There were 12 hugely important games affecting both the top and bottom of Sky Bet League Two on Monday and Tuesday, which saw the top three all win to consolidate their automatic promotion hopes.
Top-of-the-table Rochdale picked up a fourth League win in a row by comfortably overcoming a struggling Portsmouth 3-0 at Spotland. Matthew Lund, Ian Henderson and Peter Vincenti all netted for the home side, who have gone nine points clear of fourth place, and two points clear at the top. It’s a completely different story for Pompey though, whose third consecutive League defeat leaves them only a place and two points above the drop zone.
Hot on Dale’s heels are Scunthorpe United, who are refusing to let their remarkable unbeaten run end any time soon; a 2-0 win at Cheltenham Town their latest success to extend that streak to 23 games. Sam Winnall netted both goals, his 20th and 21st of a sensational season, to help record a third consecutive League win for Russ Wilcox’s side. Back-to-back defeats for Mark Yates’ Robins sees them drop to 14th, falling ten points off the play-off places with just seven games to go.
Chesterfield will go into their Football League Trophy final on Sunday against Peterborough United on the back of a 1-0 win over Morecambe. Jay O’Shea’s 19th minute strike proved to be enough against Jim Bentley’s side, who are now winless in four games. The victory for Paul Cook’s men was only a second success in their last seven matches, but they remain in a strong position, six points clear of fourth, to secure automatic promotion.
Fleetwood Town are doing their best to keep the pressure up on the top three, after picking up a third win in five against Bristol Rovers. Antoni Sarcevic and Mark Roberts both netted before the break to send the hosts on their way, before David Ball secured the points with a third six minutes into the second half. Ellis Harrison pulled one back late on for John Ward’s side, but a third defeat in four matches leaves them just three points clear of danger.
Burton Albion also remain six points off the automatic promotion places after getting back to winning ways against Wycombe Wanderers. Adam McGurk netted the only goal of the game nine minutes into the second half, and after three games without tasting victory, that result will come as a welcome relief to boss Gary Rowett. The visitors however remain very much in the relegation mire, with a fourth defeat in five matches leaving them just two points above the bottom two.
Friday night saw Southend United end a dismal run of 12 League games without a win by comprehensively beating Oxford United 3-0 at Root’s Hall, condemning Gary Waddock to defeat in his first game in charge of the U’s. Will Atkinson and Lee Barnard’s penalty gave the hosts a 2-0 lead after just 17 minutes, and they didn’t look back, with Jamar Loza adding a third late on. The defeat for the visitors leaves them with just one win in their last eight games, and they are in danger of giving away their play-off place. Phil Brown’s Shrimpers had moved into the play-off places as a result of their victory, only to be displaced 24 hours later by York City, who beat bottom side Torquay United 1-0. Will Hayhurst’s 11th minute strike sent Nigel Worthington’s men en route to a sixth successive win, which has propelled them from mid-table mediocrity to genuine play-off contenders. The defeat leaves the Gulls six points off safety, and with only seven games to go, they are in need of almost a miracle to avoid the inevitable.
Plymouth Argyle’s own play-off hopes suffered a blow as they lost the Devon derby against Exeter City 2-1 at Home Park. They had led at the break through Reuben Reid’s penalty, only for Liam Sercombe to equalise midway through the second half. It looked as though both teams would have to settle for a share of the spoils, but Eliot Richards’ third goal in two games won it for the visitors, who move seven points clear of the drop zone, despite this time last week sitting only a place above the bottom two.
Dagenham and Redbridge and Accrington Stanley played out a 0-0 draw at Victoria Park, leaving the home side seven points off the play-off places. Meanwhile, James Beattie’s visitors are six points clear of danger, making it likely that these two will meet again in next season’s League Two campaign. A point and a place above Stanley are Mansfield Town, who recorded a brilliant 4-2 win away at Hartlepool United. James Jennings put the visitors ahead after twenty minutes, only for the home side to turn it around through Marlon Harewood and Luke James. Jennings made it 2-2 eighteen minutes from time, before goals from Matt Rhead and Jamie McGuire sealed a crucial win for Paul Cox’s side, leaving them seven points clear of the relegation zone. Hartlepool are 11th, and face a battle to get into the top seven, being now nine points off the pace.
Northampton Town missed the chance to climb out of the bottom two, as a late Sammy Moore equaliser salvaged a 2-2 draw for AFC Wimbledon at Sixfields. The visitors had taken the lead just 14 minutes into the contest through George Francomb, but a Darren Carter brace, the first from the spot, looked to be enough to secure a precious win for Chris Wilder’s men, which would have moved them above Portsmouth into 22nd. However, Moore netted six minutes into injury-time to deflate the hosts, but they are now just two points off safety, having lost just one of their last nine matches.
Bury picked up a fifth draw in six matches, after their stalemate with Newport County at Rodney Parade. The point leaves the home side in the top half of the table, but nine points off the play-off places, whilst David Flitcroft’s Shakers are four points clear of danger in 19th.
Things are beginning to get very interesting in League Two, notably at the bottom, with Northampton’s recent form bringing them within a win of safety, and forcing many sides to look nervously over their shoulder. The top three look comfortable, but with still seven games to go, it’s too early to start planning for next season for any of the 24 clubs in English football’s fourth tier.