Bradford v Hartlepool
Bradford City are in confident mood after their recent run of positive results as they lock horns with relegation threatened Hartlepool United.
The Bantams drew 1-1 away at Newport County last weekend to get another point on the board and are now 6th in the table as they look to keep their push for promotion to League One on track. Speaking after their draw in South Wales, boss Mark Hughes praised his players for a ‘huge effort’ and they should have too much quality for their next opponents if they put in the same level of performance.
In terms of selection news, defender Romoney Crichlow’s absence from the starting XI recently is not due to injury and is because he can’t get back into the team ahead of their solid centre-back partnership of Matty Platt and Sam Stubbs. Bradford have conceded just once in their last five and Hughes has made them tough to break down over recent times.
At the other end of the pitch, Bradford have players then can hurt the opposition and none more so than prolific top scorer Andy Cook, who has fired in a whopping 24 goals in all competitions already so far this season. The Yorkshire club have lost just once in 11 games and should keep their run going at Valley Parade.
Hartlepool are at risk of dropping back into non-league and have brought in former Port Vale manager John Askey to try and keep them up and the new boss hasn’t won yet in his first three games at the helm. They drew 1-1 at home to Northampton Town last time out with striker Josh Umerah on the scoresheet and coach Anthony Sweeney, who stepped in to do media duties, admitted there are ‘nerves’ in the camp as they prepare for their relegation battle.
On the injury front, midfielder Tom Crawford is closing in on his return to the action and he will provide another option in the middle of the park to players like Callum Cooke and Mohamed Sylla. Hartlepool are 22nd in the table and are a point above 23rd place Crawley Town but the Red Devils have two games in hand.
It has been a tough year for the Pools and they have leaked the most goals out of everyone in this campaign having let in a massive 64 goals in 36 outings which is an average of just of 1.8 per game. They won’t be holding out much hope of going to Bradford and getting a win in front of large crowd, especially if they are nervous like last week.
Aston Villa v Bournemouth
Bournemouth secured a memorable win over Liverpool last weekend to climb off the bottom of the Premier League table. The unlikely victory means only goal difference separates them from safety with 12 games left to play.
Despite last week’s win, the Cherries are still up against it when they head to Villa Park. Their away from has been extremely poor. They have list eight of their last 10 away matches in all competitions and have only managed one win. Over that period, their opponents are averaging 1.2 more goals per game than Gary O’Neil’s men.
Aston Villa were beaten by Arsenal and Manchester City in the middle of February but they have remained unbeaten in their three games since then. Unai Emery’s side are 11th; eight points above 12th.
They have struggled for consistency so far in Emery’s tenure but they have still managed seven wins in his 13 league games in charge. They have only suffered four defeats in the league since Gerrard was sacked; three of those defeats came at the hands of one of the traditional ‘big-six’.
I expect Villa to make the most of home advantage here and get revenge against a Bournemouth side that beat them earlier in the season.
Brentford v Leicester
We are backing another home victory in our second bet. Despite suffering a setback from their defeat to Everton last weekend, Brentford is still determined to secure a place in European competition for the upcoming season. Thomas Frank’s squad occupies the 8th spot in the Premier League, trailing behind Liverpool by just a single point.
Brendan Rodgers is under mounting pressure as his team has lost their last five games in all competitions. Although he previously led the Foxes to an FA Cup victory, Rodgers now finds himself in a precarious position, with his team currently positioned just two points above the relegation zone. Leicester fans have grown weary of the team’s poor performances and are calling for an immediate reaction.
Brentford have lost just once in their last 14 league matches. They have also been in exceptional form at home of late. They have won four of their last five matches in front of their own fans; scoring 2.4 and conceding 0.8 goals per game.
Arsenal remain the only side to travel to Brentford and win tin the league this season. The Bees are averaging 1.08 more goals per game than their opponents over the course of these matches.
Leicester’s away form also leaves a lot to be desired. They have lost their last five in all competitions. One of those matches came against bottom of the table, Southampton. The Foxes are conceding 2.23 goals per game on the road this season.
Southampton v Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham responded to their Champions League exit by beating Nottingham Forest last weekend. It has been a disappointing season for Conte’s team and there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the club.
The future’s of their manager and Harry Kane have been debated in recent months. However, the club remains in the race for a top four spot this season. Southampton are rooted to the bottom of the league but there are a number of sides battling against the drop. A good run of form could see any of the sides down the bottom get their head above water.
The Saints have lost their last five matches where they have been similarly priced to win in the league. Over the course of these matches they are averaging 0.6 goals per game; exactly two goals fewer than their opponents.
Despite the criticism, Tottenham have won six of their last eight games in the Premier League. Newcastle are hot on their heels and Conte will want to ensure he finished on a high if this to be his last season at the club.
During this eight match run, Spurs are averaging 2.63 goals per game. Harry Kane has also been in great form. He has 20 league goals this season and has a slim chance of chasing Haaland down for the golden boot.
I expect Spurs to win here and their price is very generous considering they are playing the side in last place.
Middlesbrough v Preston
A 1-1 draw with Stoke City in midweek will not knock Middlesbrough’s momentum. The tie is only the third of the Boro’s last 14 league matches that have not ended in a victory. It is a transformation that has lifted Michael Carrick’s side away from a relegation battle to a pursuit of the automatic promotion race, Boro fans always eyeing up Sheffield United’s results upon the conclusion of their own.
Currently there is a six-point gap between the pair with nine games left to play. The Stoke City game saw Championship top scorer Chuba Akpom net his 23rd goal this season. The 27-year-old has been the standout in Carrick’s 4-2-3-1, playing in attacking midfield as part of a fluid frontline that also contains goals from the likes of Cameron Archer, Riley McGree, Aaron Ramsey or Marcus Forss.
Supported by Jonny Howson and Hayden Hackney behind, with notable left-wing dominance provided by Ryan Giles, Middlesbrough’s front four are capable of interchanging positions. What it creates is a frontline very hard to mark and compete with, reflected in a team that regularly scores two or more goals a game. Middlesbrough have failed to more than once on just three occasions since the World Cup break.
Preston North End enter this weekend on a seven-game unbeaten run, though four of those games have been draws and three of those have ended 0-0. It is a reflection of a Lilywhites side that with 34 goals are the clear lowest scorers in the top half and among the lowest scorers in the entire division.
Only relegation-threatened Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town and Wigan Athletic have netted fewer goals this season. Strike partners Ched Evans and Everton loanee Tom Cannon both netted in Preston’s recent outing at Rotherham United. The latter looks a promising spark with goals in consecutive games and three in his last five. He could prove increasingly important whilst Danish striker Emil Riis Jakobsen remains out injured.
Middlesbrough just have to go again after what will be seen as a frustrating draw with Stoke City on Tuesday. The gap between themselves and second place Sheffield United seems to fluctuate in size with each passing gameweek, likely to do the same again after this weekend with Sheffield United away in FA Cup action. Armed with one of the division’s top frontline, Boro fans will be keen to see their exciting free-flowing side flex their muscles again on Teesside.
Cambridge v Charlton
Charlton Athletic travel to Cambridge United off the back of a much needed 4-1 win at Morecambe on Tuesday evening.
The U’s on the other hand have had a full week to prepare for the Addicks’ visit after losing 1-0 to relegation-battling rivals Milton Keynes Dons last weekend.
Mark Bonner would have been relieved to welcome Harvey Knibbs back into the fold last time out, but they are facing some availability issues.
Conor McGrandles cannot play against his parent club, George Thomas, Harrison Dunk and Fejiri Okenabirhie are out, while Steve Seddon, Liam O’Neil and George Williams have missed training through illness.
Charlton will be without Lucas Ness, Todd Kane and Chuks Aneke, with Corey Blackett-Taylor a doubt with a hamstring injury sustained in midweek.
The U’s have the worst attack in the division this season, have won just one of 14, and three of 26 looking further back, confidence is at an all-time low in Bonner’s time at the club.
Charlton welcomed back Scott Fraser in midweek, with the Scotsman scoring on his return, while Jesurun Rak-Sakyi could be fit to return to the starting XI.
Derby v Fleetwood
Derby County host Fleetwood Town in looking to cement their position inside the play-off places.
The Rams will be without Jason Knight as they look to continue their incredibly strong home record under Paul Warne.
Derby’s last 12 home league games have resulted in eight wins and four draws, while the Cod Army have failed to score or take any points from their previous two away trips.
The Rams will be boosted by the return of David McGoldrick this week, despite being in the twilight years of his career the 35-year-old has proven that he can dominate backlines at this level and dropping to League One appears to have been a decision made out of geographic convenience more than a need to step down.
Jason Knight remains unavailable but with the form that Louie Sibley is in, the Rams will not be lacking any energy in the final third.
The Cod Army have been resolute defensively under Scott Brown this season and held the Rams to a goalless draw in the reverse fixture, but with no clean sheet in three it could be a daunting trip to Pride Park.
Morecambe v Oxford
Morecambe put in one of their worst performances in League One this season to lose 4-1 at home to Charlton Athletic on Tuesday evening and are at a preparation disadvantage in taking on Oxford United at the Mazuma Stadium.
The bookmakers have been puzzling hot on the Yellows despite their awful season, potentially a hangover from last season’s ratings, but with the squad at their disposal and a recent run of nine losses and a draw in ten league games, Liam Manning should be able to oversee an upturn in results in the not too distant future.
The Shrimps will be without: Kieran Phillips, Jacob Bedeau, Max Melbourne and Jake Taylor.
Billy Bodin and James Henry will miss out for the visitors, and it will be an interesting learning experience to see how the Yellows look under Manning for the first time.
New manager bounces are mythical, but there is no doubt that this Oxford squad has been underperforming and Morecambe gave us plenty of reasons to oppose them this weekend in their midweek display.
Another short price selection here that could be added into a multiple.
Wycombe v Barnsley
There is a strong argument coming to the fore in the League One run-in, that in their current guise Barnsley are the best team in the division.
The Tykes have won eight and drawn two of their last ten league outings, averaging 2.5 goals per game in that period and are finding goals from all over the pitch.
Barnsley are eight points off of second-placed Plymouth Argyle but with two games in hand and will not yet have given up hope of sneaking into the automatic promotion spots.
Brad Collins could return between the sticks for Barnsley with Michael Duff having a decision to make after Harry Isted’s recent strong performances.
Matty Wolfe is a long term absentee and Wycombe Wanderers will be without Ryan Tafazolli.
The Chairboys have looked far less organised defensively under Matt Bloomfield compared to before Gareth Ainsworth left the club, though that is not obvious in their goals against tally, and the Tykes should be able to take advantage of that, dispatching Argyle 3-1 at Oakwell last weekend.
There is value on the in-form hosts once again, especially on their home patch.
Port Vale v Burton
On the whole, Port Vale have made a solid return to third tier football. The Valiants have avoided being dragged into serious trouble all season, frustrations coming with individual matches rather than the entire campaign. Darrell Clarke will wish that he could have had a season with a fully fit frontline, often having to make do with stand-ins and partly fit players at the top of his 3-4-1-2.
The pair of Ellis Harrison and Oxford United loanee Matty Taylor have been fit enough to start the last three matches together, the latter opening his Port Vale account last weekend at Fleetwood Town. The Staffordshire outfit have been a mixed bag at Vale Park this season, but what is notable is their record in home matches against fellow bottom-half sides.
The Valiants are unbeaten at home to bottom half opposition this season, recording narrow wins over the likes of Fleetwood Town, Lincoln City, Morecambe and Milton Keynes Dons. Games at Vale Park against competitive opposition are usually tight affairs, requiring individual moments from the likes of right-wing-back David Worrall or midfielder Ben Garrity to create the game-winning goal.
Burton Albion could not take advantage of one of their games in hand on Tuesday night, being taken apart 5-2 by a Peterborough United side with one of the division’s most frightening frontlines. The Brewers have picked up two narrow away wins in 2023 at Fleetwood Town and Bristol Rovers, losing each of their other away fixtures without scoring. Dino Maamria’s side focus on their strong set-piece threat and generally direct play to create opportunities, looking to collect second balls as a method of progressing upfield.
The absence of tenacious midfielder Deji Oshilaja, serving game two of this three-game suspension this weekend, was really felt as Burton lacked physicality that was usually provided by the 29-year-old. The trio of Joe Powell, Ciaran Gilligan and Mark Helm who started on Tuesday are more known for their technical ability than physical qualities, a group of players who can get overrun if not able to play in the opposition’s half.
Wing-back Tom Hamer has never looked a player suitable to a wide attacking role, his physical skillset making him much more suitable to a centre-back position. His presence in the team though is primarily to allow his long throw to be utilised when the opportunity arises.
Five points clear of safety, and still with a game in hand on those around them, it is not the end of the world if Burton Albion lose this game at Vale Park, albeit they are unlikely to want to lose a game against a fellow Staffordshire outfit. Port Vale have been steady if unspectacular this season, most of their points coming at home and most often against sides in the bottom half of the third tier. The game this weekend should continue that trend if everything goes to plan for the Valiants.
Leyton Orient v Colchester
Table toppers Leyton Orient are well on their way to promotion to League One as they prepare to face lowly Colchester United.
The O’s saw their game last weekend at home to Mansfield Town postponed so will be itching to return to the action with a win after having a nice rest. Their boss Richie Wellens has celebrated one year in charge of the London club this month and has praised the ‘brilliant’ support he has had from players, fans and everyone else associated with the team. The O’s have no fresh injury concerns but it is worth noting that defender Rob Hunt and attacker Charlie Kelman are both only one booking away from a suspension.
Leyton Orient are on a strong run of form and are unbeaten in their last seven in the league, with their last game being a 1-1 draw at home to Swindon Town with centre-back Omar Beckles on the scoresheet. They have been the best team in League Two by far this term, as the league table shows, and they should have the quality to get over the line now into League One. Wellens’ side have only conceded 22 goals in their 35 matches this season which is the best defensive record in the division and they should breeze past their next opponents if they show up again.
Colchester have endured a tough campaign and are still at risk of relegation as they sit just six points above the drop zone in 20th place. They were dealt a blow last month when manager Matt Bloomfield left for Wycombe Wanderers and they have replaced him with former Charlton Athletic man Ben Garner. He lost his first game in charge 1-0 at home to Stockport County last time out and said afterwards that his new side cannot afford to be ‘complacent’ as they look to avoid relegation to the National League.
The Essex outfit have been dealt a blow with striker Kwesi Appiah ruled out with injury and he has impressed so far, scoring three goals in nine games, so they will miss his influence up top with goal shy pair Tom Hopper and John Akinde to step in. Colchester are currently stuck in a goal drought and haven’t scored in their last five outings which highlights their serious lack of a cutting edge up top. To make matters worse, they have only won once in their last seven matches as well so most signs point towards another loss at Brisbane Road.
Northampton v Crewe
Northampton Town are starting to hit form as they take on a Crewe Alexandra side who have nothing to play for.
The Cobblers secured a big win over promotion rivals Mansfield Town last time out with attacker Sam Hoskins scoring the only goal of the game from the penalty spot in the first-half. That significant result leaves them only a point behind 3rd place Carlisle United in the league table now and their boss Jon Brady said afterwards that he was pleased with the ‘strong’ performance by his players and will be looking for the same again this weekend.
His side have received a big boost on the injury front with Fulham loan man Kieron Bowie back available now at a great time in the season and he provides another strong option up top to the likes of Hoskins, Louie Appere and D’Margio Wright-Phillips. Northampton are in good spirits at the moment and are unbeaten in their last five games now as they look to gain promotion to League One.
In addition, they are proving to be a tough nut to crack over recent times and have been beaten just once in their last 10 which shows how organised Brady has had them set up over the past couple of months as they look to pick up another three points on Saturday.
Crewe’s season is fizzling out and they find themselves down in 17th place in the division. They lost 1-0 away at Stevenage on Tuesday night and their manager Lee Bell struggled to put ‘pressure’ on their opponents which suggests they have problems against sides higher up in the table, probably due to the gulf in quality.
The Cheshire club have welcomed back striker Courtney Baker-Richardson from injury recently and he provides competition for Elliot Nevitt and Dan Agyei in attack but he hasn’t played much football at all over recent months and is not as sharp as he was at the start of this season which is good news for Northampton.
Crewe haven’t been convincing this term and have only won once in their last six as they prepare for a tricky trip down to Sixfields against opponents who are desperate to get the win as they look to rise into the top three. The first goal is important in this one and if the Railwaymen don’t get in then they could be in for a long afternoon.
Stockport v Mansfield
Stockport County returned to winning ways last time out away at Colchester United and will be looking to make it back-to-back wins at home to Mansfield Town this weekend.
The Hatters beat the U’s courtesy of striker Kyle Wootton’s first-half goal and that result keeps them well in the race for promotion. Speaking afterwards, boss Dave Challinor said it was a ‘big effort’ from his players and he will be looking to see them back it up with another three points on Saturday.
On the selection front, right wing-back Macauley Southam-Hales remains out of action but January signing Kyle Knoyle, who joined from Doncaster Rovers, has been in strong form in his position and has tuned into an inspired addition. Stockport have kept three clean sheets in a row now and are built on strong foundations at the back with the likes of Neill Byrne and Fraser Horsfall proving to be tough defenders to play against.
The Hatters have lost just once in their last 10 outings and are only five points off the top three as they look to apply the pressure on teams above them such as Northampton Town, Carlisle United and Stevenage. If the season started on 1st January, Challinor’s side would be 3rd which shows how much they have improved recently.
Mansfield are inconsistent and lost 1-0 on Tuesday night away at Northampton Town in what was a disappointing showing by the Nottinghamshire outfit. Their manager Nigel Clough admitted it was a ‘difficult’ evening and his squad has been plagued with injuries over recent times which isn’t ideal.
Defender Callum Johnson, attacking midfielder George Maris and left-sided player Stephen McLaughlin are all currently in the treatment room which significantly limits the options that Clough has at his disposal. To make matters worse, midfielder Stephen Quinn is now suspended after getting sent off last time out which leaves Ollie Clarke and Hiram Boateng as the most likely midfield pairing for them at Edgeley Park.
The Stags were thumped 5-2 by Salford City late last month and even though they bounced back from that with a 3-1 win over AFC Wimbledon, their most recent loss to the Cobblers has dumped them back down to earth and highlights the fact that their weaknesses still remain.
AFC Wimbledon v Crawley
This is certainly not the first time a winless run as frustrated AFC Wimbledon fans, and certainly not the longest winless run that they have experienced in recent memory. Tuesday’s 1-1 draw at Newport County extended the Dons run without victory to nine matches, still with just a single victory to their name since the start of 2023.
A poor end to the season is putting pressure onto manager Johnnie Jackson, who was tasked with bringing a decent group of players into the play-off and promotion mix and is ultimately failing to do so. Inconsistency with availability hasn’t helped, particularly in defence, but more should be expected from some of the talent on display at Plough Lane.
AFC Wimbledon have arguably the division’s form player right now in Ali Al-Hamadi. The Iraq International has six goals and one assist in Wimbledon’s last six matches; only one of the team’s last eight goals has not involved him. He has lowered the previously high expectation put onto Josh Davison, absent from Tuesday’s game at Newport.
South African Ethan Chislett has been another notable Wimbledon performer either out wide or in attacking midfield, as has left-back Jack Currie who is a product of the Dons youth system.
Crawley Town have five attempts left to win an away game this season, and that could make the difference between survival and relegation this season. Focus will continually remain on WAGMI United whose terrible ownership decisions ultimately leave Crawley Town in the midst of a relegation battle, but a 3-1 home win over Harrogate Town last weekend will have renewed hope that the Red Devils can make up the one-point gap to 22nd place Hartlepool United.
Aramide Oteh was man of the match against Harrogate, scoring a brace whilst playing on the left in a 4-4-2. Dominic Telford and Ashley Nadesan lead the line, an impact is already being made by free-agent Jordan Mutch who has slotted into midfield. James Tilley’s return to fitness will aid Crawley’s wide options, promising West Bromwich Albion loanee Tom Fellows an alternative on either flank.
Crawley Town have had little to celebrate on the road this season, but this weekend could be the opportunity they have been waiting for. 16th and going nowhere but downwards, AFC Wimbledon’s season is petering out as frustration grows with the winless run. Relegation-battling Hartlepool United recovered to earn a 2-2 draw at Plough Lane back in February. Crawley Town need to take inspiration from that and pick up some crucial away points of their own.
Barnet v Notts County
The game that promises to be the most entertaining this weekend is a potentially season-defining league fixture at The Hive.
Visitors Notts County are unsurprisingly favourites for this one having picked up 90 points from their 38 league matches. They have responded positively to a two-match winless run by beating Dorking Wanderers and Eastleigh 3-1 at home in the last week. However, they have conceded the first goal in each of their last four matches and the unnerves me when it comes to backing them to win. Especially when they face a Barnet side that are fifth in the league, have scored the third most goals in the first 15 minutes of matches and have won all five home matches played against top eight sides this term.
Barnet have scored 68 league goals this season – only Wrexham and Notts County have scored more. Barnet have seen over 2.5 goals scored in 64% of their league matches, in 61% of their home matches and in nine of their last ten in the league. Notts County have seen over 2.5 goals scored in 71% of their league matches, 84% of their away matches and in nine of their last ten. Despite having the second-best defensive record, Notts have conceded in nine of their last ten games. There have been over 2.5 goals in seven of their nine away matches against top half sides and nine of their 12 matches overall against the top nine.
It should also be noted that Notts County are missing two of their first-choice back three with the third only in contention if he can overcome illness while Barnet are missing two of their first-choice defenders and playing youngster Finley Potter on the right-hand side of the defence despite being left-footed.
Gateshead v Torquay
There are a whopping 385 miles between Torquay United and Gateshead geographically but just one place and three points between them as they attempt to avoid the drop back to regionalised football.
Gateshead currently sit in 21st position on 33 points and Torquay United in 22nd on 30 points, albeit Gateshead have at least two games in hand on all the sides around them. It means this is a huge clash with the gap to safety four and seven points for both of these sides. Neither side are in particularly great form, the Heed securing an FA Trophy semi-final spot after a run of one win in six in the league while Torquay United’s mini revival has been followed by five defeats in six.
Despite their issues, both sides remain capable of scoring a goal, so I’m going to back the BTTS here. Gateshead have seen 71% of their league matches finish with both sides having scored, including seven of their 11 and 75% of their home matches. They have scored in nine of their last 12 and conceded in ten of their last 11. The Gulls, meanwhile, have seen both sides score in 61% of their league matches, including each of their nine – they have scored in their 11 league games. Both sides have scored in each of their last four away matches and five of their last six.
Southend v Aldershot
Southend United are having a pretty rough times of things at the minute, but there’s a reason for it and I’m backing them to get back on the winning trail this weekend.
The stats will tell you that Kevin Maher’s side have lost five of their last six. However, those five matches were all against top six opposition. And only Notts County and Wrexham created a better quality of chances over the 90 minutes in those matches. Remove their matches against the top seven, and their record reads 14 wins, five draws and four losses. Against sides 14th or lower, their record reads 12 wins, one draw and three losses. Their home record against sides 11th or lower reads nine wins, one draw and one loss, and the loss saw them have 34 shots at goal. They have won each of their last six league matches against none top seven opposition.
In short, Southend United are continuing to perform to the level they have been for much of this season, creating good opportunities, limiting the opposition and just lacking the little bit of quality they need to defeat the best sides in the division.
Aldershot Town aren’t that, and Southend have their first-choice goalkeeper, captain, chief creator and leading striker back in the side. The Shots have lost nine of their 18 away matches this season, eight of their 16 league games since Boxing Day and failed to win a single away match against a top ten side under Ross McNeilly. They have also seen further change to their attacking options, Morgan Roberts returning to Swindon Town and Tahvon Campbell suffering a hamstring tweak.
York City v Dorking
A selection based on the data, and I’m willing to back York City to pick up a huge three points in the battle for the drop because of it.
Michael Morton was appointed interim manager when Danny Webb was controversially appointed and the boyhood York City fan has had the chance to lead the side himself since Webb’s departure. While York have picked up seven points in Morton’s seven games to date, performances have improved, York creating 0.5xG more than they are conceding in their last six and not conceding more than ten shots in any of those games having conceded ten or more in the previous ten. They are conceding less than 1xG per game on average.
Dorking Wanderers come into this game a place and four points above the drop zone. They have conceded more goals than any other side in the division and have lost each of their last eight league matches away from home, eight of 13 losses on the road this term. The Wanderers have not scored more than once on the road since the 3-3 draw at Torquay United in early November and have conceded two or more in seven of those eight away losses. They are averaging less than 1xG in their last nine on the road and conceding just shy of 2xG per game.
Stoke City v Norwich City
My feeling is that Alex Neil has hit upon a magic formula at the moment with his Stoke side. I have watched them live three times recently and the team has practically been unchanged, and pretty dominant across most of those 270+ minutes.
The visit of Norwich is, of course, a tricky one. In terms of individual talent there are very few clubs that can boast the level that Norwich can. However, Stoke have got the team performing together and in they key area of midfield the balance looks so good right now.
Ben Pearson, Josh Laurent, and Will Smallbone are bringing the blend of competitiveness, athleticism, and on-ball quality that managers are always searching for. Laurent and Smallbone are given a bit more licence to affect things in the final third because of the cover that Pearson is able to give them and that is, in turn, helping Dwight Gayle get more much needed support. Jacob Brown is benefitting from being higher up the pitch and Tyrese Campbell is back to being a strong, pacey, technically gifted menace as well. They are a well-functioning unit and that is beginning to be demonstrated in the performance data as well.
Taking matches since the end of January as a sample, Stoke sit well inside the top 6 on expected points, and with the second-best expected goals difference over that 8-game period at +6.9xG. Compare this with Norwich, who sit 10th in that table, with a +2.8xG difference. Norwich are still doing ok but Stoke are hitting heights that they rarely have since their relegation in 2018.
Recent home form has been ok for Stoke. They have produced three really dominant home performances in their last five, against Reading, Huddersfield, and Blackburn. Against Hull and Millwall they were more circumspect in their approach, but the Potters demonstrated against Middlesbrough on Wednesday that they are happy to go toe-to-toe with the better sides and take them on with their confidence.
I think that if they do that against Norwich then they will win. Norwich have produced progressively worse away displays recently. The xG difference for their last four away matches reads +1.4 (vs Coventry), 0.0 (vs Bristol City), -0.3 (vs Wigan), and -0.8 (vs Millwall). Taking the draw out of the odds gives us a straight win/loss bet and if anyone is going to go and win this game I’d rather be on the home side.
Millwall v Huddersfield
Though I respect Millwall a lot and I am on their side in many matches, this bet is mainly one against Huddersfield.
The appointment of Neil Warnock was supposed to mean that Huddersfield were going to somehow rocket out of the relegation zone and their performance levels would improve. Taking the results and performances since Warnock was appointed on 13th February sees the Terriers have picked up a respectable 7 points from 6 matches, putting them 16th in the form table.
However, at the same time the data puts Huddersfield bottom of the league with just one expected point and the worst chance generation (3.5xG in 6 matches) and worst chances created against metric (10.8xGA in 6 matches) over that same period. For what it is worth Millwall rank 8th in results and 11th in performance data in those tables.
Warnock has never been a manager that data enthusiasts will massively get behind, and a part of me thinks that he will be very happy with that idea. Football is absolutely about results earned on the pitch, almost regardless of performance, especially in Huddersfield’s situation. One kept help but feel though that they have to find a way of creating more, better chances and conceding fewer, otherwise it makes it very difficult to get themselves out of this position.
Millwall are unlikely to give them those opportunities though. The club are hanging onto a playoff position at the moment and with the fixtures ahead they stand a real chance of retaining that position for at least the next couple of weeks. The consistency of results and performances this season suggests that they are deserving of a spot in the top six, but they have fallen away in most recent seasons.
They could barely wish for more accommodating guests as Huddersfield though. The Terriers haven’t scored a goal in four away games having lost all of them to nil. The dominance of the opponents in those matches has been strong as well with xG differences of -2.2, -2.4 and -1.0 in the last three. Huddersfield are barely creating anything on the road, and with Millwall’s famed competitiveness and defensive soliditiy at The Den, it looks a solid home win.
Sunderland v Luton
Sunderland continue to have to find alternative routes to goal with no real central forward to choose from. Joe Gelhardt and Abdullah Ba played in the central area in their last match but neither are forwards for them to build their attacks from them. It may well work fairly well in this match as Luton’s defenders may well prefer that physical battle, but the data suggests that Sunderland are finding it hard to find the net.
The Black Cats haven’t scored twice at home for four matches in a row, and they have been out xG battled in the last three. However, I wouldn’t be confident in predicting a Luton win here. Sunderland have continued to show enough in terms of on-ball quality and fighting spirit to make me think that it is still a difficult place to visit for away teams, and Luton away, though much improved, are a side that tend to keep the margins pretty tight on the road.
Recently they have been really resolute in defence and clinical going forwards. Consecutive 1-0 wins at Sheffield United and Birmingham have demonstrated that perfectly. They also continued a streak of, now, five matches in a row that have gone under 2.5 goals total. Whilst Sunderland haven’t been quite as reliable in this market, they have had three in a row under 2.5 until Stoke came along to put five past them recently.
Tony Mowbray will be keen to keep that Sunderland defence tight knowing their issues at the top of the pitch, meanwhile Rob Edwards has been really effective at keeping chances to a minimum too, so I think that all the ingredients are there for a tight encounter at the Stadium of Light.
Chelsea v Everton
A resurgent Chelsea will be looking to keep the ball rolling this weekend in a favourable fixture at Stamford Bridge. The home side have been in much more solid form in March after a disappointing run in the month of February.
Potter’s team are looking to extend their winning run having won their previous three on the bounce in all competitions. They won in emphatic fashion at the King Power Stadium last week, cruising to a 3-1 victory courtesy of goals from Chilwell, Havertz and Kovavic. The visitors claimed a huge win in a tight game at Goodison Park, edging out Brentford by a goal to nil.
Chelsea are finally starting to pick up some much more positive results following a barren spell earlier in the season. The team seem to be clicking and having advanced to the Champions League quarter finals this month, confidence in building at this moment in time. Now facing one of the relegation candidates in Everton, I’m expecting them to dominate from start to finish. Kai Havertz has impressed with some excellent performances in the last couple of games.
The German has notched two goals in his last two and is also on penalty duty if required. The forward could well prove to be a match winner once more, however there’s plenty of talent all over the field. Joao Felix is one of these men, the Portuguese star has some interesting underlying numbers. He’s racked up 0.5 and 0.4 xG by himself in the last two matches. All the signs are there for the forward to flourish and I see it as a matter of time before the goals and assists begin to flow.
It’s never easy to predict how they’ll set up but whoever is given the nod in this one, I believe Chelsea will have far too much in the tank to gain another much needed win. A final stat worth mentioning that it’s now four clean sheets in their last six for the Blues at home! Quite a sobering thought for the visitors as they’ve struggled for goals all season, especially on the road.
The Toffees arrive here on the back of an excellent win, although they are set to have their work cut out in this away game. Most worryingly they’ve only managed to score three goals in their last nine away fixtures. Within this period, they remain winless and have lost on six of the nine occasions too. This is more than evidence to give me strong belief that Chelsea will pounce.
The ever injured Dominic Calvert Lewin could return to the squad for this one but reports suggest he will miss out yet again. Dyche could be forced to play Demarai Gray as a lone striker with such limited personnel available in attack. It’s hard to forsee a sudden change in form as this dismal away run dates back to mid-October. At the other end of the pitch things look just as bleak, Everton have attained no clean sheets in their last six away games, conceding a whopping fourteen goals, averaging out at 2.33 GpG!
So, with all the above taken into account, I’m confident that Chelsea will come away with all three points in this one.
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