League Two Preview - Football League's bottom tier set for exciting top of the table clashes
Last Saturday’s round of fixtures in League Two took place with the nation’s full attention during the international break, and the league did not disappoint. A fiery encounter at the Alexandra Stadium saw over a quarter of the players booked, and two goals in the closing minutes sealed a win for Southend that maintained their position at the summit.
AFC Wimbledon won the battle for third place at Morecambe, with Christian Jolley heading home seven minutes from time to give the Wombles a 2-1 win. Plymouth were leading 2-0 at half time in their game with Accrington Stanley and held a numerical advantage thanks to Sean Hessey’s sending off after just 26 minutes. However, the Pilgrims succumbed to a second-half comeback by Stanley and Padraig Amond equalised on 67 minutes to grab a point for Accrington. There was late drama at Shrewsbury and Swindon with the Shrews grabbing a 93rd minute winner through Lionel Ainsworth and second-from-bottom Hereford secured a point through Harry Pell’s 90th minute equaliser.
Two matches at the top catch the eye this weekend; second-placed Crawley Town host Shrewsbury and Morecambe visit top side Southend. Crawley won their fourth game in a row last week, courtesy of a Matt Tubbs strike, to keep them level on points with league leaders Southend. Shrewsbury will have been buoyed by Lionel Ainsworth’s late winner last week and will go into the match high in confidence. Both Crawley and Shrewsbury have taken 7 points from top-half opposition this season and the Shrews go into the match knowing that a win will take them above Crawley and potentially to the top of the table if other results go their way.
Southend might have something to say about that, and they host Morecambe, who have won just once since their thumping of Crawley in mid-September. Southend are on a good run of form at the moment, having won five league games on the spin and conceding just one goal in the process. Southend welcomed back former Chelsea trainee Lee Sawyer from a groin injury in a midweek reserve match, but the weekend’s fixture at Roots Hall might be too early for a first-team comeback.
AFC Wimbledon, fresh from their late victory at Morecambe, will be hoping to capitalise on Crewe’s habit of conceding goals in the closing stages. The Alex conceded twice in the final three minutes of their game against Southend, and threw away leads in their previous two matches against Port Vale and Dagenham in the final few minutes. Crewe have collected just four points from their six games against top-half opposition while Wimbledon have a reasonably poor record against teams in the bottom half, collecting an average of just 1.57 points per game against teams in the bottom 12. Wimbledon’s Mat Mitchel-King enjoyed an hour in a midweek training game, but it is unlikely that he or other absentees Kieran Djilali and Lee Minshull will make the squad on Saturday.
One cannot expect too many goals at Moss Rose this weekend. Macclesfield, who have scored the least goals of all the teams in the top half, host Oxford, who boast the best defensive record in the league as well as the second-worst goals scored column of the top 12 teams. Oxford have extended the loan deal of winger Andy Haworth from Bury meaning that his trip to Macclesfield will not be his last game in an Oxford shirt. The Silkmen hope to welcome back Sam Wedgbury from his hamstring injury but the weekend’s fixture seems to have come too early for Colin Daniel and Paul Morgan, who are expected to return to action in the coming weeks.
Four of the bottom-five play each other at the weekend in a couple of early-season relegation six-pointers. Bottom side Plymouth travel to Dagenham & Redbridge and Hereford host Bradford City.
Argyle will be hoping for another good performance from Matt Lecointe, with speculation on the teenager’s future being suppressed by caretaker manager Carl Fletcher. The youngster won a penalty for their first and had a hand in the second against Accrington last weekend. The Pilgrims will have been heartened by a good first-half display and will be looking to get some reprieve from the acrimony surrounding the potential takeover of the club by James Brent. Plymouth have failed to score in over half of their league matches this season, and the Daggers will be hoping to improve their goals scored record, which is the worst outside of the bottom two.
Hereford secured a last gasp draw at Swindon last week through Harry Pell’s late equaliser, and it was only the Bulls’ second point in six matches. Bradford’s victory last week was their first since August, and they will be hoping that the win against Torquay will act as a kick-start for their faltering campaign. Bradford have the worst defence outside the bottom three, and will be looking to Hereford’s woeful return of just seven goals so far this season as evidence that their back line should not be troubled. The Bulls will be able to call upon new signing Andy Todd, formerly of Blackburn and Bolton, and he will be eager to shore up the second-worst defence in League Two.
In the pick of the Friday night fixtures, Burton host Cheltenham with plenty of the pre-match discussion revolving around former Brewers midfielder Russ Penn. The midfielder declined a contract offer from Burton to join the Robins in the summer and will return to the Pirelli Stadium for the first time since his departure. Cheltenham will be hoping to extend their winning league run, with victories in their last three matches elevating the side to the play-off places. The Robins have no new injury worries and manager Mark Yates faces a nice selection headache between goalkeepers Jack Butland and Scott Brown. Burton also have no new injury worries and will be hoping to continue their unbeaten October run on Friday evening.