An intriguing weekend awaits with new managers and vital points on offer. Gab Sutton returns with his EFL picks for the weekend’s action.
“Forest are a dangerous side vying a Play-Off spot under Steve Cooper and I see them getting a second win in five here, but not without Antoine Semenyo causing some problems at the other end.”Gab Sutton
Nottingham Forest v Bristol City
Forest to win and Both Teams To Score
Bristol City’s home form had been their achilles heel at the start of the season, but now it’s the away form that needs fixing: one point from five on the road in 2022.
The good news for Nigel Pearson’s side, though, is that wide forward Antoine Semenyo is enjoying a fine, breakout season as part of a front-three with Chris Martin and Andreas Weimann.
Semenyo is quick, tricky and skillful – he loves to get to the side of the penalty box and feign one way then go the other before delivering – and as the quickest forward, is also a key counter-attacking outlet.
In fact, seven of the 16 goals Weimann has scored this term have been assisted by Semenyo, but it would be a mistake to say that City would be relegation strugglers without him.
Pearson’s troops boast the development of Alex Scott, who starred in midfield in midweek’s 2-1 home loss to Coventry, in which the team dominated the second half to no avail.
Plus, the Severnsiders have key midfielder Joe Williams back from injury, while defensive talents like George Tanner and Rob Atkinson are not far away too, so the immediate future looks bright.
Nonetheless, Bristol City have collected just nine points from 14 encounters this season with top-10 opposition and Nottingham Forest – hoping to reassert their Play-Off credentials – may prove too strong.
— Bristol City FC (@BristolCity) February 22, 2022
“Grant McCann, in the first game of his second spell as Peterborough manager, will be desperate to prove to Hull owner Acun Ilıcalı that he should have been kept on – but it’s keeping Posh up that’s his main priority.”Gab Sutton
Peterborough United v Hull City
Peterborough to win
Peterborough have confirmed this week that Grant McCann has returned to the club as manager.
McCann was popular as a player at Posh but he did not achieve too much in his first spell in the dugout, with the PB5 outfit missing out on the League One Play-Offs in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
Since departing London Road, however, McCann has learnt and grown a lot as a manager and thus should return tougher, stronger and better prepared.
The Northern Irishman steered Doncaster to the League One Play-Offs on a lower budget than Posh had in 2018-19, before being headhunted by Hull, which was something of a roller-coaster.
McCann had the Tigers flying in eighth in December 2019 thanks to the form of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki, but when the wide forward duo departed, form plummeted with one win in 24 and the club crashed to a bottom-placed finish.
What happened next defined the Belfast-born boss’ career, because the pressure at that point would have been unbearable and in some quarters, he was just as unpopular as the Allem regime.
Hull fans perceived McCann to have no Plan B and be unable to adapt from the 4-3-3 but, after guiding the club to the League One title in 2020-21, he has shown his tactical flexibility this season.
Again, City started the season very poorly with one win in 12 but when full-backs Lewie Coyle and Callum Elder got injured, McCann had the adaptability to switch to a 3-5-2, converting wide forwards Ryan Longman and Keane Lewis-Potter into extremely attacking wing-backs.
That worked a treat, with the team accruing 20 points in 11 – culminating in a 1-0 victory at Bournemouth – before his dismissal.
Incoming owner Acun Ilicali wanted Shota Arveladze at the helm and so McCann’s sacking was very much down to circumstance, rather than footballing reasons.
Intriguingly, though, Arveladze has overseen just five points from his first seven games in charge after a midweek 2-0 loss to strugglers Barnsley – so was the change of manager the right decision for the team, or would Hull be in a better position had they stuck with McCann?
Defeat at London Road would certainly further the latter narrative.
🔵 We are delighted to confirm Grant McCann as the club’s new first team manager.
Grant will be assisted by Cliff Byrne, a former team-mate at Scunthorpe United and long-term number two of the Northern Irishman.#pufc
— Peterborough United (@theposh) February 24, 2022
“I’m not convinced Derek Adams’ second spell at Morecambe will go as well as the first, but I am convinced Kieran McKenna is an excellent coach and that his Ipswich side will close the gap on the Play-Offs.”Gab Sutton
Morecambe v Ipswich Town
Ipswich to win
It has been a big week for Morecambe, with news that head coach Stephen Robinson has departed for St Mirren, and that Derek Adams has returned to the Globe Arena.
What Adams achieved, last season, was heroic, leading the Shrimps to League One: a level they had never played at in their 101-year history.
The Scot’s methods, though, were very much about hitting Cole Stockton to the chest or feet, then playing off the main focal point.
Adams, though, departed for Bradford to be replaced by Stephen Robinson, who changed up the squad a lot for League One despite the prior successes, and got the team playing more on the deck.
Robinson’s man-management style was much gentler than his predecessor and while Adams tended to be very cold, stony and tunnel-visioned, the Northern Irishman was better at delegating and building connections within the club.
What Adams brought to Morecambe was perfect for what they needed at the time, but they have since grown as a club, to the point where they may require a different type of leadership.
With that in mind, this might not quite be the happy re-union some Shrimps fans are hoping for, not least because they are up against an in-form Ipswich side.
The Tractor Boys have not conceded a single goal in five February encounters and have been defeated in only two of their previous 13 league games, with head coach Kieran McKenna already getting the best out of Luke Woolfenden, Wes Burns and Kayden Jackson to make himself a hit in Suffolk.
Morecambe Football Club is delighted to announce the return of Derek Adams as our new first-team manager.#UTS 🦐
— Morecambe FC (@ShrimpsOfficial) February 24, 2022
“Eight of Wednesday’s last 17 league games have seen them win with more than one goal scored, and I’m expecting a repeat of that here against a disjointed Charlton side who have lost four in succession, including a 4-0 defeat to Oxford.”Gab Sutton
Sheffield Wednesday v Charlton Athletic
Wednesday to win and Over 1.5 goals
The League One Play-Off scramble is tantalizingly close.
If Sheffield Wednesday, Plymouth Argyle and Wycombe Wanderers maintained their current PPG return over their games in hand, rounded up to the nearest whole number, there would be just four points between eighth and fourth.
Plus, that is without paying attention to the form teams in the division in Ipswich, Bolton and Portsmouth – the latter would have the same tally as Sunderland if they won each of their games in hand.
The good news for Wednesday is that they are making a strong fist of things, winning five of their last six league games after last week’s 3-1 victory at Doncaster, which came thanks to a transformed second-half showing.
The Owls had been behind at the break with Sylla Sow and Florian Kamberi struggling up top, but the latter were replaced at the interval with Callum Paterson and Saido Berahino.
The movement, work rate, mobility and quality of the subbed-on duo changed the game while Barry Bannan, once again, proved a class above this level.
Bannan pulls the strings in midfield while his midfield teammates, George Byers and Massimo Luongo, made bold, strong runs into the channels, which created space for those around them.
Darren Moore’s side are starting to show clear patterns of play and look like a team with an identity, which is not something we have said about Wednesday for a long time.
The South Yorkshire club’s Play-Off challenge is something Charlton are hoping to emulate but that will have to wait until next season.
In fact, after four straight defeats, Johnnie Jackson’s troops still need to tick off 50 points, to ensure 2021-22 remains underwhelming rather than disastrous.
— The72 – We Love the #EFL (@_The72) February 9, 2022
“Mark Hughes’ arrival will boost Bradford, but not to the point that they should be favourites here against a promotion-chasing Mansfield side unbeaten in 12. The Stags victory is the value bet of the weekend.”Gab Sutton
Bradford City v Mansfield Town
Mansfield to win
Bradford have appointed Mark Hughes as manager this week.
Hughes brings top-level contacts and a wealth of experience, which could be vital for rebuilding the club in the absence of a Director of Football.
The Bantams require some guidance and leadership, because Stefan Rupp rarely provides it from the top and while Ryan Sparks is an excellent CEO, he is not a football mind.
Hughes’ arrival should lift supporters, too, but the Wily Welshman has had three years out of the game and the last time he actively excelled as a manager was back in 2015-16, when he led Stoke to a third consecutive ninth-placed finish.
31 points from the remaining 16 games is the projected requirement for Nigel Clough’s troops, who look capable of fulfilling that assignment having collected 30 points from their previous 12.
The Stags have landed a coup in Matty Longstaff, on loan from Newcastle – not long ago tipped for great things in the Premier League – who looks capable of making a big impression in midfield.
👔 | He's here. Our Manager.
— Bradford City AFC (@officialbantams) February 24, 2022
“Paul Simpson’s return as manager, combined with the departure of Holdsworth and Millen, makes Carlisle a more appealing proposition. I fancy them to welcome Simmo back with a victory at out-of-form Orient that would massively boost their survival chances.”Gab Sutton
Leyton Orient v Carlisle United
Carlisle to win
Orient and Carlisle come into this game with new faces in the dugout.
Kenny Jackett was dismissed by the Os, so Matt Harrold from the coaching team will take charge as caretaker, assisted by Academy Manager Briah Saah.
It’s difficult to see the East Londoner’s change having as big an impact as the one for Carlisle, who have made three significant moves this week, all within the space of three hours.
Firstly, unpopular Director of Football David Holdsworth departed Brunton Park. Secondly, so did head coach Keith Millen, who was subsequently replaced by Paul Simpson.
‘Simmo’ is a popular figure among Cumbrians fans, because he led the club to the then-Conference Play-Off success in 2004-05, before League Two title glory the following season, prior to a move to PNE.
Not to mention, the 55-year-old has won a World Cup… albeit the Under-20s, with England.
Simpson will rejuvenate Carlisle, though, and while the squad he inherits has lots of flaws, he will galvanize the squad and will be backed by a raucous away following, which could have a huge say in Saturday’s game – especially if the athletic Omari Patrick can conjure up a moment of magic.