4 value picks for promotion in the EFL
With the festive fixtures approaching, we look at the sides to back for a surge up the table.
It’s simple for Hull.
Keep hold of Jarrod Bowen and a play-off spot is not beyond them. He is that key to their ambitions.
The 22-year-old is second in the Championship Golden Boot standings and the Tigers’ top scorer this season with 16 goals.
To put that into context, Hull’s next-highest scorer is Kamil Grosicki with five. The second-highest scorer in the Championship who isn’t a striker, meanwhile, is QPR’s Eberechi Eze with nine.
That Bowen has managed that total, along with four assists, while playing primarily as a winger is even more impressive.
As long as he continues to play, there is a clear path to the top six.
Hull have only lost three of their last 10 matches, two of which came against West Brom and Leeds, who are currently occupying the automatic promotion spots.
The Tigers have beaten top-six sides Fulham and Preston in that sequence and, despite being 14th in the table, are only five points behind the play-off positions.
With three of their four festive league games against Birmingham, Nottingham Forest and QPR – all of whom are in the bottom half of the form table – that gap could soon close.
Price for top six –
Second-favourites for the title in pre-season, Portsmouth have had to acclimatise to the loss of two players who made last season’s PFA Team of the Year.
Captain and centre back Matt Clarke was snapped up by Derby, while 17-goal winger Jamal Lowe went to Wigan.
It’s understandable, then, that last season’s losing play-off semi-finalists have been unable to break into the top six so far this term.
But despite a disappointing first half of the campaign, there is evidence to suggest that Pompey are unlucky not to be higher than 10th.
They have the best xG ratio in the division (experimental361), while they average five shots on target per game – the third-most in League One.
Almost half of those (2.2 per game) are attempted by striker John Marquis, who netted 26 in all competitions for Doncaster last season and was another member of the PFA Team of the Year.
If Marquis maintains that throughout the second half of the season, he will surely add a few more to the five he already has.
Pompey are only four points behind the top six and eight away from the automatic promotion spots, so the gap is not insurmountable.
Price for promotion –
Scunthorpe are one the most confusing teams in the EFL.
The Iron were second-bottom of League Two after 11 games, having managed just one victory and six points.
Yet they have taken 19 points from the 10 games that have followed – the third-most in the division.
That’s despite no change in personnel in that period – manager Paul Hurst kept his job, having only joined in summer, and there has been no movement in the transfer market.
Scunthorpe have scored 18 goals in that sequence – a total only beaten by league leaders Swindon – and conceded only nine times – the equal third-fewest in that time.
They face bottom-eight sides Grimsby, Walsall and Oldham, along with out-of-form Crewe, across their four festive fixtures.
It’s easy to see how, with a good Christmas period, they could make a dent in the nine-point gap between themselves and the play-off positions.
Despite their inconsistency, they still represent excellent value to go up.
Price for promotion –
Mansfield are another side that have failed to live up to their pre-season hype, having been rated as a 9/1 bet for the League Two title before a ball was kicked.
They started with just two victories in 11 but, unlike Scunthorpe, have been unable to turn their form around.
But that could be about to change.
The Stags sacked manager John Dempster after the club’s 1-1 draw at Crewe on Saturday, with former Bristol Rovers manager Graham Coughlan taking over.
That’s following Coughlan’s resignation at Rovers this week, with the club fourth in League One.
Having taken the Gas from fourth-bottom to the play-off places in little over a year, he is clearly capable of getting the best out of underperforming players.
Just as well, given that Coughlan will inherit one of the division’s most talented squads.
Given that Mansfield are 18th and without a win in two months, it’s easy to forget that defender Krystian Pearce, wing-back Mal Benning and winger CJ Hamilton were all named in the 2018/19 EFL League Two Team of the Season.
Striker Nicky Maynard, meanwhile, netted 21 times for Bury last season, while Andy Cook scored 13 goals in League One.
If Coughlan gets them playing at their potential again, will be a snip for them to go up.
Price for promotion –
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