Gabriel Sutton returns once again to shed light on the weekend EFL action, including a tasty 12/1 shot.
“Darragh Lenihan and Daniel Ayala are forging a stiff centre-back pairing for Blackburn, which I don’t expect Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff to breach.”Gabriel Sutton
Blackburn Rovers v Cardiff City
Blackburn to win and Under 2.5 goals
One of the frustrations with Tony Mowbray over previous seasons has been his frequent tinkering with team selection: but that has changed this year.
Thomas Kaminski’s nigh-on untouchable status as number one is hardly surprising after a strong debut campaign, but the aggressive Darragh Lenihan has been given time to forge a strong centre-back pairing with the experienced Daniel Ayala.
Harry Pickering, overdue an opportunity at this level after the technical excellence he displayed for three years at Crewe, has been an ever-present at left-back, while right-back Ryan Nyambe has only ever been absent through injury.
Lenihan and Ayala do not exactly have the cleanest track record in terms of staying fit, so it remains to be seen how the absence of either might affect the defensive dynamic.
With just eight goals conceded so far, though, and none in the last two games, Rovers look hard to beat and that is why, perhaps surprisingly, the Lancashire outfit are relishing a place in the top six.
Maintain that solidity on Saturday and Rovers should prevail, with Cardiff looking one-dimensional.
With key target man Kieffer Moore yet to find the net after a busy summer and Ryan Giles absent, Mick McCarthy’s side rely heavily on set pieces, which account for four of their 11 league goals.
It is likely that Lenihan and Ayala will have little difficulty heading away free-kicks, corners and Will Vaulks’ long throws, even with Aden Flint and Sean Morrison lurking, because they are both dominant in the air.
This is a match that should suit the hosts defensively so, at the other end, they only need a moment of inspiration from Ben Brereton Diaz, or speedy youngster Reda Khadra, who has produced some lively performances from the bench.
Another example last night of what a difference Daniel Ayala can make to this Rovers side.
Expert level positioning, dominant in the air, timely blocks and interceptions and a lake of calm – rubs off on Lenihan too.
Please don’t get injured, becoming vital… #Rovers
— Mike Delap (@MikeyDelap) September 15, 2021
“Steve Cooper is a highly-rated coach taking charge of Nottingham Forest, but I don’t see him making an instant impression against Millwall.”Gabriel Suton
Nottingham Forest v Millwall
Under 1.5 goals
Steve Cooper takes charge of Nottingham Forest for the first time this weekend, with the former Swansea boss replacing Chris Hughton.
Cooper has been successful in his career so far, winning the Under-17s World Cup with England in 2017 before attaining successive top six finishes with the Swans, even if both ended in Play-Off defeats to Brentford.
This job, though, is different to anything the 41-year-old has faced in his career to date, with the Reds lying 23rd in the Championship with four points from their first eight games.
Steven Reid, who stays on board as a coach, has eased some of the pressure in his sole game as caretaker boss, overseeing a 2-0 victory at Huddersfield, but nonetheless the challenge is mammoth.
A big part of Cooper’s strength as a coach at Swansea was his ability to use his contacts, relationships and reputation to loan in a potential world-class star of the future.
There is no way his side would have reached the Play-Offs in 2019-20, for example, had the Swans not loaned in talented defender Marc Guehi and energetic creator Connor Gallagher from Chelsea, plus poacher Rhian Brewster from Liverpool, in January that season.
The following year, Cooper was able to retain Guehi and goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, plus loan in Morgan Gibbs-White – another player he had worked with at youth level – all while the club was spending large wages on a 96-capped Ghana international in Andre Ayew.
While Cooper’s Swansea side was well-organised and frugal in it’s use of the ball, going forward they were carried by individuals and, for now at least, the new Forest boss cannot utilize the loan market or add to his squad.
Plus, while embedding some defensive foundations can be reasonably straightforward for a new head coach, it is much harder to get a team that is not scoring many goals – and Forest have scored 44 in 56 league games – playing with confidence and creating chances.
For that reason, we may not see an instant impact from Cooper at the City Ground, where visitors Millwall like a low-scoring game themselves under Gary Rowett.
“After getting that all-important first victory of the season, Ipswich can put a run together – just like Mark Ashton!”Gabriel Sutton
Ipswich Town v Sheffield Wednesday
Ipswich to win
After Ipswich won 1-0 at Lincoln last week, CEO Mark Ashton ran over to the fans and hi-fived the ones on the bottom row whilst doing numerous euphoric fist-pumps.
This action has been criticized as being egotistical and cringe-worthy by some, who argue it is only appropriate for players and managers to celebrate with supporters.
Then again, life is short, we all need some love and affirmation from time to time, especially in a stressful job: so why not make the most of these moments?
The only scenario in which one would question Ashton’s actions would be if he does not address fans when there is criticism of him, but if he is open and transparent on difficult issues, and if fans enjoy him showing this kind of passion, then there is no problem.
The important thing for Ipswich is getting the three points they need to kick-start their season, having been winless in the league previously.
It might have been a quiet game, but steady defending from George Edmundson and Cameron Burgess, combined with a well-taken winner from Macaulay Bonne, handed the Tractor Boys a priceless victory which gives them an opportunity to grow into the campaign.
With that confidence booster, Ipswich can complete back-to-back victories this weekend against Sheffield Wednesday, who have endured a drop in form.
Darren Moore’s troops have accrued just one point from their last three games, mustering just two shots on target in a home draw with Shrewsbury.
Players and staff go down the tunnel… And then #itfc chief executive Mark Ashton emerges.
Heads over to the away end and gives it a big Luke Chambers fist-pump before slapping heads with everyone along the front row. #itfc
— Stuart Watson (@Stuart_Watson) September 18, 2021
“Oxford can go up another level in the final third, but they are already getting into some good areas this season which should soon translate into goals. With Gillingham missing Mustapha Carayol, I’m backing the home win.”Gabriel Sutton
Oxford United v Gillingham
Oxford to win
Oxford have tended to be slow-burners under Karl Robinson and, with 11 points from their first eight games, this season could follow a similar pattern.
Karl Robinson will not be overly concerned by recent dropped points, with the head coach being extremely process driven.
The Liverpudlian does not always judge performance levels based on results, or even chance creation, often looking at control of the ball plus the number of times his side entered the final third and the penalty area.
With better decision-making at key moments and more productivity from Northern Irish wide men Mark Sykes and Gavin Whyte, Oxford are well capable of bouncing back from a 1-0 loss at Cheltenham last time out.
They have in destroyer Alex Gorrin, left-footed technician Herbie Kane and experienced creator James Henry a midfield trio that could dominate against Gillingham, who have won just one of their first eight league games.
The Gills squad is missing one or two powerful, battle-hardened leaders in key areas to carry out Steve Evans’ style and, even after reasonable performances in 1-1 draws with Burton and Charlton – which sandwiched a 4-1 loss to MK Dons – the Kent outfit could struggle without the driving influence of Mustapha Carayol.
As the shot map below shows, Oxford are shooting from good positions and, in time, that should start to translate into goals.
— OxfordAnalytics (@AnalyticsOxford) September 23, 2021
“Nick Tsaroulla has skill, grace and a balletic touch – not qualities you find in your every day League Two left-back – so I’m backing the Cypriot to score on Saturday. The price is appealing.”Gabriel Sutton
Crawley Town v Bradford City
Nick Tsaroulla to score anytime
Nick Tsaroulla has the potential to be one of the best left-backs in League Two.
The former Tottenham academy product showed what he can do in the 3-0 FA Cup win over Leeds last season, producing an excellent finish and a man-of-the-match performance, and if he can add consistency then perhaps the 22-year-old can go on to play at a higher level.
For now, he is showing his attacking intent in the fourth tier, averaging 1.3 shots per game; of the players in this division who have played more than three games so far at left-back, only Hartlepool’s David Ferguson averages more attempts.
There is reason to think, therefore, that the Cypriot will fire a shot or two at goal against Bradford, who after an awesome August have stuttered in September.
The issue for Derek Adams is that, after establishing a reliable first XI that produced some high-intensity displays, the Scot is short on options to switch things up.
Target man Andy Cook might have been unplayable at times, especially in the 4-1 victory over Stevenage, but the reserve forwards are Oli Crankshaw, Caolan Lavery and Theo Robinson, neither of whom being likely to change a game.
The evidence is that Adams thinks so to because, with Abo Eisa and Lee Angol absent – as they still will be this weekend – the former Plymouth Argyle boss made his first alteration as late as the 84th minute.
More straight shooting from Adams.
Can't help but feel for the likes of Scales, but he's got the CV to back up his judgement.
— The Bantams Chirper (@BantamsChirper) September 23, 2021
“David Ajiboye has a lovely flexibility about his game that I feel will appeal to managers in League One. For now, though, I see him doing damage in League Two: perhaps for Sutton this weekend.”Gabriel Sutton
Sutton United v Carlisle United
David Ajiboye to score anytime
David Ajiboye has made the step up to League Two beautifully.
Unsurprisingly, the Bromley-born winger did not get the opportunities he wanted as a teenager at Brighton and had to drop into the non-league system with Worthing in the Isthmian League.
After a productive 2018-19 campaign with the Rebels, scoring 16 goals, Ajiboye stepped up two divisions to Sutton United, where he played a crucial role in the 2020-21 National League title win, making the team of the season.
At 22, the wide man has plenty of development ahead of him, so it is not a huge surprise to see him thriving in the EFL – showing the potential to move up to League One next summer.
When the space is on the outside and midfielders are breaking into the box, Ajiboye can be a classic winger who attacks the flank before producing an accurate delivery from the byline.
When attacking in transition, though and the space is on the inside, Ajiboye can also become an inside forward, turning an opposing defender inside out before having a dangerous shot at goal.
In fact, the Sutton star averages 2.6 shots per game – Northampton’s Sam Hoskins is the only right winger to average more in the division, having started more than three games – and already has a goal to his name.
Perhaps, against an underachieving Carlisle side, Ajiboye can add to his tally.