Wycombe can be TV wonders
Wycombe Wanderers v Sunderland
Saturday 8th January, kick-off 12:30
Live on Sky Sports Football
Sky's Saturday live instalment is a bit of a treat for League One fans as title-chasing Sunderland lay their credentials on the line at Adams Park as Wycombe lie in wait. And following a series of rather strange results over the hectic festive period, the Black Cats were one of the few to come out with a number of points. Bar the EFL Cup defeat at Arsenal, they collected seven points from three games and two of those included 3-0 and 5-0 wins. The latter was against Sheffield Wednesday, who are failing to live up to their billing.
With Sunderland just a point behind Rotherham, they have the chance to briefly go top, and for once, Lee Johnson's team deserve to be favourites. They were irresistible against the Owls, benefitting from Darren Moore's high line, as forward players continually peeled off to cause all sorts of problems. His creative midfield stole the headlines, and those that didn't think Alex Pritchard, Elliot Embleton and Dan Neil could all play in the same team were proved wrong.
It's been a good week too for the club as they have captured Northern Ireland Under-21 international Trai Hume from Linfield for a transfer fee believed to be in the region of £200,000. A highly-rated prospect who was chased by several high profile clubs, and they could have a good one there.
But do we back Sunderland at 2.588/5?
My gut instinct here is that Wycombe are quite a decent price at nearly 3.02/1, especially as they boast a strong home record. They've won eight and lost just two of their 11 and with a "goals against column of just 14 in 12 games", they won't be carved open as easily as the Owls. It might be dangerous for Johnson to go with such a creative midfield again as Wycombe know how to win ugly and scrap.
They are excellent at holding onto a lead and are difficult to play against. That was the case with their latest 0-1 at Charlton. Sam Vokes scored on 35 minutes, and they completely blocked off any outlet from the Addicks.
The hosts will be boosted by the return of manager Gareth Ainsworth - who missed the game at the Valley as he was in isolation. He was in the dug-out virtually on iFollow - which was something I never thought I would be typing two years ago.
Sunderland won the reverse game at the Stadium Of Light 3-1 in August, but Wycombe actually played well there and didn't deserve that scoreline. And this all comes down to price, and I am prepared to back the hosts at around 3.02/1. It's too big.
In terms of Sportsbook Betbuilder selections, Sunderland forward Ross Stewart is on a roll with a hat-trick against Charlton and a brace in the August 3-1 against Wanderers. He is 11/5 to Score Anytime and 5/1 on the First Goalscorer market and has now got 15 in 28 this term. Vokes has scored for the Chairboys seven times, but three of those have come in a trio of 1-0 victories, and that's the Betbuilder I prefer; backing the win and Vokes pays 11/1.
Having conceded just two goals in their first three Football League games against Sunderland (W1 D2), Wycombe have conceded seven goals in their last two such encounters with the Black Cats (L2), including a 3-1 defeat in the reverse fixture in August. And that makes life tricky for the Under/Over 2.5 bet. The former is favourite at 1.814/5.
KEY OPTA STAT: Wycombe have only lost two of their last 13 league games at Adams Park (W10 D1), while only failing to score in one of the 13 fixtures in this run (0-1 v Portsmouth in November 2021).
U's can take advantage of Lincoln's struggles
Lincoln City v Oxford United
Saturday 8th January, kick-off 15:00
Following a fine Oxford performance on Wednesday 29th December in beating Wimbledon 3-0, backers of the U's must have been left puzzled by the following 1-1 home draw against Cheltenham - a game they were expected to win easily.
They were toiling after 45 minutes, but the change from a 4-3-3 to a diamond formation opened up a few more gaps with Gavin Whyte playing as the '10', and it's a system that should be started with as Karl Robinson utilised that against Bolton. It certainly gives them a bit more pace with a front five.
However, bar the Wigan loss, Oxford have only lost once since mid-October and are playing well on the road according to Opta stats. After losing three consecutive away games in League One during August and September, Oxford have since gone six away games without defeat in the competition (W4 D2), including winning their last two.
Lincoln are falling off the pace and for a side that had some play-off back-class, they cannot buy a win at the moment. Indeed, their last success in League One was at the end of October. Shipping goals has become a major problem and for a team that used to be so good with effectively a back seven on the counter-attack, they haven't kept a clean sheet all season at Sincil Bank.
They are only four points above bottom-three side Gillingham and with only 10 scored at home all season Michael Appleton is one manager under pressure. His dismay was apparent as his side collapsed from leading 2-0 at home to MK Dons on Boxing Day to go down 2-3 and a 90th minute winner. That was their last game due to postponements and Appleton said at the time: "There's big, big disappointment. The players are flat in the dressing room. We've got to make sure we find a way of picking them up."
The visitors have been playing well on the road recently with two wins in three - and one of those was the draw at Sunderland. I expect a few goals too so it might be worth backing Oxford to win and the Over 2.5 on the Betbuilder that pays just over 2/1.
KEY OPTA STAT: Lincoln City have won just one of their last six Football League games against Oxford United (L5), having won five of the previous six (D1).
Town should shade low-scoring encounter
Gillingham v Ipswich Town
Saturday 8th January, kick-off 15:00
Gillingham are winless in their last nine games in League One (D4 L5), and could go 10 in succession without a victory in league action for the first time since September 2017, so they are hardly in great shape to entertain Kieran McKenna's Ipswich.
McKenna gained his first win in the new job with a 1-0 home success against Wycombe on Wednesday, which surprisingly was their first win since November - a run that ultimately cost Paul Cook his job, as they'd been underperforming for a long time. The supporters were behind them with an astonishing 26,000 at Portman Road for the festive treat, although the pressure and need for success for the well-supported club has seen the players fail to live up to the needs.
The new man stuck with the 3-5-2 that served them well in the 1-1 against Sunderland, and while more direct, the clean sheet was a boost and was only their third one. They are also looked more aggressive.
Their last four games have all been Under 2.5, and that looks the likeliest outcome at 1.865/6. Gillingham are doing well on that front too with a 0-0 against the MK Dons last time, as eight of their last 10 have all hit in the marker.
But Gillingham cannot win. A price of 4.47/2 reflects a side embroiled in a relegation scrap now, and I expect the fiery Scot to revisit his old quotes when Cook took charge. He said at the time: "If you had a budget of the league table they would be in the top three and we would be in the bottom three". Like clockwork.
The Kent club have only won one of their last seven league meetings with the Tractor Boys (D2 L4), however that victory did come in their most recent clash in League One (3-1 in March 2021). But it's hard to fancy them if the visitors replicate their aggressive style from the Wycombe game. The price of the 1.9420/21 is just about acceptable, and we can also double up with the Under for the Sportsbook tilt. Backing both using the Betbuilder pays 3/1.
KEY OPTA STAT: Ipswich are looking to avoid losing consecutive league games against Gillingham for the first time, with this being set to be their 23rd meeting in the Football League.