(Photo: Action Images via Reuters)
By Alex Beard
Well the mid-week Football League fixtures ruffled a few feathers, didn’t they? Cardiff beating Leeds, Sheffield United besting Wolves, Oldham defeating Peterborough and Notts County taking down Exeter – nothing was straightforward.
Now the games are coming thick and fast, with no respite for EFL clubs. Most of the top of the table clashes occurred during the week, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t intriguing matches to catch your eye this weekend.
So without further ado let’s take a look at the match-up’s to watch this weekend, with, as ever, one game from each division focussed upon.
Preston North End v Sunderland
I imagine that when Simon Grayson made the decision to leave Preston for Sunderland this summer he thought he was moving up in the world. And while that may still prove to be the case, ten games in it’s looking rather like he had the wrong end of the stick.
As it turns out, the team sitting fifth and in the play-off places have the initials PNE rather than SAFC. It turns out that all the thousands of fans, all the money, all the resources at the Stadium of Light matter little, because Grayson appears incapable of stopping the rot that has festered on Wearside for too long now.
Sunderland are second bottom in the Championship with six points, looking good for a second consecutive relegation. Preston, on the other hand, are loving life under former Norwich boss Alex Neil. Their 2-1 win at Hull on Tuesday was the latest in a string of positive results which have seen them beat Birmingham, Cardiff and Reading.
This is a vital game for the Black Cats. Their disintegration needs to stop somewhere, and it might be easier for them to halt it on the road rather than at home where they’ve been pretty awful for the last few years. Whether they’re capable of beating this soaring Preston side, however, remains to be seen…
Shrewsbury Town v Scunthorpe United
It’s first taking on fifth in League One this weekend, as Paul Hurst’s Shrewsbury welcome Graham Alexander’s Scunthorpe to New Meadow. The Shrews are the only undefeated team in the Football League, and got another grinding win at Doncaster in mid-week.
Wins hold the same value whether they’re beautiful or ugly, and Salop have been the masters of taming unruly games this season. Based on consistent selection and phenomenal work ethic, Hurst’s side have arguably been the surprise package of English football this year. No one expected them to be where they are, lording it up four points clear at the League One summit.
The Iron have only lost once this season, however, and under Alexander they’ve been one of the division’s form sides. 41 wins from his 78 games in charge reflects a fearsome 52.6 win %, and they’ll fancy their chances of upending the league leader’s unbeaten record.
Scunthorpe’s problem has been too many draws, but if they can become more clinical then they’re a match for anyone in League One. Shrewsbury’s jenga tower of wins and draws has to be upended sometime, so why not this weekend?
Luton Town v Newport County
League Two is a fascinating hot mess of teams this season. Down the bottom, there’s been capitulations from Chesterfield and Port Vale which have cost their manager’s their jobs. While at the top, there’s been a wonderful contrast between experienced Exeter boss Paul Tisdale and Notts County manager Kevin Nolan who’s in the embryonic stages of his managerial career.
Just below that pair, in the play-off places, are two outfits who will face off this weekend. Luton Town were backed extensively this summer, and they pulled off a real coup by keeping talismanic midfielder Luke Berry in the division (he joined from Cambridge).
Their mid-week draw with Morecambe put the brakes on a terrific run of three straight wins over Chesterfield, Wycombe and Port Vale – but the Hatters will remain confident of a promotion push this term under boss Nathan Jones.
Making the trip to Kenilworth Road this weekend are Michael Flynn’s Newport side, who made it back-to-back wins with their victory over Crawley on Tuesday night. They’ve found an enigmatic strike pairing in Padraig Amond and Frank Nouble, whose goals will keep them in a lot of games this season.
This encounter pits two promotion contenders in good form up against each other. These are talented, well-crafted teams who are playing some of the division’s best football. Surely, something has to give?