A League 2 blog with an overwhelmingly pro-Torquay United bias
I correctly predicted the outcomes of all 5 midweek matches, so hopefully I’ve rediscovered my touch somewhat after a decidedly unprescient couple of weeks:
Burton (23rd) v Chesterfield (1st)
As explained by the excellent @soccerammw, a combination of events beyond their control have handed Burton a monumental fixture backlog which will now see them playing 2 games a week right up until the last weekend of the season. The strain this places on the squad, particularly given the departure of goal machine Shaun Harrad (who scored the winner when these two sides met at the B2net earlier in the season), has driven Brewers boss Paul Peschisolido to reinforce further with the loan signing of young Wolves striker Sam Winnall during the week.
Burton were actually the last side to beat Chesterfield, triumphing 3-1 at the Pirelli Stadium in the FA Cup back in November. In all but one of the 10 games that have followed, the Spireites have opened the scoring, although interestingly 5 of those matches have ended up as draws, 4 of which have come in their last 5 fixtures.
I think that Burton’s relative rustiness, combined with the anxiety over their artificially low league position and poor recent form will give stuttering Chesterfield an advantage sufficient to edge this encounter. Prediction: 1-2
Accrington (17th) v Southend (10th)
Stanley have scored in their last 11 home games and lost just 1 of their last 5, and only 2 of the current top 7 teams have a better strike rate at home. Long-serving manager John Coleman still believes that his side can make the play-offs, and it’s teams like Southend they’ll have to beat if they’re to stand a chance.
The Shrimpers’ fine recent run of form was brought to an end by Shrewsbury last week; a match which saw them fail to score for the first time in 15 outings. Shrews’ task was made easier by the absence of talismanic free-scoring defender-turned-striker Bilel Moshni, whose ankle injury will keep him out of the side for at least a month.
Both sides are capable of scoring goals, but even a stumbling Southend should be too good to lose here. Prediction: 1-1
Aldershot (15th) v Macclesfield (21st)
The Shots’ home games tend to be relatively low-scoring affairs, although they’ve notched up some creditable results under new boss Dean Holdsworth. They’ve now found the net in each of their last 9 games and have only lost 1 of their last 5.
The relegation-threatened Silkmen are on a 9 match winless run and were lucky to escape Edgar Street with a point in midweek after a late equaliser against 10-man Hereford. However, they seem to have no trouble scoring on their travels and have netted in their last 6.
While neither side is setting the league alight, the Shots have enough quality to pile on the misery for Macclesfield. Prediction: 2-1
Barnet (22nd) v Torquay (12th)
The Bees haven’t scored in 3 matches and could soon find themselves in the relegation zone once Burton start playing through their games in hand. Paul Fairclough has strengthened his midfield with 2 loan signings this week and will be looking to end a 4 match winless run at Underhill.
The Gulls have been maddeningly inconsistent of late but interestingly only the current top 2 sides have lost fewer away matches than Torquay in the league this season. Despite finding the net in each of their last 7 matches, Gulls often struggle to kill games off and Paul Buckle has chosen to further reinforce his attacking options with the loan signing of Ryan Gilligan from Northampton.
I’ll be at this match and have convinced a few people from work to come along with promises of mesmeric one-touch passing football, so am trusting in the Gulls to prevail. Prediction: 1-3
Bradford (19th) v Wycombe (2nd)
Peter Taylor was granted a stay of execution by last week’s postponement. His underachieving side are now winless in 6 and are the only side in the division whose strike rate is less than a goal per game. Wingers Omar Daley and Kevin Ellison have swapped clubs this week, with the latter leaving Rotherham to join up with former boss Taylor. However if Bradford’s results don’t improve quickly, their reunion could be short-lived.
Wycombe are enjoying a purple patch that has seen them take advantage of their promotion rivals’ dip in form to steam into 2nd place. The Chairboys have a good defensive record away from Adams Park and this fixture shouldn’t threaten it.
Wycombe have come out of some tough fixtures unbeaten lately and I can see this being a stroll by comparison. Prediction: 0-2
Cheltenham (11th) v Hereford (20th)
Whaddon Road has been the scene of 3 consecutive home defeats, all by a 1-2 scoreline. Scoring isn’t Cheltenham’s problem: they’ve netted in each of their last 9 matches, but the last 7 of those saw just a single goal registered.
The Bulls have climbed away from the danger zone lately but they aren’t out of the woods yet. It could be argued that their promising recent form has been down to an easy run of fixtures: Torquay are the only top half side they’ve faced in 2011 so far. They will also be missing their captain, defender Michael Townsend, who saw red against Macclesfield in midweek.
While Hereford may profit from their hosts’ defensive frailties, I fancy the Robins to reverse the scoreboard and come out on top. Prediction: 2-1
Crewe (8th) v Gillingham (6th)
Two plugs in the same post for @soccerammw, who have provided a much more engaging preview of this match than my capabilities permit. Crewe are still missing the striking talents of Clayton Donaldson, who serves the final match of his suspension this weekend, although the marginally less prolific Shaun Miller should feature. Useless fact: Rotherham’s late third against Alex last Saturday was the 100th goal scored in the 28 league matches featuring Dario Gradi’s side this season.
Gillingham are unbeaten in 4 matches and have been more prolific on their travels than at Priestfield this season, although they tend to leak as many as they score. Andy Hessenthaler deserves credit for steering his side into the playoffs after a fine recent run, and Gills should be further boosted by the recent return of two central defenders from long-term injuries. Cody McDonald is on fire at the moment, with 5 goals in 4 games.
Gillingham’s better form of late should cancel out Crewe’s home advantage in this clash between promotion outsiders. You’ll have to take my word for it that I independently arrived at the same prediction as Nobes – I don’t want this escalating into another Newton vs. Liebniz! Prediction: 1-1
Lincoln (16th) v Morecambe (18th)
Lincoln have only recently recovered from Chris Sutton’s disastrous tenure to rise from the foot of the table and must be hoping that their nightmarish 1-5 defeat to Shrewsbury in midweek was just a hiccup. The Imps had won their 5 previous fixtures, although all by the odd goal. They’re the only side in the division to average less than a goal a game at home, although they’ve had predominantly tough fixtures at Sincil Bank since Steve Tilson took the reins.
Morecambe are winless in 5 and have drawn their last 3 matches 1-1, conceding the lead in each and with all goals coming in the second half. They still look to be missing the invention of Mark Duffy going forward.
A tough one to call, but I’ll back Lincoln to revert to winning ways, albeit unspectacularly. Prediction: 1-0
Oxford (9th) v Rotherham (4th)
After a fine recent run including just 1 home defeat in 6, Oxford occupy a position more in keeping with a club of their size, meaning that they are free to turn their attention towards testing their promotion credentials against a Rotherham side currently scrapping for 3rd. United kept their first clean sheet in 24 matches at Gillingham last weekend, so 2 in a row might be a big ask even with home advantage.
Rotherham have been dire on their travels lately, losing their last 4 matches and slipping out of the automatic promotion places. To their credit, they’ve faced some tough teams and are still one of the sides to beat. The fact that Adam Le Fondre remains at the club is a massive morale boost.
It’s tough to separate these two sides so I’ve decided not to bother – a score draw would seem a fair result. Prediction: 1-1
Port Vale (7th) v Northampton (14th)
While Vale’s strong home record has made up for their abysmal away form of late, Vale Park has hosted some snooze-fests this season: just 20 goals have been scored in the 12 games, of which just 7 have been by visiting teams. Their attack has been further blunted lately by the continuing absence of captain Marc Richards, which has seen the Valiants’ promotion charge become a tailspin and their goals tally drop even lower: there have been just 2 goals to show from their last 5 matches, one of which was an own goal!
Northampton will be frustrated that they couldn’t follow up their 6-2 hammering of Crewe with even a single goal at lowly Barnet last weekend, although the game was low on chances thanks in part to the blustery conditions. However that shouldn’t distract from the Cobblers puny away record which has seen just 2 wins registered and 10 goals scored (the second lowest in the division).
I think that Vale are still in the process of turning the corner under Jim Gannon. The recent recruitment of Shaun Harrad to bolster Northampton’s attack looks like being an astute piece of business by Ian Sampson and I can see them earning a point here. Prediction: 0-0
Shrewsbury (3rd) v Stevenage (13th)
Shrews fans will be expecting another goal glut after seeing their side hit 5 in the space of half an hour at Sincil Bank in midweek, but Stevenage’s defence will represent a slightly sterner test. Only leaders Chesterfield have conceded fewer goals on the road this season, although the side formerly known as Borough have lost 4 of their last 5 away games, with Bury becoming the first team to register 3 goals against them on Tuesday evening.
Unfortunately, Stevenage’s attack is equally stingy away from home, which will concern Graham Westley as his hosts have the division’s second best home defensive record. A recent ray of hope is the signing of striker Byron Harrison from non-League Carshalton in January: he’s adjusted well with 4 goals in his first 6 games for the club.
I can see an organised Boro eventually succumbing to a confident Shrewsbury side, full of beans and looking to consolidate their recent surge into the automatic promotion places. Prediction: 2-0
Stockport (24th) v Bury (5th)
2 points from 9 games and a harrowing 68 goals conceded tell their own story: Stockport are in trouble. Striker Matt Paterson has joined on loan from Southend this week, but it’ll take a team effort to haul the Hatters to safety. Having watched their error-strewn performance at Plainmoor last weekend, it’ll be some feat if Peter Ward can keep them up.
Bury are enjoying a sequence of 5 matches unbeaten and their total of 8 away wins is 2 more than anyone else in the division has managed. They’re also the highest scorers away from home, averaging just over 2 goals per game.
Stockport’s long-suffering fans deserve so much better than 2 consecutive relegations, but I can’t see the renaissance beginning here. Prediction: 0-3