Gab Sutton returns to give his EFL picks for the weekend’s action, including more joy for one of the teams who have caught his eye in his mid-season review.
“Jake Beesley will give Blackpool a focal point and there’s a good chance he’ll get among the goals too. The former Solihull Moors front-man should be held up as inspiration to other non-league centre-forwards.”Gabriel Sutton
Blackpool v Millwall
Jake Beesley to score anytime
Blackpool have bolstered their attack this January by signing Jake Beesley from Rochdale for what is believed to be a lower six-figure fee.
Having not exactly stood out head and shoulders in the National League with Solihull Moors only two years ago, Beesley has done extremely well to earn himself a Championship move and should be held up as an example to other non-league players with aspirations of moving up the leagues.
One of the plus points of the industrious target man’s arrival is that he offers something different to Jerry Yates and Shayne Lavery, in terms of that ability to win aerial duels consistently whilst having the work rate to fit in with Neil Critchley’s high-pressing strategy.
When Yates and Lavery play with one another, Pool do not have an obvious aerial reference point, but Gary Madine cannot be relied upon: the target man is now 31 and is declining in mobility, so needs to be kept fresh.
Signing Beesley means Critchley can rest Madine as and when required, without it affecting the Seasiders’ overall game.
Blackpool are hoping to secure another step towards safety with a positive result against Play-Off chasers Millwall, who have gone from being the Championship’s draw specialists to a side plagued by inconsistency.
📸 Jake Beesley prepares to follow in his father Paul's footsteps by playing for Blackpool.
🍊 #UTMP pic.twitter.com/bhsHcRWBoi
— Blackpool FC (@BlackpoolFC) January 11, 2022
“Levi Colwill, Sorba Thomas and Lewis O’Brien have been crucial to Huddersfield’s Play-Off bid. Keeping the latter - or at least not selling below his true value - is essential.”Gabriel Sutton
Reading v Huddersfield
Huddersfield to win
Huddersfield’s Play-Off tilt this season has only been possible because of the form of three players.
Firstly, defender Levi Colwill, who has been outstanding for the Terriers since joining on loan from Chelsea. Head coach Carlos Corberan, having been inspired by Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds, likes expansive football, but neither Matty Pearson nor Tom Lees – as good as they have been at the basics – pride themselves on their ability to play out from the back.
From that perspective, the 18-year-old’s ball-playing ability, as well as his talent for a lofted diagonal to the right flank, has at times carried Town in possession: Reece James starred at this level for Wigan in 2018-19 on a loan spell away from Stamford Bridge and was then in the Chelsea team under Frank Lampard the following season – Colwill could follow a similar route.
Sorba Thomas has also been a star for the West Yorkshire club, perhaps more surprisingly so than Colwill, having signed from National League side Boreham Wood as recently as January 2021.
Thomas joined initially as an inside forward but has been converted into a right wing-back, or winger with the freedom to cut inside and link up with the central forwards, which speaks not only to his direct running ability but also his finishing and comfort on either foot.
Finally, the key man has been Lewis O’Brien, who has brought relentless energy, dynamic drives forward and, when needed, selfless runs into the left channel to create space for those around him.
O’Brien has piqued the interest of Bielsa at Leeds and there are fears Town could lose him to their neighbours; selling for the right fee could be sensible, but the midfielder’s exit would have implications on the team’s top-six chances.
With those three players in situ, though, Huddersfield should have enough to secure victory at beleaguered Reading, who are looking over their shoulders at Barnsley, Derby and Peterborough.
“We won’t get in the top 6” 😔
Huddersfield are flying high in the Championship! 💪
They’re just a point outside the Play-offs.
But Matt from Huddersfield podcast @takesthatchance is doubtful that they’ll actually get there👇#HTAFC pic.twitter.com/gLt3thHzYY
— The Second Tier (@secondtierpod) January 19, 2022
“After coming off the bench to find the net last week, Dapo Afolayan looks set to recapture his Autumn form.”Gabriel Sutton
Shrewsbury Town v Bolton Wanderers
Oladapo Afolayan to score anytime
Bolton have been busy this January with four new arrivals: goalkeeper James Trafford, right-back Marlon Fossey, deep-lying playmaker Aaron Morley and focal point Dion Charles.
The task for boss Ian Evatt, now, is to find a way out of the drop-in form which saw four consecutive defeats and back up towards the top half of the table.
Last week’s 2-0 victory over Ipswich certainly helped for the Trotters, who are hoping Oladapo Afolayan can come back into form.
The former West Ham youngster proved Bolton’s biggest forward danger-man in Autumn, prior to a drop in form over Winter and the wide forward was left on the bench against the Tractor Boys last time out.
Afolayan, though, proved his worth by coming on to wrap the game up, capitalizing on George Edmundson’s error with a simple finish.
The 24-year-old brings goals, creativity, mobility and a zest for spontaneity outside the box, making him crucial to any potential resurgence.
Afolayan and co. will be looking to cut open Shrewsbury, who were unable to get the better of a patched-up Crewe side last time out, held to a goalless draw.
I actually enjoyed watching us tonight and a draw would have been a fair result but that is a real tough one to take, again. Nothing is going right for us at the moment. But keep the faith. We are tangerine. 🧡 #UTMP
— Gareth. (@seasider76) December 29, 2021
“Graeme Shinnie and Josh Magennis come into this Wigan squad to bring experience of the Championship, where they may reside next season. Gillingham, by contrast, look doomed to League Two.”Gabriel Sutton
Wigan Athletic v Gillingham
Wigan -2 handicap
Wigan are in pole position for automatic promotion from League One.
On paper, the second-placed Latics are a point behind leaders Wycombe, but they have four games in hand, in which to attempt to continue the nine-game unbeaten run in the league.
Fortune might have favoured Leam Richardson’s side in recent 2-1 victories at strugglers Doncaster and Morecambe, so the task has been to find an element of control in their games, on top of the destructive midfield play from Tom Naylor.
Richardson hopes to have found the solution in adding Graeme Shinnie from Derby, with the left-footed Scot capable of steadily running games from the base of midfield.
Shinnie could dictate terms against a Gillingham side in crisis on and off the pitch.
The Gills have suffered a complete breakdown in the relationship between fans and chairman Paul Scally, they do not have a permanent manager and they have a team that has struggled with injuries all season and has just lost on-loan Chelsea goalkeeper Jamie Cumming.
Having taken just one point from the last 24 available, the Kent outfit may be fearing the worst in their trip north, especially if creative forward Will Keane, lively Callum Lang and hardworking striker Josh Magennis – who has arrived from Hull this month – are on song.
“Crawley are not the same team without the focal point of Kwesi Appiah and that may show against League Two’s kings of defending.”Gabriel Sutton
Crawley Town v Tranmere Rovers
Tranmere to win to nil
Crawley boss John Yems missed the 1-1 draw at Carlisle due to a family matter, before returning to the dugout for the 2-1 loss at Stevenage.
Yems was not happy with his side’s performance in Hertfordshire, which may not have been helped by the absence of Kwesi Appiah through injury.
Tom Nichols is a creative forward while Ashley Nadesan has poaching potential, but Appiah completes Town’s attacking equilibrium because of his height, physicality and aerial prowess.
Yems is not especially accomplished when it comes to coaching possession play, so when under pressure Crawley invariably end up going direct, but neither Nichols nor Nadesan enjoy the aerial duels.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why Tranmere would be favourites, especially given that Micky Mellon’s side have accrued 22 points from the last 24 available.
Rovers are League Two’s kings of defending, with Peter Clarke producing some heroic blocks, but the 40-year-old benefits from playing in a stable rear-guard with Josh Cogley, Tom Davies and Calum MacDonald as well as goalkeeper Ross Doohan.
On top of that, the defensive quartet is given excellent protection by anchor man Jay Spearing, to the point that it’s difficult to see the Wirral outfit missing out on a 15th clean sheet of the campaign.
“Having lost Kion Etete, Northampton must put their faith in another striker loanee, Chanka Zimba, and hope the Cardiff youngster can step up to the mantle for the promotion-chasers against a fellow high-flyer.”Gabriel Sutton
Sutton United v Northampton Town
Chanka Zimba to score anytime
Kion Etete has been crucial to Northampton’s form so far this season.
The tall, talented Tottenham temp has brought lots of quality to the Cobblers attack, but was recalled this month to be sent out to Cheltenham, in order to get some League One experience.
Etete has since been replaced by Chanka Zimba, on loan from Cardiff, who will be a different type of centre-forward for Jon Brady’s side.
Zimba might not have the same individual quality as Etete, but he is stronger, quicker and knows where the net is, having been second-top goalscorer with nine goals for PL2 with Cardiff Under-23s.
We can expect the 20-year-old to come into Teyn’s XI on Saturday, after making an impact from the bench in the 1-1 draw with Forest Green.
For that match, Brady operated without a recognized centre-forward and it worked well up to a point, with his side producing a competitive performance against the leaders in a defiant response to back-to-back defeats.
Zimba, though, can give Northampton a cutting edge: he’s someone who can stand on the shoulder of Sutton defender Ben Goodliffe or Louis John and look to get in behind.