A League 2 blog with an overwhelmingly pro-Torquay United bias
Barnet fans will be dreaming of a great escape after a thumping win in their six-pointer at Burton, while Crewe reinstated themselves as the division’s entertainers with an 8-1 annihilation of Cheltenham to keep their slender playoff hopes alive. Chesterfield’s march to League 1 continues: they’re now 11 points ahead of nearest challengers Wycombe and 13 clear of 4th-placed Bury. Other than the battle for the title, the promotion race remains a fascinating contest, although Oxford’s defeat and tough remaining fixtures effectively remove them from the running. At the other end of the table, Barnet’s resurgence under Martin Allen will be making a few sides nervous; particularly Northampton, who made it 13 sequential games without victory to slide within 4 points of danger. All eyes will now be on the Cobblers’ trip to the Pirelli Stadium on Tuesday night, which could blow the relegation battle wide open.
Accrington 3-1 Northampton (prediction 1-1: wrong)
I fancied the improving Cobblers to put their fresher legs to good use and carve out a point here, but they looked nervous and were efficiently flattened by the Accrington juggernaut. I wrote a few weeks ago about Stanley having the division’s easiest run-in and they’re certainly taking full advantage, having hit form at a pivotal point in the season. This was their 7th home win in a row and 6th game without losing overall, moving them up to 8th with a game in hand: that game is at home again on Tuesday and another victory could see them rise to 6th. Northampton also play in midweek: a six-pointer at Burton, who are now the only side between them and the relegation zone: a home win would see the sides switch places and increase the desperate predicament of Gary Johnson’s men.
Burton 1-4 Barnet (prediction 0-1: correct outcome)
While I fancied the Bees to edge this one, I wasn’t surprised to see them fall behind early on. What I don’t think anyone expected was for veteran Steve Kabba (who unbelievably had never previously scored a hat trick) to put the Brewers to the sword with all 4 goals in a dominant Barnet performance. Such was the embarrassment of the defeat that Burton keeper Adam Legzdins felt compelled to apologise for the performance via Twitter. This was a huge match for both sides and it ended with Martin Allen’s side just 2 points behind their hosts, albeit having played 3 more games. The margin was all the more impressive given that this was only Barnet’s third away win of the season; despite their tough run-in, the collapse in Burton and Northampton’s form will make survival suddenly seem a very real possibility. The Bees’ next match is at home to Crewe, who despite their irresistible home performances have incredibly lost their last 9 away matches. Burton’s season has had a touch of the surreal imparted to it by their immense fixture backlog, and their ongoing failure to capitalise on their games in hand could well cost them dear. The visit of plummeting Northampton in midweek has now become a cup final for both teams.
Bury 3-0 Oxford (prediction 1-2: utterly wrong)
There must be some calm heads in the Shakers’ side as they appeared not to notice the departure of Alan Knill and a significant chunk of his coaching staff to Scunthorpe earlier in the week. If anything, Knill’s departure has had a catalytic effect on their promotion push, ending a 4 match winless streak to keep Bury in the race for automatic promotion. Oxford now find themselves 6 points off the playoff pace with 6 tough games remaining: a big ask and one which on this showing would appear to be beyond them: despite seeing more of the ball, they had no answer to their hosts’ incisive passing and clinical finishing.
Chesterfield 2-0 Port Vale (prediction 2-1: correct outcome)
The changing of the guard at the summit happened a long time ago, but this match saw it formalised as the erstwhile league leaders Port Vale were efficiently dispatched by their vastly more capable replacements. It could have been more as Craig Davies struck both posts for the Spireites in the first half, while Vale were restricted to just a single shot on target all match. Managerless for the second time this season, the Valiants aren’t out of the promotion reckoning yet and still boast a decent squad, but they’ll need to turn things around fast to prevent themselves sinking any further. Chesterfield by comparison look set to tie up the title with at least 3 games to spare.
Crewe 8-1 Cheltenham (prediction 4-1: correct outcome)
At one point I’d predicted this result bang on, but then Crewe smashed in another 4 to pile the humiliation on Cheltenham. In the first half, the Robins’ defence was pierced regularly by Crewe’s precisely-timed through balls and runs: when their forwards are in form there’s no stopping them. Why Dario Gradi’s side struggle to replicate this degree of lethality on their travels is something of a mystery: their home and away records are now exactly mirrored, which given that they’ve registered 11 home victories should be cause for concern and looks to have cost them a playoff place despite this stellar performance. While they should be safe from the drop, this was Cheltenham’s 3rd successive defeat and the outrageous margin saw them ironically draw level with Crewe in the ‘worst away defence’ table: both sides have now shipped 42 in 20, 2 more than basement side Stockport.
Gillingham 0-0 Hereford (prediction 3-0: wrong)
On paper this was looked an easy one to predict: Gills unbeaten in 14 and lowly Hereford having been hammered 4-0 in midweek. However what we got was a tempestuous stalemate, arguably driven in part by the home side’s frustration at coming so close without scoring. A few minor deviations to the ball’s trajectory over the course of the game could well have seen the 3-0 I plumped for materialising. Thanks to other results, Gillingham remain narrowly inside the playoffs after what their fans will regard as 2 points dropped, while Hereford will be grateful to put another point between themselves and the relegation vortex. As Jamie Pitman acknowledged before the match, they’re not safe yet.
Rotherham 0-1 Morecambe (prediction 2-1: utterly wrong)
Morecambe left it late to grab a crucial 3 points which all but guarantees their participation in this division next season. While the Shrimps have suffered defeat in 4 of their last 5 home games, this result makes it an impressive 3 wins from 4 on the road. Meanwhile, the Millers have become another Port Vale: steaming towards a deserved-looking promotion for so long, then hitting the buffers with alarming suddenness. They’ve likewise undergone a self-imposed managerial change which has proven less than successful so far: this was their 4th winless home match in a row. Another similarity: they’re far from out of the promotion hunt, but will need to find their feet sharpish.
Shrewsbury 4-1 Macclesfield (prediction 1-0: correct outcome)
Substitute Lionel Ainsworth’s quickfire double set the Shrews on their way to a third straight win after Macclesfield had spectacularly taken the lead from a Hamza Bencherif free kick. The Shrews’ refusal to dwell on a setback will serve them well in their promotion bid: they haven’t lost a match since their 5-0 battering at the hands of Torquay (which I may eventually stop mentioning): form which justifies their current incumbency of the 3rd automatic promotion place. This was the Silkmen’s 3rd defeat in a row, but encouragingly the sixth consecutive away match in which they’ve scored. They’re surely safe from relegation, but are unlikely to trouble the top half of the table for the season’s remainder.
Southend 0-0 Aldershot (prediction 1-1: correct outcome)
The woodwork was struck 3 times but neither side could find a way through to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. Aldershot are unbeaten in 8 but have started their run from too low a base to have much chance of troubling the top 7, plus they still can’t seem to score enough goals: this was their 17th draw of the season. Southend’s shaky recent form makes Paul Sturrock’s continued optimism look rather ridiculous, even if he does now have talismanic, free-scoring defender Moshni Bilel back to match fitness. Both teams remain capable of giving anyone in this division a stern test, but for either of them to escape mid-table would represent a minor miracle.
Stevenage 2-1 Bradford (prediction 3-0: correct outcome)
A scrappy Bradford equaliser looked to have ended Stevenage’s winning run, but 5 minutes later the home side had racked up another impressive win (their 6th in a row) to keep themselves in the playoff positions. While the Bantams dug in well, a point would have flattered them and they remain feasible relegation candidates. However, they have easier games than this still to play and should be safe. All eyes will be on Stevenage as their well-timed winning run could see them promoted for the second successive season.
Torquay 2-0 Lincoln (prediction 3-1: correct outcome & margin)
After a first half that offered precious little entertainment for either set of supporters, the Gulls came alive after half time and their persistence was rewarded with 2 late goals to keep themselves in the playoff zone and extend their unbeaten run to 6 matches. In contrast, Lincoln are now winless in 5 overall and 7 on their travels, although their 8 point cushion built up from their previous impressive run looks to be enough insurance to keep them in League 2 for another year: just as well given their tricky remaining fixtures. Torquay likewise have a difficult end to the season which will test their resolve, but a fully fit squad and the regularly-demonstrated ability to transform their fortunes mid-match continue to fuel my promotion hopes.
Wycombe 2-0 Stockport (prediction 1-0: correct outcome)
I envisaged that Gareth Ainsworth would be the difference here (hardly a shocking pronouncement given his imperious performances this season) and he set up both goals to simultaneously keep Wycombe clinging onto their the automatic promotion place and deal another (not unexpected) blow to the Hatters’ survival hopes. Stockport gave a good account of themselves but never looked like taking anything here, and a few players were looking despondent before the final whistle, which will be of concern to Ray Mathias as he looks to rally his side for a treacherous-looking final 6 games.
Prediction performance: 8 correct outcomes but no correct scores. An improvement on last weekend’s 6, but still some distance from a business case for quitting my job and taking up gambling full time.