EFL Team of the Week: Gameweek 3

Goalkeeper – Chris Neal, Salford City

Chris Neal was a respected figure in his time at Port Vale.

He played 123 games for the Valiants and, in his first season there, was an ever-present in the 2012-13 side – the last Vale team to win promotion.

On Saturday, Neal reminded his old club what they had been missing since leaving three years ago.

The 33-year-old saved Cristian Montano’s tight-angled drive early on, then denied Richie Bennett with his feet one-on-one in injury time with the Ammies trailing to a goal from the same striker.

As it happened, his teammates went on to grab an equalizer two minutes later and preserve a point, meaning that save proved pivotal.

Right-back – Fankaty Dabo, Coventry City

Dabo has had difficulty settling into his EFL career, having started it with three different loan moves from Chelsea.

After a positive spell in Holland with Sparta Rotterdam, though, Dabo has gained confidence and a permanent move to Coventry City could help him.

After a nervy opening two games, Dabo impressed against Exeter in the EFL Cup and then again in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Bristol Rovers – the pace, skill and quality he has provided in those last two matches have been a real weapon for Coventry.

Last season, Coventry were perhaps short of those qualities from their full-backs, which was especially problematic at home to bottom 15 opposition, given that they scored just 16 goals in those encounters.

This year, though they seem to have the tools to break teams down and Dabo is a big part of that.

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Centre-backs – Eddie Nolan, Crewe Alexandra and Alex Pearce, Millwall

When Steve Morison left Millwall to move on loan to Shrewsbury, there were concerns as to how that would affect the dressing room dynamic – who would step up and be that leader?

In fact, we are seeing evidence that exit of such a dominant character has potentially helped Millwall; it has allowed other players find their own voice.

One of those is Alex Pearce, who has been described by Neil Harris as ‘a proper Millwall centre-back’.

Pearce only joined in January but he has settled in remarkably quickly, shown strong leadership qualities, performed the basics well and formed a strong pairing with Jake Cooper for the Lions.

Partnering Pearce at centre-back in our team is Eddie Nolan, who scored in Crewe’s hard-fought 1-0 win over Walsall, as they battled to victory with 10 men in the closing stages.

Left-back - Harry Toffolo, Lincoln City

Toffolo is really finding his feet.

He had a challenging start to his EFL career, struggling to get into the Norwich team and, after a good loan spell at Swindon, was unable to perform above par at four other clubs including Scunthorpe.

Moving permanently to Lincoln last summer though, has been arguably the best thing he could have done for his career, in terms of settling down in one place.

Toffolo shone brightly in last season’s title win, making bold attacking runs to support Bruno Andrade on the left.

The 25year-old has taken that form into this campaign, staring and scoring in Lincoln’s 4-0 win over Southend.

Central midfielders – Samba Sow, Nottingham Forest and Kevin Stewart, Hull City

Nottingham Forest’s best midfielder so far this season has been Alfa Semedo, but Samba Sow was the pick of the bunch in Saturday’s 3-0 victory over Birmingham.

The Malian did the dirty work and played the ball forward quickly, enabling Forest to press high and use the flanks effectively.

Unlike the Reds, Hull City were not able to accrue victory last time out – they had to settle for a 1-1 draw at Brentford.

The Tigers did though, have a strong grip in midfield for large portions of that game – and the tenacious Kevin Stewart was the best player on the pitch.

Right-wing – Joe Lolley, Nottingham Forest

As an Aston Villa fan, Joe Lolley rather enjoyed his Saturday afternoon, starring in Nottingham Forest’s 3-0 win over Birmingham.

Lolley grabbed the opener – a low, long-range strike from distance – before goading the away contingency.

Shortly afterwards, he produced a delightful cross for Lewis Grabban to nod home at the back-post.

Lolley is skilful and can deceive defenders with winding runs, as well as a consistent end product.

He is one of the players in this Forest squad we can be confident in performing to a top six standard throughout the campaign and, as we saw on Saturday, he can be unplayable when on top form.

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Attacking midfielder – James Coppinger, Doncaster Rovers

New season, same James Coppinger.

The 39-year-old’s goal in Doncaster’s 3-2 triumph over Fleetwood Town means he has scored in 16 consecutive seasons for the same club, which is an extraordinary record.

Coppinger bagged a right-footed curler for Rovers from the left side of the edge of the penalty area; the veteran retained his trademark ability to pick up pockets of space and slide through his teammates.

Left-wing - Grady Diangana, West Bromwich Albion

Kyle Edwards was taken off at half-time in West Brom’s clash at Luton last week, with the team a goal behind and very much second-best in general play.

Enter Grady Diangana.

The West Ham loanee exploited some static defending to dig out an excellent left-footed shot into the far left-hand bottom corner.

Within six minutes of entering the fray, he had completed a brace; Filip Krovinovic’s shot cannoned off Sonny Bradley and Diangana had the sharpness of mind to throw himself at the ball and improvise a header to deceive the goalkeeper.

Diangana is highly-rated within West Ham’s hierarchy – and on this evidence, we can see why.

Striker - Clayton Donaldson, Bradford City

For the first two league games, Bradford manager Gary Bowyer has persisted with a 4-3-3 formation incorporating three out-and-out strikers – Clayton Donaldson, James Vaughan and Eoin Doyle, with the latter operating slightly deeper.

Although that looks on paper like a very attacking strategy, it actually hindered the Bantams going forward – they scored just once in two games against Cambridge and Grimsby.

After Doyle left though, the switch to 4-4-2 really worked for Bradford against Oldham in a 3-0 win, as Clayton Donaldson latched onto a ball down the channels to fire home his first of the campaign.

Manager – Mark Robins, Coventry City

There were plenty of concerns about how playing in Birmingham would affect the atmosphere at Coventry’s home games this season – and the impact the general mood around the club might affect form.

While the opponents the Sky Blues have faced are not yet strong enough to allow us to come to a conclusive judgement, it feels significant that they have won their first two ‘home’ games with relatively controlled displays.

Robins should be credited for keeping his players focused on on-field matters and not using the stadium dispute as an excuse.

Under many of Coventry’s previous managers, this inexcusable situation would mean a sense of crisis but Robins’ work means there is actually a notion of optimism regarding what can be achieved.

By Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab)

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