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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Lethal League Two leaders Luton can put Cheltenham to the sword

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Luton have had plenty to smile about this season
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English Football League
3pm Saturday

Luton v Cheltenham
Gary Johnson reckons Sky Bet League Two leaders Luton are the "best team in the division by a million miles" and the Cheltenham boss could get to witness their quality first-hand when the teams meet at Kenilworth Road. 

Luton are five points clear of the pack but that maybe does not give a true reflection of the gulf in class. Their goal difference of plus 40, 21 better than anyone else, is a more accurate guide.

The Hatters are particularly happy at home where they have won 13 of their 17 matches, scoring 49 times, and Town should be nicely rested as their last match was on February 13.

That was a 4-1 thrashing of Crawley, who have won the other eight of their last nine matches. It was a victory achieved without Danny Hylton, Alan McCormack and Scott Cuthbert but the trio have since returned to full fitness to boost Nathan Jones's squad.

Hylton looks set to be reunited with strike partner James Collins and they have shared 30 league goals this season, while Ipswich loanee Flynn Downes looks a class act in midfield.

Jones was reportedly able to turn down a bid in excess of £2m for young defender James Justin last month, which highlights Luton's ambitions.

Johnson sees them as a League One side in all bar name and he is right.

Cheltenham are above average in the shot statistics so are likely to be in a false position in 16th. However, that is more than reflected in the markets.

The Robins have played four promotion hopefuls in 2018 - Accrington, Mansfield, Lincoln and Wycombe - and lost all four. This trip should be even tougher.

2pts 8-11 general

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Sky Bet League Two standings

Sunderland v Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough have won their last five meetings against local rivals Sunderland, including twice without conceding this season, and can hit the Black Cats for six at the Stadium of Light.

Successive relegations looks likely for a shocking Sunderland side who have made a complete mess of their Sky Bet Championship campaign.

The rock-bottom hosts have lost seven of their nine matches this year with their only win coming in a 1-0 success over fellow strugglers Hull.

They also picked up a point in a 3-3 draw at Bristol City having been 3-0 down with 20 minutes remaining, although that late great escape was aided by two own goals.

Visiting boss Tony Pulis is known for concentrating on defence but Boro need to go for wins if they are to get into the playoff positions, so expect a positive performance with Adama Traore key.

Traore possesses the kind of ability the hosts cannot match, while Pulis will also be pleased with Rudy Gestede and Patrick Bamford, his two preferred forwards, who have been wasteful in front of goal but scored all three in Tuesday's triumph over Hull.

1pt 11-10 general

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Sky Bet Championship standings

Serie A
5pm Saturday

Bologna v Genoa
The absence of two key attacking threats makes Bologna vulnerable for the visit of defensively-sound Genoa.

Simone Verdi, who turned down a transfer to Napoli in January, is by far Bologna's best player. The set-piece master is their top goalscorer with six Serie A goals and his eight assists are six more than any other player in Roberto Donadoni's squad.

Veteran Rodrigo Palacio has joined Verdi on the sidelines and penetrating a Genoa side who have already beaten Lazio and Inter this month will be far from easy.

Genoa have become difficult to beat under Davide Ballardini and in eight of their last nine matches they have given opponents fewer than one goal in expected goal ratings. The exception was Juventus.

Genoa draw no bet
1pt Evs Betfair

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Plays of the day

Luton 8-11
On shot ratings opponents Cheltenham are seen as better than 16th place suggests, but they tend to get involved in gung-ho games which does not bode well against free-scoring Luton.

Norwich 8-13
The Canaries have had less time to prepare than Bolton and have struggled against the lesser lights at home, failing to beat Hull, Burton, Barnsley and Sunderland. 

Lincoln 4-6, Luton 8-11, Wycombe 4-6, Napoli 1-3 bet365

Both teams to score
Games at Oldham 7-9, Walsall 9-10, Colchester 13-17 188Bet

Thought for the week

There were some great goalkeeping performances in the Champions League. Here are my current top cat rankings based on this season's performances.

David de Gea
Where would Manchester United be with an average keeper? Probably fifth, that's how important De Gea has been for United, who according to expected goals should have conceded 32 times in the Premier League. They have actually conceded 19 and his performance at Arsenal this season was simply astonishing.

Jan Oblak
The Slovenian stopper plays behind the best-organised defence in Europe at Atletico Madrid but they have still conceded only nine times in La Liga. Oblak is an absolute beast.

Alisson Becker
One of his saves for Roma against Shakhtar on Wednesday was better than De Gea's reflex stop on the same evening in Seville. Alisson also nearly matched De Gea's Emirates effort with an unbelievable show in Roma's 0-0 draw with Atletico.

Alisson is set to keep Ederson out of the Brazil World Cup starting 11. It seems a touch unfair on the rest for them to have two great keepers but hopefully the twinkle-toed Manchester City playmaker can find an unlikely English grandparent. You only remember how good Ederson is when Claudio Bravo is wearing the gloves for City.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen
In an ordinary season Manuel Neuer would be in this list but he has featured only four times, so fellow German Ter Stegen gets the nod. A modern keeper who is comfortable with the ball at his feet, the Barca man appears to have cut out the ricks.

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The Hatters are particularly happy at home where they have won 13 of their 17 matches, scoring 49 times
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