League One Preview: Upset in store at Greenhous Meadow?

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Sulley Kaikai – www.shropshirestar.com

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the weekend’s games in League One. Peterborough search for their fourth straight win at Glanford Park, as they face a Scunthorpe side struggling for squad depth. Shrewsbury aim to build on Tuesday’s 4-2 victory at Sheffield United when they host Gillingham, who look to amend their unconvincing away form. Southend won 5-2 at Oldham on Tuesday – the first time they had scored more than three goals in a league game since November 2012 – and the Shrimpers hope to get a third straight win against Wigan, who lost 1-0 to Burton last time out.

Scunthorpe v Peterborough

There has been a palpable improvement in the positivity of Peterborough’s performances. New manager Graham Westley appears to have re-energized the team, in and out of possession. The likes of Jermaine Anderson and Lee Angol are scoring for fun and the whole side always looks hungry to win the ball back when they lose it. Westley has already built up a strong relationship with Darragh MacAnthony, the Irish chairman stating recently that the pairing match one another’s ambition and drive.

Tuesday’s 3-2 victory over Barnsley was of a scrappy nature and there was arguably an element of luck in each of their goals. For a start, Angol’s strike from the penalty box went in off the inside of the goalkeeper’s legs. Miles Addison’s header was aimed downwards and bounced past eight ball-watching defenders, including the keeper, before finding the net. Marcus Maddison’s shot looked to be curling right into the keeper’s arms, before two opposing defenders made unnecessary challenges that wrong-footed the hapless stopper.

Fortune may have been on Posh’s side on Tuesday night, but in many ways, that happens when a team is playing with a sense of opportunism. Angol did well to hold off the defenders before getting his shot away, some positive Posh play led to the corner for Addison’s header and Maddison had the belief to shoot from the edge of the box. While this blog retains doubts over the long-term sustainability of Peterborough’s form, momentum is certainly with the boys from PE2.

Some Scunthorpe fans are frustrated with the club’s lack of movement in the loan window, with defender Murray Wallace and forward Joe Lolley having been recalled by Huddersfield and not replaced. This blog has a degree of sympathy with chairman Peter Swann, because he invested a lot of money in permanent deals in the summer. With a new ground in Burringham in the pipeline, it is understandable that Swann and the board do not want to overspend now.

The squad at Glanford Park is starting to get stretched, however, so now could be an opportunity for players in the academy or development squad to catch the eye of manager Mark Robins. Scunthorpe are lacking a degree of pace and creativity in midfield, with regular starters Neal Bishop and Jack King are getting old and tend to favour safe, rather than splitting passes. When Scunthorpe won promotion from League Two, they had Dave Syers making a lot of forward runs from midfield. However, the former Bradford man has been ruled out for long periods over the past 15 months while summer signing Jamie Ness has struggled with a thigh injury, despite looking promising in his first few games. Both players could improve Scunthorpe’s midfield options.

Although Scunthorpe won 2-1 at Bury last time out, there is a danger that their midfield duo of Bishop and King will be overrun against a high pressing, energetic Peterborough side.

Shrewsbury v Gillingham

Shrewsbury Town have struggled for tactical consistency this season, in terms of formations and personnel. However, following Tuesday’s 4-2 win at Sheffield United, Micky Mellon will surely pick the same team this time around.

Midfielder Ian Black and forward Scott Vernon had arguably their best games for Salop at Bramall Lane, with both players contributing a goal. Sulley Kaikai’s hardworking performance on the night was highlighted with a screamer and fans will certainly hope the club can extend his loan spell from Crystal Palace.

Mellon can take heart from a sturdy performance from defender Zak Whitbread, the former Liverpool trainee having performed well since coming into the side in October. However, question marks remain as to the fitness of Whitbread and fellow centre-back Anthony Gerrard. If one or both of them get injured, it will be impossible for the duo to form a sustained partnership and some fans might question the decision to loan Mark Ellis out to Carlisle.

In October, manager Micky Mellon said that he felt his three-at-the-back system was not working and the Scot has since reverted to a classic 4-4-2. Assuming he sticks with his system – which is not guaranteed – there will be an intriguing tactical battle. Shrewsbury will forsake midfield dominance in favour of getting the ball to their quick wide men – Sulley Kaikai and Larnell Cole – who like to run at the defence at pace. Gillingham are a bit narrower and tend to operate with a narrow 4-3-1-2 formation, which could potentially leave their full-backs more exposed.

Even though Gillingham are second in the table, and won their last match 2-0 against Rochdale, they have looked quite open in their last couple of games. While Dale were not quite clinical enough to punish the Gills, Coventry certainly were the previous Saturday and it might take Gillingham some time to recover from the loss of Harry Lennon. The centre-back had been recalled by Charlton after an impressive loan spell and it might take some time for John Egan and whoever he is partnered with – be it Max Ehmer or Deji Oshilaja – to re-build a partnership.

This blog often favours Gillingham. However, they have lost more away games than they have won this season and are conceding 1.67 goals per game on the road. Justin Edinburgh’s side seem to struggle against teams that attack them with a degree of vigour and Shrewsbury might fit the bill.

Southend v Wigan

This has been an unusual week for Southend United. Ryan Leonard has publicly said that his recent goalscoring form is partly down to listening to Justin Bieber’s new album ‘Purpose’ in the changing room, with the popstar replying to the news story on Twitter. When Phil Brown said ‘I want you to play with purpose’, there must have been a mix-up.

Southend certainly played with purpose in their 5-2 win at Oldham on Saturday. The Shrimpers broke down their Manchester opponents on five occasions and looked a real threat from crosses into the box. Some fans of the Essex club remain critical of manager Phil Brown and argue that Tuesday’s victory acted almost as a prism for what the side could achieve, if Brown was tactically more lenient. Southend focused their energies on attack at Oldham and were able to get a lot of men in the box, whereas typically they would be set up with a greater sense of rigidity.

Wigan lost 1-0 at home to Burton Albion on Tuesday and this blog foresees a drop in form from the Latics. Their last three home performances have been rather uninspiring and a lot of the teams more technical players have struggled to adapt to the winter weather. Manager Gary Caldwell has admitted that his side’s passing in recent games has been poor and on wetter, muddier pitches, it is less about finding passing rhythm and more about getting the ball forward opportunistically.

Southend have surprised a lot of people by the way they have adjusted to League One this season and the Shrimpers will fancy their chances here.