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We are fast approaching the halfway stage of the season and Gabrel Sutton is back to share his thoughts ahead of the EFL gameweek 21 fixtures.

“Carlton Morris showed flashes of goalscoring potential for Barnsley last time out and I fancy the former Shrewsbury striker to find the net in this local clash.”

Gabriel Sutton

Barnsley v Huddersfield Town

Carlton Morris to score anytime

Barnsley enjoyed an improvement in performance in last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Peterborough.

The Reds earned their first point of Poya Asbaghi’s reign as head coach, ending a three-game losing streak in the process.

The next task for the former Sweden Under-21s coach is to strengthen the link between the midfield and attack because the squad hasn’t been built with that in mind.

Rather, the squad has been built for Valerien Ismael’s style, which was essentially long balls to a set of three tall, powerful strikers, with midfielders only responsible for pressing.

The pressing this season, though, has not been anywhere near as strong, so Tarn need to join up the dots better in the final third.

One solution could be to switch from the 4-3-3 deployed last time out to more of a 3-5-2, with Jordan Williams and Callum Styles as attacking wing-backs, then two out-and-out strikers rather than three.

That way, Barnsley can invest more numbers into getting the ball into the final third, whilst taking less of a risk that the consequences of not doing so will leave them vulnerable due to having an extra centre-back.

Striker Carlton Morris should keep his place, having looked dangerous last time out with numerous efforts including one that was blocked, and the former Shrewsbury man could find the net against Huddersfield.

Town have lost three of their last four games and look in danger of slipping out of Play-Off contention.

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“Ben Brereton Diaz’s confidence has skyrocketed following his strong, unexpected, Copa America tournament with Chile and I fancy the in-form forward to bag first in this Lancashire clash.”

Gabriel Sutton

Blackburn Rovers v Preston North End

Ben Brereton Diaz to score first

3/1

Few spectators of Blackburn’s 7-0 home loss to Fulham in early November would have guessed that Tony Mowbray’s side would go on to win four games in succession.

In some ways, it is the ability to bounce back from such a bad result in such a defiant manner that makes the team so likeable.

It would be easy for a team of senior professionals to stay level-headed, but this is a young Rovers squad with emerging talents like Tyrhys Dolan, Harry Pickering, John Buckley and Ben Brereton Diaz.

After the 1-0 victory at Stoke last time out, Mowbray reserved special praise for goalscorer Reda Khadra, with the speedy forward on loan from Brighton finding the net with a firm, right-footed finish.

Brereton Diaz, though, has been the Lancashire club’s primary goalscoring threat this season, finding the net 16 times already in all competitions, convincingly replacing the departed Adam Armstrong.

The Chile international is hoping to do damage to Preston North End, who are arguably in a false position.

On paper, Frankie McAvoy is doing a good job with the Lilywhites, leading a limited squad to 17th on a bottom six budget, so on the surface, the Scot does not get enough credit.

The style of football, though, has been largely uninspiring and North End have been primarily carried by individual magic from Riis Jakobsen and Sean Maguire in attack, who have to do their work in isolation from a defensive block of seven or eight.

Individual performances against the top sides in the division have been strong, with McAvoy’s side taking four points off Fulham and Bournemouth, but there is little hope that they can convincingly build on those displays.

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“Neil Critchley and Nathan Jones are two coaches with potential to go on and work in the Premier League, but I’m not sure either side have much quality in the final third, which is why we could be in for a lively, low-scoring encounter.”

Gabriel Sutton

Blackpool v Luton Town

Under 1.5 goals

2/1

Blackpool’s winless streak extended to five games after a 1-0 loss at Birmingham last time out.

Neil Critchley’s side had the better of the first half, thanks to their strong pressing game, but only mustered two efforts throughout the second half – and one shot on target all game.

The Tangerines have two clear weaknesses which are, firstly, that their style relies on high energy levels and when they drop off, they are unable to hurt teams in a way that a team stronger in possession might be able to.

Secondly, even when they are on top, the West Lancashire outfit, do not always have the quality to make it count: striker Shayne Lavery and withdrawn forward Keshi Anderson have been their only truly productive attacking players, and both have made big steps up this season.

It is a similar story for Luton, who have taken just one point from their previous four encounters, despite having the better of the play in that sequence against Stoke, QPR and Nottingham Forest.

It hardly helps the Hatters that, having been reliant on hold-up front-man Elijah Adebayo, willing runner Harry Cornick and forward-thinking midfielder Luke Berry for goals, the former two are out of form while the latter has been absent.

With that in mind, we could see a clash between two intelligent, well-structured and superbly-coached outfits, but one in which neither can quite find the end product they require.

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“Alex Mighten’s searing pace can trouble opponents and, if he starts at left wing-back here, I reckon he’ll get opportunities to drive right at the heart of a leaky Peterborough defence.”

Gabriel Sutton

Nottingham Forest v Peterborough United

Alex Mighten to score anytime

There has been a clear pattern to Nottingham Forest’s season so far.

They first lost six in seven under Chris Hughton, who was dismissed in September, then won five of their first six games of Steve Cooper’s regime (including one game under interim boss Steven Reid), then drawn five in six.

The Reds will be hoping that pattern does not come full circle, resulting in another six defeats between now and mid-January, but the likelier eventuality is that Cooper’s troops get back to winning ways with the visit of Peterborough.

The East Midlanders have taken 11 points from six games against sides below them in the table, which is a theme going back to last season, and visitors Peterborough are notoriously poor on the road.

Darren Ferguson’s side won 2-1 at Hull in October, which is the only time in 10 Championship road trips that the Posh have avoided defeat this season; the club are hiring a psychologist to address the difficulty, in contrast with very competitive home form.

Nonetheless, Forest should have too much quality for this one; the shot stopping of Brice Samba, the leadership of Joe Worrall and the midfield athleticism of Ryan Yates gives them a strong defensive platform.

With Max Lowe injured, Arsenal loanee Jordi Osei-Tutu only just resuming training and Gaetan Bong lacking the pace for a wing-back role, it would not be a huge surprise to see Cooper deploy speedster Alex Mighten as an inverted left wing-back, similar to the role Jeremie Bela does for Birmingham.

Lewis Grabban would use his movement to drag Peterborough’s right-sided centre-back, Josh Knight, away from the penalty box, allowing Mighten to beat veteran Nathan Thompson for pace and then directly attack a decimated defence.

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“Fleetwood could be about to appoint Jamie Milligan as head coach, which could give the traveling Cod Army a lift ahead of this Lancashire clash, which could have a say in whether Stanley will get dragged into the dogfight.”

Gabriel Sutton

Accrington Stanley v Fleetwood Town

Fleetwood draw no bet

This is a tough time for Accrington Stanley.

John Coleman’s troops suffered the humiliation of a 4-0 loss at Burton Albion, then responded with a 1-0 league victory at Gillingham and, after that, the Liverpudlian wanted to maintain a winning side for the EFL Trophy visit of Wigan.

Instead, the Reds were beaten on penalties by a second-string Latics side, and Coleman admitted that his team should have been defeated in normal time, having been fortunate to see two shots hit the woodwork and one cleared off the line.

In fact, Coleman felt he made a mistake not giving an opportunity to some of the fringe players, which means he has a dilemma for Saturday’s hosting of Fleetwood.

Does he pick players who struggled in midweek, or does he take a chance on unproven players for what could be a key relegation clash?

It seems extremely harsh to be talking about Stanley in negative terms when “The club that wouldn’t die” are 14th in League One, with a stadium capacity that would rank ninth in the National League North – and many older fans would call for a sense of perspective.

It is partly Coleman’s sheer perfectionism, though, that means the East Lancashire club are now being held to higher standards than they probably deserve to be.

Nonetheless, there is a danger of Accy getting dragged into a dogfight if they are beaten by Fleetwood, who are currently 2/1 to appoint Jamie Milligan as manager.

Milligan is a cult hero to the Cod Army, having played a key role in the club’s rise from the Northern Premier Division to the EFL, winning a divisional Player of the Year in 2007-08 as the club’s leading scorer and being captain for much of that stint too.

If Milligan’s appointment is confirmed before Saturday’s game, it will give traveling supporters a significant lift.

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“Nathan Broadhead hit a belter last time out and the 23-year-old will be brimming with confidence. I see the former Everton youngster doing damage in this key top-six clash.”

Gabriel Sutton

Sunderland v Oxford United

Nathan Broadhead to score anytime

This is shaping up to be a highly competitive League One promotion race.

Rotherham and Wigan have been the two stand-out sides in the division so far and that is reflected in the league table, but there is only six points separating the league leaders and 9th-placed Portsmouth.

For that reason, the side that emerges victorious from Sunderland’s hosting of Oxford will fancy their chances of challenging, with the two sides reaching the Play-Offs four times combined in the previous three campaigns.

The Black Cats have ambitions of going one step further under Lee Johnson and had been in pole position for much of the season, but a run of three straight defeats threw the Wearsiders off course.

After crucial victories, though, over Ipswich and Cambridge, Sunderland are hoping to resurge into contention, inspired by the individual brilliance of Nathan Broadhead, who hit a fine winner at the Abbey last time out.

Oxford, meanwhile, deserve credit for taking four points from their last two games, having been hit by a COVID crisis at the start of the week.

This has not only given the Yellows plenty of concern from a human perspective, but it has also affected them from a footballing standpoint, depleting Karl Robinson’s options.

The U’s did especially well to earn a point and a clean sheet against Rotherham, despite being without key figures in goalkeepers Jack Stevens and Simon Eastwood, defenders Jordan Thorniley and Elliott Moore plus destroyer Alex Gorrin.

Robinson was able to find a satisfactory solution between the sticks, loaning in Connal Trueman from Birmingham at short notice, while Herbie Kane has long been considered for the number six role, but there were serious issues in central defence.

Luke McNally is very much on the cusp of his senior career, having signed from St Patrick’s Athletic earlier this year and while his defensive partner, Sam Long, is more experienced, he’s a right-back by trade.

The absence of Gorrin could be problematic when it comes to stopping Nathan Broadhead, who can threaten from outside the box, because Kane does not have much of an aggressive streak.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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