Ipswich vs Morecambe | Saturday 7th August 2021, 15:00
Two new-look sides meet on the opening weekend in League One and both have very different objectives to the season ahead.
Ipswich were taken over at the back end of last season and Paul Cook was put in charge. There were some fans who believe that the new manager bounce would see Town gatecrash the play-offs, but a return of W5-D9-L7, scoring just 16 and conceding 25, meant that the Tractor Boys finished ninth.
Cook was quick to throw the players under the bus and told the majority they would never play for the club again – he has kept his word with over 20 players either released or sold. The rebuild over the summer has been impressive with big-money paid for the likes of Conor Chaplin – who played 34 Championship games for play-off semi-finalist Barnsley last season – George Edmundson from Rangers and Scott Fraser from MK Dons.
Ipswich have also added quality in terms of Lee Evans, Rakeem Harper from WBA, Vaclav Hladky – who kept 22 clean sheets for Salford last season – Joe Pigott banged in 20 goals for struggling Wimbledon last season, and Macauley Bonne from QPR.
This team will take time to gel as the pre-season friendlies have shown, but expectations are high at Portman Road and the club is expecting 20,000 fanS back inside the stadium for the game. Cook knows that he can’t afford an opening day defeat and will have his side well organised, and up for the game. Anything less than a top-six finish will be seen as a failure by the new money men.
Always perceived a relegation fodder in League Two, but a wonderful season overseen by manager Derek Adams saw Morecambe win the play-offs and promotion. However, Adams has departed for Bradford and key players Yann Songo’o, Carlos Mendes Gomes, John O’Sullivan and Knight-Percival have since left – that’s 26 goals, 13 assists and almost 150 appearances.
On top of these key players leaving, the club a number of fringe first team players have also been released, it’s now a huge turnover of playing staff.
New manager Stephen Robinson has taken the role after resigning from Motherwell last year and he has set about trying to add to the squad, but they are shopping in a very different store to Ipswich. They have signed Ryan Cooney after an impressive loan move. In midfield I like the signings of Shane McLoughlin, Alfie McCalmont, Adam Phillips and Jake McPake, who was very impressive at Harrogate last season.
My concern for Morecambe is, they will struggle to score goals with Cole Stockton notching only 13 last term and being their only real threat.
Ipswich have been a little slow off the mark in pre-season so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Morecambe found their way onto the scoresheet, but Town will have too much quality for them going forward. Morecambe conceded in 18 of their 23 away games last season, whilst the top half sides found the net twice or more in seven of the 12 games, as well as conceding more shots and goals than relegated Southend on the road.
I don’t believe the Morecambe backline has improved so I can see Ipswich finding the net at least twice here. Ipswich to win and Over 1.5 Goals is 1/1 at Betfair and that looks the best angle of attack.
Rotherham vs Plymouth | Saturday 7th August 2021, 15:00
Rotherham take on Plymouth as the hosts look to bounce back to the Championship at the first time of asking. The Millers last third-tier stay was cut short due to COVID, but finished second on points per-game with 1.77 and a record of W18-D8-L9.
In the Championship, I think United were a little unlucky to be relegated. They had a bad time with COVID, which meant they had a fixture pile-up at the end of the season and had to play 13 games in 36 days, which is a game just over every three days. This was a little unfair and incredibly tough on Rotherham, especially considering the mental fatigue they would have suffered given the importance of their final few games.
Whilst its not surprising to see their record was poor against the top half given their budget was completely dwarfed by the big boys in the Championship, the Millers held their own in the bottom half with a record of W9-D7-L8. Over the course of the season on Expected Points (xP), Rotherham should have finished around 16th – so well away from the bottom three.
United underachieved from a Expected Goals (xG) view point. They had chances to score 59.63 goals, which is a greater output than Reading, Swansea and Milwall, but only scored 44. Back at a lower level they should find goals a little easier to come by.
Losing Matt Crooks to Middlesbrough is a blow, but whilst not a direct replacement, they have moved to sign Hakeem Odoffin from Hamilton, who was well sought after given his impressive performances in the Scottish Premiership. The most positive news for Millers fans is that they have kept the majority of the squad together and Paul Warne is staying on to give promotion another crack.
Plymouth struggled at the back end of last season finishing just six points outside the bottom three with a run of W3-D2-L12. Away from Home Park they went W3-D7-L13, scoring an average of 0.96 whilst conceding 1.78 per-game, with only relegated Bristol Rovers collecting fewer away points. The meek tally of three away clean sheets was only beaten by relegated Swindon and they failed to score in nine of their 23 away games.
All-in-all, it was a miserable for Argyle fans when their side played away from home. I actually think Plymouth will get relegated this season. Only Swindon had a higher xGA than the Pilgrims in 2020/21 and therefore it will be no surprise to see they conceded more shots and shots on-target than any other team.
Luke Jephcott scored 16 last season, but these all came before mid-February. The striker’s downturn in-form coincided with a very poor run for the team and once he stopped scoring, Plymouth won just three more games. If Jephcott doesn’t score, then they will be relying on Niall Ennis and Ryan Hardie, and I don’t think either have enough quality.
Defensively, I am not convinced by Argyle's signings and I think Rotherham will have too much quality for them. Any side that struggles to score and look likely to concede is never going to go well – I thought Rotherham would be shorter than they are and happy to take them at 43/50 with Novibet to win on Saturday.
Scunthorpe vs Swindon | Saturday 7th August 2021, 15:00
Onto League Two where two sides I fancy to battle it out for survival meet on Saturday. Scunthorpe host Swindon in a game I think will probably involve one, if not both, sides that end up playing non-league football next season.
The Swindon takeover has at long last gone through and Clem Morfuni is now in control, but that’s where the good news ends for fans. The appointment of Ben Garner is very strange given his time at Bristol Rovers, where he won just six of his 33 games in charge, losing 19.
In total 16 players have left the club leaving a small squad of just 15 first-team players with a rush now on to add bodies. Of the 15, two are goalkeepers, whilst Ben Gladwin looks likely to miss out with injury.
Swindon played their last pre-season friendly last weekend and had a number of triallists in their starting XI, which isn’t ideal with the season so close, especially when the players who will take the field on Saturday will probably not have had much, if any time playing together.
Due to the transfer embargo at the club, they are restricted to loans or one-year deals, although the club are hopeful this should be resolved before the season starts. Tyreece Simpson has joined on-loan from Ipswich, but he has very little experience and Kaine Kesler has arrived from Aston Villa, but again has very little first-team football. The squad looks small, weak and lacks quality, especially up top.
Town were relegated to League Two with just five away wins all season, losing 15 of their 23 games, keeping just two clean sheets on their travels. Whilst this is a drop down in standard, their squad is weaker now.
Scunthorpe will also struggle and have also seen a huge number of the squad leave with manager Neil Cox releasing 17, which means that they, like Swindon, will be looking to bring together a new-look squad as soon as possible. However, they have had longer to do so than Swindon with signings being made early in the summer, which has allowed Cox to spend time with his squad on the training ground and in friendlies.
Despite the players leaving, Scunny have a squad that has depth and one or two players that should give them some quality. Harry Davies and Alex Kenyon arrive from Morecambe, whilst Harry Bunn from York, could be a great signing.
The Iron did well to stay up last year with their form from late February onwards shockingly bad with a record of W2-D7-L10 and the failed to score in their last five matches, so there is more pressure on Ryan Loft and Aaron Jarvis to find the net on a more regularly basis.
Lets not get carried away, this is a game between two very poor sides, but the hosts must see this as the best time to play Swindon and even three points at this stage of the season against a relegation rival will be seen as a huge plus for the hosts.
Interestingly, the bookies still see Swindon as favourites despite their very small, inexperience squad with a lack of cutting edge. So I am happy to jump on board Scunthorpe at +0.25 Asian Handicap, which means that the only way for us to lose money is for Swindon to win the game. We will make profit if the game ends in a draw or the hosts win.