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In the third weekend of Championship action, Hull City, Birmingham City, Preston North End and Stoke City all bolstered their chances of building on mid table seasons the year before with impressive victories, while Neil Warnock’s Huddersfield Town earnt a valuable point at Middlesbrough.
EFL pundit Gab Sutton talks us through all the action and picks out some bets for next week’s card, one as big as 5/1.
Hull City: Late show from Connolly for Tigers
There was a lot of positivity around Hull going into the season, even though they finished a modest 15th last season. It was top-ten form after Liam Rosenior came home to the club he had family connections with to become Head Coach in October, overseeing just six defeats in 28 – and a lot of draws without a centre forward.
The Tigers hope, therefore, that if they can keep the solidity in defence and midfield, it’ll only take a couple of star additions in attack that to elevate them into the play-off conversation this season. It’s early days, but the signs are positive: since the opening day 2-1 loss at Norwich City, Hull have secured back-to-back league wins over Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers, coming from behind to beat both.
At Ewood Park, Liam Rosenior’s side were 4.0 outsiders, but they benefited from an early red card to left back Harry Pickering for the hosts, fell behind to Sam Gallagher’s effort, but two late strikes from Aaron Connolly turned the game. His first was an acrobatic scissor-kick, his second, a smart finish one-on-one after a ball over the top to give Hull back-to-back league wins for the first time since February – their season is very much up-and-running.
City are as big as 6.0 for a top six finish, and the way they’ve looked since Rosenior took charge, that might not be a bad pick – especially with Scott Twine joining last week and another talented wide forward, Jaden Philogene, linked with a move from Aston Villa.
Preston North End: Lilywhites press-on at Hillsborough
North End’s strong start to the season continued at Sheffield Wednesday, where Ryan Lowe’s side won 1-0 thanks to Liam Lindsay’s bullet header. It was a rock-solid performance from the Lilywhites, as Lindsay excelled in the middle of an imperious back-three, flanked by Jordan Storey and Andrew Hughes as the trio settled nicely to help them to the victory, they were 2.90 for before the game. Alan Browne and Ryan Ledson were workmanlike in midfield for PNE, while wing backs Brad Potts and Kian Best impressed – especially the latter.
Best, at 17, wasn’t expecting to play much part in North End’s season, but Robbie Brady is injured, Greg Cunningham spent the start of the season on the sidelines too, while Lowe hasn’t been able to bring in a left wing back on loan to replace Manchester United’s Alvaro Fernandez, who starred last season. Circumstances have opened an opportunity for Best, one he’s grabbed with both hands: the academy graduate has carried a real threat from set pieces, he’s been strong in one-on-one defending and has a delightful first touch.
Elsewhere, balletic attacking midfielder Mads Frøkjær-Jensen looks an inspired acquisition from Odense, bringing class and swagger to the forward play for a North End side 2.60 for a home win against Swansea City next.
Birmingham City: Eustace’s Blues flying
There’s a feel-good factor around Birmingham after last weekend’s victory over Leeds, and that continued at Ashton Gate with a 2-0 victory for the pre-match 3.30 outsiders. The back four of Ethan Laird, Dion Sanderson, Kevin Long and Lee Buchanan picked up from the solidity they established in the clean sheet in the first home game and repeated the feat here, although Laird was forced off late in the first half to prompt a tactical re-think.
John Eustace will want defensive reinforcements this week, after having to move midfielder Juninho Bacuna out of position to right-back last time out due to having no other defenders available – even if he had a centre-back on the bench, he could have shuffled Sanderson across in a more natural solution.
The fact Blues remained solid in the second half, even with a slightly makeshift rearguard and two injuries before the break – Siriki Dembele had to be replaced by Jordan James – speaks volumes for the spirit and togetherness of this group, while first half substitute Koji Miyoshi grabbed his first goal for the club, before target man Lukas Jutkiewicz settled it late on. With new ownership bringing fresh hope to B9, Blues will feel they can progress from last season – and they’re 5.50 for a top six finish.
Stoke City: Potters rejig pays off against Watford
Alex Neil’s default formation is 4-2-3-1, and that had worked well in the opening day 4-1 mauling of Rotherham United, though the showing at Ipswich Town on week two was more disappointing. The Scot showed his adaptability this week, though, for the visit of Watford, switching to a 3-5-2 to accommodate the opposition’s narrow front-three, and the result was a 1-0 win, having been 2.27 for victory pre-match.
The plan was for Luke McNally and Ben Wilmot to take care of Matheus Martins and Ken Sema on the Hornets’ left and right respectively, with Michael Rose marking Vakoun Bayo in the middle of the back-three, with the trio supported by wing backs Ki-Jana Hoever and Enda Stevens.
The switch worked a treat, as the Potters nullified their hosts and reduced them to few chances, meaning it only took a moment of quality from André Vidigal for all three points – for £420K, the wide forward looks a fine capture from Marítimo, identified superbly by new Head of Recruitment Jared Dublin. The biggest strength for Stoke, in comparison with last season, is the strength in depth: for example, Ben Pearson was not long ago considered one of the top midfielders in the Championship – and Neil has the luxury of bringing him off the bench. With that sort of quality in reserve, the Staffordshire outfit will feel they can make huge strides from last season’s 16th-placed finish – in fact, they’re 3.30 to crack the top six.
Huddersfield Town: Warnock earns a point on old stomping ground
Neil Warnock felt he was short-changed at Middlesbrough, keeping them up in 2019-20 before steering them to a 10th-place finish the following season, and sacked in November 2021 with the team four points off the play-offs. On the other hand, Boro had been unconvincing in victory under him that season, his long ball style was arguably limiting the more technical players in the squad, while his relationship with Head of Football Kieran Scott was strained at best. Whichever side you lie on, there was perhaps a particular determination from Warnock not to leave The Riverside Stadium defeated, and instead he leaves with his head held high after a 1-1 draw.
It had been a tough start to the season for the Terriers with back-to-back defeats to Plymouth Argyle and Leicester City, though the performance against the latter was highly competitive, and attacking midfielder Brahima Diarra impressed in both games. Nonetheless, a third straight defeat would have been hard to stomach and Town avoided that, leading through a Dael Fry own goal in a strong start to the second half, even if Hayden Hackney’s leveller denied them all three.
It’s a point on the board for Warnock – but it doesn’t get any easier with in-form Norwich City coming to West Yorkshire next week, and his side are 3.20 to dig out another point in that one.
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