Derby v Preston

Derby have gone out on a limb to win automatic promotion this season and the pressure of justifying the Championship’s biggest budget is already beginning to tell. If the players weren’t already aware of the damage that might be caused by missing out this term, they were given a big clue when chairman Mel Morris took it upon himself to enter the dressing room and give the players a piece of his mind following a 1-1 draw with Reading.

It was a shocking move, one that leaves Paul Clement in a very awkward position. Whether the performance against the Royals was up to scratch or not, Morris should have kept his nose out and left Clement to manage the situation and play his cards as he saw fit. Naturally, his post-match comments delivered a message that was consistent with his paymaster and Derby have lost their next three matches: 0-3, 1-4 and 1-3.

Apart from a promising 45 minutes at Burnley, the Rams have been all at sea. In patches, they look capable and committed but momentary lapses in concentration are the giveaway. Confidence is brittle and the ghosts of their collapse in the final few months of last season haven’t been exorcised. As such, they are crying out to be taken on and the 22/5 about Preston winning at the iPro Stadium is too good to pass up.

It’s been a long season for Simon Grayson’s men on the back of promotion via the play-offs but North End have had their moments, beating Burnley and Hull in the past two months, and a ten-day break due to early elimination from the FA Cup has probably benefited them more than it would have done most other clubs, especially as such a committed side who rely heavily on being able to impose themselves physically.
Preston to beat Derby - 1pt @ 9/2

Doncaster v Walsall

Walsall’s fine season is slowly coming apart at the seams and the morale-sapping effects of a 4-0 FA Cup hiding at Reading is unlikely to be helped by heavy speculation surrounding the future of star striker Tom Bradshaw, who is reportedly interesting several Championship clubs. Whatever the outcome of his future on transfer deadline day, the Saddlers’ chances of avoiding defeat at the Keepmoat have been undermined by the distraction.

Even without that disruption, a convincing case can be made for the home win based on the respective performances of the two teams since Darren Ferguson was installed as Doncaster boss in October. The Saddlers’ shot ratio was already tailing-off before Dean Smith took the Brentford job and, predictably, the chances are drying up further under Sean O’Driscoll with his heavy emphasis on possession rather than potency.

My 16-match ratings make this virtually an each-of-two encounter on neutral territory, so 11/8 might actually be a more accurate price on the Yorkshire side to prevail. Ferguson knows this level better than most and we shouldn’t be deterred by Saturday’s setback at home to Port Vale. Donny’s last three league defeats have generally been a month apart and were all followed by victory next time out.
Doncaster to beat Walsall - 1pt @ 15/8

Luton v Yeovil

Luton have taken a gamble with new boss Nathan Jones, relying on pure coaching potential rather than proven managerial nous, and the early signs aren’t entirely convincing. The Hatters were beaten 2-0 by Notts County at the weekend, meaning they haven’t scored in either of their two home games under the Welshman and they could be worth opposing frequently until an obvious impact has been made.

The Hatters have been back in the Football League for 18 months now but their performance data throughout that time has never been anything more than mediocre, yet in John Still they had a manager who could make a difference with tactics and substitutions. However, given that Still was unable to get the tune he wanted out of them this season, we shouldn’t discount the possibility that his summer spending spree was misguided and the whole chemistry is wrong.

Yeovil have also come up short of expectations under a proven League Two manager in Paul Sturrock but an unprecedented injury crisis in the first few months derailed any ambitions of competing towards the top of the table and the ill-effects on morale were cumulative from thereon. However, a change of manager appears to have done the trick. Darren Way has come in with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, and the players have responded in kind.

The Glovers were 3-2 winners at Wimbledon on Saturday, a much better result than the league table would indicate. The Dons have steaming up the shot ratings in recent weeks, so beating them in their current state would suggest the 10/3 about the away win here is too good to resist.
Yeovil to beat Luton - 1pt @ 16/4