Gabriel Sutton’s EFL Gameweek 22 Preview is here, Gab shares his thoughts ahead of the key weekend fixtures across the leagues.
“Hull are starting to look like a good side under Grant McCann, especially since the formation change, and I fancy the Tigers to defeat Nigel Pearson’s side.”Gab Sutton
Hull City v Bristol City
Hull to win
Hull’s transformation over the last five games has been quite remarkable.
The Tigers have accrued 13 points from the last 15 available, going in the process from being prime relegation candidates to one of the Championship’s form teams.
This resurgence has coincided with Grant McCann’s decision to drop the 4-3-3 to which the Northern Irishman had been criticized for being to loyal, in favour of the 3-5-2.
McCann has deployed forwards by trade in Ryan Longman and Keane Lewis-Potter, the latter being arguably the most dangerous attacking player at the club, as wing-backs.
This change has been dictated partly by circumstance, because right-backs Lewie Coyle and Josh Emmanuel have been sidelined through injury, but McCann deserves credit for finding an alternative formula that gives his side plenty of thrust and drive out wide.
Another key factor, though, is the return of key attacking midfielder George Honeyman, who brings sweet deliveries, neat link-up play and boundless energy.
For that reason, whenever wide centre-backs Di’Shon Bernard or Jacob Greaves look to overlap their corresponding wing-backs on the right and left respectively, Honeyman is always there making the third-man run into the channel, dragging opponents out of position to create space for others.
Throw in the introduction of goalkeeper Nathan Baxter, who due to his Chelsea schooling is proficient when it comes to distribution, and it’s been a perfect storm for Hull, who are now climbing the table with confidence.
— Benedict (@BFerraby7) December 9, 2021
“If Millwall can repeat the performance levels they produced against Birmingham on a more consistent basis, then perhaps they should be seriously considered as part of the Play-Off shake-up.”Gab Sutton
Peterborough United v Millwall
Millwall to win
Are Millwall serious Play-Off contenders?
They have flown under the radar so far this season, staying in the mix due to losing only five in 21 league games in a wide-open scramble for the top six.
Last weekend’s 3-1 victory over Birmingham, though, will give the Lions fresh hope that they can take advantage of the nature of this Championship season, in which there are just two – possibly three – genuinely strong, consistent sides.
The set piece threat, which we know the South Bermondsey outfit are capable of from previous seasons, is back, after Gary Rowett’s troops found the net twice from dead ball scenarios against his former club.
The football, rather than slow, laboured, and reliant on Jed Wallace individualism, looked fast, fluid and unpredictable, with wing-backs Dan McNamara and Scott Malone making big contributions going forward.
If Millwall can play like that every other week, they have a chance of challenging for the Play-Offs, but they will need to defeat a Peterborough side that have struggled to adjust to this level.
The Posh currently look reliant on defensive talent Ronnie Edwards at the back and skill merchant Siriki Dembele in attack, with not enough of their other players stepping up.
Fergie, & pos due to the recruitment, formed a side that can compete in the middle third but is clearly ineffective in the final third – if Dembele fails to fire, Posh lack any threat.
Posh are so predictable & easy to play against it's infuriating.#pufc
— RoamingCB (@RoamingCB) December 4, 2021
“It would not surprise me at all if December holds a significant hot streak for Pompey striker George Hirst, who has been playing well and getting plenty of chances.”Gab Sutton
Portsmouth v Morecambe
George Hirst to score anytime
George Hirst is having an excellent season at Portsmouth.
The Leicester loanee, who was very highly rated at youth level, has endured a tricky start to his senior career, taking flak for the circumstances regarding his move from Sheffield Wednesday – an issue not helped by his father’s career at Hillsborough – followed by a tough stint at Rotherham last season.
Hirst has found his feet in League One, though, and has been flying under the tutelage of Danny and Nicky Cowley at Pompey, bringing excellent hold-up and link-up play whilst also having the ability to run in behind.
The next step is adding goals to his game but that cannot be far off, with the striker averaging 2.1 shots from inside the penalty area per 90 minutes.
Morecambe are not the worst opposition to face, either, for a striker needing a change of luck, with the Shrimps having significant defensive problems this season.
The Lancashire outfit have shipped 42 goals in 20 league games this season and lost 5-0 at Sunderland in midweek, leaving Stephen Robinson desperate to add a midfield enforcer and a dominant centre-back in January.
George Hirst is now showing why we signed him. Started brilliantly #pompey
— Mike Briscoe (@MikePompey) December 7, 2021
“Wycombe have won eight of their 10 home league games this season and are making Adams Park a fortress. I expect Gareth Ainsworth’s side to defeat AFC Wimbledon.”Gab Sutton
Wycombe Wanderers v AFC Wimbledon
Wycombe to win
Wycombe can get unfairly pigeonholed as long ball merchants.
Gareth Ainsworth’s side play direct to target man Sam Vokes, of course, and it would make little sense not to maximize the Welshman’s strengths, but the Chairboys have other tools in their armoury.
The athletic Brandon Hanlan runs off Vokes and stretches opposition rear-guards with his pace, while Garath McCleary picks up the scraps in pockets of space and can unleash moments of quality.
The 3-4-3 with that attacking trio works well for Wanderers, especially when Jack Grimmer is deployed as a right centre-back.
Ainsworth has at times favoured Anthony Stewart out there but the stalwart has been found wanting for pace, whereas Grimmer is very athletic and thrives in one-on-one scenarios, as well as having the ability to overlap wing-back Jason McCarthy.
Joe Jacobson, on the left of the defensive trio, brings set piece proficiency as well as ball-playing nous, making the veteran Welshman an excellent supporting option behind direct wing-back Jordan Obita.
With full-backs deployed as wide centre-backs, one would think Wycombe would need the insurance of two holding midfielders, but Ainsworth’s XI for the 2-1 win over Burton suggests otherwise.
Curtis Thompson is the only orthodox ball-winner in midfield, while Anis Mehmeti – a withdrawn forward by trade – is given licence to drive on from the base his partner provides.
With such a strong formula, Wycombe look well-placed to continue their promotion hunt against AFC Wimbledon, who accrued a crucial 2-0 victory at Accrington Stanley in midweek.
Garath McCleary vs Burton Albion;
🔫 Shots – 4 (🎯on Target – 3)
🤤 Dribbles – 2 (💯 100% Success)
🛑 Interceptions – 1
🤺 Tackles – 1
⚽️ One Goal
— The Wycombe Way (@theWycombeWay) December 8, 2021
“I consider Leyton Orient to be very much in the mix for automatic promotion and think they will have few problems seeing off Crawley, who are missing key players, especially at the back.”Gab Sutton
Leyton Orient v Crawley Town
Leyton Orient to win -1 handicap
Orient issued another reminder of their credentials on Tuesday night, when they thumped promotion rivals Swindon 4-1.
Target man Harry Smith and relentless runner Aaron Drinan are looking unstoppable as a front-pairing, right up there with Jamille Matt and Matty Stevens for Forest Green as the best in the division on current form.
Equally, the rest of the team deserves credit for giving Smith and Drinan exemplary service and a feast of crosses to attack.
Right wing-back Tom James produces some excellent deliveries, while left wing-back Theo Archibald is a strong ball-carrier who can get into dangerous areas and then cut back, similar to attacking midfielder Dan Kemp.
These players are given the freedom because Darren Pratley and Craig Clay do so much fantastic destructive work in midfield, which also gives Orient the balance required to operate with two centre-forwards.
It is not as if the O’s play the most expansive, elaborate football in the division, but their elevated fitness levels and organisation allows them to distance themselves from their opponents as matches go on, which is one of the real pluses of having a manager who has worked at a high level.
Jackett demands high standards and that is showing on the pitch: it may well show on Saturday against injury-stricken Crawley.
John Yems’ side are missing key centre-backs Jordan Tunnicliffe and Tom Dallison, balletic left-sider Nick Tsaroulla, midfield controller Jack Payne and physical striker Kwesi Appiah.
Leyton Orient's Harry Smith (11) and Aaron Drinan (10) have combined for 21 goals in League Two this season
That's more than eight other sides in the division have managed in total 😃#LOFC
— D3D4Football (@d3d4football) December 7, 2021
“Port Vale will have to go without an orthodox centre-forward at Rodney Parade due to injuries, which is why I see Newport keeping a clean sheet.”Gab Sutton
Newport County v Port Vale
Port Vale to score Under 0.5 goals
Newport might just have picked the perfect time to play Port Vale.
Darrell Clarke’s side are having a wonderful season so far and deservedly sit proudly in third, but they do have an injury-crisis up top.
Speedy James Wilson is out with a broken foot, no date has been issued on hold-up front-man Jamie Proctor’s return and the athletic Devante Rodney got injured in the midweek 2-1 victory at Bristol Rovers.
Ben Garrity saved the day at the Mem, with the box-to-box midfielder by trade bagging a brace operating down the middle, but that will not work every week and Vale desperately need a reliable focal point.
On top of that, the Valiants now face a Newport side outside the Play-Off places only on goal difference.
James Rowberry’s troops have been boosted by a midweek 3-2 win over Sutton, even if they were helped by a dubious red card in that game, losing only one of their last 11 league encounters.
Thanks to that resurgence, the Exiles find themselves outside the Play-Off places and will see this as a marvellous opportunity to state their case to be a more permanent component of this promotion picture.