The Big EFL Preview: Fulham And Sunderland Good Value For Victory13 min read
Championship: Blackburn Rovers v Fulham
Fulham to win
Fulham beat Huddersfield 3-2 last time out, but the performance was mixed.
For the first 35 minutes, the Whites were outstanding and appeared to be building on the rate of chance creation we saw in January’s 1-0 win over Middlesbrough – and with the added strength of a clinical focal point in Aleksandar Mitrovic up top.
After that, though, their levels dipped – they were only one goal to the good by the break and needed a Marek masterclass to preserve the points; keeper Rodak was to thank as the Slovakian stopper supplied a string of superb second-half saves.
Fulham are beginning to re-establish the identity that allowed them to win promotion two seasons ago – Tom Cairney is starting to come into form – although they arguably look weaker in the right-back and defensive midfield positions than they did in 2017-18.
— Fulham Football Club (@FulhamFC) February 3, 2020
Blackburn, by contrast, have the midfield area locked down with the dynamic and tenacious Lewis Travis partnered by the more composed, experienced Stewart Downing and the duo have recently fared well.
The defence looks improved on last season, too, with the aerially aggressive Darragh Lenihan complimenting the more cultured Tosin Adarabioyo, who has adjusted to the senior game more favourably in his second loan spell away from Manchester City.
There are, though, certain areas in which Tony Mowbray’s side look weaker than last season; Bradley Dack’s December lay-off is more problematic now the in-form Lewis Holtby has also got injured, while with a hamstring issue, Joe Rothwell is sidelined too.
Going forward, Mowbray has found it difficult to identify a long-term replacement for Danny Graham; Adam Armstrong has been in reasonable form but is not a classic line-leader and although Sam Gallagher puts a shift in, he has scored just three league goals out of 40 shots.
Fulham have a lot more quality going forward and look good value at odds-against quotes.
Championship: Reading v Hull City
Reading and Under 2.5 goals
Reading’s 1-1 draw at Cardiff last Friday was another small step towards 50 points.
The Royals have conceded just 17 goals in 19 games under Mark Bowen – only Brentford have shipped fewer in that time – which highlights their excellent organisation.
With a conservative right-back in Chris Gunter and a centre-back by trade in Tom McIntyre most recently occupying the full-back positions, they are tight in their gaps between units.
That is not to say that the team will not get forward, but rather they will do so once the ball goes into forward Yakou Meite or Sam Baldock, who hold up the ball up, thus eradicating the Autumn issues of full-backs getting caught out of position easily.
Hull, meanwhile, have suffered from the losses of their two best players – Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki – late in the January window.
Marcus Maddison, signed from manager Grant McCann’s former club Peterborough, has some ability and Keane Lewis-Potter is lively and willing, but neither they nor Mallik Wilks quite have the quality to direct replace Bowen or Grosicki.
Fears that those exits could throw Hull’s season off course were exacerbated by last Saturday’s 5-1 hammering at home to Brentford.
Not only did they have problems going forward in that game – their goal came from a long forward pass that the opposition goalkeeper misread – but they also looked error-prone defensively.
The key priority for McCann here, therefore, will be to eradicate the errors from last week and re-establish the basics for defenders Reece Burke and Jordy De Wijs.
It could be a good time to play the Tigers.
League One: Doncaster Rovers v Rochdale
Doncaster to win -1 handicap
Rochdale are having a transitional season on and off the field.
Chairman Andrew Kilpatrick and manager Brian Barry-Murphy are having their first full terms in charge, having replaced key figures midway through the previous campaign.
With that in mind, the season is going as well as could be expected for the Dale, because they are 10 points clear of the drop zone and Barry-Murphy has been able to connect the club with its core values: passing, moving and playing out from the back as well as developing young talents like energetic midfielder Aaron Morley.
Teenage hotshot Luke Matheson has earnt a January move to Wolves and the £1 million will be valuable to Dale; the right-back returns on loan to aid their mission to secure their League One status.
That continues in South Yorkshire, where Doncaster Rovers are aspiring to a late Play-Off push.
Donny boosted those hopes with Tuesday night’s 3-0 win at Tranmere, where they turned an awkward encounter in tough conditions into an ultimately comfortable victory, thanks to an accomplished second-half display.
Niall Ennis has started up top for much of the season, but the arrival of strikers Devante Cole and Fejiri Okenabirhie has allowed him to switch over to the left of the attacking trio.
The Wolves loanee excelled in that position on the Wirral, where the combination play between him, left-back Cameron John and creative midfielder Madger Gomes was the main source of their chances.
Okenabirhie, from the bench, scored his first goal for the club, as did Aston Villa loanee Jacob Ramsey, who bagged a brace in his first professional game.
— Stef (@ReesieLad) January 30, 2020
Ramsey, Aston Villa’s Academy Player of the Year in 2018-19, loves to make late runs into the box and pop up in dangerous areas and he has displaced Ben Sheaf.
Moore would be hard-pushed to drop Kieran Sadlier after his performance on the right of the front-three, so winger Jon Taylor has gone from being a key man to a convenient problem on the bench.
Rovers have more depth about them now and look good value to record a comfortable home victory over the Dale.
League One: Sunderland v Ipswich Town
Sunderland to win
Sunderland and Ipswich both see their natural levels to be higher than League One but both last week took a blow to their promotion hopes.
The Black Cats were defeated 2-0 at Fratton Park, thus ending their nine-game unbeaten streak at the hands of their competitors, while Ipswich were torn apart on their own turf in a 4-1 loss to Peterborough.
In Sunderland’s case, the loss comes with valid caveats.
It was an even first half in Hampshire and, had one or two small details, like Luke O’Nien’s shot that hit the bar, gone more favourably, they might have got the first goal and it could have been a different story.
In Ipswich’s case, though, they were dominated from the get-go and looked wide open, with huge gaps between the defence and midfield.
Town gift-wrapped Posh all four goals and we saw a concerning lack of defensive cover on the right; wing-back Gwion Edwards is very attack-minded and veteran midfielder Cole Skuse, often tasked with covering him, does not always have the pace to get back in.
Throw in Luke Chambers’ lack of mobility, James Wilson’s rash decisions and goalkeeper Will Norris’ ill-judged distribution and it really was a recipe for disaster for Paul Lambert’s side, who have now taken just seven points from 10 games against top nine opposition.
Sunderland have some issues at the back themselves, but they could be solved by a return for Alim Ozturk or an increase in match sharpness for Bailey Wright.
The technical Chris Maguire and the mobile Lynden Gooch have the potential to cause problems for Ipswich between the lines and the duo may decide Saturday’s promotion clash.
League Two: Colchester United v Plymouth Argyle
Both Teams To Score
Colchester United’s 16-game unbeaten run came to an end last week, when they were defeated 2-1 at Cambridge.
Cohen Bramall, who brings pace, drive and quality to the left-back role, looked impressive on his return from injury while Luke Norris worked admirably in isolation, but the other players were not quite at the desired levels in a disappointing performance at the Abbey.
Some fans are hoping that John McGreal introduces Ben Stevenson to the midfield to help tighten up the distances between Brandon Comley and Harry Pell that we saw last week, but the 4-2-3-1 with three attacking midfielders has worked for a long time and it seems unlikely that he will veer too far away from that.
We could see Callum Harriott come in for Frank Nouble to inject some drive into their attacking play and, it seems, Luke Gambin completes the team’s equilibrium better than Courtney Senior; Gambin makes selfless runs away from the general direction of play, which can give Kwame Poku more space in which to thrive.
Colchester’s season is beginning to look more about securing a Play-Off berth than chasing the top three, although that could change with a victory over Plymouth Argyle.
Thanks to a close-range finish from Tyreeq Bakinson, the Pilgrims defeated Newport 1-0 last time out to move into the promotion places.
The full-time scenes.
— Plymouth Argyle FC (@🏡) (@Only1Argyle) February 1, 2020
After being thumped 4-0 by Exeter in late October, Argyle were six points and eight places behind their Devon rivals, so the fact they have just overtaken them shows they have made immense progress.
It was not their most controlled display last time out, but there were signs of the left-sided combination between attacking midfielder Danny Mayor and striker Ryan Hardie developing nicely.
Hardie is full of running and often happy to plough the channels to create space for Mayor, who is League Two’s dribbling specialist and loves to cut inside, into central areas.
Argyle may not be at full strength defensively with Gary Sawyer suspended – Josh Grant could slot into the left of a back-three, but the versatile Chelsea loanee would be returning from injury.
Both sides will carry a threat, so a high-scoring encounter looks likely.
League Two: Forest Green Rovers v Walsall
Double Chance: Draw or Walsall
If Forest Green Rovers are to have any chance of promotion this season, they need to correct their home form, having lost six and won five at the New Lawn.
The central midfield pairing of Carl Winchester and Ebou Adams is giving them energy but they are missing the creativity that Reece Brown gave them last season.
In last week’s 2-2 draw at Grimsby, Mark Cooper’s side produced some improved passages of play and showed the capacity to produce from range, as Birmingham loanee Odin Bailey did with a sublime strike.
Cooper has said, publicly, that the players prefer to play away, which is not exactly a positive sign ahead of their hosting of Walsall.
The Saddlers are looking to end a three-game losing streak, although manager Darrell Clarke can take heart from his side’s first-half performance in last week’s 2-1 defeat to Crewe.
Clarke likes grit and solidity from his central midfielders, which Liam Kinsella and Nathan Sheron should provide, allowing the team to incorporate attacking wide men – Rory Holden and Wes McDonald – as well as two strikers – Josh Gordon and Caolan Lavery.
Walsall rank in League Two’s top half based on away form and are generously priced to avoid defeat in Nailsworth.