Ipswich Town v Accrington Stanley
Ipswich Town will be aiming to make it four wins on the bounce when they host Accrington Stanley on Tuesday evening.
The race for second place is really heating up with the Tractor Boys trailing Plymouth Argyle by five points with 12 matches remaining. Kieran McKenna’s have had a kind run of fixtures in striving to peak at the business end of the season and they have won their last three matches to an aggregate score of 9-0.
The Tractor Boys have scored two or more goals in five of their last six home league games, setting this one as a pretty ominous task for the visitors.
Stanley have pulled themselves out of the relegation mire by taking seven points from their last three games but performances have not been entirely convincing in that run. There is a chance that John Coleman takes a damage limitation approach in this fixture as Accy prioritise other matches in their busy schedule that lies ahead, while the quick turnaround from the weekend certainly favours the hosts.
The likes of Samy Morsy, Leif Davis and Nathan Broadhead are all becoming key performers in Suffolk, while McKenna can call on players of the quality of George Hirst, Marcus Harness, Kayden Jackson and Kyle Edwards, who were on the bench at the weekend, if rotation is necessary.
Walsall v Bradford City
It is looking like another season at fourth tier level for Walsall. The Saddlers are not mathematically out of the play-off race yet, currently at a 12-point gap to seventh with multiple games in hand on all those above. Form is nowhere sufficient to mount a top seven push however. A 1-0 home defeat to Barrow on Saturday brought to an end an equally-frustrating run of six consecutive draws, including one at Hartlepool United where they were 3-1 up heading into the 90th minute. Michael Flynn’s side are without a league victory since a 2-1 win over Mansfield Town on New Year’s Day. His team’s 3-4-1-2 has some quality players in the likes of attacking midfielder Isaac Hutchinson and versatile forward Tom Knowles, but has yet to set the division alight this season. The pair of Jamille Matt and Matty Stevens scored 42 goals for Forest Green Rovers at this level just last season. The pair combined have one goal for Walsall since both arrived in January and have been affected by injury.
What Walsall wouldn’t give for a Number Nine like the one Bradford City have. At 32, Andy Cook is enjoying the best goalscoring season of his EFL career. He has 19 to his name in League Two, 22 in all competitions, and has scored six across his last seven starts. Leading the line alongside Burnley loanee Dara Costelloe, Cook is a dangerous, complete frontman who in turn benefits from the support of attacking midfielder Jamie Walker behind him. Alex Gilliead, Adam Clayton and Richie Smallwood form the midfield base in a 4-3-1-2, former Exeter City centre-back Sam Stubbs establishing himself as the leading partner to Matty Platt in the heart of defence. If Andy Cook has been the star for the Bantams, 25-year-old goalkeeper Harry Lewis isn’t far behind him with a fine compilation of match-winning saves this season.
Bradford City are in good nick with five wins in their last six, and have always looked strong on the road this season. Their total of 30 points from 16 away matches is the best PPG record in the entire fourth tier, conceding a league low 14 goals away from home as well. The Bantams will be backed by their usual big crowd at the Bescot Stadium on Tuesday, and with the automatic promotion places just three points away, they will like the idea of finishing the night third in the table.
Sutton United v Crawley Town
Sutton United still have a chance of making the play-offs as they take on a Crawley Town side at serious risk of dropping into the National League.
The U’s dug deep to find a last minute equaliser on Saturday through defender Coby Rowe as they drew 1-1 at home to Crewe Alexandra to keep their run of form going. They are only four points off the top seven and would close that gap further if they can win on Tuesday night which is a great incentive. Their boss Matt Gray said his players showed good ‘character’ and he will be pleased that they picked up a point despite not being at their best, which is the sign of a good side. On the selection front, striker Donovan Wilson will be assessed but the London club won’t want to rush him back in with the likes of Omar Bugiel and Lee Angol proving to be perfectly capable alternatives at the top end of the pitch. Sutton are a tough team to beat and are unbeaten in their last seven outings in the league. They are also solid at home and haven’t been beaten on their own patch in League Two since 8th October against Tranmere Rovers in a run spanning nine fixtures back now at Gander Green Lane and they seek to make it 10.
Crawley remain 23rd in the division and face a real battle to avoid relegation to non-league as their poor form continues. They lost 1-0 away at Northampton Town last time out and their manager Scott Lindsey said he was ‘disappointed’ yet again that his side lost.The Red Devils don’t have any fresh injury concerns but have delved into the free agent market to bring in former Crystal Palace and QPR midfielder Jordon Mutch on a free transfer to compete with the likes of Jack Powell and Jack Roles in the middle of the park. However, he is 31 now and hasn’t played much football over recent times, with his last spell in England coming back in 2019. Crawley have picked up a habit of losing games and have lost their last five on the spin now which will have significantly dented their confidence. They have won once in their last 12 and they won’t be holding out much hope of going away to Sutton, who are incredibly strong at home, and getting a result.
Stockport County v Gillingham
Stockport County are strong at home as they welcome 20th place Gillingham to Edgeley Park this Tuesday.
The Hatters were held 0-0 by Doncaster Rovers on their own patch over the weekend and just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net. They remain in the play-offs though and will hope luck is on their side in their next fixture, with boss Dave Challinor admitting afterwards that it was a ‘frustrating’ afternoon for his players. Nevertheless, they received a boost with striker Paddy Madden, who has scored 10 goals this season, returning from injury off the bench and he provides an alternative option up top to the likes of Kyle Wootton and Isaac Olaofe. Stockport have turned a corner after a poor start to this campaign and have been one of the strongest teams in the league since the turn of the year. They have lost just once in their last eight outings which has seen them rise to 7th position in the table. The North West outfit have also made their home a fortress and haven’t been beaten in the league there since 19th November against table toppers Leyton Orient in a run spanning back seven games now, including impressive wins over promotion rivals Stevenage and Northampton Town, as they look to win again this week.
Gillingham have started to rise away from the bottom two but will be in for a tough test as they make the trip up north. They drew 0-0 with Harrogate Town away last Saturday in a drab game but manager Neil Harris saw it as a point ‘gained’ in the end. On the injury front, versatile Robbie McKenzie remains out of action with a groin issue which is a blow as he can play in either defence or midfield which is useful. Nevertheless, the Kent club have welcomed back midfielder Timothy Dieng and winger Alex McDonald from their respective injury problems. Gillingham’s main issue in this campaign has been scoring goals and they have found the net just 21 times in 33 games which is the worst return in the league by a country mile, with struggling clubs such as Rochdale and Crawley Town even managing to score more. Harris’ side have lacked that cutting edge up top and although they have improved since the January transfer window, their stalemate against Harrogate and their 2-0 loss against Bradford City in the match prior to that show they are still experiencing problems in front of goal.
Maidenhead United v Boreham Wood
A case of backing Boreham Wood to continue doing what they are already doing – not conceding many and not scoring many.
Luke Garrard’s side are now unbeaten in 12 matches, winning six and drawing six. In all six victories, they have kept a clean sheet. Of the other six, five were 1-1 draws with only the away game against Woking seen more than two goals scored. This is what Boreham Wood do when they are settled and performing. They have scored more than one goal on just ten occasions this season and conceded more than one goal just six times. Jamal Fyfield’s return to the defence has coincided with three victories on the spin and they have a full squad available to carry on. Boreham Wood have seen under 2.5 goals in 76% of their league matches.
They take on a Maidenhead United side who have a similar approach to Boreham Wood in respect of trying to be hard to beat, looking to get the ball into the final third as quickly as possible and playing for seconds and set-pieces. The Magpies have seen under 2.5 goals in four of their last eight matches and three of those saw just three scored. Stylistically, Maidenhead are a side that are scoring goals currently thanks to players driving forward with the ball into big gaps but those gaps won’t be available against a Boreham Wood side that are very organised, particularly in the centre of the pitch. They have seen under 2.5 goals in just over half of their league matches this season.
The previous match-up between the sides ended 1-0 and a similar scoreline wouldn’t be a surprise here.
Southend United v Chesterfield
Chesterfield come into this game at 2.63 to win and 1.5 on the double chance and I can’t pass that up.
It makes some sense in respect to their recent results, the Spireites ending their nine-match winless run with a 2-1 victory at Gateshead at the weekend. It was deserved too, Paul Cook’s side having over double the possession, shots and xG in the game. It wasn’t a one-off. The Spireites have won the xG battle in nine of their last ten matches, only falling short away at Wrexham. Game state may have played a part in some of those but an average xG of 1.77xG over ten matches evidences their continued ability to create chances. They have conceded 1.2xG in that time. They have just lacked the final touch.
They come up against a Southend United side that are in a state of chaos at present. Firstly, there is the continued off-field travails that saw them lose star centre-back Kacper Lopata last week, he and his agent choosing to move on with the player not having been paid on time for months. Injuries are hurting them too, Kevin Maher now without key strikers Harry Cardwell and Jake Hyde, captain Nathan Ralph, creator Dan Mooney and their first-choice goalkeepers Steve Arnold and Collin Andeng-Ndi. And because of an embargo, they cannot sign anybody.
Furthermore, the Shrimpers have struggled all season against the best sides in the division. They have won one, drawn five and lost seven against top ten outfits. They have drawn three and lost four at home against the same opposition.
Wealdstone v Maidstone United
Wealdstone continue to be criminally underrated by the bookies and I’m backing them again here.
Despite their part-time status, Wealdstone have been virtually ever-present in the top half of the table all season. They survived last season because of their ability to get results against sides below them in the table and that has largely continued this season, only improved. They have played 23 matches against sides currently 9th or lower in the league table, winning 12 and drawing six. They have won eight and drawn four of their 16 home matches and against sides 9th or lower, that record reads seven wins, two draws and one defeat. And they have shown their recovery power, responding to a 5-0 loss at FC Halifax Town (where they were missing three of their first-choice back five, had to change shape and move their defensive midfielder to right-back) with a 4-0 win against Altrincham.
Their visitors on Tuesday night are Maidstone United. The other National League team nicknamed the Stones are bottom of the league table having won just five of their 36 league matches this season. They are going to need to produce play-off form to give themselves a shot at survival. All five of their victories have come against sides 14th or lower in the league table, picking up three points from a possible 54 against sides 13th or higher in the league table. They have lost 14 of their 18 away matches and picked up one point from a possible 33 against sides 16th or higher – and that was on the opening day. They come into this game having lost 12 of their last 15, drawing the other three. They have conceded over 1.5xG in each of their last four matches and their back four contains no senior centre-back and a left-footed winger at right-back.
Yeovil Town v Eastleigh
The midweek game to avoid is most likely to occur at Huish Park as Yeovil meet fellow southerners Eastleigh.
Eastleigh have seen 60% of their league matches have finished with two or fewer goals being scored, including seven of their last eight. There has only been one game during that period in which both teams have scored. They beat Scunthorpe United 1-0 at the weekend but turned up with only 11 senior outfielders available and they come into this one without striker Kairo Mitchell, who was sent off for violent conduct. They may look to use the loan market but are unlikely to bring in a large number of players with their budget being stretched.
Yeovil Town have seen under 2.5 goals in 73% of their league matches and 72% of their home matches. They have seen under 2.5 goals in three of their last four and ten of their last 14 matches. In their last 12 matches, they have averaged 1.18xG and conceding 1.3xG, some of the lowest numbers in the league. In their last seven, it goes down to 1.05xG for and 1.29xG. Their game at the weekend was a tight affair with Woking, a 1-0 loss in which the Glovers managed just five shots at goal and 0.7xG.
West Brom v Wigan
The Baggies suffered a disappointing loss away at Hull on Friday night. However, digging beneath the surface level of the bare result, there were some positives that Carlos Corberan could take from the match.
At 0-0 West Brom totally dominated the game. Against a side who usually set up to keep the ball at home, the Baggies had around 70% possession and strong territory advantage over the first twenty minutes. There were a few chances that could’ve gone better at that stage and as I watched on I did wonder how Hull were ever going to get into West Brom territory.
The answer was a break in play, a Hull huddle with Liam Rosenior, and a change of system. It was excellent management from Rosenior and the match was much more even after that. Even so, West Brom emerged from the match with an xG over 2, so for them to not trouble the scorers was unfortunate, or wasteful.
I do like West Brom’s chances of winning this match, but their price is a touch shorter than I would like. Wigan under Shaun Maloney have been much improved defensively. Their game plan has been to keep their matches low-margin, i.e. keep it tight and try to take a chance to get a point or three. In the main, this has been a decent tactic away from home. They have taken draws from Blackburn, Cardiff, and Bristol City, and were probably a bit unlucky to not do so at Preston as well.
This match will be a bit of attack against defence. However, I like the chances of Wigan in at least keeping the score down. The likely score here is 1-0 or 2-0 to the hosts, which has been the case in six of the last eight at The Hawthorns. However, the 1.57 for West Brom to win is not as appealing as the 1.73 for under 2.5 goals, which also protects against the 0-0 and 1-1 scorelines.
Reading v Sheffield United
Earlier in the season when I was assessing a Sheffield United away match, my default stance was to look for the Under 2.5 goal line. Paul Heckingbottom always set up his team to contain the opposition and then hit them with counter attacks. However, of late, teams are getting chances against the Blades, Blackburn Rovers demonstrated this on Saturday afternoon, though they only scored once, they hit the woodwork twice and had plenty of other opportunities.
Reading were pitiful at The Riverside Stadium on Saturday. They put up next to no resistance to a Boro who took advantage and ran riot. However, this is not far from business as usual for Paul Ince’s side. There is no other team in the country who are as Jekyll and Hyde in terms of their home and away form as the Royals. However, the terrible defending observed in this match cannot just be ignored when looking ahead here.
Obviously Reading are at home here and what opitimises a Reading home display recently is goals. All of the last five Reading home games have gone over 2.5 goals with both teams hitting the target in all of those matches too. Again, Reading were opitimised by a tight defence and counter attacking style in all of their games earlier in the season, so the market may still be a bit behind the changes in both teams heading into this one.
I would expect both teams to score here, but I am still slightly wary that Sheffield United could keep out the Reading attack. On paper I would suggest that the Blades defence has the upper hand in terms of personnel and structure, so the over 2.5 goals feels like the better bet in these circumstances as one team can cover that on their own, even if it feels like 2-1 or 2-2 is a more likely scoreline.
Plymouth Argyle v Derby County
I am happy to go against the grain in this encounter and continue the pro-Derby County stance despite Plymouth Argyle’s eye-watering home record this season.
Argyle have won 15, drawn one and lost one of 17 home league games this term, but they are not the ruthless side that stormed to the top of the table under Steven Schumacher in the first half of the campaign.
Though the cushion is five points, Argyle are clinging on and hoping that Ipswich run out of time, and they were not at their best in defeating 16th-placed Charlton Athletic 2-0 at the weekend. Their goals came courtesy of an individual error and a fairly simple counter-attack, though they were certainly the much stronger side. Michael Cooper, Dan Scar, Conor Grant, Adam Randell and Tyreik Wright will all miss out.
Paul Warne will certainly get a reaction after the Rams threw away a two-goal lead at home to Shrewsbury Town on Saturday as they prepare for the tension of the play-offs. Teams hardly ever win all but two of their home league games in a season and opposing Argyle’s bid to do so in taking on a very strong visiting side is my selection.
Benfica v Club Brugge
On September 13, 2022, Club Brugge thrashed FC Porto 4-0 at the Dragão, sending shockwaves throughout European football and paving the way for a historic campaign that would see them finish second in their group and advance past their Champions League group for the first time in 32 years. This was followed by a 2-0 loss to Gent, a 2-0 win against lower-tier Patro Eisden in the Belgian Cup, a 2-2 draw to Antwerp, and a 4-1 loss to STVV in the Belgian Cup. A 1-1 draw to Leuven on Boxing Day proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back, with Carl Hoefkens receiving the axe and Scott Parker taking the reins. However, the Blauw-Zwart’s fortunes have not improved tremendously under the Englishman, with the club taking one defeat, one victory and five draws before facing off against Benfica in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie. João Mário broke the deadlock from the penalty spot after the break, whilst David Neres came off the bench and added to the scoring in the 88th minute, as Benfica secured a 2-0 victory in Belgium.
Since then, it’s been more of the same inconsistencies for Club Brugge, who drew 2-2 to Cercle Brugge, beat Gent 2-0, and who opened March with a 3-0 defeat at Oostende, who currently occupy the relegation zone. Club Brugge sit fourth in the table, 21 points adrift league leaders Genk, and after winning three consecutive league titles, they are at risk of missing out on the championship playoff, which sees the top four sides in Belgium compete against each other in a round-robin tournament. Each team starts with half of the points they won in the regular season, rounded up to the nearest integer. The points gained by rounding are deducted in the case of a tie (of which Club Brugge have 10) with the teams being ranked by points, points from rounding, wins, etc. as in the regular season. As such, even if they were to get in (they are currently one point above fifth-placed Gent and sixth-placed Standard Liège), it is unlikely they would be able to win the title in their current form. They will enter Tuesday’s match at the Luz as a team with nothing to lose.
I’m expecting Club Brugge to come out the gates with an attacking approach as they look to make up a two-goal deficit on Benfica, and I’m expecting Benfica to exploit them on the counter. Roger Schmidt’s side have been one of the best teams in Europe this season, currently sitting eight points clear atop the league table, having only lost one match in all competitions. With the exception of a 1-1 draw to Braga on February 9, which saw them fall to 10 men within 31 minutes and lose on penalties in the Taça de Portugal, they have scored two or more goals in each of their last 10 matches in all competitions.
Gonçalo Ramos has become the sole top scorer in Portugal after recording a brace against Famalicão on Friday, whilst João Mário, David Neres, Rafa Silva and Gonçalo Guedes provide ample firepower to a side that is just as comfortable breaking down deep blocks as they are slicing and dicing through defenses on the counter-attack. They are an elite side in every sense, and whilst they may have issues handling a Club Brugge attack that will be looking to attack from the get-go, they have more than enough quality up front to grab a goal or two in Lisbon. Club Brugge have kept just two clean sheets under Parker thus far, and I don’t think they’ll get their third in Portugal. Expect a high-scoring, entertaining fixture on Tuesday that should see Benfica book their ticket to the quarterfinals for the second straight year.
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