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The first footballing action of 2022 arrives on New Year’s Day and Gab Sutton looks ahead to the EFL action.

“Blackpool and Hull are on track for their primary ambition of survival, so a point could suit both at Bloomfield Road.”

Gabriel Sutton

Blackpool v Hull City

Match to be drawn

Blackpool and Hull will both be content with their respective returns to the Championship, after promotion from League One last season.

Whereas the Tangerines started superbly and have dropped off somewhat over November and December – still to a highly respectable 13th place, however – Grant McCann’s side have done the reverse.

The Tigers won just one of their first 16 league games but have picked up since McCann switched to a 3-5-2, with extremely attacking wing-backs.

Most managers would look for a conventional full-back, a classic winger, or maybe an energetic midfielder to fill the wing-back role, so the Northern Irish boss has been extremely brave to deploy wide forwards in Ryan Longman and Keane Lewis-Potter in those positions.

Blackpool, meanwhile, have needed their own form of bravery to apply their aggressive, high-pressing style in the second tier, and it’s largely paid off.

After four defeats in five, though, Neil Critchley may look to bring the likes of two-footed winger Josh Bowler and hardworking striker Shayne Lavery into the XI – both were on the bench for the 2-1 loss to Middlesbrough – to help his side steady the ship.

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“Rotherham had been 21 games unbeaten in all competitions prior to the loss at Stanley last time out, but there’s no reason why they cannot start another run against Bolton, with Ian Evatt’s side meandering to a midtable finish.”

Gabriel Sutton

Rotherham United v Bolton Wanderers

Rotherham to win

With Sunderland hitting five on Thursday to go top of the league, Rotherham have a point to prove if they want to re-establish themselves as the division’s stand-out side.

The Millers lost 1-0 at Accrington Stanley on Boxing Day, but they have the squad to bounce back from that result, only their fourth defeat of the campaign.

Paul Warne’s side boast an excellent defensive record, having conceded just 16 goals in 23 games and Richard Wood has been right at the heart of that.

Some had written off the veteran because of his decreasing mobility, but we saw last season that “Woody” can excel in the middle of a back-three, rather than as part of a back four.

The back-three means the Rotherham stalwart is protected from getting dragged into one-v-ones in wide areas, which he absolutely hates.

Wide centre-backs Ramarni Edmonds-Green and Michael Ihiekwe handle the footraces, meaning Wood can merely stay in his position, head balls out of the box and organise those around him.


Rotherham will be hoping to inflict a third consecutive defeat on Bolton, who come into this game off the back of losses to nil at Fleetwood and Accrington Stanley

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“Crawley might not have the consistency to challenge for the Play-Offs this season, but they do have individuals who can cause serious problems on their day and could relish the visit of Hayden Mullins’ uninspiring Colchester side.”

Gabriel Sutton

Crawley Town v Colchester United

Crawley to win and over 1.5 goals

Crawley are looking to stretch their legs, playing for the first time in three weeks, after a 2-1 victory at Leyton Orient on December 11th.

The Red Devils impressed in East London, especially strikers Ashley Nadesan, Tom Nichols and Kwesi Appiah, who all bring different qualities to the table.

Nadesan loves to stretch defences by running in behind, Nichols is a creative forward who likes to drop in, get on the ball and slip passes through while Appiah brings the physical dimension, especially important from crosses, seeing as neither of his fellow forwards are strong in the air.

Between them, Nadesan, Nichols and Appiah can be a handful on a good day, so Colchester must be wary, carrying a limited goal threat themselves.

Hayden Mullins’ troops have scored just 16 goals in 20 league games, seven of which having been bagged by Freddie Sears, with nobody else hitting more than three for the U’s.

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“Forest Green look a class above everyone else in League Two and are out to re-affirm their credentials against Stevenage, who will need goalkeeper Christy Pym to be in top form.”

Gabriel Sutton

Forest Green Rovers v Stevenage

Forest Green to win and under 2.5 goals

Forest Green have spent the last three weeks aching to right the wrongs of Oldham, where they led by three goals in the second half but still ended up drawing 5-5.

Rob Edwards’ troops cannot let the disappointment fester, though, because the good news is that they are still eight points clear in the automatic promotion race with games in hand and are nine unbeaten.

Forest Green could do with strengthening in midfield, where Regan Hendry – after a bright start – has not quite lived up to the fanfare he came with after joining from Raith Rovers and could do with greater competition.

Similarly, another defender would boost the Green Devils, who have been reliant on three of Dom Bernard, Udoka Godwin-Malife, Jordan Moore-Taylor and Baily Cargill being free to start, which would be thrown into doubt with injuries.

The first XI, though, is already in place to secure top spot and the Nailsworth outfit can further their ambitions by starting 2022 with another victory over Stevenage.

Paul Tisdale’s side, though, have just loaned in Christy Pym – a League One promotion-winner last season with Peterborough – and could be a game-changer in their battle to secure safety.

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“Rarely has a Hill been quite so popular in an area as notoriously flat as the Lincolnshire wolds, but Scunthorpe’s Keith is doing the business – and back-to-back victories against their relegation rivals would go a long way to improving their survival chances.”

Gabriel Sutton

Scunthorpe United v Carlisle United

Scunthorpe to win

The way Scunthorpe have been playing recently, it is hardly surprising that they are unbeaten under Keith Hill’s management.

The Iron drew the former Rochdale boss’ first four games in charge, with largely encouraging performances, followed by a 3-1 victory in the crucial six-pointer at Oldham.

Ryan Loft came off the bench to turn that game on it’s head in the second half and, if Scunny can keep the tall, hardworking striker rather than cash in this month with his contract up in the summer, then he could forge a strong partnership with Aaron Jarvis.

Hill might have been expected, when he took over, to build around a competent core of Rory Watson, Manny Onariase, Tom Pugh and Loft, then look to overhaul the rest of the squad in January.

Instead, Hill has changed perceptions around much of Scunthorpe’s squad, to the point that players like Jarvis, right-back Ross Millen and ball-carrier Myles Hippolyte look transformed – and thus, not as much business will be required this month as initially expected.

Scunthorpe will be hopeful of securing victory against Carlisle, who have themselves picked up with two wins in three.

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“Omar Bugiel loves to tee up Donovan Wilson and I fancy the duo to work their magic again at home to Exeter, who have endured a drop in form in recent weeks.”

Gabriel Sutton

Sutton United v Exeter City

Donovan Wilson to score anytime

Sutton’s dream season continued with a 1-0 victory over Harrogate last time out, thanks to Donovan Wilson’s goal.

One of the reasons why the Amber & Chocolates are as high as fourth in their maiden EFL campaign is the work of manager Matt Gray: more specifically, his ability to create unique pairings of attributes in his players.

Often, what separates a non-league player and an EFL player who can carry out one specific skill very well, is that the EFL player tends to have more tools in their arsenal.

What Gray does is develop players in such a way that they have a range of qualities that one might not normally associate with one another.

Winger David Ajiboye, for example, loves to take on a full-back and attack the byline, but he can also cut onto his left foot and either have a shot or put in an inswinging cross.

The other example would be Omar Bugiel, who can make the ball stick to him when Sutton go long, he works hard and is reasonably mobile, whilst also having the vision to slip in a teammate, as he did for Wilson’s winner.

Not only that, Bugiel’s attitude is commendable: when the South Londoners were short on numbers after Craig Eastmond’s sending off at Newport, the Lebanese striker by trade filled in at centre-back.

Ajiboye and Bugiel are two players with the ability to play higher up and will be looking to show their multi-dimensions against Exeter, who are hoping to climb back into the top seven after a return of just one point from four games.

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Odds are correct at the time of posting

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