League One Predictions: Gameweek 17

At the bottom of League One, the big game is at Priestfield, as Gillingham and Leyton Orient look to get over their poor run of form. Midtable Fleetwood have lost their last 6 away games, and make the long journey south to play joint-bottom Yeovil, who have not scored in 3 league games. This blog covers a south-west derby, as Swindon face Bristol City, a Yorkshire derby, as Doncaster host Sheffield United, and Barnsley’s attempt to climb further the table on Friday night, against relegation strugglers Colchester.

Barnsley v Colchester

Sam Winnall

Sam Winnall

Barnsley look a much better team than they did 6 weeks ago. The Tykes were in the relegation zone at the end of September, but have taken 10 points from a difficult 6 games since then, getting good results against Bristol City and Sheffield United. Striker Sam Winnall had a slow start after joining from Scunthorpe, but has now scored 7 goals in as many games, and netted a hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Burton Albion in the FA Cup.

Colchester have not been quite as solid as they were when Tony Humes first took over, and they shipped 3 goals in their FA Cup win over non-league Gosport Borough. The main priority for Humes is to fix the right-back position. Elliott Hewitt has returned on loan from Ipswich, but there are question marks about him defensively. He was arguably at fault for the goal Colchester conceded against Scunthorpe, and the 2 against Port Vale a fortnight ago. Sean Clohessy seems the most reliable right-back Colchester currently have, but he has had to cover on the left, which has caused problems.

Colchester have not kept a clean sheet since September, and Barnsley have not failed to score in the same time frame. The hosts will be rightly confident of a win here.

Doncaster v Sheff Utd

Curtis Main

Curtis Main

Doncaster are one of the most difficult teams to predict, because there is never any consistency in their results. They have only had the same result back-to-back on 2 occasions this season, and there is an element of frustration from the fans that they cannot put together a run of form.

Paul Dickov has recently loaned in centre-back Andy Butler, from Sheffield United, and full-back Enda Stevens, from Aston Villa. These players are reasonably good additions to the defence, but the ‘main’ priority for Dickov now will be to get his team scoring goals, because only Crewe and Yeovil have scored fewer this season. Striker Curtis Main scored for the first time since his injury in August, and he may provide the firepower Doncaster need. The likes of Nathan Tyson and Theo Robinson possess some pace, but lack the physical presence to lead the line.

This may be the most testing time for Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough in his management career. He had been working under less pressure at previous clubs, and even when he took over at Sheffield United last season, when they kept winning his motivational skills were not particularly stretched. There is now an expectation for Sheffield United to be promoted, yet they are 8th in the league and without a goal in 3 games. The best managers show their worth when they can inspire the team when things are not going so well, and that is the challenge for Clough here.

His side were very poor against Walsall on Wednesday night. Some of their fans want the team to sign a goalscorer, but a more pressing issue may be the shortage of chances created. Their midfield showed no desire to increase the tempo, get the ball out wide and push men into the box, and by all accounts this has been the case in other games, too. Most strikers will struggle working in those circumstances. With the Blades struggling for confidence, Doncaster can get a point.

Swindon v Bristol City

Kieran Agard

Kieran Agard

Bristol City have not had a league defeat since the end of March. They currently boast an impressive 36 points this season, but the amazing thing is they should have an even bigger lead at the top. Steve Cotterill’s side have taken the lead in 5 of the 6 games they have drawn this season. They can still improve at the back, but because of the firepower they have up front, teams are playing Bristol City with a sense of fear, and are therefore less likely to expose the defence.

The Robins have an excellent strike-partnership of Aaron Wilbraham and Kieran Agard, who seem to have a situation whereby if one of them is not scoring goals, the other one will be. There was a period around October when Wilbraham lost his form, and Agard scored 4 in 7. Added to that, there is a possibility that Jay Emmanuel-Thomas will play his part at some stage. He was among League One’s top scorers this time a year ago, and although he has been limited to cameo appearances thus far, he is a player that can cause problems when fully fit. Bristol City have more attacking quality than any side in League One.

The Robins make the short trip to face the Robins, Swindon Town, who have just lost 5-0 in the FA Cup to… the Robins, League Two Cheltenham Town. Mark Cooper clearly has some problems to address at centre-back for Swindon, because Nathan Thompson has been sent off for a 4th time in 19 games in the Cheltenham defeat, while Southampton loanee Jack Stephens does not look as comfortable as he did for the team last season. It would be little surprise if Cooper decides to bring in an experienced centre-back on a short-term deal.

If Swindon can address their problems in defence, they will be a force in the League One promotion race, because they have only scored 1 fewer goal than Bristol City. They have not failed to score in the league since the 2nd week of the season, and have decent goalscorers in Michael Smith and Andy Williams. However, for the moment, they are looking slightly vulnerable at the back, and Bristol City have the quality to take advantage of that.

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