Bristol City vs Sheffield Wednesday | Sunday 27th September 2020, 13:00
Bristol City suffered their first defeat of the season on Thursday night as the Robins exited the EFL Cup with a convincing 3-0 home defeat against Aston Villa. City supremo Dean Holden made eight changes for the third round encounter, preferring to look to the long-term as the Ashton Gate outfit set a top-six Championship finish in their sights.
Bristol City are one of only three sides – Reading and Luton being the others – to win their opening two second-tier fixtures and last Sunday’s 2-0 success at Stoke was a real eye-catcher. Holden’s charges denied the Potters a single attempt on-target at the Bet365 Stadium, and won the Expected Goals (xG) battle comfortably 1.95 to just 0.40.
The Robins might be missing up to seven players through injury, including the likes of Tomas Kalas, Jay Dasilva and Nathan Baker, but were still able to field a strong XI in Staffordshire. Most pleasing for Holden though was City’s performance at Stoke, described as an up-and-at-'em front foot display, akin to the style and approach the new boss is demanding.
Bristol City have set-up in a 3-5-2 system thus far with Chris Martin leading the line alongside the clinical Nakhi Wells with Andi Weimann thriving in a deeper role alongside the tireless Jamie Paterson. Tyreeq Bakinson has earned rave reviews in holding midfield with new addition Alfie Mawson slotting straight in at centre-half and even taking the captaincy.
Despite the positivity surrounding City’s start, it’s strange to see the Robins dismissed as 7/4 (SkyBet) shots for Sunday’s showdown with Sheffield Wednesday. Sure, Bristol City’s performance data was poor throughout 2019/20 and their home record was bang-average at best, but making this match-up an almost pick ‘em at the prices? That’s not for me.
Wednesday have begun their battle to overturn their -12 point deficit with a creditable four-point haul at Cardiff (2-0) and at home to Watford (0-0). The Owls took advantage of a desperately impotent display from the Bluebirds on the opening weekend before playing out a dour goalless draw at Hillsborough with goalmouth action at a premium in both.
Garry Monk’s men are using the same 3-5-2 formation and are looking hungry out of possession, relentlessly pressing and hunting in packs. Watford didn’t look at the races last weekend but Wednesday lacked the quality to break them down. It’s that lack of cutting edge that requires work with the manager admitting his team are still short up top.
The visitors will look for a precious point here, aiming to contain and counter where possible, and build on their promising early efforts. However, I’m happy to oppose the visitors considering the Owls were beaten in seven of 11 trips to the top-11 last term, whilst Bristol City bagged W8-D3-L3 when entertaining teams in 10th and below at Ashton Gate.
I’m surprised we can get 10/11 (SkyBet) on the hosts in the Draw No Bet market and that’s a price that’s just too big to turn down compared to my ratings.
Doncaster vs Bristol Rovers | Saturday 26th September 2020, 15:00
Bristol Rovers slipped to their first defeat of the season last Saturday, with Ipswich running out 2-0 winners at the Memorial Stadium. The deadlock was broken in the 80th minute when Gas skipper Max Ehmer headed into his own net, and a defensive slip in the final minute of normal time allowed Town to snatch a decisive second.
The Pirates were ineffective in attack, but held the visitors to a minimum of clear chances until late errors proved costly. And under-pressure boss Ben Garner told the press he’s asked his Rovers outfit to play with more “freedom” as they bid to arrest and alarming run of results that’s seen the Gas return just two triumphs in 18 league outings since December.
Garner hopes he’s found the answer to his need for extra midfield depth with the arrival of Luke McCormick on a season-long loan from Chelsea, whilst Brandon Hanlon is still trying to get up to speed as Rovers look to solve the void created by Jonson Clarke-Harris' big money summer departure. However, it’s Rovers’ lack of creativity that has caused most angst.
Exclude Luke Leahy’s penalty at Sunderland on the opening day and the Gas have generated just 0.59 Expected Goals (xG) across 180 minutes of League One action in 2020/21. Flair players, crucial to Garner’s game-plan, have yet to flourish and there’s been a distinct lack of dynamism required to allow the side to fully function in their preferred 3-4-2-1 system.
That should be music to Doncaster’s ears ahead of Saturday’s clash at the Keepmoat Stadium. Rovers secured a brilliant 3-1 triumph against Charlton last time out as Madger Gomes continued his hot scoring run whilst the exciting Tyreece John-Jules grabbed a stunning first goal for the club since joining on-loan from Arsenal.
Boss Darren Moore was delighted with his team’s display in the capital as Donny produced a vibrant, aggressive, attacking and rock solid performance that could even have seen the visitors clinch victory by a wider margin. Flying full-backs Brad Halliday and Reece James received glowing praise for their efforts, as did Joe Wright and Tom Anderson defensively, whilst Taylor Richards' impact as a #10 is hard to ignore.
If Rovers can reach anywhere close to the standards Moore has set over the past 12 months, I’d expect Doncaster to deliver a winning performance against Bristol Rovers, and even-money (Bet365) on the hosts with a -0.50 Asian Handicap can’t be ignored.
Donny boast a 50% win rate as hosts under Moore, collecting W5-D3-L0 when welcoming clubs in 14th and below. In contrast, the Gas are winless on their travels under Garner and lost seven of nine trips to League One teams above them in the table last term, firing blanks on seven occasions.
Port Vale vs Harrogate | Saturday 26th September 2020, 15:00
When the EFL was suspended in March, Port Vale were sitting a solitary point and place outside of the League Two. Nevertheless, the Valiants were one of the selfless clubs who voted to prematurely end the campaign. The core of Vale’s squad remains in situ and manager John Askey has given the group overdue stability, continuity and consistency.
But there’s much more in the Burslem boys favour. A trusted cat between the sticks, a rock-solid back four in front and an all-action midfield make Port Vale mighty tough to play against. There’s a sprinkling of star quality from the flanks in David Worrall and exciting new signing Devante Rodney, whilst prolific poacher Mark Cullen is fit and firing up top.
Marginal gains is a phrase favoured by Askey and if the Valiants can continue fine-tuning, their upward trajectory should see the Staffordshire side threaten the promotion places. After all, Vale suffered only two defeats in 2020 and endured a sole home reverse in the curtailed campaign, making the 21/20 (Gentingbet) here on Saturday an appealing play.
The hosts have deservedly dispatched both Crawley (2-0) and Exeter (2-0) thus far, creating plenty of goalscoring opportunities and limiting the damage also. However, it’s been the squad’s ferocious work rate and attitude that’s stood-out most, particularly on the trip to Devon last time out with the Valiants dominating the midfield battle.
Visitors Harrogate head to the Potteries having banked four points from their first two games in the EFL. Long-term manager Simon Weaver was disappointed to be denied back-to-back League Two victories by a late Walsall goal last weekend (2-2) with Town running out of steam in the final-third following midweek exertions in the EFL Cup with West Brom.
The Sulphurites were good value for their half-time lead against the Saddlers but struggled to get out of their own half after the interval. Weaver insists that lessons must be learned and adaptations made but the Harrogate chief surprisingly opted to field a first-choice XI for the team’s midweek FA Trophy tie against Notts County, possibly depleting energy reserves.
I expect a well-rested and well-fancied Port Vale to be too strong on Saturday and I’m delighted to get the hosts onside at odds-against.