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Gabriel Sutton looks ahead to the weekend’s EFL action, with ramifications for teams with both promotion and relegation aspirations.

“Lucas Joao on his day is a top Championship centre-forward, or at least in that tier below Mitrovic and Solanke. I see him getting on the scoresheet for Reading, who would secure safety with a victory at an erratic Hull side.”

Gabriel Sutton

Hull City v Reading

Lucas Joao to score anytime

Reading need three points from their remaining three games to mathematically confirm their Championship status next season.

Realistically, it’s just one point required for the Royals, due to having a goal difference superior to closest rivals Peterborough, by +17.

Paul Ince was not a popular appointment when he first took charge but, having steered the Berkshire club to 15 points from 11 games, many supporters are coming around to the idea of giving ‘The Guvnor’ the opportunity to start next season in charge.

The Reading players are giving everything for Ince, hence were able to come back from three down in the last half hour against Swansea, drawing 4-4.

That comeback was helped by the presence of striker Lucas Joao who, when fit, makes a real difference at this level and, if he’d started more games than 18, the Royals might have beaten the drop more comfortably.

Joao is strong and has excellent hold-up play, but he can also produce moments of individual magic around the edge of the box – having scored 10 goals this season despite the injuries.

The Portuguese front-man, therefore, could be crucial for Ince’s side in their attempts to get the result they need to secure their place in the second tier.

Hull have already accomplished that objective, and a star showing from Allahyar Sayyadmanesh in Good Friday’s 2-1 victory over Cardiff offered hope of better times to come in 2022-23, but the Tigers are inconsistent.

They have lost to Derby and Barnsley under Shota Arveladze, having taken nine points from eight games against teams below them in the table over the course of the season.

With greater incentives for Reading, they may have the edge – especially with Joao fit and firing.

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“Peterborough are making progress under Grant McCann and will be the best-placed of the relegated sides to bounce back in League One, but Forest looked irresistible against West Brom and I would struggle to go against them after that.”

Gabriel Sutton

Peterborough United v Nottingham Forest

Forest to win

3/5

Peterborough need effectively maximum points from their remaining three games to have any chance of retaining their Championship status.

Grant McCann’s side must also hope that Reading take one point or none between now and the end of the season, so the odds are massively against them.

While some Posh fans hold out hope of a miracle, much of the optimism around (PU1) these days comes from the hope of a promotion challenge next season, based on improved performances under McCann’s guidance.

Ronnie Edwards and Harrison Burrows look like exciting young talents, so does attacking midfielder Kwame Poku, and a 2-0 victory at Barnsley means it’s 11 points from six for McCann’s men.

Nottingham Forest, however, have won six of their last seven league games including a 4-0 thumping of 10-man West Brom last time out – and what a goal from Jack Colback!

Some have suggested the left wing-back had meant to cross the ball, but the way he shaped up for his effort implied that he was looking to curl it towards goal as opposed to back for someone to head home, and with the power he generated it would have been difficult for anyone to get a touch – the evidence is that he genuinely saw the goalkeeper out of position.

Colback’s goal, and stellar showings from the likes of James Garner, on loan from Manchester United, athletic striker Sam Surridge, agile wide forward Brennan Johnson, flying wing-back Djed Spence and combative midfielder Ryan Yates, means Steve Cooper’s side still have an outside chance of securing an automatic spot.

It’s unlikely, with Bournemouth winning 3-0 at Coventry earlier that day, but if the Reds do finish in the Play-Offs, they will be arguably the most dangerous opponents: and they should show the gulf in class, despite Posh’s improvement.

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“Promotion-chasers MK Dons have failed to score against Gillingham and Doncaster already this season, so they have previous with struggling to break down low blocks, which is what I expect to see from Morecambe. Defender Jacob Bedeau and goalkeeper Trevor Carson can inspire the Shrimps to a crucial clean sheet towards safety.”

Gabriel Sutton

Milton Keynes Dons v Morecambe

MK Dons not to score

Rotherham’s recent drop-off should have given MK Dons renewed belief of a top two finish, but defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Oxford represent missed opportunities.

Liam Manning’s side are now level on points with the Millers, who currently occupy second spot, but have played one more game than the South Yorkshire outfit.

MK were a 3-4-2-1 outfit last season, operating with a box midfield and emphasis on dominating possession, whereas this year’s side is different.

The likes of Warren O’Hora, Harry Darling and Dean Lewington still play out from the back, but there is more emphasis on playing through the lines slightly quicker with strong ball-carriers, releasing more of an orthodox front-three.

The question for MK Dons is how unpick a low block, which was challenging for them in January’s goalless draw with Gillingham and 1-0 defeat to Doncaster.

Morecambe will ask Ousmane Fane to patrol the area just in front of the penalty box and be aggressive in breaking up challenges, aided by the energetic Adam Phillips and stalwart Aaron Wildig.

In those circumstances, MK will need to use the middle third of the pitch very effectively, which is where they may need more numbers to make the most of the space, so it’s a dilemma for Manning in terms of team selection and whether to trust the formula that has got his side to this position or whether to tweak things.

If Manning doesn’t quite get that decision right, there may be an opportunity for Morecambe to nick a point.

The Shrimps boast an excellent centre-back in Jacob Bedeau, who has the pace to hold his own in any one-on-one scenarios that come up, Rhys Bennett can dominate in the air and goalkeeper Trevor Carson is more than capable of pulling off some brilliant saves when called upon.

If Morecambe can avoid defeat at Stadium:MK, it would go a long way towards securing survival in their first season at this level in the club’s 122-year history.

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“With Billy Bodin coming into the mix to supplement an already strong set of attacking options, I feel Oxford are underrated here. They have form on their side, too, after back-to-back wins, while Rotherham, in the race for automatics, are feeling the heat.”

Gabriel Sutton

Rotherham United v Oxford United

Double Chance: Draw/Oxford

Rotherham’s top-two hopes are in doubt after a 2-0 loss at Burton in midweek.

Easter Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Ipswich offered hope that the Millers had turned a corner, following a run of three straight league defeats, but the limp showing at the Pirelli Stadium has thrown everything into question once again.

The good news for Warne’s troops is that MK Dons lost on the same night at Oxford, but there is an outside danger of Sheffield Wednesday snaffling second spot.

It’s perfectly conceivable that the Owls will win each of their remaining games, which would put them on 88 points – and could we say with great confidence that, in this scenario, Rotherham will take six points from their remaining three games, having just lost four in five?

The Millers have appeared to have lost some confidence at a crucial stage and it could be an edgy finale, whereas Oxford are in the opposite situation.

The Yellows looked close to being ruled out of the Play-Off mix but back-to-back wins over Fleetwood and MK Dons has left Karl Robinson’s side just top points outside the top six.

Oxford have a very favourable final day fixture, at home to Doncaster and if they win both of their remaining games, they would be on 81 points which may be enough.

Billy Bodin came off the bench to score the winner against Robinson’s former club last time out and while the wide forward has had a tough few years with injuries, we have seen him do damage at this level previously with Bristol Rovers and if he can recapture that form, could be an asset in the final two games.

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“I’m going with Elliot Anderson here. The Newcastle loanee has scored in each of his last three games, so the 16/5 anytime price is huge for the skilful, agile attacking midfielder who produces laser-sharp finishing, even on a day where Forest Green could clinch promotion.”

Gabriel Sutton

Bristol Rovers v Forest Green Rovers

Elliot Anderson to score anytime

Forest Green are set to secure League One football for the first time in the club’s history.

Rob Edwards’ side can complete the job on Saturday via one of three scenarios, the first one being the simplest: they avoid defeat at Bristol Rovers.

The second is that two of the following three eventualities occur: Port Vale lose at Walsall, Northampton fail to win at Leyton Orient, Sutton fail to win at Barrow.

The third is that if Exeter fail to beat Rochdale, Port Vale fail to win at Walsall and Northampton fail to beat Rochdale.

The Green Devils’ main focus, though, will be on securing the title at the expense of Exeter and they can take a big step forward towards top spot with a win at the Mem, but hosts Bristol Rovers plan to join them in the third tier.

Joey Barton’s side stayed in the race for the top three by winning 3-1 at Port Vale last time out, moving within two points of their third-placed opponents with three to play thanks to goals from Elliot Anderson, James Connolly and Ryan Loft.

Anderson continues to grab all the attention, on loan from Newcastle and there is no reason why he can’t do more damage against Forest Green, having scored in each of his previous three games.

The attacking midfielder can pick up the ball in pockets of space just in front of the wide areas of the penalty box, twist and turn his way past challengers and still be able to produce ruthless finishes at the end of it, which give goalkeepers no chance.

The chances of Anderson finding the net here look far great than the 23.8% chance our traders’ odds imply, so the 19-year-old is the one to back here – even if it’s Forest Green who could well be celebrating as a collective.

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“Relegation candidates play promotion contenders and it’s the latter who are as big as 2/1 for victory? I can’t see why our traders have things that way around: this would be my NAP for the weekend.”

Gabriel Sutton

Stevenage v Tranmere Rovers

Tranmere to win

2/1

Stevenage are now four points clear of the drop zone after a 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe last time out.

Steve Evans’ side had the better chances against the team already relegated from League Two and will feel they could have got even closer to tying up safety by completing the victory, as opposed to conceding the equalizer with 15 to play.

Evans has some work ahead of him in terms of tweaking the midfield and balancing the experience and knowhow that players like Chris Lines, Michael Bostwick and Ed Upson can provide, with the energy and exuberance that Arthur Read and others can bring.

Right now, Boro’s set-up may be weighted more towards the former category than the latter, but the good news is that survival will be assured if they win and Oldham lose to Salford.

Conversely, if the Hertfordshire outfit are 4-6 points above the drop zone by the end of the afternoon, they could secure their EFL status at Mansfield on Tuesday.

Stevenage have a tough couple of games though, against teams chasing a top seven berth, the first of which being Tranmere, who are four unbeaten after a 2-0 victory over Exeter.

Rovers can cut teams open with simple balls down the middle for the persistent Elliott Nevitt, who is starting to find his feet at this level after signing from non-league Warrington Rylands 1906 in the summer, and hold-up front-man Kane Hemmings.

If those two are not on the move straight away, Micky Mellon’s men can turn to Everton loanee Lewis Warrington, who has brought advanced ball-carrying and creativity to the Wirral outfit and will be crucial to their hopes of tying up a Play-Off spot.

Tranmere are as big as 2/1 for victory, which is partly because they are missing Kieron Morris and Calum MacDonald.

It may be true that Mellon’s side have missed Morris in recent weeks, but Calum MacDonald’s absence is not as significant with Chris Merrie impressing at left-back, which is where the former Wigan man started the season.

While Morris is a big player, his absence shouldn’t make Rovers outsiders against a relegation struggler.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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