It’s another crucial weekend in Sky Bet League Two, and with significant changes to the table resulting from the midweek fixtures, things are really starting to hot up in English football’s fourth tier.
It all gets underway on Friday evening, with Oxford United hosting Hartlepool United, and Southend United travelling to Bristol Rovers. Oxford remain sixth in the table, but their play-off position is coming under increasing threat after a dismal run of no win in six League games, including heavy defeats to promotion rivals Rochdale and Chesterfield. Hartlepool are just five points off the play-off places going into the game at the Kassam Stadium, but need to find some consistency in the final nine matches to give themselves a realistic chance of breaking into the top seven.
One team sandwiched between Hartlepool and the play-off places is Southend, whose winless run of eleven League matches has seen them unsurprisingly relinquish their play-off place. They can regain it though, for a few hours at least, if they win away at Bristol Rovers, who themselves are struggling for form, with only one win in five. However, John Ward’s side are the fourth best home side in the division, probably the reason they are not in the bottom two, and will provide a stern test for the play-off chasing Shrimpers.
Saturday’s action kicks off at 1pm at the One Call Stadium, where Mansfield Town host second place Chesterfield. The home side have a five point and five place gap between them and danger, and a fourth win in six home matches would put Paul Cox’s side in a strong position to avoid the drop. At the other end of the table, Paul Cook’s Spireites have stuttered of late, with only one win in five matches, which has seen them lose top spot to Rochdale. Avoiding defeat here will see them go back to the summit for a few hours at least, albeit having played two games more than Dale.
Rochdale themselves also travel to a team battling against the drop in the form of Wycombe Wanderers. Keith Hill’s side sit top after back-to-back wins over Northampton and Accrington and, with a game in hand over Chesterfield and a six point gap to fourth, things are looking good for the Spotland tenants. Wycombe on the other hand have not won in their last three matches, which has seen them fall to just four points clear of danger.
The team occupying the last promotion place is Scunthorpe United, but they know a win over fifth place Burton Albion could see them go top of the division. The Iron are currently unbeaten in their last 21 League matches, albeit drawing more (11) games than they have won since the defeat to Accrington on November 16. It’s an impressive record that will come under threat from Gary Rowett’s side who themselves are embarking on a decent unbeaten run, a paltry five games in comparison to Russ Wilcox’s side. It should be a cracker between two sides that might meet in next season’s League One campaign. [polldaddy poll=7900661]
Similarly to Chesterfield and Rochdale, fourth place Fleetwood Town travel to a relegation-threatened side in the form of Exeter City. The Grecian’s run of seven games without a win, including defeats to Northampton and Wycombe, has seen them plummet to a place and just three points above the drop zone. Their 13-game winless home run no doubt has contributed to this demise, and it won’t be easy against a Fleetwood side unbeaten in five, and whose away record this season is only bettered by Scunthorpe.
Seventh place Plymouth Argyle broke into the play-offs last week at the expense of Southend, but face a tricky trip to Accrington Stanley in their bid to consolidate their top seven placing. The home side shot up the table after their 5-1 midweek thrashing of Morecambe, putting six points between themselves and danger. They are unbeaten in their last four home games, but that run will come under scrutiny by the Pilgrims, whose last five away games have seen four Argyle wins.
League Two’s form team is undoubtedly York City, whose four wins on the bounce have seen them climb to within two points of the play-off places. They travel to a Portsmouth side who are heading in the wrong direction; a run of just two wins in nine has seen them plunge to 21st place, only four points clear of danger. However, they are unbeaten in their last four home matches, and should provide a test for Nigel Worthington’s men, who themselves have won their last four away games.
Northampton Town suffered a mini-setback in midweek in their bid to climb out of the bottom two, losing at home to Rochdale, but will aim to put that right when they visit Morecambe. Jim Bentley’s side were comprehensively beaten by Accrington on Tuesday, but have fared much better on their own turf of late, picking up seven points from a possible nine. Chris Wilder’s Cobblers were on a six game unbeaten run before Tuesday’s defeat to the League leaders, but have only lost one of their seven on the road.
Basement side Torquay United gave themselves a lifeline by beating Bury in midweek, but must back that up with a win over out-of-form Newport County at Plainmoor. Justin Edinburgh’s County haven’t won in their last eight matches, including five defeats, and have seen their play-off ambitions all but end as a result. They go to a Torquay side who have won their last two home matches, and desperately need a win to stay in touch with those above.
Winless in five Bury host Dagenham and Redbridge at the JD Stadium, looking to extend their unbeaten home run to 11 matches. The Daggers are unbeaten in five matches and still have a genuine play-off chance, so will no doubt test that impressive home record possessed by David Flitcroft’s side. Cheltenham Town also harbour play-off ambitions, lying six points off seventh, but will likely need to win at AFC Wimbledon to sustain their hopes of breaking into the play-off positions. Neal Ardley’s Dons are winless in four and lay just six points clear of danger, and will face a tough assignment to try and end that run against Mark Yates’ side who are unbeaten in five matches.
The table is so tight at both ends; Accrington climbed six places in the week, so the incentive is definitely there for those sides struggling near the bottom to give themselves some breathing space. I’m sure this League Two season still has some twists and turns to come!