Catching second-placed Sheffield United looks a tall order, but Luton and Middlesbrough have both produced outstanding form since their respective Head Coaches took charge in-season, with Rob Edwards and Michael Carrick displaying huge potential. It would be no surprise to see these sides meet for a third time at Wembley.
Luton’s uncompromising defence
Luton mathematically guaranteed their place in the top six on Wednesday night with a point at Reading, thanks to Carlton Morris’ late equalizer against the 10-men.
Morris now has 19 goals for the season and, as a result of strike-partner Elijah Adebayo becoming something of a marked man in 2022-23, after 16 league goals the year before, the summer Barnsley recruit has had some of the attention taken off him.
The result at the Madejski means, though, that an unlikely Town top two tilt looks even further away, and even maximum points from the remaining three games would leave Rob Edwards’ side relying on Sheffield United to take no more than two points from their remaining four – something that could be out of the window, by Monday night, depending on Saturday’s result.
As such, the final games are a dilemma for Edwards, as to whether to prioritize sticking with the same XI to maintain synergy and cohesion ahead of the crunch games, or to rotate the squad to give key players a rest and build sharpness for fringe players.
Since the former Forest Green boss took charge, though, his side have been uncompromising at the back, conceding just 15 goals in 22 games.
Middlesbrough’s lethal attack
Middlesbrough are in the same boat as Luton, but it feels unlikely boss Michael Carrick will rotate much, with his side in outstanding, free-scoring form.
Since Carrick took charge, Boro have scored a whopping 63 goals in 27 games, 12 more than champions-elect Burnley have in 26.
The Teessiders look irresistible going forward, and that continued in the second half of Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over Hull, as the half-time introductions of Anfernee Dijksteel and Isaiah Jones changed the game.
Dijksteel and Jones were two of Middlesbrough’s best players last season yet, due to the form of Tommy Smith and Marcus Forss respectively, they’ve played more peripheral roles in 2022-23, but in midweek they showed how valuable they can be in the Play-Offs in terms of providing options in reserve.
The Tactics Board
Luton have in their favour a cast-iron defence, protected brilliantly by Marvellous Nakamba, and a deadly striker in Carlton Morris, but aside from him and Adebayo, nobody has scored more than three in all competitions.
Middlesbrough, by contrast, have seven players on more than three goals, including January loan signing Cameron Archer on nine, Marcus Forss on 10, and star man Chuba Akpom on an astonishing 29 goals, in an unexpectedly stunning campaign.
On that basis, it’s arguable that Boro have a more varied attacking threat, and while they’re far from perfect defensively, because they commit so many in transition, the trade-off has been worthwhile.
The concern for Luton, therefore, would be that if Darragh Lenihan can dominate the box from crosses from Cody Drameh, Amari’i Bell and others, to limit opportunities for Morris and Adebayo, they might struggle for alternative goal threats in a way their visitors may not.
Luton v Middlesbrough Betting Tips
Akpom has scored in eight of Middlesbrough’s last nine league games and is an appealing 2/1 to score anytime at Kenilworth Road, and after the visitors scored eight goals in their previous two, they look a tasty 21/10 to take the points home from Bedfordshire.
Middlesbrough to win – 21/10
Chuba Akpom to score anytime – 2/1
All odds accurate at time of writing
Join The Best Betting Community In The World
Get involved in all the betting chat for this weekend’s matches on our dedicated Championship Predictions betting forum. From trends, stats, and tips, we discuss anything and everything as we look to beat the bookies.