A League 2 blog with an overwhelmingly pro-Torquay United bias
As we move into the business end of the season, the title seems all but decided and the occupants of the relegation places face a mammoth task to survive. However, there are 3 other promotion spots to play for, and this year the race for these is most intriguing: it’s so tight at the top that 10 sides (plus an ever-optimistic Crewe) can claim to be in with a shot of playing their way into League 1. Let’s see what this weekend might bring…
Accrington 1-1 Northampton
Stanley haven’t failed to score at home since the opening game of the season and are unbeaten there in their last 7 matches. They’re the division’s second highest home scorers and underlined this with a thumping 4-0 win over Hereford on Wednesday. Northampton come into this match after an 8 day break and will be buoyed after their last-ditch equaliser at home to Torquay. However, they’re winless in 12 and have a puny scoring record on their travels. While their relative freshness and the continued improvement under new boss Gary Johnson will count in their favour, I can’t see it being enough of an edge to give the Cobblers their first win in 12 matches.
Burton 0-1 Barnet
The Brewers also played on Wednesday and came from behind twice to seal a massive win at home to Macclesfield, made all the more timely by the improving fortunes of the only two sides below them. Barnet haven’t won in 3 games but will be encouraged after securing a draw at the death against leaders Chesterfield last weekend to mark Martin Allen’s first game in charge. There are still 5pts between these two sides either side of the relegation safety line, as well as Burton’s 3 games in hand, which makes this a massive six-pointer and one that the Bees will be desperate to win. Their relative freshness should just about give them the edge against their hosts, who have been playing 2 games a week for quite a while now.
Bury 1-2 Oxford
Alan Knill’s departure couldn’t have come at a worse time for Bury: they haven’t won in 4 matches and have lost their last 2 at home, where they generally perform more poorly at the best of times. Oxford have won 3 of their last 4 games and have scored in their last 6, so they’ll sense the opportunity to keep themselves in the playoff hunt. While Bury have scored in their last 9 matches and still boast one of the division’s better defensive records, I can see United snatching the points here.
Chesterfield 2-1 Port Vale
Port Vale scraped back into the playoff zone in midweek with a narrow win over Lincoln, but they’re a long way from rediscovering the form that kept them at the top of the league for so long. Their replacements at the summit boast the best scoring record and have won 3 games in a row at the B2net, plus will come into this game fresher having not played in midweek. While the Spireites conceded a late equaliser at Barnet in their last outing and may well be getting complacent as they coast to the title, I think they’ll be sufficiently motivated to see off Vale’s threat, albeit not by much distance.
Crewe 4-1 Cheltenham
Crewe’s home form is all that’s keeping them in touch with the playoff hunt, but there’s a grudging acknowledgement from Dario Gradi’s squad that they’ll have to win virtually all of their remaining games to stand any chance of extending their league campaign beyond 46 games. While Cheltenham are marginally better performers away from home, they’ve only managed 1 win from their last 5 matches on the road and have lost the other 4, which should make this a straightforward enough 3pts for the home side. It’s been a while since the division’s entertainers treated us to a big scoreline, and if their front two hit the ground running I fancy them to remind us of what we’ve been missing.
Gillingham 3-0 Hereford
The Gills have a remarkably similar home record to that of Crewe: the same number of wins, draws, losses and goals conceded, but while they score significantly less at home they owe their loftier league position to keeping things tight away. That can normally be said of their lowly visitors, but their usually impressive away form is deserting the Bulls at a crucial time: they were smashed 4-0 by Accrington in midweek and now face an even more formidable team who’ve had the luxury of a full week’s rest. Gillingham are unbeaten in 13 and have the joint best home defence in League 2, so I can only see this going one way.
Rotherham 2-1 Morecambe
Ronnie Moore will have had mixed feelings about his former side reacting to his departure with a 6-0 routing of Lincoln at Sincil Bank last Friday, but they reverted to their Jekyll and Hyde antics with a midweek loss at home to Shrewsbury. The Millers find themselves outside the playoff zone to virtually everyone’s surprise and haven’t recorded a home victory in their last 3 attempts. Their visitors have problems of their own: 1 win in 5 and wondering if an 8 point cushion will be enough insurance against a late surge from Barnet or Stockport. Even though they’ve won 2 of their last 3 away games and unlike their hosts have had a week to recuperate, I can’t see them getting sufficient foothold in this one to spring a shock.
Shrewsbury 1-0 Macclesfield
Shrewsbury’s recent elevation to the automatic promotion spots has largely come off the back of their away form (their 0-5 dismantling at Plainmoor notwithstanding): they’ve not won in 4 games at home. The Silkmen have netted in their last 5 and are surely safe from relegation, but only 1 win in 5 doesn’t bode well for a trip to the 3rd placed Shrews, who still concede less than a goal per game on their own turf. Both sides played in midweek so I don’t expect a classic.
Southend 1-1 Aldershot
The Shrimpers suffered defeat at the hands of basement club Stockport last week, which all but extinguished their playoff ambitions. Their record at Roots Hall has been impressive of late: they’re unbeaten in 5 there, which is just as well considering their pathetic away form. Aldershot are a point ahead of their hosts and have scored in each of their last 10 matches, but likewise can’t be expecting to mount a promotion challenge. The Shots are unbeaten in 7 but a lot of their away matches have been draws and they remain one of the division’s lowest scorers. Honours even would seem a reasonable forecast.
Stevenage 3-0 Bradford
Bradford have a truly abject scoring record in general, but their attack is especially toothless away from home. They ended a dire away run with a slender victory at out-of-sorts Morecambe last weekend, which while welcome will hardly enthuse their fans for this encounter. Stevenage have peaked at exactly the right time and a run of 5 straight wins (in which they conceded just 2 goals) has lifted them into the playoffs. Earlier in the season they were famed for their propensity for drawing at home, but I can’t see the Bantams causing anywhere near enough problems to knock rampant Boro off their stride.
Torquay 3-1 Lincoln
The stats indicate that goals are on the cards: Torquay have scored in their last 14 fixtures at home, while Lincoln have done likewise in their last 13 away. Their respective fortunes differ however: Gulls are unbeaten in 7 at Plainmoor while the Imps haven’t won in 6 on the road, plus the home side will be fresher for not playing in midweek. With the effervescent Billy Kee back to match fitness, Torquay are more than capable of pushing back into the playoff zone.
Wycombe 1-0 Stockport
Stockport are making a concerted bid for survival but they haven’t won away from home in their last 8 attempts. The Hatters’ scoring record on their travels is pretty dire, as is their defence, and a tie at 2nd-placed Wycombe is not one they’ll be relishing. The Chairboys haven’t exactly been in commanding form and will be mindful that they could lose their automatic promotion place if things don’t go to plan this weekend. They’ve struggled to impose themselves against quality opposition this season, but seem to have enough about them to scrape past less illustrious adversaries. A moment of magic from Ainsworth may be the difference here.