EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton picks his best bet for the midweek action – a speculative 44/1 long shot has caught his eye in League One
“I’m a huge fan of the job Neil Critchley is doing at Blackpool, and thing his side are great value to continue their surge up the table against a Hull side winless since the opening day.”Gabriel Sutton
Hull City v Blackpool
Blackpool to win
Blackpool have shot up the Championship thanks to a return of three wins in their last four games.
Shayne Lavery scored the only goal of the game against Barnsley last time out, with the speedy striker looking an inspired summer signing.
Lavery was assisted by a delightful backheel from Keshi Anderson, with the two forging an excellent left-sided trio with Luke Garbutt, who supports play from behind and produces a high quality of delivery.
Because Blackpool have had some joined-up thinking when it comes to recruitment, they have players that complement one another and work for Neil Critchley’s high-pressing system.
The tenacity of Kenny Dougall is crucial in midfield, while Marvin Ekpiteta has stepped up to the Championship with surprising assurance, having been playing League Two football as recently as 2019-20.
The Seasiders look well-placed to pile the pressure on Hull, who have lost their last three after a 2-0 defeat at Stoke last time out and are winless since the opening day.
Grant McCann deserves credit for delivering last year’s League One title win, but he has overseen just two victories in the previous 29 second-tier matches.
The ownership situation, with Ehab and Assem Allam taking a laissez-faire approach to leading the club, means the Northern Irishman has more time than most would be given with his results.
McCann is hardly helped, though, by the ankle injury to striker Josh Magennis – a selfless, industrious focal point – as well as the groin injury to George Honeyman, who plays such a crucial role in linking midfield and attack.
Experienced anchorman Tom Huddlestone, who would bring much-needed top-level knowhow to a youthful rear-guard, has also been out recently, meaning Richie Smallwood – little more than a good League One destroyer – has had to deputize.
Keshi Anderson v Barnsley:
Passing Accuracy – 83.3%
Touches – 47
Passes – 30
Key Passes – 5
Fouled – 2
Assists – 1
— The Near Post (@TheNearPostEFL) September 27, 2021
“With Middlesbrough languishing in 18th after a busy summer, Neil Warnock is under pressure. His former employers, Sheffield United, could continue to cut the gap to the top six.”Gabriel Sutton
Middlesbrough v Sheffield United
Sheffield United to win
After a difficult August, Sheffield United have kick-started their season with a superb September.
The Blades have accrued 10 points from the four games that followed the deadline day arrival of Morgan Gibbs-White, who has made a huge difference to their attacking play, and the introduction of physical forward Iliman Ndiaye.
Those two players have given the South Yorkshire outfit the kick they needed in the final third: Gibbs-White takes on opponents at pace, while Ndiaye can occupy defenders to take some of the attention off Billy Sharp.
Before those two came in, United were having lots of possession in the middle third and it was easy to see what midfielders like Oliver Norwood and John Fleck could bring in terms of the switching of play, while there was a lot of faith in the defence.
With those additions, though, Slavisa Jokanovic’s side look more threatening, more incisive and ready to do damage to Middlesbrough.
Neil Warnock has some credit in the bank for his achievements in 2019-20, when he kept Boro up comfortably from an awkward position, and in 2020-21, when he oversaw a mild Play-Off challenge with a squad that was not his own.
There was a lot more pressure on the eight-time promotion winner this season, though, after a busy summer.
Warnock was backed to add veteran right-back Lee Peltier, experienced winger Sammy Ameobi, attacking midfielder Matt Crooks and physical front-man Uche Ikpeazu – players it can be assumed were of his choosing.
On top of that, Martín Payero was signed from South American club Banfield in the hope that he could be the sparkling magician to light up a functional, workmanlike outfit – similar to the role Adel Taarabt played in Warnock’s title-winning QPR side in 2010-11.
Cameroon international James Léa Siliki arrived on loan from Rennes to strengthen the midfield, while Andraž Šporar joined, also on loan, from Sporting CP: the striker scored 44 goals in 52 games in the Slovak Super Liga for Slovan Bratislava.
With the squad unquestionably improved, a promotion push was expected but there is a feeling that Warnock’s direct methods mean that the team’s main strengths are not being utilized: it may take a change of manager for Middlesbrough to meet their ambitions.
You take a step back and watch us, you’ll realise Norwood needs to start every game.
— Kop.Finest (@KopFinest) September 26, 2021
“Birmingham’s defence looks more secure with Dion Sanderson in it, which is why I think Lee Bowyer’s side will keep a clean sheet at QPR.”Gabriel Sutton
Queens Park Rangers v Birmingham City
QPR to score under 0.5 goals
Having shipped seven goals in two games, Birmingham steadied the ship with a goalless draw with PNE.
The performance from Lee Bowyer’s side left a lot to be desired, especially from a creative perspective, with Blues mustering only six efforts at goal all game.
A clean sheet, though, is most welcome after the B9 outfit shipped seven goals in the previous two games: the four conceded to clinical Fulham was understandable, less so the three to new boys Peterborough.
The crucial difference may be the introduction of Dion Sanderson, who replaced long-throw extraordinaire Marc Roberts on the right of the back three on Saturday.
Having played right-back for Cardiff in 2019-20 and as a centre-back in a back-four for Sunderland the following season, Sanderson has all the attributes to operate as a wide centre-back.
The Wolves loanee is far quicker than Roberts, is more confident playing out from the back and is perhaps at a similar level as an individual defender.
QPR scored their goal, in the 2-1 loss at West Brom, courtesy of a simple ball over the top, which is something Birmingham were vulnerable to when Roberts started, but Sanderson’s strength in the recovery – as well as that of Kristian Pedersen, who is expected to come in for George Friend on the left of the trio – means Bowyer’s troops can afford to squeeze up without too much fear.
For that reason, Blues look capable of securing back-to-back clean sheets on their trip to the capital.
Massive shout out to Matija Sarkic too, the lad looks so confident and commanding now, Wolves have a gem on their hands there
— Declan (@DecDavis_) September 10, 2021
“Liam Manning has done an excellent job since taking charge of MK Dons late in the summer: his side could go top with a win over Simon Grayson’s Fleetwood.”Gabriel Sutton
Milton Keynes Dons v Fleetwood Town
MK Dons to win
MK Dons moved up to third with a 1-0 win over 10-man Wycombe last time out.
The red card, which led to the spot-kick just before half-time, dictated the terms of the match to a point and head coach Liam Manning would have liked to have seen his side create more chances with the man advantage, but the outcome is fantastic.
The Buckinghamshire outfit had to endure a change of manager in the week leading up to the opener, with Russ Martin’s unpopular move to Swansea, so Manning has done an excellent job in the circumstances.
They might be without Mo Eisa, but Parrott has three goals already in the league after the striker tucked away his penalty against the Chairboys.
The Tottenham loanee should get plenty of chances this season because the midfield brings a wide array of qualities: Ethan Robson looks after the ball very well, Hiram Boateng has excellent running power while Matt O’Riley has the mobility to get up and down the pitch, but is also neat in possession – and that’s before mentioning Scott Twine.
The former Swindon graduate, having enjoyed a penchant for long-range strikes last season, has maintained his goal threat – level with Parrott on that score – whilst adding creativity to his game.
In fact, the 22-year-old averages an impressive 3.3 key passes per game, which is the joint-most in League One.
MK Dons should be too strong for Fleetwood, who missed key striker Callum Morton in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Cambridge.
What an incredible stat: Dean Lewington’s testimonial was 7 years ago today
— Dan (@DippyDon_95) July 27, 2021
“Crewe’s chances of taking something from in-form Argyle may hinge on the availability of on-loan Tottenham wide forward, J’Neill Bennett.”Gabriel Sutton
Plymouth Argyle v Crewe Alexandra
Plymouth Argyle to win
Argyle have enjoyed a wonderful start to the League One season, sitting pretty in fourth with 18 points from their first nine games.
What’s more, they have got these results without dribbler Danny Mayor, technician George Cooper and link-up forward Niall Ennis, who have all been absent through injury while Adam Randell – tipped for a breakout campaign after a stellar season in the National League with Torquay – has barely had a kick.
That is partly because Jordan Houghton, who never seems to misplace a pass, is performing so well at the base of midfield, which comprises of two athletes in Panutche Camara and Ryan Broom.
There were question marks over whether Camara and Broom might be too similar to operate in the same midfield, but the legs and drive they have given Ryan Lowe’s side has been invaluable.
Lowe will be hoping to get the better of David Artell, the man who managed him at Crewe as recently as 2016-17, with his former boss hoping to carve a route out of relegation trouble.
The Alex have just one win to their name so far, a 2-1 victory over Burton, and while that win was fully deserved, it was also inspired largely by wide forward J’Neill Bennett, who has impressed since joining on loan from Tottenham Hotspur.
The 19-year-old missed the 1-1 draw at Rotherham through illness and while Artell’s troops showed great character to secure a point, thanks to an injury-time penalty from Chris Porter, they were fortunate to only be one behind at that time.
Crewe need Bennett to be back healthy, fit and firing to have a reasonable chance of adding to their points tally in Devon.
Ryan Hardie’s Last Five Games in League One:
v Shrewsbury Town ⚽️⚽️🅰️
v Fleetwood Town ⚽️
v Sheffield Wednesday
v AFC Wimbledon ⚽️
v Portsmouth ⚽️⚽️
— The Near Post (@TheNearPostEFL) September 22, 2021
“I don’t expect Sunderland’s build-up play to be as good in the absence of Callum Doyle, and Kyle Vassell can give Cheltenham the knowhow they need to capitalize on their periods of pressing.”Gabriel Sutton
Sunderland v Cheltenham Town
Kyle Vassell to score and Cheltenham to win 1-0
Sunderland stayed in the top two of League One last time out – and level on points with leaders Wigan – with a 1-0 victory over Bolton.
To stay there, though, the Black Cats must overcome the loss of Manchester City loanee Callum Doyle, who picked up an injury in the second half on Saturday.
Even at just 17, Doyle has the physique to match that of players 10 or more years his senior, he is quick in the recovery, he has the courage and bravery to do the basics of defending whilst not being afraid to instruct those around them.
In essence, the youngster has come to be a player that Lee Johnson’s side rely upon: and not just for his ability to do the basics.
Having come through the City academy, Doyle is extremely cultured in possession and is always looking for the penetrative pass, whether that’s a 10-15 yard pass through the lines, a looping ball into the feet of a forward or a sprayed diagonal to the flank.
It should not be underestimated how big an influence Doyle is on this Sunderland side, and therefore how big a loss he could be: especially in possession.
Bailey Wright and Tom Flanagan are reasonably solid defenders at this level, but neither quite have their positional rival’s ball-playing ability, which means the timing of this match could fall favourably for Cheltenham.
Michael Duff’s side lost 2-0 at Wigan last time out but they improved in the final half-hour when Kyle Vassell came on and the former Rotherham forward may have earned a start here.
Vassell brings a wide range of qualities: he’s not a target man but he’s strong enough to hold the ball up at times, he’s not a speedster but he can get in behind, he’s not a poacher but he has scored 78 career goals.
The 28-year-old, along with either Alfie May or Kyle Joseph, will be tenacious in the press, especially in the first half, which could be a problem for Wright and Flanagan.
For portions of the game, the Wearsiders might struggle to get the ball into the final third for the likes of Aiden McGeady and Ross Stewart to do damage.
When Cheltenham are forced to drop their line of engagement, they will hope for some dogged, last-ditch defending from Mattie Pollock, who has impressed since joining on loan from Watford.
1-4 ft Scoreline was slightly harsh. Kyle Vassell had an immediate impact and did more in two minutes than Williams in the whole of the first half. Half a team missing, it was obvious we are prioritising forthcoming games. Officials were poor #ctfc pic.twitter.com/20rJo93At9
— hEaLeR (@ctfc_hEaLeR) September 21, 2021