A League 2 blog with an overwhelmingly pro-Torquay United bias
The biggest weekend of the season is finally here: all 24 teams have 4 games left to play and 2 of these will have come and gone by Monday evening. Currently the dividing line in the division is between Southend in 14th and Morecambe in 15th: everyone above the line is both mathematically safe from relegation and capable of achieving promotion, while the reverse is true below the line. Obviously this arithmetic equilibrium will be shattered by the end of the afternoon, with some hopes being shattered and others prolonged in what promises to be a fascinating and compelling climax to one of the closest seasons in recent years.
Below you’ll find a predictive preview of the Friday and Saturday games – be sure to check back later in the weekend for a similar effort covering Monday’s fixtures:
STAR GAME: Torquay (5th) v Wycombe (3rd)
Previous league meeting: Wycombe 1-3 Torquay
Whatever the outcome, this match will have significant implications for the title race. A win for Wycombe would allow them to consolidate their tenuous claim to the 3rd automatic promotion place, while a Gulls triumph would slash the gap between these 2 sides to just 2 points. Wycombe were humbled when these sides met at Adams Park earlier this season and are heavily dependent on their inspirational captain Gareth Ainsworth, whose goals alone have earned 15 of the Chairboys’ points this season. The fact that he’s an injury doubt for this encounter will provide further encouragement to Torquay, who welcome back their own midfield inspiration Craig Stanley after a 2 match suspension.
Plainmoor hasn’t witnessed a home defeat in its last 9 uses and its occupants haven’t conceded in their last 3 games as they continue to defy their tough run-in to march up the table. Wycombe may be unbeaten in 6, but the last 3 of these have been draws: at least 2 of which a side in their position should be winning. If I’m brutally honest, I can’t see them hanging on to 3rd place: their performances haven’t convinced to the same degree as the top 2 and this encounter could well mark a disappointing conclusion to their season.
Bury (2nd) v Lincoln (20th)
Previous league meeting: Lincoln 0-5 Bury
Bury’s players seem not to have noticed the departure of Alan Knill, having won their last 4 matches to continue a 12 match scoring streak. They’ve won their last 3 games at home without so much as conceding, which doesn’t bode well for Lincoln who are winless in 7. The Imps don’t score many either, and aren’t yet mathematically immune from the relegation scrap: a fact which I expect to remain true come 5pm today.
Crewe (13th) v Morecambe (15th)
Previous league meeting: Morecambe 1-2 Crewe
These two sides have nothing but pride to play for, with both having recently removed themselves from the battles at respective ends of the table. It’s hard to tell whether the absence of pressure or that of motivation will have a greater bearing on their remaining performances. Crewe’s young, expressive side may well thrive in a consequence-free environment and have a promotion-worthy record at home, where they’re unbeaten in 6 and have the division’s best goal difference. The Shrimps however have dug in when it’s mattered of late and ground out some impressive results on the road against big sides, so I can see this being a close-run encounter.
Southend (14th) v Stevenage (6th)
Previous league meeting: Stevenage 1-1 Southend
A goal from Barry Corr has salvaged a point for the Shrimpers on a few occasions this season, and so it proved when these sides met last. Stevenage have since embarked on an impressive charge up the table which has seen them elbow their way into playoff contention, while Southend’s season never really got going thanks to some dire away performances. Boro come into this encounter unbeaten in 8 and with the best away defence in the division, while their hosts haven’t lost at Roots Hall in 7 matches. This will be a true test of Stevenage’s promotion mettle, and I can see these two cancelling each other out.
Northampton (22nd) v Rotherham (10th)
Previous league meeting: Rotherham 2-2 Northampton
The Cobblers desperately need a win to end their horrendous run of 16 victory-less outings before it’s too late. They’re scoring goals at least, and will consider this visit of out-of-sorts Rotherham winnable after their point at Wycombe last week. The Millers have only won 1 of their last 10, although bizarrely that was a 6-0 thumping of Lincoln at Sincil Bank. Northampton are significantly less incompetent on their own turf, so I’m going to defy the bookmakers and back them to get something here.
Hereford (18th) v Shrewsbury (4th)
Previous league meeting: Shrewsbury 4-0 Hereford
Jamie Pitman has done a great job of turning Hereford’s season around and was justly rewarded with a new 2 year deal this week. Without their 3 point deduction the Bulls would surely be considered safe from relegation, and this may yet be overturned on appeal. Shrewsbury arrive at Edgar Street having won 4 of their last 5 games and have designs on automatic promotion: they’ll sidle into 3rd if they can better Wycombe’s result. The Bulls have kept clean sheets in their last 4 matches, all against promotion-chasing sides, and are one of 3 sides to rack up 10 home stalemate. The Shrews are susceptible on their travels and are overdue an away draw, so that’s where my money’s going.
Accrington (8th) v Bradford (16th)
Previous league meeting: Bradford 1-1 Accrington
Stanley were my outside tip for the playoffs thanks to their relatively easy run-in, typified on paper by this fixture. Only relegation favourites Stockport have lost more away games than Bradford this season and both strugglers have managed a paltry 15 goals on their travels. Accrington in contrast have only lost 3 home games all season and only champions elect Chesterfield have scored more goals on their own turf. The home side are unbeaten in 10 matches at the Crown Ground and have won 8 of these: you’d be hard pressed to imagine them failing to extend this run given the Bantams’ poor recent showings.
Aldershot (12th) v Burton (21st)
Previous league meeting: Burton 1-2 Aldershot
The Shots also have a relatively uncomplicated run of fixtures remaining, although they’ve left it too late to bother the playoffs. Burton look to be finally pulling away from relegation danger, although they have the worst away record in the division and it could still prove their undoing. I certainly can’t see them leaving Aldershot with any points: their hosts are unbeaten in 10 and have 4 wins from their last 5 home matches. The Brewers’ dismal scoring record on their travels looks set to keep the tension high in the relegation battle.
Cheltenham (17th) v Macclesfield (19th)
Previous league meeting: Macclesfield 0-2 Cheltenham
Both sides have a dismal record of just 1 point from their last 5 games, and one match aside have identical league records. Their home and away scoring achievements are identical, although in the conceding stakes Cheltenham are more disciplined at home, while their visitors are marginally more competent away. That difference is too flimsy to offer much insight into how this one will pan out, but an uninspiring draw seems a sane prediction.
Gillingham (7th) v Barnet (23rd)
Previous league meeting: Barnet 1-2 Gillingham
And so Barnet’s daunting task enters its final phase: 4 games left, all against top half sides, with 2 wins required to give them a realistic chance of staying up. The Bees took 7 points from a possible 9 under the short-lived second reign of Martin Allen, but while they came unstuck at Bury last weekend, defeat to the high-flying Shakers is hardly a result to be ashamed of. While Gillingham are a tough proposition in their own right – unbeaten in 16 and in the playoff zone – they’ve actually scored less home goals than their lowly visitors. The difference is that they’ve conceded half as many, but Barnet should still be capable of causing them problems, particularly in light of Gills’ love of drawing and some shaky recent performances. As a Torquay fan, I’m trained to believe in great escapes and continue to expect Barnet to grapple their way to safety: a point here isn’t beyond them.
Oxford (11th) v Chesterfield (1st)
Previous league meeting: Chesterfield 1-2 Oxford
Chesterfield only need 1 point from their last 4 games to seal promotion and for all John Sheridan’s bullish talk his side look willing to coast over the line. The Spireites had to come from behind at home to Macclesfield last weekend, having previously been turned over by equally-lowly Hereford, and will face a much sterner test at the Kassam Stadium. The hosts haven’t lost there in 3 games, which is the same length of their visitors’ winless away run. Oxford may be out of the playoff race and in indifferent form themselves, but they can give anyone a game and I can see them repeating their performance at the B2net and forcing their visitors to postpone their promotion party for a few days at least.
Port Vale (9th) v Stockport (24th)
Previous league meeting: Stockport 0-5 Port Vale
Regardless of what happens here, the Hatters are surely down: their horrifying goal difference means that they’d need 9 points from 12 to stay up even if Northampton lost all of their remaining games. Therefore, anything less than a miraculous 4 wins from 4 spells doom. Vale were a much better side when they took the Hatters apart at Edgeley Park earlier this season, yet they still remain in playoff contention for the time being despite their insipid form. They’re still a decent side and it’d be foolish to write them off despite their low-scoring ways. Stockport have lost their last 10 away fixtures despite some battling performances, so unfortunately it looks likely that their second successive relegation will be confirmed this afternoon.