League Two Preview – Back to the grind after cup distractions

Last weekend saw a break from league action as FA cup fever hit the nation. The preceding weekend had seen an explosive day of League Two football on bonfire day, with five red cards across the 12 matches and no goalless draws among the results. Those fixtures saw Southend rubberstamp their position at the top of the league with a 2-1 win against Oxford which opened up a two-point margin over Crawley Town, who drew 1-1 at Hereford. There was also a brilliant game at the Priestfield Stadium where Northampton pulled back level after a Jo Kuffour hat-trick had put Gillingham into a 3-1 half-time lead. Despite the Cobblers’ best efforts, Danny Kedwell hit home an injury-time penalty to seal a 4-3 victory for the Gills. Plymouth suffered more late heartbreak in their first game out of administration, as Morecambe snatched an equaliser in the fourth minute of injury time.

This week sees just one clash between those in the promotion spots, a match which sees Oxford, beaten by top team Southend two weeks ago, travel to second-placed Crawley Town. The Red Devils saw off League One opponents Bury in the first round of the FA Cup last weekend, and were rewarded with a home tie in the second round against fellow League Two side Swindon. Oxford had a contrasting first round afternoon as they were comfortably beaten by Sheffield United at Brammall Lane. Crawley have recorded two league 1-1 draws in a row, and are on an unbeaten league run which stretches back nine games to mid-September. Oxford have not won in three games on the road, and will be looking to James Constable, their top league scorer with seven, to turn their away form around. Crawley will be without Jon-Paul Pittman due to the terms of his loan from Oxford, but otherwise can report a clean bill of health. Oxford, on the other hand, will be missing Tom Craddock through suspension and Michael Duberry through injury. Danny Philliskirk, Wayne Brown, Anthony Tonkin and Liam Davis all return for the U’s following their respective suspensions and injuries. The match will be preceded by the opening of the Bruce Winfield Stand, named in honour of the late Crawley co-owner and lifelong fan who passed away earlier this year.

League leaders Southend travel to third-from-bottom Dagenham & Redbridge, unbeaten in 10 league games and with four victories on the bounce in League Two. The Daggers are on a poor run of six league defeats in a row, with their most recent defeat an ill-tempered clash against Shrewsbury, which saw a player from each team receive their marching orders. Southend are undefeated against teams in the bottom half, winning seven of their eight fixtures against teams in the bottom 12. Dagenham & Rebdridge’s last league victory was at home against Crewe on the first day of October, and there will be long odds on them leaving Victoria Road with anything tomorrow. The Daggers will be missing centre-backs Mark Arber and Scott Doe through injury and suspension respectively and will also be without Sam Williams, Luke Howell, Jake Reed and Rob Edmans. New signings Mickey Spillane and Cristian Montano will be pushing for a starting place tomorrow. Shrimpers manager Paul Sturrock is waiting on the fitness of two unnamed key players, while Blair Sturrock has recovered from the flu virus that forced him to miss last week’s FA Cup match.

Morecambe suffered a narrow defeat in a televised FA Cup first round match against Sheffield Wednesday last weekend, and head into tomorrow’s clash with Crewe with just three home league wins to their name this season. Considering the Shrimps have an unbeaten away record, they would be genuine title-contenders if they could replicate that form in front of their fans at the Globe Arena. Crewe lie in eighteenth place at the moment and after Dario Gradi recently moved into a youth development role, new manager Steve Davies will be hoping to turn around a faltering league campaign that has seen just two wins since the start of October. Davies’ first match was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of League One opponents Colchester in last weekend’s FA Cup match and he will hoping to add to Crewe’s four away wins in the league this season. Top-scorer Shaun Miller is fit again after a spell on the sidelines with a dead leg and Crewe should be able to call on David Artell after suffering from an Achilles injury. Morecambe have no new injury worries.

Top-half clashes this weekend see AFC Wimbledon host Swindon and Port Vale travel to Cheltenham while matches involving bottom-half teams include Bradford against Rotherham, Barnet travelling to Bristol Rovers and Macclesfield hosting Accrington Stanley.

Elsewhere, Aldershot host Gillingham, Northampton play promotion-hopefuls Shrewsbury, Burton travel to Hereford and bottom side Plymouth, fresh from a 3-3 draw against Stourbridge in the FA Cup, visit Torquay at Plainmoor.

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