League One Preview: Gameweek 4

el khayati

Nasser El Khayati

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for 3 of the weekend’s games in League One. Bradford look for their first league win of the season at Oakwell, where Barnsley will look for their third. Burton can continue their great start to life in League One with a win over Peterborough, whose defence is looking vulnerable at present. In the stand-out fixture of the weekend, Walsall host fellow Midlanders Coventry, with the victors likely to top the table on Saturday night.

Barnsley v Bradford

Bradford City manager Phil Parkinson has made a shrewd move in loaning in West Ham centre-back Reece Burke, and his hope will be that the highly-rated youngster stays for longer than his initial one month loan spell. Bradford need consistency at the back, and it does not help that previous centre-backs who have partnered Rory McArdle, such as Alan Sheehan and Gary Liddle, naturally play in other positions.

Intriguingly, the Bantams have taken the lead in all 4 of their games this season, but somehow they are yet to record a win. That comes down largely to their centre-backs, and the problems they have had when defending under pressure. There is potential, therefore, for Burke to make a huge impact.

Barnsley might have won their last 2 games, but they beat Burton thanks to a dodgy penalty decision, and were helped on their way to 3 points at the Den on Tuesday by some terrible Millwall defending. The Tykes have a slight imbalance in their squad, because they possess plenty of creative central midfielders, such as Conor Hourihane, Dan Crowley and Ben Pearson, yet they lack quality both out wide and up front.

Bradford have not had the start to the season they wanted, but this might just be the day they show the defensive qualities required to grind out a narrow win.

Burton v Peterborough

Burton Albion are on the crest of a wave. They are one of the teams in League One that nobody wants to play right now, because the momentum they have built up after winning the League Two title last season makes them a real threat at this stage. Teams such as Chesterfield, Rochdale and Fleetwood started life in League One very confidently last year, and were rewarded with a top half finish, a play-off place in Chesterfield’s case. Burton, it seems, have started this season in the same kind of vein.

The Brewers picked up a 3rd win in 4 games after a 2-1 victory at Blackpool on Tuesday night, which came thanks to a pair of excellent strikes from Nasser El Khayati, who has been a stand-out performer thus far. He played on the left side of midfield in a 4-4-2 at Bloomfield Road, and that role gives him the freedom to drift inside without being directly marked. We can expect El Khayati to form a good partnership with left-back Damien McCrory, whose adventurous runs forward helped him average 1 goal in around 6 games last season.

Peterborough, on the other hand, have had a difficult start to the season. Their main problem is the lack of tactical coherence in the team, because manager Dave Robertson has tended to start Kgosi Ntlhe as a left-back in a 4-4-2 formation. The problem with this is that the system requires full-backs to be solid and disciplined, yet Ntlhe has a tendency to attack the ball and attempt to play on the front foot, and he has been caught out of position too many times. Should he start on Saturday, Burton’s right winger, Lucas Akins could have an enjoyable afternoon.

Robertson will be pleased that Jack Baldwin’s recovery from a long-term injury is ahead of schedule, because at the moment, Peterborough desperately need him in defence. Given that the Posh have conceded 6 goals in their first 3 league games, we can expect a home win for Burton.

Walsall v Coventry

This is the stand-out fixture in League One this weekend. Not only is it a Midlands derby, both Walsall and Coventry have had excellent starts to the season, making this an early top of the table clash.

Coventry City have sold out their away allocation for this match, and that cannot be solely down to the fact that the ground is fairly reachable from Coventry. After 3 consecutive wins, there is now a renewed sense of positivity around the club, and Tony Mowbray, who was appointed as manager back in March, deserves great credit for that.

Striker Adam Armstrong is currently the top scorer in England, with an outstanding return of 5 goals in his first 3 games. Having bagged a brace against both Wigan and Millwall inside the first week of the League One season, Armstrong will have been fairly disappointed to have only scored the 1 against Crewe on Tuesday! The 18-year-old possesses bags of pace, but he also benefits from the creativity from Ruben Lameires behind him, and those 2 players could be vital for the Sky Blues this season.

Coventry will stay at least 2 points clear at the top of the table with a win – depending on Gillingham’s result against Wigan – but they could be overtaken by Walsall. The Saddlers have picked up 7 points from their first 3 league games, and progressed to the 2nd round of the League Cup with a 4-3 win at Nottingham Forest.

Left-back Andy Taylor has been key to their strong start, having a hand in both of Walsall’s goals at Southend last week. The former Sheffield United man has recently said that the positive early results have not come as a surprise, and that the team are getting the rewards for having a flexible approach to games.

The problem for Walsall last season tended to be that they lacked the capacity to adapt to certain games, and show their physical, more combative side. Now however, there is a sense of belief about the way Dean Smith’s men are playing, and the fact that they have not failed to score in a competitive match since April 6th suggests the team has plenty of confidence in front of goal. It would take a brave man to oppose either side here, and for that reason this blog will sit on the proverbial fence.