The Big EFL Preview: A Day For First Away Wins?11 min read
Wigan and Coventry have their last chances of 2019 to end their winless away records – can they do it? Gabriel Sutton previews Sunday’s EFL action.
Championship: Nottingham Forest v Wigan
Double chance: Wigan/Draw –
Nottingham Forest are having a mixed festive period.
They lost 4-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday on the Saturday before Christmas, falling in disarray before half-time to evoke the sense of crisis that so often accompanies winter on Trentside.
For that reason, we should not read too much into Boxing Day’s 2-0 victory at Hull where, with 40ugh.
There something deeply romantic, therefore, about the fact that Stanley and Burton are now not only proving competitive in the third tier but doing so with the same managers that led them in the depths of non-league.
The two clubs represent inspirational success stories which highlight the value in loyalty, togetherness and belief.
The Reds showed plenty of those qualities in Boxing Day’s 1-0 win at Blackpool where, without Colby Bishop, they recorded a deserved win.
Coleman’s troops can defend their penalty area very well with veteran Mark Hughes mentoring a more youthful centre-back partner, most recently Ross Sykes.
With one sitting midfielder and one pressing midfielder, though, rather than two sitters, Stanley can be very effective in transition with Sam Finley driving on, often beyond the two wingers.
Burton, though, look dangerous themselves after 3-1 and 4-2 victories over Rochdale and Tranmere respectively.
Their threat stems from Liam Boyce and the selfless graft he gets through up top to bring wide forwards Oliver Sarkic and Lucas Akins into advanced areas, as well as midfield technician Scott Fraser and box-to-box man Ryan Edwards.
Just four points separate these two sides, so we can expect an evenly matched encounter.
League One: Wycombe v Coventry
Coventry to win –
Wycombe lost 2-0 at Portsmouth on Boxing Day.
The Chairboys produced a respectable first half shift, but still keenly felt the absence of three key players: Jack Grimmer, Dominic Gape and Adebayo Akinfenwa.
If Wycombe do not have the reference point that Akinfenwa offers to facilitate crosses from deep, it is all the more important for them to have the pace and thrust Grimmer brings from right-back, because the alternative striker, Alex Samuel, is not an aerial target.
When Gareth Ainsworth’s side do not possess Akinfenwa or Grimmer, therefore, it is hard for them to create chances, other than slight openings through Paul Smyth’s running, and that difficulty is highlighted by their return of two shots on target.
Back-to-back defeats represents the first stutter in Wanderers’ promotion push, while the one thing holding Coventry back has been their away form.
Many prophesized that playing ‘home’ games away from their own city would damage Cov’s chances but in fact it has been the opposite: the Sky Blues are ninth, yet winless away from B9.
Mark Robins’ side, though, have had an elongated break due to not having a scheduled Boxing Day match, which means their festive schedule is lighter than it is for their competitors.
Robins is favouring a 3-4-2-1 system this season with effectively four central midfielders – most recently Liam Kelly, Liam Walsh, Zaine Westbrooke and Jordan Shipley – tasked with ‘boxing’ off the central areas.
This can lead to territorial dominance, but it can also mean a lack of punch in the final third so some fans are calling for the manager to sacrifice one of the midfielders to pair Matt Godden with Maxime Biamou, a powerful front-man who is often influential from the bench.
The Midlanders may need a strong striker to win the battles against Wycombe’s imposing centre-backs, Anthony Stewart and Darius Charles.
Do that correctly and Coventry could end their away hoodoo in Buckinghamshire.
League Two: Colchester v Exeter
Both Teams To Score: Yes –
Colchester United’s 3-1 win at Leyton Orient on Boxing Day represents a sizable boost to their promotion hopes.
They took full control of that match and some of their build-up play was crafted with genuine skill and quality.
Kwame Poku, on the right of the attacking trio behind Theo Robinson in John McGreal’s 4-2-3-1 setup, made mazy runs inside to dovetail with Luke Gambin.
Another name to look out for is 18 yrs old Kwame Poku from Colchester. Been starting and getting plenty of minutes as a no 10. Today a great performance with:
9/13 ground duels won
1 chance created
3/4 dribbles completed
— Jay Socik (@Blades_analytic) December 26, 2019
Callum Harriott, on the left, also made some powerful surges deep into the final third and looked a huge threat, especially when linking up with left-back Cohen Bramall, who made some excellent runs in transition and produced a high standard of deliveries.
The U’s won comfortably without driven centre-back Luke Prosser, ball-winner Tom Lapslie, wide dribbler Courtney Senior or goal-getter Luke Norris in the starting XI; each of those players, at certain points over the last 18 months, could have been described as a key man so the squad is the strongest we have seen for years.
Similar could be said for Exeter, who have a very dangerous right wing-back in Randell Williams, who will be their primary outlet.
The Grecians also have effectively two number 10s, with Nicky Law handed a free reign to use his intelligence to find pockets of space and Lee Martin making bold runs into goalscoring positions, as he did for the only goal of the game against Newport last time out.
Both teams have the potential to cause the other problems, so we could see a high-scoring game that captures the best of League Two.
League Two: Newport County v Leyton Orient
Under 2.5 goals –
Leyton Orient’s interim head coach, Ross Embleton, felt his side did not do the defensive basics well enough in Thursday’s 3-1 home loss to Colchester.
Perhaps the O’s were fractionally off-the-pace but they also faced a standard of football that a lot of the teams in their vicinity are unlikely to produce.
The main positive Embleton can take is the performance of Tottenham loanee George Marsh, who showed enough technical qualities to make obvious that his natural position is midfield, even if he was deputizing at right-back for Sam Ling.
The head coach saw his side improve when he subbed on strikers young and old – Ruel Sotiriou made his first EFL appearance and target man Matt Harrold, his 456th – they were equally impactful in supporting Lee Angol and Sotiriou got a goal back to evoke an exciting period.
A lot of fans want Embleton to move towards two up top, although if that happened, he might have a problem successfully incorporating left-footed wide technician Jordan Maguire-Drew, who had looked Orient’s brightest spark before the substitutions.
Newport showed in Thursday’s 1-0 loss at Exeter that they can get a reasonable grip on the midfield, with Joss Labadie triggering the press and Josh Sheehan dictating from deep.
Going forward, though, they are struggling to create chances and the combination of target man Jamille Matt and persistent poacher Padraig Amond, though deadly last season, is not having the same impact this term – although they have not played together as much due to Tristan Abraham’s arrival.
With both teams likely to show plenty of endeavour whilst lacking creativity and flair, we could see a low-scoring encounter at Rodney Parade.