A League 2 blog with an overwhelmingly pro-Torquay United bias
By some quirk of random chance, only one team in the top 10 (i.e. those with a realistic hope of promotion) is at home this weekend: stuttering Port Vale since you ask. Coupled with the indifferent away form of most promotion contenders, this means that we could well see some shuffling of the running order at the summit. More broadly, only 2 matches see the home side facing more lowly opponents, so it looks like being a weekend of few home wins: those who are able to leverage their home advantage could gain some valuable ground as we enter the final month of the season.
STAR GAME: Barnet (23rd) v Crewe (12th)
Previous league meeting: Crewe 7-0 Barnet
Continuing the proud internet tradition of flagrantly stealing ideas from other people, this week’s star game is the intriguing clash at Underhill. Resurgent Barnet could climb out of the relegation zone on goal difference if they can win this one, although normally they wouldn’t consider this a likely outcome against a side that beat them 7-0 in the reverse fixture and won their last match 8-1. However, Crewe are an enigma: they may be irresistible at home but they’ve lost their last 9 matches on the road and had the worst away defence in the league before their 8th goal against Cheltenham brought the Robins down to their level. That said, the Alex won’t get a better opportunity to end their travel sickness: the Bees tend to ship a lot of goals at home and are currently without a win in 3 matches here. Dario Gradi’s squad are fully aware that their slim playoff hopes depend on an almost perfect return from their remaining fixtures, which isn’t impossible given their relatively easy run-in. This knowledge may well increase the pressure on them however, and they’re facing a fired-up Barnet side who managed a very respectable 4-1 win of their own last time out. I’m envisaging an energetic, goal-laden encounter resulting in a share of the spoils.
Aldershot (13th) v Shrewsbury (3rd)
Previous league meeting: Shrewsbury 1-1 Aldershot
The Shots are now unbeaten in 8, a run which earned Dean Holdsworth March’s Manager of the Month award, although they remain one of the division’s lowest home scorers and look to be too far off the promotion pace to stand a chance of making the playoffs. Their high-flying opponents have taken maximum points from their last 3 matches and seem to thrive on the road of late, winning 4 of their last 5 away fixtures, which to my mind makes their 0-5 spanking at Plainmoor all the more impressive (yes I mentioned it again). The Shrews are pretty potent away scorers too: only Bury net with more regularity away from their own patch. A score draw would seem a fair result on paper.
Bradford (15th) v Torquay (7th)
Previous league meeting: Torquay 2-0 Bradford
Bradford have scored in their last 6 matches but remain the division’s lowest overall scorers; their inconsistent season is epitomised by the fact that they hardly ever draw. Gulls have also scored in last 6 and are unbeaten over that stretch, but the absence of key midfielder Craig Stanley through suspension is a worry. Torquay’s players seem to have responded positively to being outrageously deducted a point earlier in the week, and if anything are a more potent attacking force than the side that comfortably beat the Bantams at Plainmoor. I’m backing Gulls to edge it and stay in the thick of the promotion race.
Cheltenham (16th) v Rotherham (10th)
Previous league meeting: Rotherham 6-4 Cheltenham
The Robins have now lost 3 matches in a row, culminating in a horrendous 8-1 stuffing at Gresty Road last weekend. That extreme result aside, Cheltenham still concede lots of goals, although they’ve also found the net in each of their last 5 games. Rotherham’s poor recent form makes them less scary opponents than the last time these two met, although coincidentally they hit 6 in last away game. However, they’ve lost the other 3 of their last 4 matches, and while the pressure will be on the misfiring Millers to reignite their promotion campaign, I think that the motivation of having something still to play for will give them the edge here.
Hereford (21st) v Chesterfield (1st)
Previous league meeting: Chesterfield 4-0 Hereford
Hereford were dealt a body blow by the Football League’s 3 point deduction, which leaves them an uncomfortable 5pts from the drop zone. Their low-scoring ways have seen them struggle to turn draws into wins at Edgar Street this season: they’ve managed 10 of the former compared to just 3 of the latter. Having not scored for 3 games, the Bulls aren’t in the best frame of mind to be facing the division’s runaway leaders: Chesterfield have endured the fewest number of away losses (3), scoring plenty and conceding few on the road. It’s hard to look beyond another 3 points for the Spireites.
Lincoln (19th) v Gillingham (8th)
Previous league meeting: Gillingham 0-1 Lincoln
Sincil Bank has seen fewer home goals than any other League 2 ground this season and the occupants have lost their last 4 matches. Despite an impressive run of 14 games without defeat (9 away from home), Gillingham have drawn far too many games on their travels and are struggling to stay in the playoff zone as a result. However, they score a lot of goals away from Priestfield and can’t ask for a much easier away game than this. While I don’t think we’ll see another 6-0 defeat for the home side, I can’t see them holding onto any points in this one.
Macclesfield (18th) v Accrington (6th)
Previous league meeting: Accrington 3-0 Macclesfield
The sole Friday night match is between 2 sides who will already be tired from their midweek commitments. Macclesfield’s saw them make it 4 defeats in a row, giving them the joint highest number of home reverses. The Silkmen haven’t won at Moss Rose in their last 4 attempts and ship a fair few goals there. In contrast, Stanley won their last match comfortably to extend their well-timed unbeaten run to 7 matches. However, that run has largely been built on the back of a high concentration of home fixtures: their away record has been marred by a whopping 11 draws and only 3 wins. Accrington really don’t score that often on their travels either – only 3 teams have a less impressive away scoring rate.
Morecambe (17th) v Burton (22nd)
Previous league meeting: Burton 3-2 Morecambe
Morecambe grabbed a surprise win at Rotherham last week which looks to have dispelled any lingering relegation fears. Nevertheless, they have lost their last 3 matches at home and have won on their own turf just 5 times this season. Encouragingly for the Shrimps, Burton’s away record has been their undoing this season as they continue to squander their games in hand. The Brewers only have 2 away wins to their name, score few goals on their travels and have been beaten in 3 of their last 4 outings. In light of some frustrating results against their rivals in the relegation scrap, including a midweek draw against Northampton which will have further depleted their energy reserves, I can see this being another disappointing afternoon for the visitors.
Northampton (20th) v Bury (4th)
Previous league meeting: Bury 1-1 Northampton
Despite some battling performances of late, it’s now been 14 games since Northampton recorded a win. They’ve lost 3 of their last 4 games at home, which isn’t the sort of form you want to take into a match against the division’s strongest away side. Aside from their 10 away wins this season, Bury are unbeaten in 5 on their travels, scoring plenty and conceding few in the process. They’ve also had a full week to prepare since their last fixture, unlike their hosts who had a midweek date at Burton. It’s hard to predict what effect the presence of temporary assistant manager Robbie Fowler will have on the Shakers, but unfortunately for Gary Johnson this doesn’t look like the game to end the Cobblers’ victory drought.
Oxford (11th) v Wycombe (2nd)
Previous league meeting: Wycombe 0-0 Oxford
Oxford captain James Constable recently insisted that a playoff tilt is still possible, but they enter the weekend 6pts off the pace and facing a tough run-in. The visit of 2nd-placed Wycombe is a case in point: they’re unbeaten in 4 away games and haven’t conceded for 3 matches. However, unlike their hosts they played in midweek and couldn’t break the deadlock at lowly Hereford, which will give United hope. I’ll plump for a draw, particularly given that Oxford have so few to their name at the Kassam Stadium.
Port Vale (9th) v Southend (14th)
Previous league meeting: Southend 1-3 Port Vale
Port Vale’s underwhelming form continues and they’re running out of chances to stop the rot. They’ve got a relatively easy finish to the season though, typified by this home encounter against a Southend side who’ve lost their last 5 away matches. While Vale will draw encouragement from their still-impressive home defence, 1 win in 4 at home tells its own story, and with on-loan striker Tom Pope being recalled by Rotherham their options up front are limited. However, with the Shrimpers having played (and lost) in midweek and missing talismanic defender Mohsni Bilel through suspension, I can see the home side racking up a much-needed victory here.
Stockport (24th) v Stevenage (5th)
Previous league meeting: Stevenage 3-1 Stockport
Despite still propping up the division and having a truly woeful home defensive record, Stockport have actually won 3 of their last 5 matches at Edgeley Park. This will be a massive test for them however, as Stevenage have won their last 6 games, including 4 away ties, and have the best defence in the division. The Hatters are running out of time to claw their way to safety, and while I can see this being closer than the last meeting between these two, Stevenage should have enough to keep their impressive recent surge going.