With just 10 games to go in this Sky Bet League Two season and, on the back of midweek fixtures which saw none of the top three win, yet both of the bottom two taste a much-needed victory, this weekend will surely be another unpredictable and exciting weekend in English football’s fourth tier.
Top meets sixth at the Proact Stadium as winless in three Chesterfield host winless in five Oxford United. Paul Cook’s side know a win could see them go four points clear at the top, whilst the visitors know they need to start picking up points, with many sides below them starting to make an assault on the play-off places. They still lay a healthy five points clear of eighth, but with just one win in eight, an upturn in form is needed to guarantee a top seven finish.
Another mouth-watering fixture sees Plymouth Argyle, currently one of those sides five points behind Oxford, host unbeaten-in-20 Scunthorpe United at Home Park. Only York have picked up more points in their last eight than the home side, and a run of four wins in five matches has propelled them to the fringes of the play-off places. Scunthorpe, although only a point off top, have stuttered of late, drawing their last four games, but will look to the 1-0 over the Pilgrims in the reverse fixture for inspiration to go one better and pick up a win that might see them go top.
Rochdale could find themselves top of the pile come 5pm tomorrow evening, but they must beat struggling Accrington Stanley at Plainmoor to give themselves a chance. A 0-0 draw away at Bury was quickly followed by a surprise defeat at bottom side Torquay in the last week, but the hosts are the best side in the division on their own turf, recording 12 wins, and will be looking for home comforts to get them back on the victory trail again. They won’t have it all their own way though, Accrington’s last game against a top three team saw their 10 men comfortably beat Chesterfield and they will no doubt provide a stern test for Keith Hill’s side.
One defeat in nine has seen Burton Albion creep up on the top three, and victory over AFC Wimbledon at the Pirelli Stadium could see them climb into the automatic promotion places. With just one of their last six fixtures at home, Gary Rowett’s team will be looking forward to try to and build on their eight home wins this season. The visitors’ draw with Chesterfield in midweek extended their winless run to three games and, with just one win in eight, will want to build a comfortable margin between them and the bottom two.
Fleetwood Town are still very much in the automatic promotion picture and a win over Portsmouth tomorrow could see move them up to third, but will need help from Accrington to do so. The hosts, like Burton, are unbeaten in their last four games and, after a run of four games without scoring, have found the back of the net three times in their last two outings. Pompey picked up a third consecutive 0-0 draw at home to Burton on Tuesday night but lay just five points clear of safety. They need to start hitting the back of the net to make sure of their Football League status come May.
Southend United came from two goals down to pick up a credible draw at Scunthorpe earlier in the week, but the Shrimpers are winless in ten League games, and will be looking to register a first victory since January when they host Bury. David Flitcroft’s visitors drew with another high-flying side in Fleetwood on Tuesday night, and will be hoping to go one better and pick up a third away win in four games.
17 points from seven League matches have seen York City jump from 16th to 9th, and in doing so mounting a serious challenge for the play-off positions. Another win, which would be a fourth in a row, over Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday could see the Minstermen break into the top seven. They won’t have it easy though; despite their defeat against Plymouth on Tuesday, Gareth Ainsworth’s side had gone six games unbeaten beforehand and will definitely test York’s promotion-chasing credentials.
At the bottom, Northampton Town’s win away at Exeter on Tuesday night dragged a number of teams back into the relegation dog-fight, and victory over Mansfield Town on Saturday would really set the cat amongst the pigeons at the bottom of the division. Chris Wilder’s side are fourth in the ‘Last 8 games’ league table, with only promotion-chasing York, Plymouth and Rochdale picking up more points over this period, and this run of form has given them a massive chance of getting out of danger. Inconsistency seems to be preventing Mansfield from securing their Football League status, and defeat tomorrow afternoon would see the gap between the two reduce to a mere two points.
Basement side Torquay United gave themselves a glimmer of hope when they beat Rochdale earlier in the week, but know a run of results is needed to get them out of trouble. They visit a Cheltenham Town side who lay seven points clear of danger, and seven points off the play-offs, therefore looking likely to be in League Two next season. The same cannot be said of the Gulls, but they know a win on Saturday would give them real momentum in their quest for survival.
Hartlepool United’s play-off ambitions suffered a dent when they drew with Accrington during the week, but a win over Bristol Rovers tomorrow may reignite the home side’s charge at the top seven. Their home form in recent times has been pretty good, winning three and drawing one of their last four, and they will fancy their chances against John Ward’s side, who have picked up just one win in 17 games on their travels this season.
12th meets 11th at Victoria Road, as Dagenham and Redbridge and Morecambe look to maintain their slim play-off hopes. The hosts are six points off Southend, but a second consecutive win could put them within striking distance. The visitors, one point better off, are looking for third straight League win, but have not travelled well recently, picking up just two points from their last five away games.
The Sunday afternoon game sees 13th place Newport County take on struggling Exeter City, who have dropped right down the table to a place above the drop zone after a run of no wins in six games. It’s been their away form that has kept their head above water though, although even in recent weeks, that has not been there to help them either. The Welsh side, despite their own woes which has seen them lose four of their last six, will see this as a chance to get back to winning ways and, who knows, possibly make a late charge on the play-off positions.
It goes without saying but every game from now until the end of the season is a ‘cup final’. A few defeats now and you’ll be nervously looking over your shoulder at the relegation fight; a few wins and you’ll be looking skyward at the play-off places. That’s how tight, and indeed frantic and fascinating, League Two is this season.