Football League: Boro can bounce back at Bolton


EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his thoughts on Tuesday night's best Football League fancies.

Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest | Tuesday 9th April 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports

Steve Bruce has had a roundly positive impact at Sheffield Wednesday; just his first defeat in 12 games in charge came in Saturday’s home loss to former club Aston Villa.

The 3-1 scoreline certainly did not reflect the balance of play, because for three-quarters of the contest, Barry Bannan and Sam Hutchinson were running the show with the likes of Steven Fletcher and Adam Reach coming close.

The Owls boss was criticised while at Villa for direct, handbrake-on methods.

While his current side are direct – early balls into Steven Fletcher have been the common approach – they play off the Scot with enough quality and intent to conclusively dodge the long ball tag.

Bannan remains a canny operator at this level and has benefited from a more advanced role.

Reach also offers technical quality with his runs in from wide areas, George Boyd is a selfless runner while poacher Gary Hooper’s goal six-minutes into his return from injury is a huge plus.

Wednesday have been largely solid defensively, too. Keiren Westwood offers the kind of leadership and political influence rarely associated with strong shot-stopper Cameron Dawson, centre-back Michael Hector has imposed his physicality superbly of late – and while stalwarts Tom Lees and Liam Palmer cannot go on forever, they can do a job for now in a steady setup.

Opponents Nottingham Forest’s recent 2-1 victory over Swansea epitomises Martin O’Neill’s reign as manager to date. For much of that game, Forest allowed their opponents to dominate centrally and rarely posed a threat themselves, looking nearly doomed when they fell behind late on.

Instead, going behind gave them the licence to throw caution to the wind and win set pieces, which is clearly their main strong point: Daryl Murphy and Molla Wague won the contest with their late headers.

Over the four games that preceded their last, Forest have posted an Expected Goals total of 0.91 xGF, with only Rotherham ranking lower in that metric, yet scored as many as seven.

Of course, being a threat from dead ball scenarios is a strong suit, but those situations are only a reward for doing good things in open play and one wonders whether the Reds’ performance levels are sustainable. Indeed, they arguably deserved a point at Rotherham last time out but some might say the 2-1 defeat represented a redistribution of fortune.

The Tricky Trees’ away form is not the best, too, with three points taken from the 24 that have been available away from Trentside since Aitor Karanka’s exit.

The outright home win, therefore, is reasonably-priced at narrow, odds-against quotes.

Swansea v Stoke | Tuesday 9th April 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports

Swansea and Stoke were both relegated from the Premier League last season – and their respective responses have differed.

Swansea have prepared to be patient: they have invested in an excellent manager in Graham Potter whilst selling key assets to focus on youth development.

For example, they shied away from a high-profile move for Ryan Woods, who ended up going to Stoke City; the Potters spent big whilst keeping internationals like Jack Butland and Joe Allen in the second tier.

Since Gary Rowett was replaced as Stoke boss by Nathan Jones in January, neither they nor Swansea have been able to rekindle realistic play-off hopes, but they have delivered performances sufficiently competitive to build optimism for a promotion push in 2019-20.

Over the last eight games, Swansea have the best Expected Goals Ratio (xGR) in the Championship at 67.19%.

Oli McBurnie did not feature in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Middlesbrough but the alternative attacking quartet in Potter’s 4-2-3-1 setup was very fluid.

False nine Wayne Routledge and number 10 Bersant Celina popped up into goalscoring positions, as well as intelligent right-sider Nathan Dyer and speedy left-sider Daniel James.

The Swans’ mobility and spatial awareness allows them to play through the press with real incision, which could be key on Tuesday.

Stoke have a competitive xGR of 61.85% over the last eight games, fourth in that metric –perhaps unusually for a team that has kept five consecutive clean sheets though, there could be one or two balance issues.

Nathan Jones is trying to incorporate enigmatic magicians Tom Ince and Bojan in the same XI but neither respond particularly quickly to losing the ball, so there is a heavy reliance on Joe Allen and Oghenekaro Etebo to guard against breakaways.

On Saturday, Swans right-back Connor Roberts took his league goal tally to four, at least twice as many as any other positional counter-part in the Championship.

Roberts touched the ball in the opposing penalty area four times last time out, then mustered two shots at goal in the preceding 3-0 triumph over Brentford as Potter favours inverted full-backs, rather than players who will just attack on the outside.

The Swans academy graduate is available to back to score anytime here at a hefty price.

Bolton v Middlesbrough | Tuesday 9th April 2019, 20:00 | Sky Sports

There is a whole host of problems at Bolton Wanderers: players and staff not being paid in full on time, them going on strike, chairman Ken Anderson responding to that situation without much humility, suggestions of home games being played in an empty stadium or even called off – and the small matter of the uncertainty as to whether the club will continue to exist.

In many ways, the likelihood of relegation is almost the least of their worries and that shows that it is a very sad state of affairs.

In Saturday’s 2-1 home defeat to bottom side Ipswich, the Trotters looked very passive and static in the first half, where one would have expected Phil Parkinson sides down the years to be aggressive and competitive.

Parkinson admitted post-match that the game showed that the whole squad had not “prepared as we can”, indicating if not saying that this was due to the off-field situation.

With Rotherham and Millwall winning to extend Bolton’s gap to safety to eight points, the confirmation of the club’s sorry relegation looks imminent.

If not on the same scale, play-off contenders Middlesbrough are also on a very bad run, having accrued just one point from their last seven games.

Their performances in the 3-0 loss at Aston Villa and the 3-1 defeat at Swansea last time out were poor and Tony Pulis can have no complaints about the results in those games.

In other encounters however, the Teessiders have arguably deserved more than they have got.

Pulis’ setup tends to lend itself to his side creating a low volume of chances, but a high quality of them.

The opportunities they do create frequently spring from pouncing on opposition errors, which means they carve opponents open very quickly after they had been set up in an attacking posture.

We should not forget that template, whether we admire it or not, has worked reasonably well for Boro for much of the season.

They scored five goals in the eight games prior to Swansea away – their Expected Goals For (xGF) per game in that period reads 1.39 – better than their season-long xGF tally of 1.31.

What that shows is that aside from the two no-shows in the Midlands and South Wales, not too much has changed in terms of chance creation during this bad runs and they can respond.

If Mohamed Besic comes in for John Obi Mikel to add tenacity and energy in midfield, Boro will create high-quality opportunities and they should comfortably do the business against the woe-ridden Wanderers.

Best Bets

Sheffield Wednesday v Nottingham Forest – Sheffield Wednesday to win (6/5 BetVictor)

Swansea v Stoke – Connor Roberts to score at anytime (16/1 Betfair)

Bolton v Middlesbrough – Middlesbrough -1 handicap (14/5 Spreadex)

About Author

Gabriel Sutton is a freelance football writer and pundit with a strong passion for the EFL, possessing eight years of writing experience. Sees the value in lower league football.

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