League One Preview: Gameweek 5

David Edgar

David Edgar

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for 3 of the weekend’s games in League One. Sheffield United will hope to avoid conceding 5 goals at the County Ground for the third time in the space of a year, as they take on Swindon in a repeat of last season’s play-off semi-final. Fleetwood search for a 3rd straight win when they face Doncaster, a side whose early season form has been disrupted by injuries. Millwall are yet to avoid defeat at the Den this season, and face a Chesterfield side that have started positively under Dean Saunders.

Swindon v Sheff Utd

This fixture is a repeat of last season’s play-off semi-final second leg, which ended as a remarkable 5-5 draw, with Swindon going through on aggregate. Both teams defended woefully in that match, as Swindon, who had a 7-4 aggregate lead with 2 minutes to go, came dangerously close to losing their place in the final.

Swindon have had a good start to this season, with 8 points from their first 4 games. However, any hopes of another top 6 finish depend on their ability to keep Nathan Byrne. Having been converted from a wing-back to a forward that plays wide in a front 3, Byrne scored a hat-trick on the opening day against Bradford, and has been linked with a move to Huddersfield.

Sheffield United, who have conceded 10 goals in their last 2 visits to the County Ground, will hope to provide sturdier opposition this time around. Since losing 4-0 at Gillingham on the opening day, the Blades have picked up 3 consecutive league wins, each of them coming by a 2 goal margin.

David Edgar came into the Sheffield United team shortly after the Gillingham game, and seems to have made a massive difference. The centre-back is domineering in the air, capable of defending set pieces, and can organize his teammates. It is no coincidence that, when Edgar was out of the team for the League Cup trip to Fulham in midweek, Sheffield United lost 3-0. With Edgar returning to the side, this blog will back them to pick up a 4th straight league win.

Doncaster v Fleetwood

After a promising summer for their club, Doncaster Rovers fans might have expected a strong start to the season, but the team has been hindered by injuries to key players. Harry Forrester has missed their last 2 games, which ended in 3 goal defeats to Port Vale and Ipswich respectively, while last season’s top scorer, Nathan Tyson, has played just 23 minutes of league football. Tyson made an impact when he came on against Leeds in the League Cup, and his pace and energy makes him an important player for Rovers.

The player Paul Dickov will be most anxious to see return is Paul Keegan. The holding midfielder plays a key role in breaking up opposition attacks, and playing the simple pass. In many ways, Keegan is the type of player that supporters will appreciate more when he is not in the side. He is not somebody that will necessarily excite the fans, but the defensive balance he gives Doncaster’s midfield is clearly missed at the moment.

Fleetwood have scored 8 goals in their last 2 games, and all of a sudden their goalscoring problems have disappeared. Amari’i Bell had an excellent game in the 4-0 win over Colchester on Saturday, playing a key part in both of their second half goals. Jimmy Ryan, a summer signing from Chesterfield, scored a fantastic long-range strike in the match, and bossed the midfield.

Manager Graham Alexander has spoken of the confidence with which Fleetwood’s players are playing at the moment, and it seems as though there is a feel-good factor at the club. Given Doncaster’s early season struggles, this blog will back Cod Army to return from South Yorkshire with a third straight win.

Millwall v Chesterfield

Millwall drew at Scunthorpe on Saturday. While a scoreline of 0-0, and a first clean sheet since 18th April, might suggest a fairly stubborn Lions performance, they were in fact fortunate to come away with a point. Neil Harris’s men benefited from a combination of good goalkeeping from Jordan Archer, and poor Scunthorpe finishing, which included a missed penalty from Paddy Madden.

After a poor start, it is vital that Millwall win a match at the Den. They have not won back-to-back home games since September 2013, and that shows the lack of confidence surrounding the club and its supporters over the last few years. At this stage, it is vital that the experienced players, particularly Nadjim Abdou, have the confidence to lead the team. Goalkeeper David Forde has done that in recent years, but the fact that he was dropped for Archer at Scunthorpe, suggests he will struggle to get back into the team. With a fairly young side, Millwall need players in the dressing room who will set an example, show professionalism and help restore a sense of belief in the camp.

Millwall now face Chesterfield, who have started the season fairly well with 7 points from 4 games. They have lost key midfielder Jimmy Ryan, but new signing Angel Martinez looks capable of replacing him. Martinez offers Chesterfield defensive balance in midfield, and his presence has perhaps given Sam Morsy increased attacking freedom, evidenced by his 2 goals so far this season.

Despite having lost a number of new players, the only area where Chesterfield are unquestionably weaker than last season is at right-back. Last year, they had the luxury of a fit and mobile Tendayi Darikwa starting every league game, and yet now, they have Drew Talbot, who is struggling for fitness. Talbot missed a lot pre-season, and has had a couple of difficult games so far this season, and could be a reason behind the signing of Liam O’Neill, a versatile midfield player capable of operating as a full-back.

Before the season started, this blog predicted that Millwall would win the League One title while Chesterfield would be battling relegation, but at the moment, it is the Spireites who look the stronger side.