Football Tips

Gab Sutton EFL Betting Tips & Predictions


EFL expert Gabriel Sutton will continue to bring you his betting tips for every round of the new EFL season here on Freebets.

His knowledge and insight on everything from the Championship to League One and League Two is unrivaled, so expect detailed betting tips and analysis from all three competitions.

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Sutton’s Acca: 5/1 EFL Bet

EFL pundit Gab Sutton is back with his fivefold for Tuesday’s action.

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Southampton To Win

Southampton vs Preston


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Bolton to Win

Bolton vs Shrewsbury


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Portsmouth to Win

Portsmouth vs Barnsley


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Mansfield To Win

Mansfield vs Accrington


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Walsall To Win

Walsall vs Swindon


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Gab Sutton's Acca

5-Fold Acca for Tuesday's EFL Action

Southampton to beat PNE – 3/10

Southampton fans had once presumed that a three-game winless streak had put pay to their automatic promotion chances, quite understandably with the relentless consistency of Ipswich, Leicester and Leeds.

Draws with Middlesbrough and Blackburn sandwiched a 3-2 loss at Portman Road, and the Saints were subsequently 12 points off the top two with seven to play – albeit with two games in hand.

Back-to-back victories over Coventry and Watford, however, have rekindled some hope, especially in conjunction with the trio of frontrunners taking a combined six points from the last 27 available.

Tuesday night, therefore, represents Southampton’s big chance to capitalise on uncharacteristic profligacy from those above – victory would take them within three and points of Leeds and Ipswich respectively with two games in hand on both, and within four points of Leicester with one.

The turnaround is possible, then, for Southampton, who will lean on the intelligence of inverted full-back Kyle Walker-Peters, the assured presence of Taylor Harwood-Bellis in central defence, Flynn Downes’ playmaking from the base of midfield and the link-up of forwards Che Adams and Adam Armstrong.

Visiting Preston North End, meanwhile, have seen their own faint promotion hopes come to an end with a 1-0 home loss to Norwich.

Bolton to beat Shrewsbury – 2/7

Ian Evatt felt his Bolton side’s performance against Portsmouth on Saturday was excellent, and in light of what was in sight for the visitors that day, they are right to take huge encouragement after the 1-1 draw.

It’s the business end of the season, though, and the point didn’t do their automatic promotion chances much good, with Derby beating Leyton Orient 3-0 to reopen the four-point cushion.

As such, Wanderers must beat Shrewsbury in Tuesday’s game in hand to keep their hopes realistically alive, and then because of a five inferior goal difference, they probably have to gain another two points on the Rams in the subsequent two games.

The Trotters will be hoping to establish clear superiority against Shrewsbury, with Ricardo Santos leading from the back, Josh Cogley adding athleticism from the right, Josh Sheehan dictating from deep, Paris Maghoma making his clever runs from midfield into the final third, where Aaron Collins provides the deft finishing touches.

With key men back, Bolton look strong and should have too much for Shrewsbury, who need 4 points from their remaining three games to mathematically guarantee safety – but Paul Hurst’s side are winless in four.

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Portsmouth to beat Barnsley – 8/11

Portsmouth can mathematically guarantee promotion on Tuesday night if they avoid defeat against Barnsley, or if Bolton fail to beat Shrewsbury.

As if they’d need it, John Mousinho’s side have an incentive to target all three points, rather than settle for the one, because victory would wrap up the title, and make Saturday’s hosting of Wigan a more relaxed day of celebration.

Since losing 3-0 at home to Leyton Orient in January, Pompey have gone 16 games unbeaten, being at times rampant at home while capable of digging out the points they need to on the road, like in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Bolton.

Mousinho admitted that his side were fortunate to avoid defeat in Lancashire, and weren’t at their best in the first half, but they found their full-backs better towards the end and created some reasonable openings.

Ultimately, at this stage results feel more significant than performance, and Portsmouth can take confidence from having maintained the gap to Bolton, and now they put the champagne on ice.

Goalkeeper Will Norris, centre-back Conor Shaughnessy, midfielder Marlon Pack and wide forward Abu Kamara, among others, have all been outstanding in 2023-24 and deserve to celebrate top honours.

Visitors Barnsley, meanwhile, are set for a Play-Off spot which, if booked, they won’t go into in the best of form - it’s two wins in eight for Neill Collins’ leaky visitors, who rely heavily on attacking midfielder Adam Phillips.

Mansfield to beat Accrington Stanley – 1/4

Mansfield’s 4-1 victory at MK Dons was a pivotal result in the League Two promotion race.

Had the Stags been defeated by their promotion rivals, as their hosts threatened by opening the scoring early on, all the pressure would’ve been on Tuesday’s game in hand to reclaim the driving seat.

Instead, the turnaround victory means the Stags can mathematically rubber-stamp promotion with a win over Accrington Stanley – while a draw would mean only an unprecedented 28-goal swing in MK Dons’ favour between the two sides in the final two gameweeks would see Town outside the top three.

Mansfield will be very much intent on making it official, though, and while they’re not at full strength defensively, with Jordan Bowery filling in at centre-back, Lucas Akins’ return to attacking duties has certainly boosted them, and the former Burton forward has rekindled his relationship with Davis Keillor-Dunn in Buckinghamshire.

Louis Reed will hope to dictate with assurance from the base of midfield against Accrington Stanley, while Hiram Boateng will provide athleticism and dynamism in a more advanced role.

Safe but plummeting, the visitors are perhaps the most favourable opponents in League Two right now, having accrued two wins in their last 12 – although more worryingly for the hosts, those were both Tuesday night away trips.

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Walsall to beat Swindon – 8/11

Back-to-back defeats to form sides Doncaster and Notts County have dealt a blow to Walsall’s Play-Off aspirations, with Mat Sadler’s side dropping in the process from 9th to 11th.

Crawley’s defeats to Wrexham and Colchester limit the damage, in that the gap to the top seven is the same as it was before the slump – three – if anything the ground lost is on Donny, who are steaming into the Play-Off scramble with eight wins in a row.

As such, the Saddlers probably need to win their remaining three games to extend their season – but the good news is that their opponents are sides who know their fate is to be in League Two again next season, which isn’t the case for Rovers or Crawley.

The Black Country outfit will be looking, once again, for individual magic from busy creator Isaac Hutchinson, and hoping the experienced Jamille Matt can provide a physical, clinical goalscoring presence.

Visitors Swindon travel off the back of successive victories over Barrow and Wimbledon, having lost four of the previous five.

Paddy Power Acca

  • Southampton to beat Preston North End – 3/10
  • Bolton to beat Shrewsbury – 2/7
  • Portsmouth to beat Barnsley – 8/11
  • Mansfield to beat Accrington Stanley – 1/4
  • Walsall to beat Swindon – 8/11

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Gab Sutton’s EFL Antepost Picks

Ahead of the season, Gab Sutton picked out his EFL title winners, relegation sufferers and dark horses to watch for the 2023/24 campaign.

Gab Sutton’s 2023-24 EFL Dark Horses

EFL Pundit Gab Sutton picks his three Dark Horses for the 2023-24 EFL campaign…

Hull

Excellent ownership

Casual outsiders could be forgiven for thinking Hull have ownership issues, having been led by the Allam regime for 12 years of largely neglect.

Acun Ilıcalı, however, has transformed the mood around the club since completing a takeover in January 2022, even if that hasn’t quite manifested itself on the pitch.

Ilıcalı looks willing to not only invest in the club but, because he grew up in a city in Istanbul which gave him an understanding of the passion of football fans, he feels the culture a lot more.

Plus, Ilıcalı has been willing to communicate his plans for the club, and lay out a long-term vision whilst doing a lot more to make supporters feel cared for – like all-expenses trips to Turkey!

Rosenior’s impact

In some cases, there’s not an enormous gulf in coaching quality across the leagues, but what separates the John Mousinhos, Russ Martins and Liam Roseniors of this world from the ones who don’t get those bigger opportunities, is how they present themselves.

Perception is huge in football, and while Rosenior may not be the second-coming of Bielsa as a tactician, the way he comes across in the media, interactions with fans, and in people management is a huge part of his impact.

Plus, Rosenior has been able to simplify things so that every player understands their roles and responsibilities, in and out of possession.

As such, City only lost six of their 28 league games under the new Head Coach, which over a full season would equate to losing just 10 – and only promoted Burnley and Luton suffered fewer defeats than that last year.

Defensive strength

Alfie Jones forged an excellent partnership with Sean McLoughlin in central defence last season, which created an intriguing dynamic involving arguably City’s best centre-back, Jacob Greaves.

When the left-footed defender got injured, Jones and McLoughlin got their chance, so when he came back, he had to play left-back to get in the team at all.

Greaves did well at left-back, and the fact he’s played as an overlapping left of three before means the responsibilities of the role aren’t alien to him, but it’s not his preferred position.

If the 22-year-old isn’t keen on starting the season either at left-back, or on the bench, it could be that he gets a big move, somewhere like Sheffield United, who may have space for a left centre-back.

That would put Hull in a curiously favourable position: they could sell their biggest asset for a significant eight-figure fee, without it harming their first XI.

Rúben Vinagre has arrived on loan from Sporting CP to claim the left-back berth, as an attacking option and, speaking of full-backs… Cyrus Christie was one of the best right-backs in the Championship last season.

Impressive midfield

Jean-Michel Seri has won the title at this level before with Fulham, in 2021-22, and brings delightful grace, class and vision at the base of midfield.

Elsewhere, Regan Slater brings the industry, while Adama Traoré is the wildcard who might surprise a few this season.

The Malian signed for Hull last summer to rave reviews, with the 5′10″ midfielder having played in the Champions League for Monaco, and impressed in the Süper Lig for Hatalyspor.

The 28-year-old was a class act and, to say he was still finding fitness after a long-term injury, performed admirably in his nine Championship starts at the end of last season – natives are expecting a star 2023-24 campaign.

Could Delap be the one?

With such a strong set of defensive and midfield options, Hull only needed one or two pieces of attacking quality to be ready to rock ‘n’ roll.

They hope that quality can come from Liam Delap, who’s embarking on his second season at this level after joining on loan from Manchester City.

Delap didn’t have the greatest loan spells last season, struggling at Preston North End and Stoke respectively, but sometimes that first year of adjusting to senior football can be a challenge.

Now he’s had that year under his belt, Delap could be ready to flourish at the MKM Stadium – but don’t write off Óscar Estupiñán, either.

After getting his first Columbia cap last year, Estupiñán didn’t have quite the debut campaign he wanted but still managed to score 13 goals, including a hat-trick against Coventry, braces against Norwich and West Brom, as well as scoring in four consecutive games between December and January.

Clearly, a confident Estupiñán is an excellent finisher, and if he can fine-tune his link-up play, a big year could be in store.

Lincoln

Underdog specialist

Lincoln City lost just one of their 12 league encounters with top six opposition last season.

Thanks to the goalkeeping heroics of Carl Rushworth, on loan from Brighton, and the dogged, last-ditch defensive resilience of centre-backs Adam Jackson and Paudie O’Connor, as well as some outstanding performances at left wing-back from Sean Roughan, the Imps relished the underdog tag.

At Sincil Bank, the 617 Squadron sing all game in the GBM, regardless of how the team’s playing, which not every club across the country necessarily has: the ultras can have a huge impact and keep the team going in tough moments.

Hard to beat

City suffered just 12 defeats last season, which was the same number as Barnsley, who racked up a whopping 86 points, and more the Play-Off Semi-Finalists Peterborough, and they lost just once at Sincil Bank.

Workmanlike, aggressive and well-organised, Mark Kennedy’s side have established some great defensive foundations, which have enabled them to not only stunt the top sides, but also make them hard to beat in general.

Erhahon - one to watch

The next challenge for the Imps will be to find a formula to put away some of the weaker teams, but they’ve already gone some way to making progress in that area.

Before Ethan Erhahon arrived on deadline day, Kennedy’s side had accrued 13 points from nine against bottom nine position, and after, it was 18 from nine.

Highly-rated north of the border, Erhahon brought something new to the midfield dynamic, most notably his composure in possession, which opened teams up in different ways.

They’ve made a House at home

Ben House is one of the most externally underrated forwards in League One.

Because the Scot wasn’t playing in a great attacking side last season, outsiders didn’t quite register his impact, beyond the 13 goals.

House’s link-up play is excellent, though, when given the ball to feet, and if Lincoln can improve the service into him, their productivity could significantly increase.

What helps is that the former Reading trainee is now paired with Tyler Walker, an excellent poacher who could relish feeding off House and making runs into the box his strike-partner slips him onto.

And, if Lincoln can add an extra dimension of pace to their attack this season, they’re more than capable of going up that extra gear.

Strong recruitment

With just five signings so far, City are in a position in which they haven’t had to be too cavalier with their recruitment, because they already have the makings of a good team in place.

Walker, as above, should score goals at this level, left wing-back Jaden Brown comes with great reviews from Sheffield Wednesday, Ali Smith will bring a rangy athleticism in midfield to complement Erhahon, while Reeco Hackett will bring height, versatility and League One experience to the attack.

Goalkeeper Lukas Jensen, meanwhile, is hoping to fair better in goal in a more organised setup than the one he found himself in at Accrington Stanley, and should be an imposing presence at 6′6″.

Barrow

Pete Wild on the up

In 10 months’ time, Pete Wild will be the EFL’s hot managerial property.

The Royton-based boss’ record in the National League and League Two is phenomenal, having massively exceeded expectation in three of his four full seasons in management.

Wild inspired Halifax Town to two National League Play-Off finishes in three seasons with a bottom-end budget, and what seemed a likelihood of relegation when he first walked in, but he subsequently built a team stronger than the sum of it’s parts, and developed players that have since gone on to play at higher levels.

Then, Wild moved to Barrow, who had finished 20th and 22nd in their first two seasons back in the EFL, and he oversaw an incredible 13-place improvement last season.

Wild’s career history tells us that he has a 75% chance of massively exceeding expectation, and massively exceeding expectation after a ninth-placed finish would be winning automatic promotion, rather than even reaching the Play-Offs.

Lively and energetic on the touchline, the 39-year-old has constructed a team that mirrors him on the pitch.

Barrow 2.0

Last season for Barrow was about establishing a clear playing identity, which they did: they were a high-pressing outfit that could be ruthless in transitions.

As we saw at the back-end of 2022-23, when they lost their last four games to give their season a slightly distorted look by finishing 12 points off the Play-Offs, their style was worked out slightly, so this summer was about keeping the core identity in place whilst adding new dimensions.

There are three examples of how they’ve done this.

Firstly, Jamie Proctor and Emile Acquah arrive to provide more of a physical presence up top.

Josh Gordon was great for persistent running in behind, and a handsome goal return of 15, but he struggled to win headers of physical duels, which made Barrow’s attacking play very much a second ball game.

This time, those early balls forward are sticking the first time around, so Barrow won’t be as reliant on opposition mistakes.

Secondly, David Worrall arrives having played the fifth-most key passes per game in League One last season at 1.9, and will provide that creative element whilst having the work ethic to fit into Wild’s system, enabling the Bluebirds to open teams up in different ways.

Also serving that purpose will be Kian Spence, who arrives from Halifax to bring a touch of quality and assurance in midfield, something Barrow didn’t always have last season.

Despite missing all those things in 2022-23, Wild’s side still managed to finish ninth but, with a centre-forward who can make the ball stick, a star creator and a midfielder who can bring the class, there’s every chance they go up another level.

Experienced spine

Barrow have experience in goalkeeper Paul Farman, centre-back Niall Canavan, midfielder Sam Foley and, now, Proctor up top.

These figures should step up in the dressing room when it comes to the crunch points of the season.

Farman was part of the Lincoln side that went on a history-making FA Cup run in 2016-17, Foley was part of the Yeovil team that miraculously got to the Championship, so both have achieved seemingly implausible feats before and know what it takes.

Elsewhere, Canavan has won promotion from this level before with Scunthorpe and, like Proctor, brings higher league experience.

Loan market

Barrow train in Manchester, a two-hour journey away from Holker Street, which puts them in a great position to land the best loan deals from the north-west, and possibly even from the Midlands or Yorkshire.

Last season, the Bluebirds struck gold in the loan market by landing centre-back Sam McClelland from Chelsea and midfielder Harrison Neal from Sheffield United.

They’ll be hoping they can make the right finishing touches to this squad late in the window.

Togetherness

The other advantage Barrow have gained by training in Manchester is the team spirit that’s been cultivated by travelling together to home games, as well as aways.

For a lot of clubs, the players simply turn up at the stadium on match-days and by that point, it’s all focus on the game.

This way, players spend more time with one another and establish a tight-knit bond which builds trust, and that can often translate onto the pitch.

Gab Sutton’s EFL Relegation picks 2023/24

EFL pundit Gab Sutton provides a deep-dive on three teams who could be in danger of the drop this season…

Sheffield Wednesday

Instability

After Wednesday achieved the biggest Semi-Final 2nd leg turnaround in Play-Off history to get to Wembley, then win there through Josh Windass’ 123rd-minute header, it seemed like a significant moment for the club.

The euphoria of 40,000 Wednesdays after Windass’ goal, shortly followed by the final whistle, and the biggest cheer of the night for Darren Moore lifting the trophy, should’ve been a hallmark moment for the club.

It should have been the time the club put the chaotic 2016-2021 era firmly behind them, and embraced a new period of Championship stability with Moore at the helm.

Instead, a disagreement between Moore and Dejphon Chansiri saw them part company, 22 days after Wembley, giving the owner six weeks to appoint his replacement, with no footballing mind upstairs.

After relegation in 2021, much of the operational power had been handed to Moore, which wasn’t the worst decision Chansiri has ever made, because at least it was a football person making football decisions.

However, when Moore left, the club didn’t have a Sporting Director or equivalent in place, meaning Chansiri had to appoint his replacement by using his vast knowledge and expertise… in tuna production.

To slightly reinvent a Mitchell & Webb sketch, we’re not saying managerial appointments are harder than running a billion-pound tuna business, we’re saying they require different skills.

Munoz unconvincing

It’s conceivable that, from a very basic perspective, Chansiri compiled a list of managers who have won promotion from the Championship recently, and Xisco Muñoz was on it for his achievement with Watford in 2020-21.

Only, the Hornets under Muñoz were disjointed, imbalanced and unconvincing, reliant on the individual quality of João Pedro and Ismaïla Sarr, more so than the quality of the coaching.

Sheffield Wednesday won’t have that same individual quality relative to the level, so it’s possible Muñoz might come unstuck.

Aging squad

Sheffield Wednesday have a core of six players who are good enough for this level: Liam Palmer, Barry Bannan, George Byers, Josh Windass, Lee Gregory and Michael Smith.

At an average age of 31, however, there’s a risk of decline from the sextet, hardly ideal for a group stepping up a level.

Muñoz has added to the right side with 30-year-old Juan Delgado from F.C. Paços de Ferreira, who can play anywhere on the flank, and Pol Valentín, from Sporting Gijón, who is likelier to operate as a conventional full-back but is also very attack-minded.

Another 6-8 players are still required, though, as pace, athleticism and exuberance is required to rejuvenate this squad of wise old Owls.

Who’s up to the level?

Beyond the aforementioned sextet, there’s question marks over the squad in lots of areas: the goalkeeping position, central defence, left-back, midfield, wide areas and possibly up top.

Goalkeeper Cameron Dawson had a great game at Wembley, but continues to divide opinion at Hillsborough – and that was in League One.

Dominic Iorfa, Akin Famewo, Michael Ihiekwe and Ciaran Brennan isn’t a good enough crop of centre-backs for the Championship, so at least one addition is a must.

171 of Reece James’ 201 career league appearances have come in League One and at 29, it’s unlikely the versatile left-sider is now going to improve so much that he now becomes better than that level.

Will Vaulks has Championship experience, but that’s a different thing from having Championship quality: he may be a very driven midfielder with a good long throw, who can hit a few from distance, but he isn’t particularly technical, nor hugely athletic.

A physical, box-to-box type is vital, as well as quality out wide, seeing as Muñoz plans to switch from last season’s 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3.

Delayed recruitment

Had Moore stayed on, he would’ve been able to oversee the recruitment process, while the club continued the other process of appointing a Sporting Director, thus minimizing disruption.

Instead, everything was on hold for the 15 days between Moore’s exit and Muñoz’s arrival, which is incredibly unprofessional for a club that carries such a grand name in English football.

As such, Wednesday not only have a more limited pool of players they can bring in, the players they sign also have less time to settle, train with their teammates and forge an understanding.

Cheltenham

The no-shows

In Cheltenham’s 48 games across all competitions, their performances can be split into two main categories.

In 38 of them, the Robins produced a 6+/10 performance, and from those they broadly got their rewards.

Town were outstanding at home to Bolton, and away to Charlton, in several other games they were rock solid and earnt their just deserts, while in others they pulled off a backs-to-the-wall job in adversity, earning a point at Ipswich for example, with nine players out.

What’s worrying, however, is the huge gap in levels between those 38 performances, and the other 10, in which Wade Elliott’s side didn’t turn up at all.

Some might see it as harsh to put the microscope to the worst performances, given the financial disparity Cheltenham are operating under in League One, and the likelihood that there will be some games in which they fall short.

If it was just a quality issue in those games, it’s no problem, but to have the effort and application of the players in question in over a fifth of the matches would seem like a red flag.

May is gone

May’s departure isn’t as big a factor in our reasoning for thinking Cheltenham go down as might be assumed, but it certainly can’t be ignored.

The former Doncaster forward not only brings an exceptional work ethic and lovely link-up play, he’s also hit 20 goals in both League One seasons with the Robins.

May’s individual quality in the final third was key to ensuring that, when Town produced their better performances, they very often got the result they deserved – there was only a small handful of occasions where they drew or lost, and left feeling like they merited more.

Without the 30-year-old, it’s plausible Cheltenham have more games in which they play well and don’t get the results.

Optimistically, there’s a world in which the absence of May ends up working in their favour, and the partnership of Aidan Keena and Rob Street gives them more an attacking equilibrium.

May might be better than both Keena and Street individually, but is similar stylistically to the former and when they played together, neither offered a physical presence, whereas the Irishman’s new strike partner brings something different.

On the other hand, the drop-off is likely to leave Wade Elliott’s side at a net loss: Street showed potential at Shrewsbury, but he remains an unknown quantity and asking him to replace May’s productivity from the off would be unfair.

Taylor departed

West Brom loanee Caleb Taylor was also crucial to Cheltenham’s defensive record last season, as the team kept 16 clean sheets, the joint-10th most in the league.

Lewis Freestone’s meteoric progress was crucial to that as well, but Taylor provided a dominant defensive presence in the middle of the back-three in the absence of Will Boyle, who had left for Huddersfield.

It seems unlikely that Curtis Davies, his replacement, is mobile enough at 38 to be a regular starter, and while operating in the middle of a back-three may mitigate some of the issues and minimize the amount of one-on-one defending he’ll have to do, there’s still a likelihood he’ll get caught out by quick attackers.

As such, Cheltenham need to loan in a replacement for Taylor to allow Davies to be the dressing room influence, who comes off the bench when you need to defend balls into the box for 10 minutes.

Where’s the creativity?

May also provided a fair proportion of Cheltenham’s creativity last season, especially in the final third.

The hope is that with Street backing up against defenders more, Keena can be freed up to take on more of the May role in terms of dropping in and linking play, but whether he can bring the same level of quality is debateable.

As such, Town will need creativity from other areas, especially with right wing-back Ryan Jackson departed, as the right wing-back had provided a fair standard of deliveries, and it’s in the balance whether Liam Smith can replace him well.

Left wing-back Will Ferry should provide some craft, and has the potential to grow into one of the best in the league: you could argue he performed better than Marvin Johnson at Sheffield Wednesday last season, for example, having shown the ability to be both agile in tight areas and direct in open spaces.

The big question is in midfield, where Liam Sercombe and Elliot Bonds are not devoid of vision but specialise in different areas, and therefore a creative third man is needed in Elliott’s 3-5-2.

James Olayinka could step up to the mantle, having shown flashes of promise, but remains something of an unknown, and with current personnel, the club would be putting a lot of eggs in the basket of him adding consistency.

Too reliant on the central core?

Goalkeeper Luke Southwood, left-sided defender Lewis Freestone, Sercombe, Bonds and Ferry are a core of players who are good enough to be part of a side that can stabilize at this level.

Keena and Street are also part of that core, with the caveat that neither could be placed in the May bracket of being quite good enough to carry a team in the same way.

The septet leaves question marks over four areas, in terms of the best XI, some of which may get addressed in forthcoming recruitment.

The first is whether Davies can cut the mustard at 38, and perhaps another centre-back comes in.

The Robins require another creative midfielder, as above, possibly a right wing-back on loan, seeing as Smith is their only current option, although Sean Long can do a job there.

The majority of Town fans seem to think Long is up to League One standards - though we have doubts about him against quick, strong attackers – and it’s unlikely anyone will be brought in with the intention of displacing the skipper.

Elsewhere, it’s uncertainty over options up top in reserve, seeing as Cheltenham were held back, last season, when Dan Nlundulu and May were absent, because George Lloyd, Charlie Brown and Christian Norton didn’t quite have the same level of ability.

The worry for the Robins would be that it could be something similar this year, with Lloyd and Will Goodwin in reserve.

The former has a great attitude, and an incredible spring at 5′10″, and after a positive loan at Grimsby where he started to find some confidence in front of goal, it’s possible he comes back better – but will it be enough to trouble Elliott’s selections?

Plus, Goodwin hasn’t yet made the jump from the National League and may need a loan, so another attacking option – possibly someone with searing pace who can impact things from the bench – would be ideal.

Newport

Key men depart

After Coughlan steered Newport from relegation trouble to midtable safety via top 10 form last season, optimism high the club could kick on under the same manager.

That optimism, however, has ebbed away over the summer, because not only have Newport lost four loanees in Matt Baker, Nathan Moriah-Welsh, Calum Kavanagh and Charlie O’Neill, they’ve also parted with four key defenders.

Driven right-back Cameron Norman, stalwart Mickey Demetriou, star centre-back Priestley Farquharson and left-back Aaron Lewis have departed for League Two rivals MK Dons, Crewe, Walsall and Mansfield respectively.

With so many notable exits, Exiles have been denied an opportunity to build on the synergy and understanding that got them that form under Coughlan, and now it’s back to square one in a strengthened league.

Attack hasn’t improved

The players remaining at Rodney Parade scored 28 goals between them last season, and just two forward-thinking operators have since been added to that group.

Attacking midfielder Nathan Wood was the best player in the Cymru Premier in 2022-23, but the step-up from Penybont can be tricky, as James Waite has found his first two seasons a little harder than he might have liked.

Elsewhere, striker Seb Palmer-Houlden joins on loan. An exciting talent in Bristol City U21s, with 17 goals in the PDL last season, the young pressing striker has been part of first team pre-season training in Austria in the last two summers, and clearly has something about him.

Senior football is a different level, though, and some players require a year to adjust to that challenge, and whether Palmer-Houlden can hit the ground running is the big question.

Can the aging core do it again?

17 of the 28 goals scored by the group that remains from last season, were scored by Omar Bogle, and the doubt here is whether the 30-year-old can reproduce that kind of form.

Since leaving Grimsby in 2017, the striker has been something of an enigma who managers have struggled to get the best out of, and while he was at a higher level for much of that time, it’s hard to say with overwhelming confidence he’ll repeat the trick.

Similar questions could be levelled at goalkeeper Joe Day, defender James Clarke, utility man Scot Bennett, and midfielder Aaron Wildig – all good League Two players previously, now the other side of 30 and liable to dropping off a level.

Defence weakened

As above, Norman, Demetriou, Farquharson and Lewis have all left County, with Ryan Delaney, Kyle Jameson, Josh Seberry and Matty Bondswell, on loan from Newcastle, incoming.

Right wing-back Harrison Bright is said to have lots of potential, but it’d be a huge ask for him to replace Norman straight away so an addition at right wing-back is a must.

It’s possible Delaney and Jameson can replace Demetriou and Farquharson, seeing as Coughlan seems to be able to get the best out of centre-backs with the way he sets his teams up, but the changeover is not ideal.

The big hope is that Bondswell, replacing Lewis, can show the potential that saw him break into Newcastle’s first-team squad in 2022 pre-season, and kick-start his career at Rodney Parade.

Financial concerns

Being a club owned by the Supporters Trust as an EFL club nowadays comes with a badge of honour, because so few can do it at this level – but there’s a reason for that.

Exeter City are the ones to aspire to, but what they have in their favour is a huge catchment area and an excellent academy which, with the commitment to developing players, has been a vehicle to keep the club afloat through player sales.

County’s academy is good, but nowhere near as established, and the best managers they’ve had in recent years haven’t necessarily been the ones with a passion for youth development.

As such, there’s the question of where the money comes from as the financial disparity widens.

It’d be one thing for Newport to lose their key players to a well-backed divisional rival like Stockport, for example (we wisely swerved the other obvious example), but Demetriou has gone to Crewe, who will have a bottom six budget, which shows how difficult it is for the Exiles to compete at this level.

Gab Sutton’s 2023-24 EFL Title Winners

You may know Gab Sutton’s EFL title picks already by now, but if you need further convincing, here are three deep-dives on his fancies for top honours, with five reasons to back them

Leicester City

Money coming in

Leicester’s biggest advantage in the Championship this season is also their simplest: the huge financial disparity.

Not only do the Foxes have parachute payments, they’ve sold James Maddison and Harvey Barnes for a combined £78 million, and may even sell one or two from Wilfred Ndidi, Boubakary Soumaré and Kelechi Iheanacho, giving them plenty of space in the budget.

If the East Midlanders’ prospects are in the balance after the festive period, and they need a top notch January to swing things their way, they can afford it.

The income has already financed deals for Conor Coady and Harry Winks, from Wolves and Tottenham respectively. Speaking of which…

Coady signs

The success of the models like the ones Brentford and Brighton have – develop, sell, replace, rinse and repeat – means as a footballing culture we’re more sensitive to the age profiles of players signed for transfer fees than we used to be.

This is unquestionably a good thing, because if clubs were regularly paying large fees for players with no resale value, it would prove unsustainable and they would be caught out very quickly.

There is the danger, though, that sometimes we go too far the other way, and deem every 30-year-old signed for a large transfer fee as a bad decision, as opposed to saying it’s unwise to do that too often.

Sometimes, if the team is short of leadership at the back, and some Premier League nous will be helpful, it can be worth spending that extra few quid on a one-off deal to get the player you need to help the short-term ambitions.

That seems the case with Conor Coady, who signs for £7.5 million.

Sure, last season on loan at Everton didn’t go to plan, but you don’t start 151 Premier League games out of 152, across four seasons, if you’ve not got something about you.

Before that run, the Liverpudlian won the title at this level with Wolves, after Nuno Espirito Santo converted him from a midfielder into a centre-back.

There, he’s provided an excellent passing range for a defender, and fine leadership qualities, which he will bring to the King Power Stadium, as well as a strong, charismatic presence in the dressing room who will lift the troops when the going gets tough.

Now for the other end…

Firepower

Even if Iheanacho goes, City won’t be short of firepower.

Enzo Maresca’s side possess two centre-forwards who have won a top-flight golden boot in the last four years, with Jamie Vardy having been top goalscorer in the Premier League in 2019-20, and Patson Daka, the same in the 2020-21 Austrian Bundesliga.

Vardy at 36 doesn’t have the searing speed of his glory days, but retains that knack of getting the better of defenders, even if it’s over shorter distances than the wide open spaces in which he used to cause havoc.

As such, Leicester could have huge joy if they condense the veteran’s game. They may ask him not chase quite everything, this time, because the style and quality of the team should dictate he won’t spend as much time without the ball, nor have to do as much running to get chances, and can therefore channel his energy into being deadly in a handful of isolated moments.

It’s a similar story for Daka, in whom lies a prolific goalscorer, even if he hasn’t yet quite racked up the big Premier League numbers – and, of course, that increases City’s chances of retaining him!

The Zambia international is currently top goalscorer in Zambia’s African Cup of Nations Qualification Group, with four goals in five, including one against Ivory Coast.

Although strong, and tall at 6′1″, Daka like Vardy does his best work facing goal, rather than with his back to it, and the fact he’s not a dribbling specialist makes him fit into Leicester’s system more.

Maresca will want players not to spend too long on the ball, and the 24-year-old might stay on the periphery for large periods, hugging the shoulder of defenders, then either quickly laying the ball off or running through on goal when he can.

If City can add an extra sprinkling of creativity in attacking midfield and wide positions, Vardy and Daka could end up with 15-20 goals apiece, even if they rarely start simultaneously.

Callum Doyle is mustard

Doyle has impressed in League One with Sunderland, then in the Championship with Coventry, and it seems only a matter of time before he steps up to the Premier League.

Highly cultured, strong on either foot and convincing on the defensive basics, the Man City loanee has all the attributes to go to the top of the game – after, that is, being the best defender in the Championship with Leicester.

Maresca’s system will see Doyle go from playing left of a back-three out of possession, to left-back in possession.

Instead of being an overlapping full-back, however, he’ll be asked to jog toward the edge of the penalty area and swing deft crosses into the back-post, like he did on one or two occasions at Northampton in pre-season.

It’s more difficult for opposing teams to know how to prepare to shut down a centre-back’s deliveries into the box than it is, a wide man or midfielder, so the fact Doyle can produce such quality is a huge advantage.

Maresca assisted Pep

You don’t become Pep Guardiola’s second-hand man at Manchester City without being a world-class coach, and the fact Arsenal appointed Mikel Arteta off the back of that job shows how well Leicester have done to get Maresca to lead them into the Championship.

The 43-year-old has impressed natives early on, and is committed to delivering stylish, expansive, free-flowing football.

He appears to employ a hybrid of 4-2-3-1 and 3-3-1-3 - at least, that’s what we drew out of our hat with about 100 other guesses!

We also saw shades of a 3-2-4-1, a 4-4-2 diamond, an asymmetrically-boxed 4-2-2-2, a 4-1- oh you’ve gone. For the purposes of simplicity, we’ll just describe the two interpretations of the system for now…

In possession, Leicester operate with a flat-back four with wide men Timothy Castagne and Wanya asked to carry out their defensive duties, but on turnovers, it flips into a back-three.

Doyle shifts infield from left-back into a left centre-back role alongside Coady and Wout Faes, while Ricardo Pereira moves into midfield to the right of Harry Winks and Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall.

The sextet give Leicester a numerical advantage that will allow them to play around the press, then pick out Dennis Praet, who tends to make some runs ahead of the opposition press in his number 10 role, often drifting into the right channel.

Praet getting on the ball will be a prompt for Timothy Castagne, Wanya, and Vardy to dart forward, allowing the Foxes to either exploit a high line by getting in behind, or the low block, by getting some control through Praet, Winks, Pereira, and Dewsbury-Hall.

Leicester look like having the means to overcome different challenges in different ways – and the results could be ominous for the rest.

Portsmouth

Top Sporting Director

Richard Hughes is one of the nation’s most exciting operational figures, and Portsmouth’s Sporting Director isn’t afraid to think outside the box.

Feel would have had the audacity to appoint John Mousinho as Head Coach, when the 36-year-old was still registered as a player at his previous club, and was only in charge of taking set piece training.

Mousinho, though, has impressed, and Hughes is hoping his recruitment will too, as he looks to oversee another EFL title win, having been instrumental in Forest Green’s success in League Two in 2021-22.

Previously, Portsmouth had relied on managers Kenny Jackett and Danny Cowley to take on a lot of the recruitment, which hasn’t worked out as well as they might have liked.

Jackett made 50 senior signings in his tenure, of which about 17 can be classed as clear successes, giving him a hit-rate of 34%, and Cowley, 39% at 12 in 31 (these being a humble outsider’s rough estimations).

In Hughes’ first window, though, the club signed Ryley Towler and Paddy Lane permanently, as well as Di’Shon Bernard and Matt Macey on loan, and each of those players had a good half-seasons, perhaps to different extents.

While it would be wrong to expect Hughes to sustain a 100% hit rate after such a small sample size, of course, the above does show the value in having somebody overseeing recruitment who isn’t the person who’s also taking training – they are able to put more energy into that task.

In Hughes’ time at Forest Green, he recruited 10 players in the space of three windows, who would subsequently become regular first-teamers when the club won the League Two title in 2021-22, with a budget ranking around eighth and a hit rate of around 56%.

That sort of return on investment could be huge, seeing as Pompey don’t have one of the biggest budgets in League One, contrary to common external assumption.

A coach with a fresh angle

The fact Mousinho is fresh from playing means he understands the modern dressing room, something older managers don’t, always.

As the game evolves, distance between players and management has become less of a priority, and while boundaries are important, young, trendy bosses like Rob Edwards and Russ Martin have become highly sought after.

Edwards and Martin have got their big jobs, not through achievement alone, but how they present themselves, their people skills and the dynamic they establish with their players.

Mousinho is very much in the in vogue mould of coaches and, as well as being an engaging person naturally, he’s also clearly invested time in studying people skills.

These have enabled him to interview well for the job, then become an excellent communicator in the media, in relationship with supporters and almost certainly in man management as well.

‘Mic’d up’ footage of Mousinho in pre-season training suggests someone who knows what individual players need, has a sense of humour but also knows when to create a serious and focused atmosphere.

It would be reasonable to have some doubts over Mousinho, given how quickly everything has happened for him, and the fact that he’s not a manager one would get excited about for the usual reasons - like elite coaching pedigree, or an outstanding track record.

Logically, there’s reason to think this might not work, but instinctively, it feels as though Mousinho’s background is a positive, rather than a negative.

Managing Portsmouth in League One is a bit like a tight jam-jar: it might just take someone with a fresh perspective to open it…

Clever recruitment

The central theme in Portsmouth’s recruitment has been players in the early-mid peak-age, 22-27 bracket, who were once highly coveted youngsters but haven’t yet fulfilled that promise.

Assured defender Regan Poole, 6′3″ centre-back Conor Shaughnessy, attacking left wing-back Jack Sparkes and technical midfielder Ben Stevenson, plus direct wide forwards Gavin Whyte and Anthony Scully, born either side of the Irish border, all hitch up in PO4.

The idea seems to be that if those talents couldn’t reach their potential through injuries, bad stylistic fits, or cultural issues, Pompey can get value for money by getting the right fitness programme, making sure they suit the system and role they’re asked to do within it, then putting them into a healthy culture.

This way, they can acquire players of high ability for cheaper than they would in signing players who have already fulfilled their potential, and simply correct a few of the problems that might have got in their way elsewhere.

The club has been willing to invest in youth, too, adding Terry Devlin and Christian Saydee, exuberant pressers in midfield and attack respectively, as well as loaning Abu Kamara from Norwich.

The forward’s greatest strengths are his dribbling, often cutting in from the right hand side onto his left foot, and his assurance in front of goal, which has seen him bag a whopping 13 in 15 PL2 encounters.

Experienced core

Key to setting the right culture, referenced above, will be the pre-existing seasoned core.

Right-back Joe Rafferty, left-sided defenders Connor Ogilvie, experienced controller Marlon Pack, energetic midfielder Joe Morrell and focal point Colby Bishop all remain from last season, and the quintet should set the tone in the dressing room.

Bishop will be especially important: the 5′11″ centre-forward has elements of an industrious target man, with a great work ethic and a phenomenal leap, but he can also drop in – his link-up play is up there with the best.

The former Accrington Stanley front-man managed to bag 20 goals last season, in a team that wasn’t hugely creative, and without much support.

This time around, he’ll be in a more attacking system and will have pace and quality around him, although the additions of other goalscorers may see him play even more of a provider role than he did last year.

The League One Henry?

The one-to-watch in League One this season is Kusini Yengi.

Quick and agile, yet also tall and strong, especially in the upper-body, the 24-year-old is a fine athlete, and that’s not all: he has excellent close control, too, making him one of the top dribblers in the A-League last season.

Yengi’s frame means he can play back to goal, but at Fratton Park, that’ll mainly be Bishop’s job, giving the Western Sydney Wanderers recruit free reign to run at goal and break the lines, either from a central position, or more likely cutting in from the left.

Australian natives believe Yengi has the potential to lead the line for the Socceroos in future, if he can prove himself with a full season injury-free.

The Adelaide-born forward will put his body on the line for his club, but he also carries a swagger and aura, which the Fratton faithful will love, as well as a capacity to deliver in big moments.

If Yengi catches fire as intended, we might just have the League One Henry!

Notts County

They’ve got Luke Williams

When Swindon reached the League One Play-Offs in 2014-15, Mark Cooper was manager, but he tended to oversee the training sessions, while Luke Williams did most of the work on the grass and was the one locals knew to be a crucial component of what they achieved.

Alas, Williams’ tenure as a number one at the County Ground didn’t quite go as hoped, at an operationally chaotic time for the club, but it’s no surprise he’s thrived elsewhere, having clearly grown and added different qualities to his managerial toolbelt.

There’s no chance Russ Martin would have got the job at Championship promotion fancies Southampton without having been influenced by Williams, his assistant at MK Dons and Swansea.

Plus, teams who play extreme, possession-heavy football in League Two tend to have trouble with the transition period, especially if they’re going from a more direct style, and a lot of managers get caught out when they’re still one or two transfer windows away from having the personnel they need.

In Notts County’s case, they’ve been working towards this style for two years and, not only did they find stylistic continuity under Ian Burchnall in 2021-22, they’ve since built on that in even more advanced terms under Williams, whilst adding that ruthless edge.

As such, the Magpies have already found that winning template that earnt them 107 points – now, it’s a case of taking that a step higher.

Signing of the summer

David McGoldrick was one of the best players in League One last season, so to see him hitch up at a newly-promoted League Two club seems almost surreal.

It was a logistical quirk that made McGoldrick’s signature realistic, as well as the teams stylistic appeal, in unquestionably the fourth-tier’s signing of the summer.

Most clubs in League Two would expect to have to carry an attacking midfielder of his natural ability out of possession but, as Derby boss Paul Warne once spoke about in his interview with League Of 72, he’s been pleasantly surprised by the 35-year-old’s work ethic.

McGoldrick was a tireless grafter for the Rams last season, and being an intelligent presser who can cut off angles sharply, should slot into Notts County’s aggressive, out of possession style, with a high line of engagement.

And, while the veteran doesn’t have the speed to threaten over long distances, he can still provide the odd bursts of pace that makes him capable in short, incisive transitions, especially being such a quick decision-maker with killer instincts.

As such, Notts County get the benefit of both worlds, as club expert Tom Williams has pointed out many times on social media.

On the one hand, have David McGoldrick: the playmaker, who gets on the ball and unlocks doors with stylish flicks, deft caresses and penetrative, defence-splitting balls.

On the other, they have David McGoldrick: the goalscorer, who can aggressively get on the end of cutbacks by arriving late in the box, and produce moments of ice cool composure to wrongfoot opposing goalkeepers.

The former Ipswich stalwart managed 22 goals last season, and there’s nothing to say he couldn’t even better that in a lower league, but he’ll also make County better as an all-round team.

The box midfield

McGoldrick’s arrival means Ruben Rodrigues’ exit for Oxford isn’t as big a concern as it could have been despite the Portuguese creator’s brilliance, while Sam Austin is now vying to start alongside the veteran with Dan Crowley.

Like McGoldrick, Crowley brings recent Championship experience, and had a fair time of things at that level, pre-injury, with Birmingham in 2019-20.

There are more questions over Crowley’s work ethic than McGoldrick’s, but if they can be answered accordingly, the 25-year-old’s quality at this level looks similarly emphatic.

A highly-rated youngster at Arsenal, who’s signature Arsene Wenger had pushed for after watching him at youth level, Crowley was included in the Gunners’ first-team squad for the 2015 pre-season Premier League Asia Trophy in Singapore.

Of course, things haven’t since gone quite to plan for the technician, but that’s the level of ability we’re talking, and the diminutive creator made a huge impact at Morecambe in the second half of last season.

Crowley or Austin, who combined well with Adam Chicksen last season, and McGoldrick, will play ahead of John Bostock and Matty Palmer.

Bostock will be one of League Two’s top deep-lying playmakers in this system, capable of completing over 100 passes in a game and being a metronomic influence in midfield whilst offering outstanding vision.

Palmer, meanwhile, can do a little bit of everything, and always seems to be one step ahead of the game, a bit like an elite tennis player.

It’s not as if the 28-year-old is constantly running himself into the ground, but he does constantly know where the game’s going and where he’ll need to be, which means he can pop up anywhere on the pitch without looking as though he’s overly stretching himself.

Notts County’s four from five will be one of the strongest quartets in League Two and should give them a great chance.

41-goal-a-season striker

Most clubs struggle to answer positively when asked whether they have a 20-goal-a-season centre-forward, and Notts County have someone who more than doubled that in 2022-23 and, incredibly, none of his 41 strikes were penalties!

Langstaff is quick and a deadly finisher, which is a huge advantage in the National League, but he’d have needed to go down to step-4 of non-league to get that sort of return if those two things were all he had in his armoury – far from it.

The former Gateshead front-man also has the strength to hold off opponents, the adaptability to threaten from anywhere across the attacking line, and reads the game impeccably, both in and out of possession.

Whether by showing the intelligent movement to elude his marker when one of the midfield quartet are on the ball, or by smelling a potential turnover, he gets on the move as soon as he senses his opportunity.

Not only that, Langstaff has a delightful first touch which enables him to bring balls under control, even when under pressure, and is a persistent one too – he’ll hassle and harry all game, and will always play to the whistle.

While his combination with McGoldrick will mainly be the latter providing for the former, there’s potential for roles to reverse given Langstaff’s selflessness, and willingness to play the wide role in certain phases which makes him such a hard striker to pin down.

With good link-up play, incisive reverse passing and quick feet to boot, Langstaff looks ready to take this league by storm, even if it’s just the 31 goals this time…

The step up is manageable

League Two is stronger than the National League, but not considerably so. Of the four teams promoted from that level in the previous two seasons, Sutton only missed out on the Play-Offs on the final day of 2021-22, and that was on a tiny budget with an honest, direct, no-frills 4-4-2 setup.

That same season, Hartlepool were outside the top seven only on goal difference by the point boss Dave Challinor left at the start of November.

When Challinor’s Stockport side came up, they recovered from a slow start to finish fourth, having been automatic promotion candidates for much of the campaign.

Grimsby, meanwhile, finished 12th, but were competitive, performance wise, all season, and became the first team in the FA Cup proper to beat five higher league teams to reach the Quarter-Finals, going on their best run in that competition since 1939.

If, for the purposes of this, we extrapolate Hartlepool’s form under Challinor into a full campaign, then on average points tallies for those four teams have dropped by 13.5%.

In Notts County’s case, a 13.5% drop-off from 107 points would still put them on 93, enough for top spot in each of the last seven seasons.

Throw in the fact they have a style that may translate better to this level than Wrexham, on 111, and have added stunning quality in McGoldrick and Crowley, and the Magpies look a great bet for top honours.

EFL Betting Tips from Gabriel Sutton

About Gab Sutton

Known for offering an expert opinion on all things EFL, Gab Sutton is a man to listen to when he talks about the Football League.

Every week, he brings his best picks in the form of Sutton’s Acca to mark your card for the weekend action.

On top of this, Gab also delivers a huge amount of insight into the EFL via his Twtter feed, so if you want to keep on top of what’s happening away from the Premier League then give Gab a follow on Twitter.

What is the EFL?

The EFL covers three of the four English leagues, consisting of the Championship, League One and League Two.

Each league has promotion and relegation, with the main goal for clubs being to get out of the Championship and up into the Premier League.

Coverage of the Premier League is everywhere, but here at Freebets, we want to focus on more than just top flight football. Thanks to the incredible knowledge Gabriel has, we’ve got an expert on hand to guide us through the Championship, League One and League Two every week of the season.

From battles at the bottom to those fighting for promotion, with three leagues, there is sure to be plenty of excitement in the 2023/24 season.

Championship Betting Tips

The second tier of English football, and the league often referred to as the toughest to gain promotion from in the world.

The prize is big, a place in the Premier League, arguably the greatest football league in the world.

But of course, everyone wants to get there. That makes the Championship highly competitive, and the 2023/24 season could well be the most competitive ever given the line up we have.

League One Betting Tips

League One comes in the middle of the pack, but has been home to a number of bigger names in recent years, and the coming season is no different.

The likes of Derby, Bolton, Barnsley, Charlton, Reading and Peterborough have records that show they can compete much higher, so once again, a tight finish to the season is expected.

League Two Betting Tips

League Two almost always offers a competitive environment at the top, with four teams promoted up into League One.

There’s plenty of focus points, but of course, the entire world will have eyes on Wrexham, finally back in the football league, with Hollywood ownership and ambitions to make it back to back promotions, they will grab 99% of the attention on this league, for sure.

Gab Sutton

Gab Sutton

EFL expert Gab Sutton brings you Sutton's Acca every Friday for Freebets