This week we look ahead to a cross-border derby to watch, two teams searching for their first win, and English football’s worst defence against it’s worst attack. All of this is set against a backdrop of colourful characters, a couple of which we’ll pay particular focus too. We also have a Friday night bet in League One to setup your weekend and a 15/2 Best Bet in League Two for those willing to take a risk.
The must-watch Severnside Derby
Cardiff City v Bristol City, Saturday 28th August, 12.30pm kick off
Sky Sports Football
In the blue corner…
Cardiff City play their third home game in seven days and, after a dominant second-half display against Millwall, they will go into this match confident.
The Bluebird’s play this season has been dominated by crosses into the box, aerial duels and set pieces. City have scored more goals from set pieces (four, average one per game) than any other team in the Football League. Manager Mick McCarthy is making the most of his assets in this regard, with 6ft 5in players at both ends of the field. It does however raise concerns around alternative options, with Cardiff failing to record 10 consecutive passes more than once per game on average this season. One player who is playing consistently well at the moment, is ex-Bristol City man Marlon Pack. The midfielder has scored one, assisted three and wins the vast majority of aerial duels. Pack’s £4 million fee is looking prudent based upon what he continues to offer in the middle of the park.
In the red corner…
Bristol City will be grateful of the opportunity to play away from home, having had had more success of late on their travels. The Robins appear to be a team more comfortable exploiting opportunities, rather than dominating possession. This was particularly noticeable in their recent victory against Reading at the Madjeski. That night they they gave up two-thirds possession and created the least chances but converted a high proportion of those on target. Nigel Pearson’s side have concentrated attacks down the flanks to great effect, it will be interesting to see how Cardiff, with two young academy-produced full-backs, cope with this threat.
Full disclosure, I am a Cardiff City season-ticket holder, and I will at the stadium to watch the Bluebirds on Saturday. McCarthy is unbeaten at home in ten, and has the luxury of youth options and experienced heads in all areas of his squad. It is this combination that I believe will be enough for Cardiff to see-off the Robins with relative ease. The first half will be close, probably scoreless, with Cardiff’s aerial threat providing greater opportunities in the later stages of the game.
Verdict: Cardiff City 2-0 Bristol City
Best Bet: Cardiff 1st Half No Goals – 5/6
One to watch: Aden Flint (32 – CB – Cardiff)
Four games, twelve shots, four goals, all headers. These are the statistics that have put Flint, a central defender, top of the goal-scoring charts at this early stage in the season. Goals account for only a fraction of what he brings to this Cardiff City team however. Flint also provides leadership, positioning, aerial dominance and 18 clearances so far this season. After a slow start to his Cardiff City career, he is now back to his best under McCarthy, and demonstrating the characteristics that persuaded Middlesbrough to pay £7m for him in 2018. Aden is key to any Cardiff challenge for promotion this season.
Desperately seeking success
Charlton Athletic v Crewe Alexandra, Saturday 28th August, 3pm kick-off
Football Highlights – Quest TV, Saturday 9pm, Sunday 10am
Charlton featured in my first preview of the season, and I had high hopes for success. Dominance in League One is built upon one of two key factors. The ability to create chances which are converted at a high enough rate, or the ability to nullify an opposition attack. If you can achieve both, automatic promotion is an achievable goal. Unfortunately for Charlton, they haven’t been able to demonstrate either practice this season. Defensive woes have continued as a hangover from last season, dealing with counter attacks and through balls a particular issue. At the other end, they been limited to a single goal-scoring chance in the majority of games.
There is some cause for optimism; our one-to-watch for this game is the much-improved Akim Famewo at centre-back. Famewo’s interceptions and recovery play are key to improving the Addicks defence. With relatively few chances, Charlton’s shot accuracy is 50%, were they able to create more chances, they could see themselves on a run which takes them up the table.
One to watch: Akin Famewo (22 – CB – Charlton)
Enter Crewe, another side in League looking for their first win. David Artell’s side have a nice style to their play, amongst the more expansive teams in the division. However, their inability to turn possession into chances is also limiting their ability to match last season’s success. Alex have failed to score in their last 5 hours of league football, accruing just 5 shots on target in that time. Their free-flowing style has also led to 54 shots against already this season and opens up opportunities for Charlton to counter-attack. One additional concern for Crewe is the suspension of Luke Offord, their 21-year-old centreback, who looked their best player in the away games against Cheltenham and Oxford.
Charlton Athletic have a fantastic opportunity to pick their season up, and I firmly believe they will have too much for Crewe at home.
Verdict: Charlton Athletic 1-0 Crewe
Best Bet: This game doesn’t offer much value, preference is instead for the Friday night game between Burton and Cheltenham: No Cheltenham Goals at 15/8.
An opportunity to build confidence
Crawley Town v Northampton Town Saturday 28th August, 3pm kick-off
Football Highlights – Quest TV, Saturday 9pm, Sunday 10am
Crawley Town are an interesting club, they have one of the lowest budgets in the Football League, but are coming off the back of a top-half finish in 20/21. The Red Devil’s season to-date has been dominated by defensive concerns especially in their last game against Forest Green. There is still a lot to like about this team though, they create a lot of chances without dominating possession, and they are good at finishing them too. Crawley have missed just one of their Shots on Target this season. Whilst they have struggled to defend from open play, they are well-drilled at set-pieces so should cope with the majority of attacks on Saturday.
Northampton have demonstrated the ability to press with high intensity already in the league, and if given the chance to play to their strengths they have players to achieve a top-half finish this season. In order to do so, they must address their individual defensive errors however, and rectify a failure to convert goal-scoring opportunities from open play. The Cobblers favour a direct approach and are content to allow the opposition to hold possession. Fraser Horsfall is a key player for them, and his return from suspension should provide a welcome boost to a defence that conceded three last week.
Crawley’s ability to take advantage of balls won in the opposition half, coupled with Northampton’s individual error rate points to a torrid afternoon for The Cobblers.
Crawley Town 2-0 Northampton Town
Best Bet: Hessenthaler to score and Crawley to win 15/2
One to watch: John Yems (Manager – Crawley)
Crawley Town’s official interviews are the Football League’s answer to AFTV. Where results have not gone his way they are essential viewing, with the manager not afraid to vocalise his displeasure in his own gruff style. The target of his ire in recent weeks has been the team’s defensive frailties as outlined above. Media-training aside, Yems is a shrewd manager, he’s delivered two top half finishes, as well as cup heroics in recent years. If he can pull off a finish of 18th or above this season, it might be his greatest achievement yet.
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