Seasiders to find joy inland
Barnsley v Blackpool
Blackpool head to lowly Barnsley with both sides looking to put iffy FA Cup performances behind them. Blackpool threw away a lead to lose to League Two Hartlepool, while Barnsley beat Barrow in a scintillating 5-4 cup tie, but in doing so showed huge frailties and issues in throwing away a 2-0 lead against an opposition two leagues below them and down to 10 men.
Barnsley’s underlying performance data suggests they actually play worse at Oakwell than they do away from home. The fans are understandably unhappy at their fall from grace this season after reaching the play-offs in May, and their displeasure is emanating from the stands.
Blackpool seem to be constantly blighted by injuries to two or three key players, and yet Neil Critchley‘s side rarely lower their performance level. They are a competitive, mid-table side playing against the worst team in the league. Always well coached, strong out of possession and with a few different avenues of attack. Barnsley have struggled to create chances all season, and while Poya Asbaghi’s first few games saw them tighten up defensively, they are by no means sturdy.
Royals situation makes for difficult Reading
Middlesbrough v Reading
Since Chris Wilder‘s appointment, Middlesbrough have been playing at a very high level, and their run of five wins and a draw in their last six games is no fluke. Four of the five teams they’ve beaten have been top half sides, and the performances have been convincing – sure of themselves defensively, playing with impressive intensity and creating a ton of chances.
Reading are in a very dark place. A loss to sixth tier Kidderminster last weekend was followed up by a 0-7 defeat at home to Fulham. Negativity surrounding the club is at an all time high, and inevitably many of it is directed at manager Veljko Paunovic.
At the time of writing, he remains Reading manager. If that is the case as they head to Teeside, there’s a strong chance that things could get similarly ugly against a team in no mood for mercy.
With injuries and AFCON absences forcing Paunovic to play a backline of academy products and players out of position, this is the worst possible opponent – slick, focused and motivated by a chance to continue their rise up the table.
Sharp shooter has Rams in sights
Derby v Sheff Utd
Billy Sharp loves playing against Derby, scoring 9 goals in 16 games against the Rams across his career.
His Blades side are desperate for some league action, having had four straight league matches called off due to Covid issues suffered by their opponents. Prior to that, they had rattled off four wins in a row under Paul Heckingbottom.
Sharp remains their leader and goalscoring talisman. Of their regular attacking players, he leads the side for goals per 90 and xG per 90. A master of finding space inside the box and finishing, Sharp should have a few opportunities to score against a Derby defence that is resolute but that tends to give up a lot of shots against the top teams.
With Sharp the designated penalty taker as well, he looks good value to score anytime if you think Blades can have a good time of it at Pride Park.