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EFL pundit Gab Sutton delves into the weekend’s League One and League Two action to select his best bets

Erhun Oztumer to score anytime

Bristol Rovers v Fleetwood Town

Erhun Oztumer could have a transformative impact on this Bristol Rovers side.

He might have struggled at Peterborough, where it was a tough initial jump from seventh-tier football with Dulwich Hamlet to competing with the likes of Marcus Maddison for the attacking limelight, but we saw what he can do after at Walsall.

Oztumer kept the Saddlers up almost single-handedly for two seasons at this level, with his deft first touch, eye for a pass and capability of individual brilliance – the “Turkish Messi’s” technical ability was such he even scored from a corner against Coventry.

The Championship move did not work out because Bolton – ultra defensive and direct then under Phil Parkinson – spent negligible time in the opposing half.

Oztumer is a diminutive player who will not adjust to the tempo of a game but, in the right system, he can make the tempo of a game adjust to him.

Ben Garner’s possession-based 3-4-2-1 setup, on paper, massively suits Oztumer’s skillsets and “Wizard” (of Oz) linked up superbly with Zain Westbrooke and Brandon Hanlan in last week’s 2-1 FA Cup win at Walsall.

That was Oztumer’s first start for Bristol Rovers, who could become a different proposition with him in the XI.

Fleetwood, by contrast, could be without key forwards Ched Evans and Harvey Saunders, after both picked up injuries in the 2-0 FA Cup loss at Hull, while numerous centre-backs are sidelined too.

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Erhun Oztumer could be a real gamechanger for Bristol Rovers and I fancy Wizard to do damage against an injury-stricken Fleetwood side.

Gabriel Sutton

Accrington Stanley to win

Northampton Town v Accrington Stanley

John Coleman managed against Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder in Stanley’s non-league clashes with Halifax Town – and the Liverpudlian spent much of lockdown studying his former opponent’s current methods.

The Blades’ top flight form with Chris Basham and Jack O’Connell as overlapping centre-backs inspired Coleman to plot a similar system for the Reds, for whom Ross Sykes and Cameron Burgess are enjoying the best seasons of their respective careers.

Sykes and Burgess have managed between them six non-headed efforts at goal and six key passes combined already this season and Stanley are just seven games into their league campaign.

Because opposing teams are not used to accounting for the creative and goalscoring potential of roaming centre-backs, Sykes and Burgess are finding more space in advanced areas than a midfielder, wing-back or forward would.

Balancing the duo’s sense of adventure is a cornerstone of security and leadership in stalwarts Mark Hughes and Seamus Conneely, at centre-back and defensive midfield respectively, who hold the units together.

Such imagination is lacking in Northampton Town’s wing-back system, in which centre-backs such as Cian Bolger and Fraser Horsfall have freedom to get forward only for corners.

There have been concerns over Keith Curle’s style of play, but fundamentally the Cobblers do not have enough quality in their squad.

Steve Arnold and Jonathan Mitchell have struggled to replace Dai Cornell, otherwise Curle would not have rotated between the two, Bolger is not quite as strong as Charlie Goode, Christopher Missilou does not provide the same leadership and presence that Alan McCormack did last season, while Harry Smith and Danny Rose are not as physically imposing as Vadaine Oliver.

Northampton have been weakened in all departments since promotion and even last season’s squad could have missed out on the Play-Offs had the season continued organically.

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Overlapping centre-backs are the exciting trend in modern football, so Ross Sykes and Cameron Burgess can strut their stuff against an uninspiring Northampton side.

Gabriel Sutton

Under 1.5 goals

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons

MK Dons’ season is at something of a crossroads.

Up to late October, Russ Martin’s side had control over all their games bar the 2-0 defeat at Crewe and, on top of having an extremely high average of 62.5% possession, they were creating lots of chances – even against top sides in Ipswich and Portsmouth, which ended in a 1-1 draw and a 2-1 defeat respectively.

Recently, performance levels have dropped off a notch and MK Dons did not create as much as they would have liked in the 0-0 draw at Northampton or the 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon, registering just two shots on target in those games combined.

MK get some games in which they dominate play and create far more chances, but others in which they over-rely on Scott Fraser for creativity and perhaps miss moments to attack in fear of losing the ball.

The worry for the Buckinghamshire outfit would be if they are not clinical enough in front of goal when they enjoy those better performances – which is possible given Carlton Morris and Sam Nombe are not ruthless finishers and Cameron Jerome is now 34 – it will be difficult to climb the table because they will have some off days mixed in.

Sunderland had an off day of their own, losing 1-0 to Mansfield in the FA Cup, but they are in good form in the league with back-to-back wins over Gillingham and Ipswich.

When it comes to the Black Cats, the results and the data tells a vastly different story to the one told by fans.

On paper, 21 points from 10 games is a fine start that would likely hand them the title if such a return is extrapolated over a full season, while an Expected Goals Ratio (xGR) of 69.81% makes them comfortably the division’s best performing team.

And yet, fans are uncomfortable with the style of play; Phil Parkinson’s side lean heavily on the left-sided outlet of wing-back Denver Hume and have played on average 27 crosses per game, which is the second most in League One.

This particular methodology may faulter against three-man defences, with Sunderland’s attacking output declining by 50% when faced with such opponents.

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If MK Dons score first, Sunderland will swing in lots of crosses which is a tactic that rarely works against three-man defences. If the Black Cats score first though, I can see the visitors having lots of sterile possession, so if there is a goal it could be the only one of the contest.

Gabriel Sutton

Under 2.5 goals

Forest Green Rovers v Mansfield Town

Mansfield Town could not have dreamt of a better appointment as manager than Nigel Clough.

With a fantastic reputation within the game, Clough has done good jobs at Championship level with Derby and Burton, so the fact he is willing to drop to a side 22nd in League Two is a clear sign of the pulling power John and Carolyn Radford possess.

The 54-year-old is not somebody who will demand backing, having done arguably his best work when asked to be frugal in the transfer market, which makes him suitable for the club’s remit of scaling back slightly and reducing the average age whilst remaining competitive.

It was a watching brief for Clough in last week’s FA Cup trip to Sunderland, where Richard Cooper led the Stags to a battling 1-0 victory.

We could see, in that game, that defenders Farrend Rawson and James Perch are going to be huge assets, especially for this trip to Forest Green Rovers.

Mark Cooper’s side lost 6-2 at Lincoln in the FA Cup last week but they will be a different proposition defensively with goalkeeper Luke McGee and centre-back Jordan Moore-Taylor returning to the starting XI.

Rovers average 54.3% possession this season, the most in the division and, because they are a hard team to take the ball off, they also allow their opponents a mean of just 7.5 shots per game, which is the fewest in League Two.

This, combined with the likelihood Clough will look to keep things tight at the start of his reign, suggests a low-scoring encounter.

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Six of Forest Green’s 11 league games have seen Under 2.5 goals and Mansfield’s record is the same. Best to oppose goals here.

Gabriel Sutton

Port Vale win to nil

Port Vale v Tranmere Rovers

Port Vale might have lost 1-0 to King’s Lynn in the FA Cup last week, but in league terms all is well, with three consecutive wins leaving them occupying the final Play-Off spot.

John Askey’s side endured a disjointed period between late September and mid-October, but they have picked up significantly since wide forward David Amoo returned from injury.

Amoo is one of the few players at this level who can change a game single-handedly and while his inconsistency was a source of frustration last season, the signings of Devante Rodney and Harry McKirdy means Askey has the means to switch things up when needed.

In fact, that’s true of every area of the current squad in comparison with last season, with returning loanee Mitch Clark starring in the absence of right-back Jordan Gibbons and Zak Mills, Danny Whitehead coming in to put heat on Scott Burgess in midfield and various players competing for one striker position.

Theo Robinson and Mark Cullen have been perhaps found wanting for aerial prowess when leading the line in Askey’s 4-3-3, so Vale are benefiting from club legend Tom Pope’s renaissance.

Pope had found himself isolated and overrelied upon in previous Vale sides, but Askey’s side play higher up the pitch and, because their game plan does not entirely revolve around their target man, he has extra sharpness at crucial moments.

That makes the Valiants ominous opposition for managerless Tranmere, who have scored a paltry seven goals in 11 league outings.

Rovers average just 1.9 shots on target per game which is the fewest in League Two, a stark contrast from the standards initially expected of the Birkenhead outfit, who were among the pre-season favourites for promotion.

Nigel Adkins would be a great appointment for Tranmere who, after some uninspiring football under Mike Jackson, must establish a playing identity that will allow them to create chances, which it is hard to see them doing here.

Any long balls would be gobbled up by Vale centre-back Leon Legge and any football on the deck will likely be unrefined.

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Port Vale have kept five clean sheets in League Two, where Tranmere have failed to score seven times. If John Askey’s side attain the three points that would keep them in the top seven, they are more than capable of recording another shut-out in the process.

Gabriel Sutton

Over 4.5 goals

Harrogate Town v Crawley Town

6/1

Towns Harrogate and Crawley were tipped for bottom half finishes this season, but instead hover optimistically on the fringes of the Play-Off places.

Harrogate started on fire with Simon Weaver’s high-octane pressing game causing problems, even if for a period the intensity dropped off incrementally, which was understandable given the size of their squad, the volume of games and brief injuries to forwards such as Mark Beck and Aaron Martin.

Crawley, meanwhile, have scored four or more league goals on two occasions this season and are capable of an attacking wonder-show, as they showed in last weekend’s 6-5 FA Cup win at Torquay, where they had been two goals down 17 minutes into extra time!

Tarryn Allarakhia produced some excellent crosses from the bench in that game and generally, the pace of Ashley Nadesan, the movement of Max Watters and the intelligence of Tom Nichols can do damage to many.

Crawley also have a midfielder in Jack Powell with the skill to turn aggressors, which will be crucial to the visitors’ chances of feeding that dangerous attack against Harrogate, who at their peak are the strongest pressing side in League Two.

The Sulphurites hope their high-intensity game will have an overwhelming effect on 41-year-old Danny Bulman while the physicality of their strikers – especially that of 6’5” Beck – could cause problems for 6’0” visiting defender Tony Craig.

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There are numerous clear ways in which either side can cause serious problems for the other, which is why we could see an extremely high-scoring encounter.

Gabriel Sutton
Odds are correct at the time of posting

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