Rochdale v Stockport County
Bottom of the table Rochdale are in for a tough test against in-form Stockport County this Tuesday.
The Dale remain in 24th place in League Two and are six points from safety now as they stare down the barrel of relegation to the National League. They lost 2-0 at home to Gillingham over the weekend which has dented their survival hopes and their boss Jim Bentley said afterwards that it is a ‘difficult’ time for the club and things don’t look like they will be turning around for them anytime soon.
On the selection front, the North West outfit remain with midfielder Dan Adshead as he continues his recovery from a knee injury and his influence in the middle of the park is missed at the moment with current options Toumani Diagouraga and Jimmy Keohane struggling for form. Rochdale are struggling for results and are now winless in their last seven league outings. In addition, they have won just once in their last 15 as well as they face a real battle to stay up. Their confidence will be low at the moment as they head for another likely loss again this week against tough opponents.
Stockport are flying and are dreaming of automatic promotion now after beating 2nd place Stevenage 2-0 last time out at Edgeley Park courtesy of goals by midfielder Will Collar and full-back Ryan Rydel. They are now only four points behind 3rd place Carlisle United and would close that gap to one with a win away at Spotland. Their manager Dave Challinor was delighted with their latest victory and said it felt like a ‘significant’ result for his team as they look to keep their impressive run of form going.
Midfielder Antoni Sarcevic missed out again against Stevenage due to his injury woes but his teammates don’t really miss him as they have useful strength in depth in his position with players such as Collar, Callum Camps and Ryan Croasdale. Stockport have won their last four games on the spin now and are building really good momentum as they look to put pressure on the teams above them. They are also proving tough to beat now having lost just once in their previous eight clashes and are showing no signs of slowing down as they prepare to lock horns with the division’s bottom club.
Grimsby Town v Harrogate Town
Grimsby Town have back-to-back wins in their sights as they take on inconsistent Harrogate Town this week.
The Mariners picked up an impressive 2-1 away win at 4th Northampton Town over the weekend against the odds courtesy of goals by defenders Luke Waterfall and full-back Anthony Glennon. They were losing 1-0 up until the 74th minute before turning it around which shows their never-say-die attitude under Paul Hurst. He was understandably delighted with the result at Sixfields and said it was a ‘big victory’ as he hopes they can build on it now.
On the injury front, striker Ryan Taylor isn’t too far off returning from his hamstring problem but will face a battle to get back into the team ahead of Dan Orsi and John McAtee anyway. Grimsby are comfortably mid-table and will be pleased that they aren’t fighting against relegation in their first season back in the Football League after their promotion last term. They have picked up some eye-catching results in this campaign such as their latest win at Northampton, their triumph over Stockport County on New Year’s Day and their 3-0 FA Cup shock over Championship promotion hopefuls Luton Town which shows they are well capable of winning matches and they should have too much for their upcoming opponents.
Harrogate are nervously looking over their shoulder towards the bottom two following their 2-2 home draw with Crewe Alexandra last time out. They were winning 2-0 after goals by attackers Jack Muldoon and Kazeem Olaigbe and looked well on their way to a big three points before the Railwaymen fought back to draw 2-2 which sums up the season so far for the Sulphurites. Their boss Simon Weaver admitted he was ‘disappointed’ with the performance and he will be sweating over their survival chances as their results continue to stutter.
The Yorkshire club have no fresh injury concerns but their manager said after their clash against Crewe that some his players were ‘cramping up’ which suggests he may need to think about making some changes to his team as the fixtures come thick and fast. Harrogate aren’t in a good place at the moment and have won just once in 2023 in their opening eight matches this year. They are in a relegation dogfight having picked up just seven wins all season and the pressure will start to mount as they have another tricky opponent up next.
Hartlepool United v Newport County
Hartlepool United take on Newport County this Tuesday and the pair both need a result.
The Pool continue their fight for survival and have been scoring goals over recent weeks. They drew 2-2 away at AFC Wimbledon with in-form winger Dan Kemp scoring both goals and they remain a point above the drop zone. Speaking after that draw, boss Keith Curle said it was a ‘big’ result for his side and he will be looking to see his players build on that this week.
The North East outfit received a boost on the injury front last time out with experienced defender Peter Hartley making his return to the side and he offers something different to other options at the back such as Edon Pruti and Taylor Foran. Hartlepool have been defensively poor all season and all clubs that play against them will fancy their chances of scoring at least once based on the fact they have the leakiest backline in the division having leaked a whopping 58 goals in 32 outings.
However, at the other end of the pitch, they have found the net more time than their rivals at the bottom like Rochdale, Crawley Town and Gillingham which is encouraging for Curle. They have also delved into the free agent market to land former Coventry City and Sheffield United striker Leon Clarke and he will be eyeing his first goal.
Newport find themselves down in 19th place in the table and need to start picking up some more points to avoid getting sucked into any trouble. Like Hartlepool, they don’t have too much of an issue finding the net and have scored in each of their last four games. They drew 1-1 away at Walsall over the weekend with defender Cameron Norman bagging against his former club and their head coach Graham Coughlan said his players ‘didn’t perform well’ so he will be looking for a response from them at the Suit Direct Stadium.
On the selection front, defender Declan Drysdale remains sidelined with James Clarke, Priestley Farquharson and Mickey Demetriou expected to be the defensive three again. Newport aren’t in bad form at all and are unbeaten in their last four. In addition, they are proving a tough nut to crack having lost just once in their last nine outings and that was against 3rd place Carlisle United away in January. They are still vulnerable to conceding goals though which is reflected by their low league position and they are a team that Hartlepool will be confident of getting something against on their own patch as they look to avoid slipping into non-league.
Barnet v Altrincham
I’m backing Barnet vs Altrincham to be one of the entertaining games of the midweek slate.
Barnet come into this game having lost back-to-back matches for the first time since the opening day of October and means they lost as many games last week as they had for four and a half months in the league. It’s not undeserved, considering they’ve conceded 51 shots in their last three matches and a combined 6.32xG. They are being punished in a way they haven’t previously and a lot of that is down to a lack of defensive options. Starters Ben Wynter, Danny Collinge and Dominic Revan are injured. Sam Beard was withdrawn at half-time on Saturday. Their back three here will comprise of an 18-year-old making his second professional appearance, a 33-year-old, a 34-year-old and attack-minded wingers at wing-back. They remain ruthless in attack, scoring in their last 13 matches.
Altrincham have been forced into making a number of attacking changes recently (five departed, nine signed) but the spine of their team remains intact, allowing them to continue playing their open, expressive football. Their new attack has started the last four games together in all competitions, scoring in all four and seeing off high-flying Woking 3-1 for a rare victory over top half opposition. They are a side that like to attack with width, which will stretch an under-strength Barnet defence. Alty are culpable to conceding goals, however, not keeping a clean sheet in 16, unhelped by a weakness defending set-pieces. Altrincham create and concede very good chances regularly – the average xG per shot is at 0.16 in their last four matches for and against, comfortably higher than the highest average of 0.142 for both in the division.
Barnet have seen BTTS – Yes in seven of their last nine matches and Altrincham the same in 11 of their last 13.
Chesterfield v Wealdstone
I’m backing Chesterfield to get back to winning ways when they welcome Wealdstone in midweek.
It’s been a tough month for Paul Cook and his team. They come into this game winless in six and having also been knocked out of the FA Cup by Championship West Bromwich Albion. However, their four league defeats came against Barnet, Boreham Wood, Woking and Notts County, all in the top seven at the time of their fixtures. They were very good against Notts County and deserved more from draws against Aldershot Town and Solihull Moors. There has been consistency in selection and it’s clear that the side are playing from a stronger defensive structure and are just waiting for the goals to flow again.
Wealdstone provide good opportunity for Chesterfield to find their mojo again. The Stones do come into this fixture in decent form, losing two of their last eight. They have also lost just six of their 15 away matches. However, the Stones aren’t performing exceptionally at present. They are conceding half a goal more than they are creating over their last eight matches. They also have long-standing issues of picking up away results at top half opposition, losing five of their six away matches against such opposition this season and nine of 11 last season. They have drawn the other three.
Dagenham & Redbridge v Aldershot Town
I’m backing Aldershot Town to pile more misery on Daryl McMahon and Dagenham and Redbridge when the pair meet on Tuesday evening.
Daryl McMahon is down on his luck at present, trying everything to get his players firing again. He questioned the character of his players after defeat against Eastleigh, their fourth in five league matches. After defeat against lowly Scunthorpe United at the weekend, he claimed his “squad is weaker than it was”. He referenced the departures of Paul McCallum and Josh Walker, injuries to Josh Hare and Myles Weston and relying on George Saunders and Angelo Balanta, who would benefit from loans after long-term injuries. They have lost their last four and five of their last six at home as calls for his departure grow louder again.
There are no such bad feelings at Aldershot Town, whose fans were impressed by their team’s performance despite a 4-3 loss at Wrexham on Saturday. They come into this game having lost two of their last eight and they are firmly a mid-table side since McNeilly took the reins. The fact they have continued to perform despite losing leading striker Inih Effiong, who is yet to be directly replaced, is even more impressive. They have plenty of options available on the bench and McNeilly has shown himself to be tactically flexible, making in-game changes that have turned games in his side’s favour, as shown in the game at the weekend. The Daggers lack the options at present to counter such changes, making life difficult for an already out-of-sorts outfit.
Halifax Town v Solihull Moors
A game in which I can see both sides going for a defence-approach first as they try and pull themselves out of difficult periods.
Chris Millington is under fire again from supporters having seen a run of two defeats in 11 be followed by six defeats in nine. The return to three-at-the-back a more defensive approach hasn’t gone down well, especially when they have failed to score more than one goal in a game in their last seven. Albeit, they have conceded more than one goal just twice in their last seven.
Solihull Moors have drawn their last two, spelling the end of a run of ten defeats in 13 matches that saw them drop from 4th to 12th. Neal Ardley admitted he was delighted with a clean sheet on Saturday having focused on defensive structure again. That has paid off considering the three goals they have conceded in the last week were two worldies and a set-piece. Jevon Mills has two games under his belt, Alex Gudger played 30 minutes on Saturday, full-backs Ethan Vaughan and Ben Coker should return here and defensive midfielder Tom Whelan will return to the side, providing more defensive balance and cover.
Halifax have seen 68% of their league matches and 57% of their home matches finish with under 2.5 goals while Solihull Moors have seen 50% of their away matches finish with two or less goals.
Norwich v Birmingham
Whilst we all know that the EFL Championship is a league where anything can happen and things change really quickly I am still surprised by how quickly my opinion of Birmingham has changed.
After watching them win the Derby against West Brom and the way that Blues attacked the game with verve, energy, and purpose I was ready to upgrade them as a team. However, John Eustace’s men have been unable to demonstrate that the performance that day was a repeatable trick. Indeed, it seems as though that West Brom performance may actually be a high watermark for them to reach on a regular basis.
Norwich have hardly been setting the world alight recently either. The new manager bounce that David Wagner initially brought seems to have slowly deflated and a pretty tepid display at Wigan at the weekend means it is one win in four.
However, there are reasons to like the goal chances in this match. The Canaries were superb in their last home game against a good Hull City side. That day Norwich went behind early but changed gears and dominated the match, firing in 21 shots and creating 1.79xG to Hull’s 0.3 and scoring 3 goals in the process.
Wagner has generally used a more forward looking lineup than Dean Smith did and Gabriel Sara probably put in his best performance since arriving in the summer in a cental midfield position. If he and Kenny McLean can get on the ball then they can dictate the play at Carrow Road.
The strongest evidence for this bet though comes in the form of Birmingham’s recent away matches. In the defeat to Bristol City and the win at Swansea 4.4xG total was generated in both matches. Whilst that figure wasn’t hit last time out at Huddersfield (2.89xG) all three matches went over 2.5 goals and deservedly so.
Birmingham have found it tough to keep chances out of late but certainly do add some attacking impetus into these matches themselves. Norwich have flaws to pick at currently so they are by no means certain to keep a clean sheet but they can bang in some high scoring when they get the chance.
Blackburn v Blackpool
A Lancashire Derby with a lot riding on it for both sides. This means that matches like this often devolve into quite tight encounters and with Mick McCarthy in the dugout for Blackpool I suspect that he will think that it is in the best interests of his team to keep this one low-margin. Not that Jon Dahl Tomasson often looks to keep matches open either.
Rovers are almost the archetype of a low-margin strategy at the moment. Defensively they have been really solid, despite regular changes to the defenders due to injury. The use of two deep central midfielders helps that central area of the pitch remain fairly inpenetrable, the sacrifice for this is obviously felt higher up the pitch though with only 3 or 4 players in the team committed to the attack. As a result Blackburn haven’t had a match go over 2.5 goals in the Championship since their humbling at Rotherham six games ago.
Blackpool themselves have only scored more than once on a single occasion over a 15-match period in the league. McCarthy will be concentrating on keeping a good shape and playing directly to get into the opposition’s territory. With Daniel Ayala back fit for Rivers alongside Dom Hyam and/or Hayden Carter, Rovers are equipped to deal with that side of the game too.
It can often come down to the goalscorers on the pitch. If Rovers don’t get a goal out of Ben Brereton Diaz, who has been quite poor for a few weeks now, then it is a tough ask to get the ball in the net. Blackpool’s top scorer is Jerry Yates who hasn’t scored a league goal since October.
Barring an early goal being scored and opening the game up, this has all the hallmarks of a low-scoring game.
AFC Fylde v Hereford
Fylde head into this fixture after a successful away win at the weekend and looking as though they have a strong grip on the league table.
They now sit a point clear of Brackley with three games in hand on them and one game in hand over King’s Lynn who sit three points behind them. The league is far from over, although spirits are certainly high. Mo Faal got himself a late brace at the weekend which knocks his goal tally this season up to 9 – second best in their side behind one of the most prolific players in the league Nick Haughton. The home side are now unbeaten in 10 although still can’t really afford to drop points if they want to maintain their top spot. A loss would mean that once the games even out, the Linnets may overtake them on goal difference – meaning every point matters.
Adding to this, Hereford lost to Curzon Ashton side at the weekend and haven’t scored a goal in their last two league games. They’ve also gained 4 points from their last 6 games, momentum is not exactly running high. An issue for Hereford recently has been their intensity of play. Whilst they aren’t expected to perform like Barcelona at this level, they’ll certainly struggle to keep up with the tempo that Fylde have been showing in recent weeks. I expect Hereford to sit back and attempt to win something on the break – however due to the sheer quality of the home side I doubt they’ll be able to make this work.
Liverpool v Real Madrid
We have a repeat of last year’s Champions League final in the last 16, as Liverpool and Real Madrid do battle once again. For Jurgen Klopp, this is a meeting with his European kryptonite, as three of his past seven Champions League eliminations have been against the Spanish giants. And, it’s going to be really tough for the current Liverpool squad to overcome Real Madrid this time, but a major reason for that is that the second leg is in the Bernabéu. When Real Madrid won it all last season, they had the second leg at home all the way through and pulled off one remarkable comeback after another. In the first legs on the road, though, they didn’t play well and lost to PSG and Manchester City, only beating Chelsea away.
In fact, Real Madrid have won just six of their past 12 away games in the Champions League, and that’s including group stages. If looking just at knockout matches, it’s just three wins out of eight away Champions League knockout games since they completed their threepeat in 2018, with these coming against Ajax, Atalanta and Chelsea.
With last year’s key men Thibaut Courtois and Karim Benzema just back from injuries and not in their best form, there is an opportunity here for Liverpool to at least win Tuesday night’s first leg at Anfield, especially if Darwin Núñez can recover in time. The second leg at the Bernabéu will be like climbing Everest, but Liverpool can absolutely get a result at home.
Eintracht Frankfurt v Napoli
Eintracht Frankfurt’s last four games across all competitions have finished with Over 2.5 Goals, and they like to score at home too. Glasner’s side have scored two or more goals in seven of their last eight home games, but have kept three clean sheets in their last four at home. But even in a Champions League group that contained Tottenham Hotspur, Sporting CP and Marseille, Eintracht wouldn’t have faced an attack like Napoli’s. Expect Osimhen and Kvaratskhelia to cause problems for Eintracht’s back-three, but for Eintracht’s defence to remain resilient.
Napoli average 9 Chances Created Per 90 across all competitions this season and are also outscoring their xG (2.4) by 0.2. Clinical in the final third, Evan Ndicka and Co. will have to find a way to combat the threat of Osimhen, whilst Ansgar Knauff, one of Eintracht’s quickest players, may be called upon to deal with Kvaratskhelia, who excels at coming off the left-flank. The abolishment of the away goals rule means that both teams are likely to play expansive football rather than conservative, despite first-leg ties being relatively low scoring. SGE will want to take advantage of their support.
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