As the English Football League season approaches its climax, we're gearing up for a thrilling final weekend with three key matches on the docket: Sunderland vs Watford, Charlton vs Port Vale, and Dorking vs Scunthorpe. With play-off positions, promotions, and relegations hanging in the balance, these fixtures will be fiercely contested, and each result could drastically alter the final league standings. Read on as we delve into each matchup, exploring the form, key players, and context that will shape these decisive encounters.
Sunderland v Watford
We’re at the penultimate weekend of the Championship season and there is still plenty to be concluded at both ends of the table. The play-off race is likely to go to the final game to decide who joins Luton and Middlesbrough in the end-of-season lottery, and Sunderland are one of the teams involved in this congested part of the league table. They have hit a good patch of form at the right time to give themselves a shot at potentially earning back-to-back promotions. Three wins in four means Tony Mowbray’s men have real belief that they can secure a top-six berth.
As for Watford, it has unfortunately for them been a bit of a season to forget. The managerial comings and goings are part and parcel of life at Vicarage Road, but the end goal of promotion was always their aim, and that is just not going to happen. Chris Wilder was the man tasked with trying to gate-crash the play-off picture, but a string of comments suggesting he has inherited a group of individuals proves that all is not well within the club. A new man will come in over the summer, and many players are likely to wish to move on, so motivation going into these final two matches won’t be high to say the least.
Clearly this is a more important match for Sunderland, and you’d have to say they are the more likely winners. Watford are not a team to be trusted, and whilst you could argue they can now play with more freedom, the lack of motivation has to be a big, big factor. Wilder may also rotate and hand some fringe players a chance to impress, or even some youngsters. Sunderland won’t be doing that, they really need the win here.
It is an odds-on price for a home victory here, but I just can’t bring myself to back it. Strange things happen at this time of the season, even for those teams that need points against an opponent sitting in mid-table. I won’t be touching a side market here, but there is a player prop which did jump out at me. As mentioned, Sunderland will be pushing for the three points here, but they’ve only scored two or more in three of their last 13 matches, and they’ve been badly missing their top scorer Ross Stewart. They have to push for the win of course and I suspect they’ll be really hammering on the door, especially late on if the scores are level or they find themselves behind. One key part of their attack is winger Jack Clarke, and he can be backed at 11/10 with Bet365 to have 0.5 Shots On Target. He has achieved 13 SOT across his previous 18 appearances, and he is having to step up in the continued absence of Stewart. The former Leeds and Spurs man has played every minute in nine of his last 10 games, so he is not one who is likely to be subbed off.
Charlton v Port Vale
League One also remains highly competitive going into the final few clashes of the campaign, with questions remaining over the destinations of the league title, automatic promotion, play-off and relegation spots. There are however a few teams that no longer officially have anything to play for in terms of those particular parts of the league standing, and two of those meet at The Valley this weekend. Charlton have always been in-and-around the mid-table portion of the table, whilst Port Vale secured safety by defeating Bristol Rovers last time out.
Context is always key when handicapping these particular battles. Form is not necessarily everything building up to a match like this, especially as you can never be too certain what will happen with regards to team selections. It is a game like this where a manager is tempted to hand out opportunities to players who maybe are battling to earn contract extensions for next season, so always keep an eye on team news just to ensure full faith in your selections. Despite that, I am still quietly confident about my play on this one, regardless of the amount of possible changes that may occur.
Charlton probably haven’t had the season they’d have wanted, and off the field issues have always been a big problem for the club in recent times. The appointment of Dean Holden before Christmas was certainly a positive move by the club, even more so when you consider they were 17th when he took over and flirting with relegation. The prospect of dropping into League Two was removed some time ago, and the ten-match league form guide has Charlton in the play-offs, so they’re ending the season in good fashion.
Port Vale have experienced a managerial change of their own, but more recently, when decided to part ways with Darrell Clarke earlier this month. His assistant, Andy Crosby, has been placed in interim charge until the campaign concludes, and it remains to be seen if he’ll be handed the managerial reigns for next season. I’m always a little wary of backing teams with a caretaker manager at this time of year. Who are the players trying to impress? I also like to avoid teams playing their first game after completing their objective in the match before. As mentioned, Port Vale can no longer be relegated after their win last weekend, so there could be a bit of a drop-off here.
Of course, anything can happen in these type of encounters with nothing officially on the line. A goals approach appears the more sensible way to go as opposed to backing either team to come out with the win. Charlton would be my preference, and I do want to get them on side in a different way. I do love the 11/8 on offer from Betfred for Charlton to score Over 1.5 Total Goals. They’ve averaged 3.67 goals scored over their previous three home games, whilst Port Vale have shipped at least two in five of their last six on the road. With this being Charlton’s final home game of the season they’ll want to impress their home supporters with a rousing performance.
Dorking v Scunthorpe
The League Two card looks too tricky in my eyes to get to the bottom of, but the set of fixtures across the National League look a lot more appealing in terms of locating winners. The difference here is that this is the final match of the season in this division, but there is still the play-off situation that needs to be finalised. There is more to this league than Wrexham, and Dorking versus Scunthorpe is a contest that catches my eye this weekend.
Again, this is a classic case of neither team have anything to play for. Of course these type of games can go either way in terms of being a bit of an end of season bore or more an eventful end-to-end contest. To be honest, I’m not too bothered which way that goes, but there is a side here I really like the look of and expect them to want to finish the campaign strong. One initial look at this game is to believe goals are a strong possibility. Only top dogs Wrexham and Notts County have experienced a higher average goals per game figure than Dorking, whilst this would be a top-six battle if the league table was purely decided on games finishing with Over 3.5 Goals.
As I touched upon, I’m not really look for goals necessarily, so I will swerve that market on this particular occasion. Providing context is important, as I mentioned in the game above, and it is worth noting that this has been the best season in the history of Dorking Wanderers. This has been the highest level they’ve ever played at in their short history, so avoiding relegation means the pre-season goal has been achieved. They’ll want to improve their away record next season if they’re to climb the table, but their form at Meadowbank has been strong. Their previous seven at home has returned five wins, one draw and a defeat, which came to promotion candidates Woking. Barnet and Southend have been defeated in this period. Earlier in the campaign, they also inflicted one of Notts County’s three league defeats at this venue as well, so you’d suspect already-relegated Scunthorpe won’t be relishing this trip to Surrey.
It has really been a season to forget for Scunthorpe, most likely the worst in their entire existence. They will be playing their football in National League North next season, and a big rebuild mission is needed both on and off the pitch to get the club back on track. A recent takeover was seen as a positive, but not enough to transform their fortunes in terms of avoiding relegation. The Iron are on a five-match losing streak, the last two of which coming when relegation was already confirmed. They just want the season over and done with, and in truth they probably don’t really want to be playing this game on Saturday. Of course, they’ll have their pride, but with Dorking playing their final home game of the season they’ll want to end it in style in what should be something of a party atmosphere on the home terraces.
I’ll keep it simple here. 23/20 on a home win from Betway just simply has to be the play here. Strange things can happen at this time of the season, but I can’t see anybody confidently backing Scunthorpe in this one. They only have one away win all season anyway, so expecting them to double that number with them having nothing to play for could be wishful thinking.
Sunderland v Watford – Jack Clarke Over 0.5 Shots On Target (11/10 Bet365)
Charlton v Port Vale – Charlton Over 1.5 Total Goals (11/8 Betfred)
Dorking v Scunthorpe – Dorking (23/20 Betway)