Sky Bet League One #42 – Weekend Preview

Feature Game: Oxford United vs Sunderland

Likely Lineups:
Oxford United: (4-3-3) Stevens; Long, McNally, Moore, Brown; Bodin, Kane, Brannagan; Sykes, Taylor, Holland
Sunderland: (4-2-3-1) Patterson; Winchester, Wright, Batth, Cirkin; O’Nien, Evans; Roberts, Pritchard, Clarke; Stewart

Preview: Two sides in the mix for a play-off spot go head-to-head this weekend as Oxford United welcome Sunderland to The Kassam Stadium.

While in previous seasons it has been a case of Karl Robinson’s side making a late push for the play-offs and finishing the season strongly, it looks to be the opposite for United this season, with no wins in three and back-to-back league defeats seeing them drop out of the play-off places altogether. Last time out, they lost to strugglers Morecambe and boss Karl Robinson was again disappointed with his side and their failure to bounce back from defeat to Plymouth Argyle. He will want his team to take the confidence from the way that they performed in the second-half against Morecambe, but will demand more from his attacking players to finish the chances that came their way. Henry and Bodin may be in line for a start here, having had to make do with a spot on the bench against Morecambe but having impressed when they came on.

Sunderland come into this game full of confidence, having not lost in their last five league games and only failing to win two of those. They come into the weekend off the back of a hard-fought win last time out on home soil as they scored right at the death to edge past Gillingham, and it looks as if Alex Neil is starting to really stamp his authority on this Sunderland side, and with success. They are currently sitting two points outside the play-off places albeit with a game in hand on the side sitting above them, and the focus now for Neil and co is to put on the afterburners and make a concerted push for the top six. The front-four of Roberts, Pritchard, Clarke and Stewart has remained fairly fixed recently, and with Neil seemingly have sorted their defensive problems, he will hope the attacking players are able to find their shooting boots between now and the end of the season.

Prediction: Oxford United 1-2 Sunderland
I think that at this present moment, Sunderland are certainly playing the better of these two sides and will emerge as winners here to leave Oxford United with real work to do to finish in the play-offs. A 2-1 win for The Black Cats, with Stewart and Embleton getting on the scoresheet while Taylor replies for the home side.

One to Watch: Ross Stewart – The now Scottish international has been one of the standout players for not only Sunderland this season, but indeed the division. He could well be the difference here to settle a close contest.

AFC Wimbledon vs MK Dons
Preview: MK Dons will look to keep the pressure up on the top two as they travel to Plough Lane to face AFC Wimbledon.

AFC Wimbledon’s long run without a win has continued even since Mark Bowen took charge last week. Bowen has now been in charge for two games and changed formation to go to a 3-5-2 formation. Bowen has brought in Zach Robinson from the start who has rarely featured since returning from Woking where he spent the first part of this season. Alongside Robinson, Ayoub Assal has played up front with Jack Rudoni in behind them. They have struggled to improve though with an inability to attack with confidence and get in areas to get shots away. While they may have rallied against 10 men, they were behind and bombarded the box with players resulting in a goal.

MK Dons beat Crewe in midweek with a 2-1 win lifting them above Rotherham into 2nd place. It was their 14th game unbeaten in a run that has propelled them to be the only automatic promotion rivals for Wigan and the millers. The forward three of Scott Twine, Mohamed Eisa and Troy Parrott has been excellent. The back three of Harry Darling, Warren O’Hora and Dean Lewington have been solid too with them keeping the ball so well and building from the back. The way they’ve kept the 2nd most possession in the league and had the most accurate passes is impressive. A win over their rivals would see them keep the pressure on the leading two.

Prediction: AFC Wimbledon 0-2 MK Dons
MK Dons will be easily the winners here, seeing off their rivals with a dominant display to take all three points.

One to Watch: Scott Twine – MK Dons attacking midfielder Scott Twine has 12 assists and 15 goals in all competitions. The 22 year old has been excellent in midfield for the Dons and will yet again be instrumental this weekend.

Bolton Wanderers vs Sheffield Wednesday
Preview: Sheffield Wednesday will be aiming to keep up their push for the play-off places as they face Bolton Wanderers on the road.

Bolton drew 1-1 in midweek with Portsmouth. However, the biggest blow for the side is that defender Ricardo Santos went off injured at half time. Meanwhile Dapo Afolayan and Kyle Dempsey also limped off in midweek. All three suffered hamstring problems so I highly doubt they’ll play this weekend. Bolton have also lost Marlon Fossey and Lloyd Isgrove until the end of the season, so the squad is very much depleted. It will give Ian Evatt the opportunity to look over the squad before the summer though and see who is good enough to join an inevitable promotion push for the wanderers next season.

Wednesday were victorious last weekend as they made it five games unbeaten and one defeat in their last nine league games. In the last 10 league games Plymouth and Wigan have accumulated one more point than Wednesday while MK Dons have picked up six more. However, no side has scored more than Sheffield Wednesday’s 24 in their last 10. An average of 2.4 goals a game while the owls now have an array of attacking options. When the sides met earlier this season Wednesday were victorious 1-0 thanks to a Lee Gregory goal whilst playing a mismatch midfield trio. Now they have a settled three in midfield, Wednesday sit comfortably two points inside the play-off places while having games in hand on Plymouth and Wycombe around them.

Prediction: Bolton Wanderers 1-4 Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Wednesday will be comfortable winners by beating Bolton convincingly. Bolton’s lack of options in the squad will mean Wednesday are better and take all three points.

One to Watch: Bailey Peacock-Farrell – Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell has been excellent in goal for Wednesday. He has kept 14 clean sheets this season and come up with big moments this season especially when Wednesday have attacked and left themselves short at the back.

Burton Albion vs Plymouth Argyle
Preview: Plymouth Argyle will be looking to cement their play-off spot as they travel to The Pirelli Stadium to face Burton Albion.

Burton were beaten 3-0 by Morecambe as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has had a terrible end to the season. They have only won one of their last eight league games while losing six of them. Conor Shaughnessy was sent last weekend and will be missing for the next three games. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has insisted that the players can’t feel sorry for themselves and must learn from midweek’s disappointment. With nothing to play for though, Burton have been really disappointing, and I don’t see them improving between now and the end of the season. 

Plymouth beat promotion rivals Oxford United last weekend 1-0 thanks to a goal from Joe Edwards. At one point it looked like Plymouth would struggle to finish in the playoffs but a run of seven wins from their last eight games keeping seven clean sheets and only conceding one goal has meant they are now sat fourth with a seven point gap from themselves and seventh place. Dan Scarr came back for Plymouth last weekend after James Bolton went off injured against Ipswich. While Schumacher continues to rotate between the forwards of Jordan Garrick, Niall Ennis and Luke Jephcott with Ryan Hardie out injured. Plymouth could see James Bolton, Conor Grant, Alfie Lewis and Steven Sessegnon all return from injury.

Prediction: Burton Albion 0-2 Plymouth Argyle
A comfortable victory for The Greens, with goals from Niall Ennis – against his former side – and Panutche Camara.

One to Watch: Panutche Camara – Plymouth midfielder Panutche Camara has been brilliant in the centre of midfield for Plymouth. He has been at the heart of everything good for the club.

Cambridge United vs Morecambe
Preview: Morecambe will be searching for a second successive to boost their relegation survival bid as they travel to Cambridge United.

Cambridge were beaten 4-1 by Wycombe in midweek. It means it’s now back to back defeats at home for Cambridge having been beaten by MK Dons in their previous home encounter. Mark Bonner welcomed back Jack Iredale from suspension while Ben Worman also got a rare start in midweek. It came after a shock victory over Ipswich last weekend but judging by the changes Bonner made in midweek they clearly were worn out. Mark Bonner’s assistant Gary Waddock has insisted that Cambridge will make changes with players being given the chance to prove their worth between now and the end of the season.

Morecambe should come into this full of confidence. The Shrimps ended their 11 game winless run last weekend with a 3-0 victory over Burton before making it back to back wins for the first time this season coming out on top against Oxford. Derek Adams chose to revert to a midfield three of Aaron Wildig, Ousmane Fane and Adam Phillips. Two of whom he had last season. Dylan Connolly and Arthur Gnahoua playing on either wing have also impressed while we are finally seeing the link up play between Adam Phillips and Cole Stockton that was imperative to Morecambe’s promotion push last season.

Prediction: Cambridge United 3-2 Morecambe
This will be an open attacking game with a Cambridge side with little to play for except pride coming out on top. Morecambe’s defensive fragility will show as the U’s reign victorious.

One to Watch: Cole Stockton – Having suffered a run of one goal in nine league games Stockton is back to his best now it seems. He has two goals in his last two games and any hopes of survival rest on the former Liverpool youth prospect.

Cheltenham Town vs Portsmouth
Preview: Portsmouth will look to bring to an end their winless run in the league as they face Cheltenham Town on the road.

Cheltenham have seen 44 goals in their last 10 league games scoring 22 and conceding just as many. Last weekend they were in a thrilling game away at Accrington in which they scored twice in added time to come away with a point. Michael Duff has spoken about the fact Cheltenham have a happy and healthy squad coming into this one. George Lloyd started up front alongside Alfie May last weekend with Kian Etete edging closer to coming back for Cheltenham. While Michael Duff will be happy that his side have come into the goals, I’m sure the former defender would rather his side were defensively solid.

Portsmouth are without a win in their last four league games. They have drawn three of them and seem to be struggling in front of goal yet again with only one goal scored. Portsmouth have played Cheltenham eight times in recent history and not lost although six have been draws. Pompey have only lost one in their last 11 league games. However, they have drawn three games recently which sees them sit 12 points outside the play-offs and it looks like it will take a lot for them to finish in the top six. That being said Danny Cowley will have an eye on the summer as he looks for promotion next season having had a solid first full season in charge.

Prediction: Cheltenham Town 0-0 Portsmouth
Cheltenham will manage to hold Portsmouth to a fourth draw in five games. Portsmouth will yet again struggle in front of goal while Cheltenham look to prioritise defence.

One to Watch: Will Boyle – Cheltenham defender Will Boyle chipped in with two goals last weekend. Boyle has been excellent under Duff’s tutorage and will be vital as they look to improve defensively this weekend.

Doncaster Rovers vs Crewe Alexandra
Preview: Two sides in the relegation places face off at The Keepmoat Stadium as Doncaster Rovers entertain bottom-side Crewe Alexandra.

Forget El Clasico. This is clearly El Crappico. Between these two sides, they have accumulated 55 points which is the same number of games as both clubs have lost this season. 

Doncaster come into this with no win in their last six league games. With survival still possible five games ago Doncaster have started firing blanks going 484 minutes without a goal. Doncaster also have the joint worst defence in the league having conceded 76 goals in the league. Reflecting on his first four months in charge Gary McSheffrey insists that there are positives to take. “I feel we’re in a better environment-a better training environment. I feel the lads enjoy coming into work.” Off the pitch, Doncaster announced they are set to appoint a head of football operations who will oversee the likes of recruitment and data analysis.

Crewe could be relegated this weekend with defeat. They currently sit 13 points adrift with just five games left to play. It became seven defeats in a row last weekend as they were defeated by high flying MK Dons.  David Artell has said that his players have to believe and want to avoid relegation saying “You’ve got to ask yourself are you still trying to get better, or just surviving and accepting what the situation is. You’ve got to want to get out of this” Artell knows that this weekend is the optimum opportunity for his players to prove to him that they have what it takes not just now but heading into League Two next season.

Prediction: Doncaster Rovers 0-0 Crewe Alexandra
Crewe will be relegated back down to League Two and will start worrying about next season after this. The only surprise will be both sides keeping clean sheets but that will be through a lack of attacking quality rather than good defensive displays.

One to Watch: Scott Kashket – Crewe forward Kashket has recently returned from injury having spent most the season in the treatment room. If there is any form of attacking threat it’s likely to come from the former Wycombe man.

Fleetwood Town vs Accrington Stanley
Preview: Accrington Stanley will be looking to bring to an end their poor away run as they travel to Highbury to face Fleetwood Town.

Fleetwood’s long winless run came to an end last weekend when they were victorious over Crewe thanks to strikes from Harvey Macadam, Anthony Pilkington and Ellis Harrison. Macadam made his first start for Fleetwood having played for Ashton United earlier in the season and he started in behind Ged Garner and Cian Hayes who were replaced by both of the other goal scorers. The experience of Pilkington and Harrison is what was relied on although Stephen Crainey was clearly happy with his young strike partnership who started in midweek too in a draw at home to Lincoln. Wins for Accrington have made it nervy though for Fleetwood who instead of being clear of the drop zone now sit just one point above. 

Accrington drew 4-4 with Cheltenham in a chaotic game last weekend before being beaten by Wigan convincingly 3-0 in midweek. It is now five matches without a win for John Coleman’s men and their away form has been disastrous since the turn of the year having played eight away league games losing seven. Accrington have lost Harry Pell to injury with John Coleman saying it’s unlikely he will play again this season. Meanwhile, John Coleman will be hoping his players are playing for their future as nothing is guaranteed heading into next season.

Prediction: Fleetwood Town 2-0 Accrington Stanley
Accrington’s horrible away form will continue as Fleetwood beat them comfortably 2-0. Fleetwood will take another step towards survival with three points.

One to Watch: Harvey Macadam – Having signed from Ashton United in January Harvey Macadam has struggled for opportunities. However, since being given an opportunity, he has impressed and will be looking to yet again here.

Gillingham vs Wycombe Wanderers
Preview: Gillingham will look to move a step closer to survival as they host Wycombe Wanderers this weekend.

Gillingham were defeated at the death last weekend by Sunderland and now after victories from Morecambe they are back in the relegation zone. Gillingham boss Neil Harris said, “It was a kick in the nuts” As they held Sunderland quiet for 95 minutes, but ultimately, they couldn’t hold the black cats to a point. Returning this week for Gillingham is young striker Gerald Sithole who has been out injured since Harris took over while captain Stuart O’Keefe who missed out last weekend is likely to return for this.

Wycombe are unbeaten in seven league games having won five of them as they haven’t given up hopes of finishing in the play off places. In midweek they were victorious 4-1 away at Cambridge with goals from Sam Vokes, Gareth McCleary and Josh Scowen. Anthony Stewart was missing in midweek, but Chris Forino came on and took his opportunity. The only worry I have for Wycombe is if Sam Vokes gets injured. They rely on him for a focal point and to lead the line with experience bringing other players into the game.

Prediction: Gillingham 1-0 Wycombe Wanderers
Gillingham will shock the play-off chasers here and beat them. It will be a narrow victory with both sides playing a nervy defensive display.

One to Watch: Connor Masterson – Gillingham defender Masterson has been a rock in defence for Gillingham since arriving in January. He will have a tough task coming up against Sam Vokes, but I think he will come out on top.

Lincoln City vs Wigan Athletic
Preview: Wigan Athletic will b e wanting to move closer towards confirming their promotion from League One as they travel to Sincil Bank.

Lincoln have beaten Charlton this week before drawing against Fleetwood in midweek. Lincoln have a really poor return at home with just 20 points accumulated from 20 league games at LNER stadium. Last weekend Morgan Whittaker was sent off and will subsequently be missing here while Liam Bridcutt and Brooke Norton-Cuffy may return having missed midweek’s draw with Fleetwood. Norton-Cuffy has suffered from playing a lot of football in recent weeks while Bridcutt took a knock to the thigh last weekend, but Appleton is hoping for good news heading into this weekend.

Wigan made it seven games unbeaten with a 3-0 victory over Accrington in midweek. It was a victory that took the Latics top of league one. Wigan are the second highest scorers in the league and have the second best away record picking up 40 points from 18 games which is the best based on PPG, but not points accumulated. Wigan suffered a double injury blow last weekend with Curtis Tilt and James McClean both going off injured. In midweek Joe Bennett was given the nod at left wing back while Kelland Watts came into defence.  A couple of injuries at this point isn’t even enough to scupper Wigan’s promotion push.

Prediction: Lincoln City 0-3 Wigan Athletic
Wigan will run out comfortable winners with another 3-0 victory. They will easily beat their opponents who’s poor home record continues.

One to Watch: Will Keane – Wigan striker Will Keane scored his 20th goal of the season last weekend. He has been impressive in front of goal for the first time in his career and will want to see Wigan over the line.

Rotherham United vs Charlton Athletic
Preview: Rotherham United will aim to follow up their cup final victory with another win here as they host Charlton Athletic.

Rotherham won the Papa Johns Trophy last weekend after beating Sutton after extra time. They weren’t at their best as admitted by Paul Warne saying that they were leggy playing on the big Wembley pitch. Rotherham have been dealt a killer blow with goalkeeper Josh Vickers ruled out until the end of the season. While Rotherham showed the togetherness that Paul Warne has brought to his side by mobbing injured striker Will Grigg when ‘that’ song came on.  While the millers were winning silverware this week, they not only fell off top spot but out of the automatic promotion place. They will need to bounce back straight away from their last league outing otherwise they will be left behind judging by the form Wigan and MK Dons are in.

Charlton’s improved run of form came to an end last weekend with defeat at Lincoln before drawing against AFC Wimbledon in midweek. Charlton have struggled with a lack of discipline this week too losing Alex Gilbey to two first half yellow cards last weekend before Ryan Inniss was sent off for a disgusting tackle in midweek. Charlton will also be without Sam Lavelle this weekend who went off with a shoulder injury in midweek while Ben Purrington is a doubt due to a knee injury. However even with ten men for the last two games Charlton have fought for everything and played with such work rate and desire for a team with little but pride to play for.

Prediction: Rotherham United 2-0 Charlton Athletic
Rotherham will return to their defensive best with a win over Charlton. The Addicks won’t make it easy for Paul Warne’s men, but The Millers will do enough to take all three points.

One to Watch: Michael Smith – Jonnie Jackson has opted normally for one set central defender this season. However, with Sam Lavelle, Ryan Inniss and Alex Pearce all out it’s hard to see who will play at the heart of defence. Michael Smith will make the most of that causing the back three a number of problems.

Shrewsbury Town vs Ipswich Town
Preview: Ipswich Town will look to keep alive their slim chances of a play-off spot as they travel to Shrewsbury Town.

Shrewsbury’s good run of three wins in a row ended last weekend when they were beaten 2-0 by MK Dons last weekend. Steve Cotterill has this week spoken about how when you’re playing against the top six you need everyone to run up and have a good game. Last weekend he dropped Tom Bloxham and went back to Daniel Udoh and Ryan Bowman up front. They weren’t good enough and Steve Cotterill was critical of Saikou Janneh’s performance with him given a rare opportunity leading the line. This weekend I expect the Shrews to make it hard for Ipswich who defensively dropped off last weekend and Cotterill will demand improvement.

Ipswich lost their first game in 11 last weekend against Cambridge which inevitably ended any outside chances they have of making the play-offs. Ipswich have had a broken weekend leading into this game with illness breaking up the week albeit not covid. Lee Evans has suffered a setback and won’t be back in the next few games. That adds to Ipswich’s injury worries with George Edmondson (ankle), Kayden Jackson (Knee) and Kyle Edwards (quad) all still out injured. The links between Manchester United and Ipswich under McKenna continue to grow with Sam Williams joining as head of recruitment. Meanwhile, Charlie Savage and Will Fish have been training with The Tractorboys this week while Keiran McKenna has hinted at loan moves for the pair.

Prediction: Shrewsbury Town 1-1 Ipswich Town
Shrewsbury will hold Ipswich to a point here. Both sides have the ability to keep it tight, but I don’t think either have the quality to take all three points.

One to Watch: Bersant Celina – Ipswich attacker Bersant Celina has six goals and five assists since returning last summer. With most Ipswich strikers struggling in front of goal it’s up to players like Celina to contribute and help in Ipswich’s attempt to get all three points.

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