We have Yorkshire and Lancashire Derbies in the Championship this weekend, and a table-topping treat in League Two.

 

Championship: Barnsley v Huddersfield Town

Barnsley to win and Both Teams To Score

Barnsley and Huddersfield Town share a competitive yet good-natured Yorkshire rivalry; both clubs want to get one over their neighbours but save greater contempt for the county’s perceived bigger fish.

In fact, when both teams stayed up with a draw on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign, the two sets of fans celebrated with one another, singing “Yorkshire”!

The Tarn and the Town both find themselves in relegation trouble this term but, in Gerhard Struber and Danny Cowley respectively, have the right men in charge to lead them on an upward trajectory.

Barnsley have always shown compelling data this season; they average 14.2 shots per game, which is the joint-second most in the division, so while not always refined going forward, they are never timid.

The big question was whether the board would be prepared to add one or two leaders to guide and organise the young Tykes; a question answered by the signing of 26-year-old Marcel Ritzmaier, who arrives highly-regarded from Wolfsberger AC and should add some midfield stability.

Huddersfield also need to back their management team this month, after the recent 5-2 loss to Stoke called the current squad’s ability to stay up into question.

The Terriers have a potentially strong strike-pairing of reference point Steve Mounie and mobile finisher Karlan Grant, the division’s joint-fifth top scorer with 12 goals, but they could do with more quality out wide and a ball-winner to take the burden off Jonathan Hogg.

Barnsley have lost just once at home since September and, having won three of their last six in all competitions – no clean sheet in either of those victories – they should be backed to win a high-scoring encounter.

 

Championship: Blackburn Rovers v Preston North End

Draw

With Burnley in the Premier League and Blackpool in League One, this fixture represents the biggest derby of the season for Blackburn and PNE respectively.

Both clubs have ambitions of bridging the Championship’s budgetary gulf through shrewd planning and managerial stability but are not quite in the positions they would hope to be at this stage.

The progress Rovers have made defensively, with strong partnerships at centre-back and in midfield, has been offset by technician Bradley Dack’s loss of form and veteran striker Danny Graham’s inevitable decline – they have not quite been able to find reliable alternatives to those players.

Similarly, North End have taken eight points from their last 10 games due to a lull in their attacking play – they are short of a complete striker and the likes of Sean Maguire, Tom Barkhuizen and Alan Browne are not quite playing well enough to compensate.

Blackburn have the dynamism of Lewis Travis and the presence of Bradley Johnson shielding their defence, which includes the aggressive Darragh Lenihan and the cultured Tosin Adarabioyo.

PNE, meanwhile, possess an excellent ball-winner in Ben Pearson, who protects a defensive organiser in Patrick Bauer.

We can expect both teams to be solid defensively, without having enough to stretch the other going forward.

 

League One: Bristol Rovers v Doncaster Rovers

Doncaster to win

Doncaster can take huge confidence from their performance in Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Shrewsbury.

They looked like a team with a clear game plan in and out of possession, which is a credit to Darren Moore and his coaching team.

It may be no surprise that their run of form has coincided directly with the return of Niall Ennis, who not only scored the opener in midweek but led the press with so much energy and sets the tone for their displays, with the evergreen James Coppinger and Jon Taylor also pushing up.

Right-winger Taylor has a telepathic understanding with his left-sided counter-part, Kieran Sadlier; he will occasionally drop back to allow Sadlier to push forward to receive a reverse pass, meaning the balance of the team is always maintained.

Additionally, the partnership of Ben Sheaf and Ben Whiteman may begin to flourish, if the former can add consistency.

Sheaf brings the energy and dynamism to create space for Whiteman, who carries himself with such class and composure – it’s surprising that his position as a sitting midfielder was in doubt a couple of seasons ago.

There are telepathic partnerships across the pitch in this Donny side, who could pose a serious threat to Bristol Rovers.

The Gas’ shot data, even while results had been going well, hinted at a regression in the second half of the season – and since manager Graham Coughlan’s shock exit, results have dipped.

Rovers have taken two points from their last four league games, including a 2-1 home defeat to AFC Wimbledon and a 3-0 loss at MK Dons.

Over the last four games, three of which having been overseen by new boss Ben Garner, they have averaged 0.65 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 2.06 Against (xGA), giving them a paltry Ratio (xGR) of 23.93e Mem.

 

League One: Shrewsbury Town v Lincoln City

Draw

Shrewsbury looked worryingly disjointed in Tuesday’s 2-0 loss at Doncaster.

Sam Ricketts opted for a defensive 5-4-1/3-4-3 system with Josh Laurent, a midfielder by trade and Ryan Giles, a wing-back, the closest players to Daniel Udoh.

The 23-year-old was used as the lone striker, in hope that his athleticism would cause problems on the counter-attack, but those opportunities rarely arose, so the Telford recruit was forced to play back to goal – and he is yet to acquire the maturity to do so effectively.

Salop’s biggest threat was Ryan Giles but he was most comfortable in the wide left channel so had he been used as a wing-back, rather than as a wide forward, the team might have had more joy getting men in the box for crosses.

With no discernible goalscoring presence, the Shrews failed to register a single shot on target, so Ricketts will need to have a significant re-think for the visit of Lincoln.

The Imps are still in transition under Michael Appleton because, of the four defenders that started last week’s 3-1 loss at Sunderland, only marauding left-back Harry Toffolo looks suited to his expansive methods.

Me may not see the best of Lincoln under Appleton until next season, so this could be an even clash between two sides still in the process of finding a clear identity.

 

League Two: Carlisle United v Plymouth Argyle

Argyle to win

Carlisle against Argyle was the fixture in 1999 that saw goalkeeper Jimmy Glass score a dramatic, last-minute goal to keep the hosts in the Football League at Scarborough’s expense.

21 years later, the Cumbrians are arguably in another battle to preserve their EFL status – although, a combination of incremental improvement under Chris Beech and the situation at Macclesfield means they should do so with more comfort this time.

Their visitors, meanwhile, have loftier ambitions.

The Green Army have won six of their last eight league games and are starting not only implement Ryan Lowe’s ideas with more fluency, but also become more ruthless in the final third, giving them confidence in their quest for promotion.

Argyle have multiple goal threats – 17 different players have scored for them this season – but the big question was whether they had a reliable front-man.

This is an area Lowe will hope to address in January, but a brace for Luke Jephcott in the recent 3-1 win at Scunthorpe suggests he could be that player.

Equally important to that victory was the performance of George Cooper; the Peterborough loanee, playing at left wing-back, linked up very well once again with Danny Mayor and spent more time on the ball than any other player.

The adaptable Joe Edwards offered crucial balance on the right and Tyreeq Bakinson, on debut following his loan move from Bristol City, dominated the midfield.

Edwards and Bakinson are offering the tenacity to allow the likes of Cooper and Mayor to shine, which is where, arguably, this Argyle side differs from Carlisle.

The Cumbrians have not once this season scored more than one goal and kept a clean sheet in the same game, which shows they have had difficulty producing effective, balanced performances.

At certain points, they have enjoyed the natural talent of Harry McKirdy and Nathan Thomas but been found wanting for commitment and organisation.

At other points, they have looked better structured without the ball but lacked creativity and guile.

The key will be to produce more displays like their first half, last week, in the 2-2 FA Cup draw at Cardiff, but Argyle’s recent consistency suggests they should be backed at odds-against quotes.

 

League Two: Swindon Town v Crewe Alexandra

Over 4.5 goals

Some Swindon Town fans could be forgiven for fearing the implications of the recall of Bradford loanee Eoin Doyle, who has already bagged 23 league goals this season including an 11-game scoring streak.

While Doyle’s finishing ability cannot be denied, far more valuable to the Robins is the system in which he has played.

Whether it is Paul Caddis playing crisp, first time passes to release Keshi Anderson from midfield into an advanced area, whether it is Jerry Yates’ clever movement in from the left and Michael Doughty’s runs on the outside to maintain the equilibrium, or even Kaiyne Woolery’s trickery and flair: Swindon systematically create chances at will.

If Doyle goes back, manager Richie Wellens will likely sign another expert finisher like Marc McNulty or Brett Pitman, who would be just as effective in this team.

Swindon are undoubtedly playing their best football since Mark Cooper’s entertainers of 2014-15, a group that reached the League One Play-Off Final.

Crewe Alexandra have also built a team that plays with hugely impressive passing, movement and fluency – there is real coherence about their patterns of play.

When one player in this Alex team moves position, the other nine outfielders instinctively know where to move, which is a credit to David Artell’s coaching.

Very often at this level, when a centre-back has the ball, it is almost a cue for the opposing team to have a mini-breather but, with midfielder-by-trade Ryan Wintle moving into that position for the Railwaymen, him getting the ball is where the danger begins.

Wintle can pick an inch-perfect diagonal ball, or a crisp pass between the lines – and his ability to do so led to three chances for Crewe in their last league game against Carlisle, two of which being goals in a 4-1 win.

Expect entertainment at the County Ground.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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