Matt Gray wants big name in cup to boost Sutton budget

By Sports Desk August 29, 2023

Sutton manager Matt Gray is hoping for a money-spinning EFL Cup tie after Aiden O’Brien gave the League Two side a shock 1-0 win at Wycombe.

The Shrewsbury loanee netted his first goal for the Yellows midway through the first half and the visitors held on to reach the third round for the first time in the club’s history.

Following four straight defeats since their dramatic penalty shootout win over Cambridge in the previous round, Sutton were on the back foot early in the first half.

But O’Brien’s cool finish swung the momentum of the game and proved enough to put United in the hat alongside the Premier League’s top eight.

“We’re on a nice little run now, with two League One opposition beaten,” said Gray. “We’re obviously not going to win the competition, but you want a big tie, a big money-maker to help my budget. Simple as that.”

And Gray was delighted with how his side handled higher-league opposition, who came closest when Luke Leahy struck the post in the second half.

Gray said: “We’re really pleased with the first-half performance with our threat on the counter-attack. The second half we really dug in and it was a solid defensive performance.

“We rode our luck at times but we deserved the clean sheet and to go through in the end.”

Wycombe boss Matt Bloomfield was left rueing missed opportunities after seeing his team enjoy the majority of possession and territory.

“I think we controlled the game,” said Bloomfield. “We had 18 shots, an xG of 2.58, hit the post, near misses, that pretty much sums up the game.

“Then you give Sutton something to hold on to and they defended for their lives but we’ve created more than enough chances to win the game.”

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    Saturday's MLS clash between the Philadelphia Union and Inter Miami will require both teams to cope without key players, but Jim Curtin is viewing it as an opportunity.

    Miami will be without Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez for the match, with the duo preparing to represent Argentina and Uruguay, respectively, at the Copa America.

    Philadelphia, meanwhile, will have to make do without 10-goal leading scorer Daniel Gazdag, who is part of Hungary's squad for Euro 2024.

    Asked about the difficulties of coping without Gazdag, Curtin pointed out that Miami will also need to adjust and highlighted 20-year-old midfielder Jack McGlynn as an example of a player who could stand to benefit. 

    "He's not a 10 but he has the passing range to unlock a defence," Curtin said of McGlynn. "Maybe he does it from a deeper position, but we might need him to be a little more aggressive.

    "Unfortunately, he won't be passing the ball to Daniel Gazdag so all these things weigh in, just like Jordi Alba won't be combining with Messi. 

    "Both teams aren't at full strength, so we have to make the most of what it is. I see this as an opportunity to bring out players' skills, like with Jack."

    Miami lead the way in the Eastern Conference with 35 points, 15 clear of the eighth-placed Union having played two additional matches.

    Since Messi joined the Herons last year, they have only won three of 14 matches without him, drawing five and losing six. 

    The Argentine's minutes were managed ahead of him linking up with Argentina, which coach Gerardo Martino says was necessary. 

    "With the passage of time, one sees the body does not recover in the same way," he told TyC Sports this week. 

    "He understands it, he sees that there are trips that are high-risk and long. That's why we started to agree on when it is necessary for him to stop."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH 

    Philadelphia Union – Jack McGlynn

    McGlynn, who is expected to play a major role for the United States at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, has two goals and four assists this season.

    That first figure is a joint career best, while the latter is a new personal benchmark. The cultured left-footer could be set to play a central role at Subaru Park.

    Inter Miami – Sergio Busquets

    With Messi and Suarez absent, it could be down to Busquets to lead the way for Miami. 

    The Barcelona great trails only Riqui Puig (1,330) for successful passes in MLS this year (1,115), and four of his 17 chances created have become assists. 

    MATCH PREDICTION – DRAW

    Miami have won two of their last four away games against Philadelphia (one draw, one defeat). 

    They are one of just three teams (alongside New York City and Orlando City) with multiple road wins over the Union since the start of the 2021 season.

    Philadelphia have struggled at home in general lately, going six regular-season matches without a win (two draws, four defeats) at Subaru Park. 

    Since last September, they have only won two of their 13 league games on home soil (seven draws, four defeats), with only two MLS sides collecting fewer home points than their 13 since that run began.

    However, with both teams missing key players, it is difficult to have much confidence in either. A draw could be on the cards, with Miami lacking their usual firepower. 

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY 

    Philadelphia Union – 38.4%

    Inter Miami – 35.2%

    Draw – 26.5%

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    Looking to end 58 years of hurt, England get their Euro 2024 campaign under way against Serbia on Sunday.

    Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate has suggested it may be a case of all or nothing as he enters his fourth – and potentially final – major tournament at the helm.

    Southgate has transformed England from perennial underachievers to genuine contenders, overseeing a surprise fourth-place finish at the 2018 World Cup, then seeing the nation's old nemesis – the penalty spot – haunt them in the Euro 2020 final versus Italy and a 2022 World Cup quarter-final against France.

    Penalty shoot-outs excluded, the Three Lions have only lost one of their last 18 games at the Euros (10 wins, seven draws), going down by a 2-1 scoreline in an infamous last-16 clash with Iceland in 2016.

    Despite the same opponents inflicting another defeat upon England in their final pre-Euros friendly last week, the Opta supercomputer makes them tournament favourites.

    They lift the trophy in 19.9 per cent of competition simulations, just ahead of France (19.1 per cent).

    Serbia, however, will be looking to throw a spanner in the works on their first Euros appearance as an independent nation, with the presence of several capable attackers leading some to tout them as a potential surprise package.

    Here, we delve into the Opta data to preview Sunday's game.

    What's expected?   

    England have started all three of their major tournaments under Southgate with a victory, and the Opta supercomputer is backing them to do so again in Germany.

    They are given a 62.1 per cent chance of a win, with Serbia only triumphing in 16 per cent of scenarios and the spoils being shared in 21.9 per cent.

     

    In the supercomputer's Group C predictions, the Three Lions are given a huge 95.4 per cent chance of reaching the last 16, finishing top in 66 per cent of simulations. 

    Serbia advance in 56.2 per cent of projections, fewer than Denmark (69.2 per cent) but more than Slovenia (42.1 per cent). However, they are only given a 12 per cent chance of topping the pool.

    This will be England and Serbia's first encounter since the latter re-emerged as an independent state in 2006. In fact, since the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, England have only faced Serbia and Montenegro once, winning 2-1 in a 2003 friendly.

    The Three Lions are, though, unbeaten in their last six matches against Serbia or Yugoslavia, winning each of the last four.

    Their most recent defeat to them was a particularly notable one, though, as Alf Ramsey's world champions lost 2-1 in the semi-finals of Euro 1968, a four-team competition that saw Yugoslavia finish as runners-up.

    Attack the best form of defence for Serbia

    With Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Cole Palmer, Jarrod Bowen, Anthony Gordon and Eberechi Eze competing to support Harry Kane, England's firepower is not in question.

    Their ability to keep things tight at the back, though, just might be.

    With Harry Maguire sidelined by a calf injury and Luke Shaw not yet ready to feature after recovering from a hamstring issue, Southgate will be forced to field a new-look backline on Sunday. 

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    Across the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and Euro 2020, England conceded just 0.59 goals per game and allowed opponents a paltry 0.72 expected goals (xG) per match – a figure only bettered by France (0.67) among the leading European teams to make each tournament. 

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    Serbia have only managed five clean sheets in 25 competitive outings under Dragan Stojkovic, who took over in 2021.

    However, they have only failed to score on two of those outings, against Norway (0-1 in the Nations League) and Brazil (0-2 at the 2022 World Cup).

    Generally using a 3-5-2 shape and looking to isolate Mitrovic and Vlahovic against their markers, Serbia will pose a real physical test. They scored one third (five of 15) of their goals in Euro 2024 qualifying via headers, the highest percentage of any team to reach Germany.

    The Three Lions must be prepared to withstand an aerial bombardment. 

    Can Alexander-Arnold solve midfield conundrum?

    Aside from Maguire's replacement, the main talking point in the build-up to England's opener has been the identity of Declan Rice's midfield partner.

    Manchester United's Kobbie Mainoo looked to be in pole position at the end of the domestic season, but reports now suggest Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold – who will don the number eight shirt – will start as first-choice.  

    Alexander-Arnold has played a total of 25,078 minutes of competitive football for Liverpool, and only one per cent of those have come in central midfield, so playing the position at a major tournament could represent something of a baptism of fire.

    However, Alexander-Arnold – who is accustomed to inverting into central areas at club level – could prove a useful asset as England look to prise open low blocks.

     

    He ranked eighth among all outfielders for accurate long balls (147) in the Premier League last season and third for switches of play (32). If he can help to get the likes of Foden and Saka isolated against Serbia's wing-backs on Sunday, that could be key to opening the door.

    Meanwhile, England are well aware of the importance of dead balls at major tournaments. They ranked either first or joint-first for goals from set-pieces at the 2018 World Cup (six goals), Euro 2020 (three) and the 2022 World Cup (two).

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    PLAYERS TO WATCH

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    England – Harry Kane 

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    Kane is also a proven operator on the international stage, scoring 12 goals across the last three major international tournaments – six at the 2018 World Cup, four at Euro 2020 and two at the 2022 World Cup. 

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    He also scored or assisted on all seven of his starts in qualifying (eight goals, two assists), including a brace in an impressive 3-1 win over European champions Italy last October.

  • Atlanta United v Houston Dynamo: Valentino looking to bring back enjoyment for Five Stripes Atlanta United v Houston Dynamo: Valentino looking to bring back enjoyment for Five Stripes

    Atlanta United interim head coach Rob Valentino is hoping to get off to a positive start when they welcome Houston Dynamo to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

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    They have won just one of their last 11 matches in the MLS – beating Inter Miami 3-1 – but defeat to Charlotte FC last time out spelt the end for Pineda.

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    Meanwhile, Houston are seventh in the Western Conference after losing just two of their seven matches before the mid-season break.

    Having ended their scoreless run in May, head coach Ben Olsen is keen to ensure their good run in front of goal continues.

    "Even on the road, we're putting up numbers," said Olsen. "We're constantly working to fine-tune some things and push the guys in making real actions and moving with conviction in the final third.

    "[Not scoring] was a frustrating period for us, so now, hopefully, the goal stays big for us. There's a lot still to be desired, but I'm looking forward to being back at work."

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Atlanta United – Thiago Almada

    Almada scored his fourth goal of the campaign in Atlanta's defeat to Charlotte FC last time out, making him joint-second in the team’s scoring charts this season. He is now just one behind top scorer Giorgos Giakoumakis.

    Houston Dynamo – Sebastian Kowalczyk

    Kowalczyk has scored in consecutive games for the Dynamo after having found the net just once in his first 21 career MLS matches. Kowalczyk is the third Dynamo player to score in consecutive appearances this season after Latif Blessing, Ibrahim Aliyu.

    MATCH PREDICTION: ATLANTA UNITED WIN

    The home side has won all three meetings between Atlanta and Houston. The home side have outscored the visitors 13-1 in the three games, with the hosts scoring at least four times in all three meetings.

    However, Atlanta have lost a club-record five straight regular-season home matches. Prior to this run, Atlanta had never lost more than two consecutive home league games before.

    Since moving to the Western Conference in 2015, the Dynamo have managed just five wins in 41 away matches against Eastern foes (D9 L27). Since the start of the 2019 season, Houston have lost 14 of 19 away matches against the East (W2 D3).

    OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

    Atlanta United – 44%

    Draw – 26.8%

    Houston Dynamo – 29.2%

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