The Big EFL Preview: Portsmouth To Boost Their Promotion Push?11 min read
Championship: Preston North End v Luton Town
Preston to win
Preston North End’s 2-1 victory over Fulham was much needed, after four consecutive defeats to nil.
Alex Neil’s side were very well-organised, even at 10 against 10, with Patrick Bauer putting in a commanding display at centre-back, while Ben Pearson was strong in the challenge and authoritative in possession.
Lilywhites had missed the creativity of Daniel Johnson, so fans were encouraged by inventive performance from Brad Potts, whose eye for a pass maximizes the sharp movement of Sean Maguire – and tireless veteran David Nugent scored his first goal for the club since 2007!
📽️ The moment we've been waiting for…😍
David Nugent was back on the scoresheet for PNE last night to seal the three points against Fulham at Deepdale! 💪
— Preston North End FC (@pnefc) December 11, 2019
Luton Town, meanwhile, were a defensive mess in Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat at Stoke.
The Hatters did not show anywhere near the same level of defensive protection as centre-backs Matty Pearson and Sonny Bradley, despite being effective in lower divisions, did not do the basics well enough.
The result means Luton have shipped 11 goals in their last three games and the recent no-shows will be a huge concern for manager Graeme Jones.
In attack, the Bedfordshire outfit will be without striker James Collins and could be short of a genuine focal point.
We back the hosts to get their Play-Off bid back on track with a second successive victory.
Championship: Barnsley v Queens Park Rangers
Barnsley draw no bet
Barnsley are improving under new head coach Gerhard Struber and, with six goals scored in their last three games, they are starting to be more productive going forward.
The Reds are arguably due this upturn in that department, because they average 13.7 shots per game – the sixth-most in the Championship – and have never been found wanting for attacking endeavour.
Barnsley press very well – they average 19.3 tackles per game which is the most in the division – and have put together some incisive, positive passing moves in recent weeks, just with more finishing quality from Conor Chaplin and others.
The primary concern for Barnsley now is the defence, because they still look error-prone and inexperienced.
QPR’s defence has held firm for their first clean sheets of the season in 2-0 wins over Preston and Birmingham, with Toni Leistner and Grant Hall defending the penalty area well.
The Rs though were not great going forward, scoring from their only shots on target in a combined six efforts at goal, with a scrappy goal from Hall and a moment of raw, counter-attacking brilliance from the rapid Bright Osayi-Samuel proving enough.
If Barnsley condense their pressing into the central areas, get numerous men on Ebere Eze and produce an intensely energetic performance, they could get a victory to give them fresh hope of staying up.
League One: Accrington Stanley v Portsmouth
Portsmouth win to nil
Accrington Stanley are holding their own at this level – they are five points above the drop zone and play some good football.
John Coleman and Jimmy Bell could be without wide man Sean McConville for this match, but Joe Pritchard represents a creative alternative, as we saw in last week’s 1-1 draw at Tranmere.
Midfielder Sam Finley was unwell for that match, but he will be back here to provide energy and dynamism in the press, so we can expect Stanley to push Pompey back in the first half.
Kenny Jackett’s side usually start away games cautiously; first halves on the road have seen just six goals, for and against combined – and it is important they protect their imperfect centre-back pairing of Oli Hawkins and Christian Burgess.
The key difference between these sides, though, lies up top.
Although Stanley thrashed Bolton 7-1 in their last home game, they have scored more than once on just six occasions.
Dion Charles, Colby Bishop and Offrande Zanzala are all project players who they would ideally like to use around a more established striker, but budget dictates they must be relied upon.
By contrast, Portsmouth have Ellis Harrison, who took his goal well in last week’s 2-2 draw against Peterborough and John Marquis, who drops the deeper of the two in a 4-4-2.
Quite often I disagree with MOTM call but think they got it spot on with Harrison today #pompey
— Nicola Upfield (@NicolaUpfield) December 7, 2019
Harrison and Marquis are both proven goalscorers at this level, so we could see a clinical second half from Pompey in East Lancashire.
League One: Ipswich Town v Bristol Rovers
Ipswich win to nil
FA Cup replays can be a distraction, but Ipswich’s 2-1 Second Round home loss to Coventry on Tuesday was arguably valuable.
The match allowed Paul Lambert to get minutes into centre-back Toto Nsiala, holding midfielder Cole Skuse, creative wide man Gwion Edwards, speedster Kayden Jackson and predatory goalscorer James Norwood, who all went into this season expecting to be key players, yet have struggled for regular starts for various reasons including injuries.
Norwood’s return is especially important, and had he faced the same opposition in the league three days earlier, Town might have put away more of their first-half chances and therefore won, rather than drawn 1-1.
The Sussex side could be a different proposition now that these players have gained minutes, so timing may not favour Bristol Rovers.
The Gasheads fell two behind to lowly Southend last week, in a first-half display that manager Graham Coughlan deemed “embarrassing”, yet still rallied for a 4-2 victory.
Those four second-half goals, though, came about from corners, crosses and direct balls into the box, all of which would likely have been dealt with by a team possessing stronger centre-backs.
Ipswich, who have conceded just 13 goals all season, may deal with the basics more effectively and it remains to be seen whether Rovers could pave a subtler route to goal.
There is a lot of heart and character about Coughlan’s side, who have one of League One’s best ball-winners in Abu Ogogo and a simplicity chief in Ed Upson, but they lack creativity in those central areas and could face Ipswich at the wrong time.
League Two: Cheltenham Town v Cambridge United
“He’s the Dwight Yorke to my Andy Cole!” said Cheltenham Town striker Jonté Smith of strike-partner Alex Addai, after a 3-0 win at Mansfield.
In the preceding three league games, the Robins failed to score in open play; they were struggling to create chances, hindered by Luke Varney’s injury.
Gavin Reilly’s partnership with Reuben Reid did not quite work, because neither player offers a genuine focal point, but the Smith and Addai combination worked a treat due to the former’s presence and the latter’s pace.
Michael Duff’s side will therefore be a stern test for Cambridge United, who are the most intriguing team in League Two.
Colin Calderwood’s side are 11th in the division yet post the best shot data; 1.35 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 0.89 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 60.32across various positions and the midfield, containing Paul Lewis and Liam O’Neil, dominated the first half of last week’s deserved 1-0 win over Plymouth Argyle.
A point at a prime promotion contender would be a good way for Cambridge to back up that victory, because they have taken just two points from their last five away games.
League Two: Plymouth Argyle v Morecambe
Morecambe to win 1-0
Derek Adams, now manager of Morecambe, makes his first visit to Home Park since his four-year stint in charge of Plymouth Argyle ended in April.
Some Argyle fans are grateful for Adams’ work, which led to three successful seasons out of four, but his exit was not entirely harmonious.
The first 3 years under Adams were mostly brilliant, such a shame that the final year completely wasted that. He gets described as defensive, and at times it was, but a lot of it in 2015 and 2018 was incredible, plus, last season we were simply too attacking. #pafc #Morecambe https://t.co/QZsGab3ezP
— Victor Anichebe enthusiast (@DanEllard) November 8, 2019
The 44-year-old is now tasked with keeping the Shrimps in the EFL; his side currently sit bottom of the league, level on points with Stevenage, but plenty of positives could be taken from last week’s 1-1 home draw with Carlisle.
The Lancashire outfit defended well and, in the first half, they produced some nice counter-attacks, with the powerful Cole Stockton and the nippy Lewis Alessandra linking up, then Aaron Wildig bursting on to support them from midfield.
They finished that game strongly, too and would have won through John O’Sullivan but for a goalline block.
The next opponents, meanwhile, have shown the potential but not consistency.
At this stage last season, Ryan Lowe’s Bury side were dominating the midfield most weeks but that is not the case for Argyle, who were second-best in last week’s 1-0 loss at Cambridge.
Antoni Sarcevic and Josh Grant got overran at the Abbey and did not offer enough quality in possession – Danny Mayor, despite taking 30 touches in the final third, did not shoot once.
Left wing-back Callum MacFadzean’s anticipated return from injury might help Argyle bring more out of Mayor, but they still look short of a focal point up top.
Each of Morecambe’s three league victories this season have come by the 1-0 scoreline, so any punter intrigued by the 22/5 on an away win may want to go further and back a one-goal victory for a much chunkier price.