The Sky Bet League Two action kicks off live on Sky Sports on Friday evening, on a weekend where most of those teams chasing promotion meet those looking to avoid falling through the dreaded trap door.
It all gets underway in front of the Sky Sports cameras at the JD Stadium, where David Flitcroft’s Bury entertain Keith Hill’s Rochdale side, who are sitting third in the table. The visitors won the reverse fixture back in September thanks to Scott Hogan’s first half winner, and a repeat of that derby success will see Dale go top of the division. Bury will be looking to avenge for that defeat in a battle to avoid the drop. Flitcroft’s men lie just six points clear of safety and, having endured a testing run of four consecutive away League matches in which they picked up seven points, will look forward to returning home, where they are unbeaten in eight League games. It should be a feisty encounter, and the battle of the ex-Barnsley managers and good friends could have a significant bearing on the race for promotion.
If Rochdale win this evening, the pressure will very much be on Scunthorpe United and Chesterfield to respond on Saturday afternoon. The latter travel to struggling Accrington Stanley, who lie just a place and four points clear of the drop zone and, having won none of their last six home League games, face a tall order to prevent Paul Cook’s side continuing their impressive away form. The Iron also know that they could be sitting top of the pile come Saturday evening if they beat lowly Northampton Town at Glanford Park. The hosts are extremely difficult to beat on their own patch; despite just one win in five at home, only two teams have taken maximum points away from North Lincolnshire (Accrington and Exeter City). Despite their precarious League position, 23rd and four points from safety, things have been looking up for the Cobblers in recent weeks, with three wins in their last five League matches giving them a chance of climbing out of the bottom two, although it may be difficult to continue that good form against a promotion-chasing Scunthorpe side.
The game of the weekend is no doubt taking place at the Kassam Stadium, as fifth place Oxford United entertain fourth place Burton. These two swapped positions in the table after last weekend’s results, and the home side will want improve a record of two wins in eight League matches if they are to sustain a case for an automatic promotion spot. Burton themselves are one point better off than their hosts but, despite an important win over Accrington last time out, they also have only won two in eight in the League, so it should prove to be a tense encounter in what is probably a “must not lose” game for both sides.
Fleetwood Town are just a point and a place worse off than Oxford, but know a win away at basement side Torquay United could see them climb to fourth in the division. However, with only one win in eight and scoreless in four, it’s not going to be easy, even though the home side are in the extremely tough situation of being seven points from safety. They’ll be scraping for every point they can though, and might be playing Fleetwood at just the right time.
One side hoping for a Fleetwood slip up is Southend United, who travel to Morecambe currently occupying the final play-off position. However, it’s not all plain sailing for Phil Brown’s side, who are winless in eight League games, and desperately need a win to build pressure on the sides both above and below them in the table. The home side are also in the midst of a sticky patch – winless in ten League games – and will want to get back to winning ways shortly before being fully dragged into the relegation dog-fight.
One side hot on the heels of Southend is Plymouth Argyle, whose three wins in a row have propelled them from 12th to the fringes of the play-off places. They trail the Shrimpers by just two points, and travel to 18th place Bristol Rovers on Saturday. The hosts are six points clear of safety and are unbeaten in their last five League matches and John Ward’s side should put Plymouth’s impressive recent run very much to the test at the Memorial Stadium.
Hartlepool United are still harbouring their own play-off ambitions, and know a win away at 21st place Wycombe Wanderers would put them right in the mix for a top seven finish. Wycombe themselves have put a decent run together (W2 D3) since the 1-0 defeat to Bury on February 1st, which left them out of the drop zone only on goal difference. They are now five points clear of danger but know work is still to be done and, having improved defensively, they will no doubt be a tough assignment for travelling Hartlepool.
One point and place better off than Wycombe are Mansfield Town, who entertain 10th place Newport County at the One Call Stadium. The visitors go into the game after a 0-0 draw at home to Fleetwood on Tuesday evening still with a realistic chance of making the play-offs, trailing Southend by six points having played two games fewer. A win over Mansfield, who themselves are only six points from danger, would keep those play-off ambitions very much alive.
Exeter City are on the same amount of points as Mansfield nearer the lower reaches of League Two, and will want to end a run of three consecutive defeats when they host Dagenham and Redbridge. Despite the five place gap between the two teams, a win for the home side would see them go above the Daggers in the table, although both teams need the points (both with just one win in eight) just to ease some lingering relegation fears.
A typical mid-table clash will take place at the Cherry Red Records Stadium as 12th place AFC Wimbledon take on 11th place York City. York are unbeaten in five (W3 D2), whilst their hosts have ended a torrid run of four straight defeats with a win and a draw in their last two matches. Both teams still have half a chance of gate-crashing the play-offs, being eight and seven points adrift respectively, but a defeat here for either will all but end any of these hopes.
The final game this weekend sees another mid-table clash as Portsmouth host Cheltenham Town at Fratton Park, with the home side lying eight points clear of the bottom two; the visitors themselves two points better off. Both teams have lost just once in their last three League games and, although inconsistency means the play-offs look a step too far, it seems unlikely that either side will go down.
Once again, there will no doubt be many twists and turns as another weekend of League Two football beckons!