Gaz gives us his thoughts on the pick of the opening round of matches in the English Football League as well as some ante-post fancies.
Sheffield Wednesday v Southampton
Fri 4 August 20:00
The Championship starts with a bang this Friday with two massive clubs battling it out in this one time Premier League fixture. Sheffield Wednesday are making their way back from the wilderness after spending the last two seasons in League One. The Owls had a dramatic playoff run last term and I was expecting them to ride that wave into the Championship, however the surprise sacking of manager Darren Moore put paid to that idea. Moore did an incredible job at Hillsborough and really had a siege mentality established within the squad, only time will tell if the players will buy into Xisco Munoz’s philosophy. Success for Munoz this season will undoubtedly be Championship survival and if that’s to become a reality Wednesday will need to continue to make Hillsborough a fortress just as they did last season when they lost just once at home (W16, D6, L1). With an ageing squad, new playing philosophy and a lack of inspiring new signings I’m not sure that will be possible.
Southampton understandably are amongst the favourites for the division having been relegated from the Premier League. Last season was a nightmare for The Saints but in reality they had been flirting with relegation for some time. Surprisingly, most of the squad from last term has remained intact and although the vultures are circling there looks to be enough quality to make a sustained title challenge. Coming into this match there’s intense speculation surrounding a number of players, Kyle Walker-Peters, Romeo Lavia and James Ward-Prowse particularly, and I’d be surprised if either of those started on Friday.
It’s always difficult to pick bets at the start of the season but given the gulf in quality between the two squads (even allowing for the aforementioned omissions) I can’t believe Southampton are odds-against (6/5) to win this one and that is my main bet. I’ll also be backing Carlos Alcaraz in the shots on target market. The Argentinian midfielder has bags of energy and isn’t afraid of having a pop, his superb strike at the Emirates to dent Arsenal’s title challenge last season being a prime example. If Wednesday, as I expect, try to play in a more expansive style I can seeing Alcaraz running the show and with that in mind the 8/1 for two shots on target is too big to resist.
Charlton v Leyton Orient
Sat 5 August 15:00
A London Derby kicks things off in League One as newly promoted Orient make the short trip from East to South East London. The O’s were deserved League Two Champions and made this column a bit of money along the way. They’ll find life a lot tougher in the Championship tough, particularly on the road and this game will be a big test of their credentials. Richie Wellens side were defensively rock solid at home last season but did concede some soft goals on their travels. They were able to use their class to overcome that flaw but won’t get away with such mistakes against a better quality opposition.
Charlton had an up and down 22/23 but that was to be expected given the squad overhaul. There were some positive signs towards the end of the season where they showed more attacking intent and if they can build upon that, a playoff run wouldn’t be out of the question. The Addicks will need to shore up defensively if they are to make a promotion push but the signings of Lloyd Jones and Tayo Edun should aid in that regard. At 23/20 I’m siding with the home side in this one.
Stockport v Gillingham
Sat 5 August 15:00
Stockport’s season ended in heart-break, missing out on promotion to League One after losing to Carlisle on penalties in the Playoff Final. While there’s obvious disappointment that comes with that, it was still a great achievement considering they’d only just been promoted from the National League the season prior. The Hatters have kept most of their squad intact and will be hoping to avoid further playoff drama by achieving automatic promotion. The signing of ex Manchester United Midfielder Nick Powell is a statement of intent by County. The 29 year old midfielder still has plenty to offer and should thrive at this level.
Gillingham would likely take a repeat of last year’s mid-table finish now if you offered it to them. Neil Harris’ side looked in trouble at one stage but a good second half of the season, winning 12 out of 24 matches from the turn of the year, saw them maintain their Football League status with relative ease. One major concern for The Gils will be their away form (W3, D8, L12) and a trip to face one of the division’s big guns probably isn’t the ideal start. With that in mind Stockport look a solid bet at 3/4.
Sheffield Wednesday v Southampton – Southampton Win @ 6/5 (2 Points) BET365
Charlton v Leyton Orient – Charlton Win @ 23/20 (1 Point) BET365
Stockport v Gillingham – Stockport Win @ 3/4 (3 Points) BET365
Above in a Treble @ 7.27/1 (1 Point)
Sheffield Wednesday v Southampton – Carlos Alcaraz 2+ SOT @ 8/1 (1 Point) BET365