Championship: Fulham v Bristol City

Double Chance: Draw or Bristol City

Fulham won 2-1 at Swansea last time out, which was an important result; in ordinary circumstances, a draw would have been fine but, because they are five points off the top two, they needed to make up the ground.

The Whites were not outstanding in general play, necessarily, so their victory was thanks to two key Serbian figures.

Firstly, Marek Rodak, who made vital reaction saves from Surridge, Naughton and Byers.

Secondly, Aleksandar Mitrovic, who showed his natural goalscoring instinct to produce two ruthless finishes in the opposition penalty area.

In a few games this season, Mitrovic’s penalty box force has arguably got Scott Parker’s side out of jail.

The test for the West Londoners will be how they fare against Bristol City who do not have one, Mitrovic-type figure, but share the goals around more due to the selfless nature of their forwards.

The Robins possess a powerful grafter in Famara Diedhiou and a willing runner in Andreas Weimann, who loves to plough the channels to create space for others, as we saw in last week’s 5-2 thumping of Huddersfield.

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The work those two do means Niclas Eliasson can produce pin-point crosses with his excellent left foot, it means Josh Brownhill can make driving runs into dangerous areas and Han-Noah Massengo along with fit-again Ádám Nagy can dictate with real authority.

It is possible to see Lee Johnson’s side causing problems for Fulham, who still look short of a reliable holding midfielder.

Tom Cairney and Stefan Johansen are both at their best when they are taken off the leash to a certain extent, as we saw in the promotion season, when Kevin McDonald anchored the trio.

Now that McDonald’s legs are not quite as strong as they were, Fulham have not quite been able to pinpoint a suitable stand-in and they could be exposed by Bristol City’s direct attacks.

 

Championship: Sheff Wed v Brentford

Brentford to win

Sheffield Wednesday beat a depleted Charlton side 3-1 at the Valley last time out, but the scoreline came to be through Steven Fletcher’s penalty-box dominance, rather than a particularly convincing performance.

In the first half, especially, the Owls were hamstrung by the lack of width provided by their full-backs.

Moses Odubajo probably would not have got his summer move based on his performances over the last three years; he got it for his displays for Hull under Steve Bruce in 2015-16, when he had full pace and power before injuries and age limited him.

Morgan Fox, meanwhile, can be an intelligent operator but he will not attack the flank himself.

The width issue was resolved slightly in the second half, when Kadeem Harris switched from the right to the left, but a repeat of that performance level may not be enough against better-quality opposition.

Brentford will be a different proposition, having just steamrollered Luton 7-0; that was the biggest Championship victory since October 2014, when Bournemouth thrashed Birmingham 8-0.

Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbuemo and Ollie Watkins can rotate and interchange with delightful fluency.

The attacking trio are supported from behind by the control of Christian Norgaard, the class of Mathias Jensen and the sheer brilliance of Josh Da Silva, who bagged a hat-trick last time out in his best performance yet.

Thomas Frank has found a formula on which he can rely for the rest of the season and, if Brentford put a run together off the back of last week, then this may be the last time in a while that they are priced as big as 7/4 to win a Championship match.

 

League One: Blackpool v Fleetwood

Fleetwood to win

Blackpool and Fleetwood share a rivalry that has only come to prominence this decade, when the former’s decline and the latter’s rise has enabled them to compete at the same level.

Both clubs are challenging for promotion this season and the Pool’s most likely route to the Championship comes via Liam Feeney and Armand Gnanduillet.

Feeney, who has played at the level above with Bolton, loves to get to the byline and put crosses in, having racked up more assists eight than any other League One player.

Gnanduillet, meanwhile, is lanky and has ability in the air but is also an excellent close-range finisher.

Feeney has assisted Gnanduillet four times already this season, which is more times than any other League One player apart from Marcus Maddison has set up one specific teammate.

For Fleetwood Town, meanwhile, the threat is arguably more diversified.

Firstly, they possess a proven goalscorer in Paddy Madden, who has been among the most reliable front-men at this level over the last decade.

At the base of their midfield, meanwhile, is Jordon Rossiter, who dictates play with metronomic control.

Between Rossiter and Madden, though, Kyle Dempsey, Paul Coutts, Wes Burns and Josh Morris are all given freedom to roam and rotate, while full-backs Lewie Coyle and Danny Andrew support attacks well too.

The Cod Army are level on points with Blackpool, with both teams being just outside the Play-Off places, but they have two games in hand and are posting more convincing shot data.

Joey Barton’s side post 1.41 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.02 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 57.98meanwhile, lies at 50.83{2145621b26fc9aaf9f712205cef9de9b6b89ae8741f566ab7f58c50f0e39ac2a}, the eighth-worst, so perhaps the brilliance of Feeney and Gnanduillet has dug them out of trouble in certain games this season.

With more strings to their bow, Fleetwood may have the edge.

 

League One: Burton v Lincoln

Draw

Burton Albion drew 1-1 at home to bottom side Southend on Tuesday night; they looked the better side, even after John-Joe O’Toole was controversially sent off in the first half, because they had the players to make things work with 10-men.

Firstly, striker Liam Boyce works very hard and has an excellent first touch, which allows him to hold off defenders and bring others into play.

Secondly, Ryan Edwards acted like a midfielder out of possession, chipping in with tackles and defensive cover, but then broke forward on the turnover and could very quickly become an acting second striker due to his infectious energy.

Even without a numerical disadvantage, the Brewers need that kind of work rate from all their players, because they are going through a hectic fixture schedule with a small squad; just five players named on the bench in midweek due to various injuries.

Lincoln City have also been hindered by absentees.

Experienced campaigners such as Lee Frecklington and Michael Bostwick have been ruled out through injury, although the latter is hoping to be back in contention, while Joe Morrell missed the last league match – a dour 1-0 loss at Gillingham – due to international duty with Wales.

Returning midfielders will help Michael Appleton who, unlike his pragmatic predecessors, does not tend to adjust his tactics to combat the opposition; he will change the personnel to improve results but the style is the same throughout.

That was the source of the early criticism Appleton received at Oxford, but ultimately his belief in his principles paid off over a longer-term period.

 

League Two: Stevenage v Crawley

Crawley to win

Crawley Town have this week dismissed head coach Gabriele Cioffi.

The Italian should be respected as an honourable man who gave his all – and there were certainly some positive signs, in terms of the attacking intent his side showed this season, to suggest patience might have been rewarded.

Overseeing a return of 64 points from 58 league games in charge though, Cioffi was not quite getting enough out of the current squad in terms of results.

Edu Rubio, who takes temporary charge, has an excellent opportunity to kick-start his managerial career.

Rubio is credited with doing a lot of good work with the Under-23s at MK Dons and he’s developed the likes of Sam Nombe, Callum Brittain, David Kasumu and Dylan Asonganyi, who can all play to a reasonable standard in the division above.

Given that Crawley do not have the kind of budget they were working with a decade ago, they need to find a clever way of making their mark on the EFL and maybe somebody passionate about youth development, who already has knowledge of the existing squad, could be the right fit.

Crawley’s hosts, Stevenage, are struggling for goals with just 12 scored in 18 league games.

Their 1.08 xGF might suggest that the Boro are at least creating some chances, but they do have huge problems up top.

Kurtis Guthrie has been operating deeper this year, Danny Newton has been sidelined since mid-September due to injury, Elliott List is more of a support striker than an out-and-out goalscorer while Jason Cowley, having jumped up four divisions, is understandably limited at this stage.

Crawley, who have taken 16.8 shots per game this season – the highest average in League Two – may deliver on their attacking potential under Rubio’s guidance.

 

League Two: Oldham v Leyton Orient

Leyton Orient to win

Before this match, Oldham Athletic fan-group Push The Boundary will initiate a peaceful protest against Abdallah Lemsagam’s ownership regime.

With no official links to or stake in the club, Push The Boundary are free to be respectfully critical, which means they are very quickly winning credibility with natives as the main platform from which to challenge the club’s operations.

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Leyton Orient fans have plenty of sympathy for clubs with bad ownership regimes, although luckily for the O’s, the days of Francesco Becchetti are long gone.

Current chairman Nigel Travis is looking for a new head coach, after Carl Fletcher left just 29-days into his regime.

This season is very much about consolidation because, while James Brophy has produced a few strong performances, Josh Wright has chipped in with close-range finishes and maybe the likes of Marvin Ekpiteta and George Marsh might improve the first XI, they do not have a strong enough squad to challenge for a top half berth.

With the remit of staying up, the club could approach a more experienced manager, but many of them would want more control than the current structure allows – and if Orient are going to go with a relative rookie, then it makes sense for them to appoint somebody who already knows the squad and has an affinity with the fans.

Victory at Boundary Park would boost Embleton’s case for the job until the end of the season.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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