Gillingham and Doncaster, it looked like their hopes of automatic promotion had deserted them.
What followed, though, has been a return of 23 points from the last 27 available which, combined with a hint of a stutter from Wigan and Rotherham, has put Liam Manning’s side back in the mix.
Key to MK’s resurgence has been the form of Troy Parrott who has been out with a point to prove since the turn of the year.
After a fast start to life in Buckinghamshire, Parrott endured a tricky period as international call-ups stunted the Irishman’s rhythm and, more pertinently, he suffered from an unfortunate bout of COVID.
Petulance against Leyton Orient in the EFL Trophy saw Parrott red carded which, combined with the form of Max Watters, meant game-time became intermittent.
After Watters returned to Cardiff, though, the Tottenham loanee is producing the kind of performances that made him so highly-rated at youth level and a key part of the climb up the table.
Parrott’s work rate and link-up play – especially in victories over Sunderland and Bolton – was outstanding and while he went five months without a goal, it came as little surprise when he broke his duck against Cheltenham in midweek.
The 23-year-old is more than capable of building on that brace in this key promotion clash, which will have a big say in how the race for the top two pans out.
If Wigan win, they will go three points ahead of comfortably their closest challenger for automatics, with three games in hand – and Leam Richardson’s side would have a great opportunity to ram home that advantage in favourable forthcoming fixtures.
If MK Dons win, though, it puts the Latics under more pressure to make the most of those games in hand.
Troy Parrott v Cheltenham Town:
Passing Accuracy – 82.1%
Aerials Won – 3
Shots – 2
Goals – 2
Crosses Attempted – 1
Tackles Won – 1
Key Passes – 1
— The Near Post (@TheNearPostEFL) March 9, 2022
“Crewe have looked vulnerable to the press since Ryan Wintle left, which is something Alex Neil will be keen to capitalize on.”Gabriel Sutton
Sunderland v Crewe Alexandra
Sunderland -1 handicap
Crewe remain eight points adrift of safety after their midweek 3-1 home loss to Portsmouth.
AFC Wimbledon’s unusual 18-game winless run, combined with similar poor form from Fleetwood and Morecambe, means the Alex still have a chance if they can accrue approximately 17 points from their remaining 10 games.
It’s hard to see David Artell’s charges reaching that tally, especially with such a youthful side that are desperately short in two or three key areas.
One of the key problems is that, since Ryan Wintle departed in the summer, they have not got a midfielder capable of dropping in, accepting the ball under pressure, turning an opponent and switching the play.
This means that, although Crewe remain committed to playing out from the back, there tends to be a big chasm between their defence and midfield which opponents can exploit.
One of the things Alex Neil got spot on as manager of Preston North End, for a couple of seasons at least, was building one of the best pressing sides in the Championship.
If Neil’s Sunderland side can force Crewe’s midfielders to face their own goal only when they have the ball, they will go a long way to getting the victory they expect.
Plus, the Black Cats boast arguably the best striker in the division in Ross Stewart who, though surprisingly mobile for a target man, is a towering presence in the opposition box and will carry an enormous threat from crosses.
The Railwaymen do not possess an aerial dominant centre-back, especially with Bill Sass-Davies unlikely to be fit in time and while Connor O’Riordan handled Sam Vokes well in the 3-1 loss to Wycombe, he is still learning.
O’Riordan, Travis Johnson, Luke Offord and Zac Williams – contending for three spots – are talented in different ways, but they are all very young and cannot be expected to consistently dominate the penalty box, let alone become a organisational presence.
Crewe will need an experienced centre-back to go into League Two with next season – someone who can guide these promising kids – but without that figure it could be another arduous afternoon on Wearside.
Don’t let the fact he didn’t score blind you to how good Ross Stewart was. Did all the dirty work yesterday – Helped run the wings, held the ball up nicely, won us loads of free kicks, regained possession. We have needed someone like him for a while. Super Rosco 🏴 #SAFC
— Callum 🏴 (@SAFC_CallumR) March 9, 2022
“Carlisle are a different proposition under Paul Simpson and I fancy his side to avoid defeat this weekend, even against promotion-chasers Northampton.”Gabriel Sutton
Carlisle United v Northampton Town
Double Chance: Carlisle/Draw
Ever since Paul Simpson returned to Brunton Park, Carlisle United have been a different animal.
Natives have got behind ‘Simmo’, a legendary figure in those parts, and the team has been playing with so much more gumption, intent and belief.
The Cumbrians are playing forward more under their returning gaffer whilst deploying a higher line, which has helped them get their attacking players – Jamie Devitt, Omari Patrick, Krystian Dennis and Jordan Gibson – high up the field.
Certain defensive issues remain from the previous reign, including organisation at the back, but there have been modest improvements in that department on top of a transformation in attack.
Carlisle look red hot in transitions, largely due to the pace and athleticism of Patrick, who is so explosive he can be on the half-way line one moment and bearing down on goal the next.
Millen shoehorned Patrick into a wide position, where he was still able to be the team’s primary threat, but a more central role allows him to become a key part of transitional attacks wherever they occur.
Suffice to say, Carlisle’s defensive horror-show in the reverse fixture’s 3-0 loss at Northampton should not repeat itself here.
The Cobblers have relied heavily on set pieces this season and have failed to score six time in their previous 13 outings, although they did defeat promotion rivals Tranmere last time out.
How can ONE MAN
Simmo really is unbelievable.
The difference from 2 weeks ago is nothing short of miraculous.
I dread to think how many points we’d have if Millen was still here.#cufc
— cufcstuff (@cufcstuff) March 5, 2022
“John Sheridan will be desperate to get one over his former club Swindon, and when I look at the resurgence of his current employers as well as the injury crisis at the County Ground, I reckon Shez can pull it off.”Gabriel Sutton
Swindon Town v Oldham Athletic
Oldham to win 1-0
John Sheridan will be something of a pantomime villain at the County Ground.
The Lancastrian was an unpopular manager in his time at Swindon, overseeing relegation last season, but he’s adored at his current club.
Since returning to Oldham for a sixth stint in the hot-seat, his side have accrued 13 points from eight games and, although they are still in the relegation zone, they look in a great position to beat the EFL trap door.
‘Shez’ has established a settled back-four of Jordan Clarke, Harrison McGahey, Carl Piergianni and Sam Hart, he’s got Callum Whelan improving with every game in midfield, allowing Davis Keillor-Dunn and others to thrive in attack.
The timing of Sheridan’s return to Wiltshire is opportune, too, because Swindon’s Play-Off hunt has been disrupted by injuries.
Defender Brandon Cooper and left-back Joe Tomlinson had excelled on loan from Swansea and Peterborough respectively, but are now sidelined along with Louie Barry.
The Aston Villa prodigy brings pace and lively movement to the attack to complement Josh Davison and Harry McKirdy; without Barry, Town are not quite the same as an attacking force.
With that in mind, a solid, organised Oldham display might be enough for Sheridan’s side to grab all three points.
John Sheridan is going to beat us Saturday and Swindon twitter will be in its prime 😂
— Josh (@stfcjosh) March 8, 2022