Only 12 goals were scored in the 11 Sky Bet League 2 matches at the weekend, which included precious wins for struggling Bristol Rovers, Bury and Portsmouth.
The battle between two of the top four ended goalless at Spotland, as Fleetwood Town held league leaders Rochdale. The result does not help the visitors in their quest to gate-crash the automatic promotion places, although due to Chesterfield’s participation in the Johnstone Paint’s Trophy Final at Wembley, they did close the gap on Paul Cook’s side to five points. Keith Hill’s Dale remain nine points clear of Saturday’s opponents, and look very much on their way to securing promotion to the third tier.
Remaining in second place, two points behind Dale, are Scunthorpe United, whose stalemate with Wycombe Wanderers saw them draw for the 18th time this season. It is huge point for Gareth Ainsworth’s visitors mind, who bounced back from two successive defeats to pick up a credible draw, lifting them three points clear of danger. For Russ Wilcox, whose side had to play the final 17 minutes with ten men after, having used all their substitutes, Gary McSheffrey limped off with a hamstring injury; he set a new Football League record: becoming the first manager to go his first 24 matches unbeaten. A phenomenal achievement which looks likely to be further rewarded in the coming weeks with promotion to League One.
Burton Albion missed the chance to pile the pressure on Chesterfield, although a 0-0 draw at in-form York City is by no means a bad result. The home side went into the game on the back of six straight league wins, propelling them into the play-off places, but were unable to find a winner which would have seen them go sixth in the division. For Gary Rowett’s Brewers, the five point gap to the Spireites can be overturned, and those two sides meet at the Pirelli Stadium on the penultimate weekend of the season.
The draw for York meant that Southend United’s 1-0 victory over bottom club Torquay United saw them climb back into the play-off places. Freddy Eastwood netted the winner eighteen minutes from time to secure back-to-back wins for Phil Brown’s men, who had previously gone 12 games without a victory. The defeat for the Gulls, a third on the bounce all by a one nil score-line, leaves them seven points adrift from safety and, with the visit of Scunthorpe next up for Chris Hargreaves’ side, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Plainmoor tenant’s will drop out of the Football League.
Oxford United’s sixth defeat in nine games, and second in a row under new manager Gary Waddock, leaves their play-off hopes firming in the balance, with the latest setback a 1-0 loss at Dagenham and Redbridge. Luke Howell’s strike, although it might go down as an own-goal in the coming days, one minute from time sealed an important win for Wayne Burnett’s side, who keep their slim play-off hopes alive, albeit still five points behind their opponents. The U’s, having won just once in nine games, are in the play-off positions on goal difference from York, and need to find some form in the closing six games to have their chance at promotion glory.
Down at the bottom, Bury secured a massive 3-0 victory over fellow strugglers Northampton Town at Sixfields, keeping the Cobblers firmly in the bottom two. Hallam Hope and Danny Mayor set the visitors in their way with two goals in the first half, before Danny Rose added gloss to the score line with a third late on. The result thrusts David Flitcroft’s side up to 18th, with now a seven point gap between them and their opponents, who fall three points adrift of safety following a run of no win in five games.
Portsmouth gave their survival bid a huge boost by beating nine-man Newport County 2-1 at Rodney Parade, lifting them five points clear of the drop. A run of three consecutive defeats plunged the South Coast club into serious danger, but first half goals from Ryan Taylor and Jed Wallace proved enough to beat Justin Edinburgh’s men, who were reduced to ten men midway through the half following Adam Chapman’s two-footed lunge. Ismail Yakubu gave the hosts hope sixteen minutes from time, but those hopes soon evaporated thanks to another sending off, this time Darcy Blake the offender after two bookable offences. The result moves Pompey up a place to 21st but more significantly five points clear of danger, whilst the Welsh side drop out of the top half to 15th.
Bristol Rovers started life under new manager Darrell Clarke with a last-gasp 1-0 victory over Morecambe at the Memorial Stadium. Clarke, who replaced the now Rovers’ director of football John Ward, had to wait until the 90th minute to celebrate a first victory in charge, as Kaid Mohammed’s injury-time header secured the points from a dour affair. The home side won’t care though, and they move six points clear of the bottom two following a first win in five. Jim Bentley’s Morecambe are just two points better off than the Pirates in 17th.
James Beattie’s Accrington Stanley all but secured their Football League status with a 1-0 success at Exeter City, whose resurgent run of three unbeaten came to an end. Kayode Odejayi netted the only goal of the game on the stroke of half-time, sending the visitors nine points clear of the relegation zone. Paul Tisdale’s Grecians drop a few places to 19th, but stay seven points clear of Northampton.
The mid-table clash at Victoria Park saw Cheltenham Town narrowly get the better of Hartlepool United, sending Mark Yates’ side into the top half of the table. Jermaine McGlashan scored the winner sixteen minutes from the end to secure the points for the visitors, bouncing back well from back-to-back defeats. Colin Cooper’s Pools have now lost three on the spin, ending any play-off charge. The other game saw Mansfield Town rocket up the League Two table, having beaten AFC Wimbledon 1-0 at the One Call Stadium. Paul Cox’s side, who looked in trouble only a few weeks ago one place above the drop zone, now find themselves on 50 points and in the top half thanks to Adam Murray’s seventh minute free-kick. The visitors are 16th, but are a comfortable eight points clear of danger despite the defeat.
It’s getting more difficult by the week for Torquay to get themselves out of trouble, whilst Northampton’s recent resurgence also seems to have come to a standstill. Chris Wilder’s Cobblers are only three points adrift, whereas the Gull’s seven points deficit looks impossible to make up. At the top, Rochdale and Scunthorpe look likely to win automatic promotion to League One, whilst the chase for the play-off places gets more exciting by the week.