More midweek action from the EFL and Gab Sutton is here with six predictions – two each from the Championship and Leagues One & Two.
Ismaila Sarr to Score Anytime
Preston North End v Watford
Watford manager Xisco Muñoz went into Saturday’s hosting of Bristol City under immense pressure, so the 6-0 victory was exactly what the doctor ordered.
Muñoz had deployed a rigid 4-4-2 for much of his reign up to that point, but that left midfielders Tom Cleverley and Nathaniel Chalobah with too much ground to cover.
Against City, though, the Spaniard switched to 4-3-3 and sacrificed a second striker to hand Will Hughes a central role for the first time under his tutelage.
Hughes, who brings a different level of nimble control and creativity to Cleverley and Chalobah, relished that new remit and the change of system also allowed Ismaïla Sarr more freedom.
Because of how effective Sarr can be as a wide forward, somebody who can directly threaten goal with inward runs, Watford do not need two strikers when he plays.
When two of Andre Gray, Troy Deeney, Joao Pedro and Stipe Perica start for the Hornets, Sarr has to track back more to pad out midfield numbers, which does not suit the skillset of the man who tore apart Liverpool last season.
After bagging a brace against Bristol City, Sarr has a great chance of doing more damage against Preston North End.
Alex Neil’s side kept their Play-Off hopes alive with a Lancashire Derby victory at Blackburn last time out, but that result had more to do with what they did without the ball.
Yes, Ryan Ledson did some great covering work and true, Liam Lindsay was imperious in defence.
Against a team that uses the ball better though, the Lilywhites could come unstuck and Sarr may shine here.
Seeing Ismaïla Sarr playing with a swagger & a smile on his face was almost as enjoyable as the result. Great stuff from João Pedro, too who was a menace throughout. Hughes great in the centre and Dan Gosling impressive in his 2nd half outing. More of the same, please #watfordfc!
— Rookery Mike (@RookeryMike) February 14, 2021
Watford tossed Bristol City aside on Saturday and Ismaïla Sarr was the cream of the crepe. I expect him to do more damage at Deepdale.Gabriel Sutton
Under 2.5 Match Goals
Stoke City v Sheffield Wednesday
After a 4-1 loss at Norwich last time out, Stoke have now won just one of their last 13 league matches in a run of form that has seen them slide out of Play-Off contention.
This form coincides directly with the injury to wide forward Tyrese Campbell, while target man Steven Fletcher has struggled to keep himself fit too.
On the flip side, Michael O’Neill has been criticized for being too loyal to two men who have recently returned from the sidelines, Joe Allen and John Obi Mikel.
Allen and Mikel have excellent profiles within the game but, at 30 and 33 respectively, are not the most mobile and starting them simultaneously has led to balance issues for the Staffordshire outfit, where the lower-profile Jordan Cousins might have been able to plug more gaps.
O’Neill must now strike the right balance for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday side, whose are having almost the opposite campaign: they remain in the relegation zone, despite having taken 19 points from their last nine games.
Neil Thompson has done everything asked of him in interim charge and the 57-year-old has recently moved to a back-three, which gives the Owls a strong blend of qualities in defence: the athleticism of Osaze Urhoghide, the aerial prowess of Chey Dunkley and the organisational nous of Tom Lees.
The data behind Wednesday’s resurgence suggests they are allowing their opponents a lot of shots and relying on their defensive trio to make lots of blocks, which is a strategy that may deliver them another few clean sheets.
Going forward, though, they are not carving out enough chances which suggests they continue to struggle to take the creative burden off Barry Bannan, so a low-scoring encounter looks likely.
— The Star SWFC (@TheStarOwls) February 12, 2021
Stoke were flat as a pancake against Norwich last time out and will look to solidify here, against a Wednesday side that have scored 11 goals and conceded just nine in their last nine league games.Gabriel Sutton
Portsmouth to Win to Nil
Bristol Rovers v Portsmouth
Paul Tisdale managed Exeter for 12 years but his stint at Bristol Rovers, by contrast, did not last 12 weeks.
The Gas boss was dismissed after a 2-0 loss to Oxford which left his side with two points from their previous eight games and in danger of relegation to League Two.
Tisdale struggled to endear himself to supporters with his passive touchline conduct and while that has not stopped him being successful in other jobs, it could be argued that a relegation battle requires a more vocal form of leadership.
The former MK Dons manager also said “I’m not a magician” while in charge which was interpreted as a veiled dig at the board and the squad, which holds only so much sway.
It’s true that Bristol Rovers are desperately short of a striker, with the energetic Brandon Hanlan unable to replicate the form he showed under Ben Garner due to being overworked in the absence of reliable alternatives.
The south-west outfit have been creating a reasonable volume of chances in recent weeks, aside from the 6-1 loss at Accrington Stanley, but have not had a reliable goalscoring presence.
Jonah Ayunga has stepped up three divisions, James Daly has just 15 EFL appearances and none of the front-men are over 23 – that problem was not on Tisdale, who wanted the club to bring in a striker in January.
Tommy Widdrington, who takes interim charge of Rovers, has claimed in response to Tisdale’s comments – after his exit – that previous managers have had “80%” of what they asked for in the transfer market, but that extra 20% looks the most crucial bit.
The absence of a clinical, experienced centre-forward could hold the hosts back against Portsmouth, who have not conceded against bottom six opposition since early October.
Kenny Jackett’s side boast the division’s most aerially commanding centre-back in Sean Raggett and the strongest ball-winner in Tom Naylor.
If they dominate their respective areas as expected, Pompey have the quality in wide forward Ronan Curtis and predatory goalscorer John Marquis to win the game.
🎥 “Was the recruitment process correct? Absolutely. Has each manager got 80% of what they asked for? Yes they have.”
— Alistair Durden (@alidurdenBBC) February 12, 2021
After things turned sour for Tisdale, Bristol Rovers are hoping caretaker boss Tommy Widdrington can stop them from sticking to the bottom. It will be tough for the Gas though against an efficient Portsmouth side.Gabriel Sutton
Troy Parrott to Score Anytime
Ipswich Town v Northampton Town
Ipswich have freshened up their out of form side with four late January additions: Luke Matheson, Josh Harrop, Luke Thomas and Troy Parrott.
Matheson, who showed immense promise at Rochdale, will bring far more attacking strengths at right-back than veteran Luke Chambers.
Harrop and Thomas bring quality and energy respectively in attacking midfield roles but the headline addition is Parrott, who has an excellent reputation at Under-23s level.
The Tottenham front-man spent the first half of the season on loan at Millwall, where he did not always get the right service, struggled with injury and a lot of the games he did get were played on the left of a front three rather than down the middle.
Part of the agreement which allowed Parrott to move to Portman Road, therefore, was that the 19-year-old would be deployed in his favoured central role.
This agreement has seen Paul Lambert switch from the 4-3-3 he has stuck to religiously this term to a diamond system, with Parrott paired by James Norwood, who bagged in the 2-1 loss at Peterborough last time out.
Lambert brought Chambers back in for Matheson in that game, as well as Stephen Ward for Myles Kenlock at left-back and the return of the veterans was surprising, given the performance without them in the 2-0 win over Blackpool the previous Saturday.
If Matheson and Kenlock come back in here, though, Ipswich will have the width to open space for their midfield quartet of Flynn Downes, Alan Judge, Andre Dozzell and Teddy Bishop to rotate and interchange, inevitably creating chances for Parrott.
The Suffolk outfit should enjoy much of the play against managerless Northampton, who lost 2-0 to Burton last time out.
As much as Ipswich are underperforming this season, they do not tend to struggle in these sorts of games: Lambert’s side have taken 28 points from 11 matches against teams below them in the table.
Ipswich boss Paul Lambert on Troy Parrott:
— The Spurs Express (@TheSpursExpress) February 8, 2021
Ipswich’s top six hopes look wafer thin, but they do have an excellent record against the division’s lesser sides and Troy Parrott is a tasty 8/5 to get his first goal for the club in this one.Gabriel Sutton
Double Chance: Draw/Morecambe
Bradford City v Morecambe
Morecambe are hoping to keep their promotion bid on track despite the controversial loss of key midfielder Adam Phillips.
There is no doubting the Burnley loanee’s exit hinders the Shrimps, but it does not have to be season defining.
The departure gives Derek Adams a chance to deploy muscular controller Toumani Diagouraga as part of a double-pivot next to Salford recruit Alex Denny, moving Aaron Wildig further forward.
Wildig is a box-to-box midfielder with lots of goalscoring potential which Adams has tapped into, while there is every chance that John O’Sullivan can also up his productivity in Phillips’ absence.
O’Sullivan started his career as a direct right winger but has, more recently, adapted his game to utilize inside spaces more and show his creative side.
In Carlos Mendes Gomes, the Lancashire outfit possess one of the division’s most exciting wide forwards, while Cole Stockton offers the hold-up qualities to bring everyone into play.
Morecambe can still carry a threat without Phillips, therefore, when they travel to Bradford, who suffered the first defeat under the caretaker stewardship of Mark Trueman and Conor Sellars last time out.
"That's probably the story of my managerial career."#Morecambe boss Derek Adams says its important to manage fans' expectations after a strong first half of the campaign.
— BBC Lancashire Sport (@BBCLancsSport) February 11, 2021
Morecambe got their just desserts at Bolton last time out thanks to Ed Lyons’ equalizer and Derek Adams’ side look underrated at Bradford, despite the loss of Adam Phillips.Gabriel Sutton
Stevenage - Draw No Bet
Crawley Town v Stevenage
In early November, Stevenage lost by one goal to Bolton. In mid-February, Stevenage lost by one-goal to Bolton.
What happened in between those results, though, enabled the stark contrast in performances.
In the late Autumn defeat, Boro looked dejected, dispirited and devoid of ideas as the threat of relegation loomed large.
In the late-Winter loss, Alex Revell’s side showed the belief that comes with a run of just three defeats in 14 league games between those encounters with the Trotters and are pulling away from the drop zone at pace.
Stevenage have a competent narrow midfield quartet as the zippy Elliott List, who has influenced League One games with Gillingham and the skilful Jack Aitchison, who starred at this level with Forest Green, flank Chris Lines and Tom Pett.
Lines can dictate play from deep while Pett, in a more advanced role, creates for two of Danny Newton, Matty Stevens and Luke Norris.
The latter has made a big impression since joining in January and could cause problems for Crawley, who lost 3-1 to Harrogate last time out, conceding three goals in the first half.
The club signed reality TV star Mark Wright as a perceived publicity stunt but the left-back’s lack of recent footballing experience hindered the Red Devils in his first start for the club in what was, collectively, a poor defensive display.
Crawley might have beaten Leeds in the FA Cup last month but they have accrued just one point from their last three league games and could be slipping out of Play-Off contention.
All these years in the game….still nothing harder and more nerve-wracking than the good old initiation song at dinner 😅 that tap on the glass 🥴😂 pic.twitter.com/qBl93HpNib
— Chris Lines (@Linesy8) February 12, 2021
Crawley were sliced apart by Harrogate last time out and are now only six points better off than Stevenage, who are rolling themselves away from relegation trouble.Gabriel Sutton