League Two Preview – In-form Southend and Oxford clash before cup fever sweeps England

Last weekend saw something of a goal-fest in League Two with 32 goals scored across 10 games. The pick of the games from last weekend was the bonanza at Barnet, where over a quarter of the day’s goals were scored. Burton emerged 6-3 victors at Underhill, where both sides’ defending left much to be desired. Billy Kee grabbed a first-half brace to put the Brewers in control before goals from McLeod and Holmes pulled Barnet back level. A hat-trick goal from Kee came just after the hour mark and the scoreline was widened to 5-2 before Deering and Zola both bagged in the dying embers of the match, leaving the final score 6-3 to the visitors.

There were also wins for Southend and Morecambe, while title-chasers Crawley salvaged a draw against Accrington thanks to a John Akinde equaliser 12 minutes from time. Two goalless draws included a stalemate at the Greenhous Meadow between promotion hopefuls Shrewsbury and Wimbledon. At the Kassam Stadium, a combination of Peter Leven’s magnificent lob from just inside the opposition’s half and a late penalty save by keeper Ryan Clarke put Oxford into fourth.

Elsewhere, there was heartbreak for Plymouth at Whaddon Road, with just a whiff of Argyle idiocy. The team on the brink of takeover were seven minutes away from what would have been their third win of a tumultuous campaign before Curtis Nelson brought down Cheltenham’s Steve Elliott in the box. Darryl Duffy then converted the penalty and there was more late drama to come. A dangerous tackle by Argyle’s Jamie Griffiths saw him receive his marching orders five minutes from time, while Duffy completed the smash-and-grab 2-1 win for the Robins, belting home from close range in injury time. There was just one midweek game, with Aldershot emerging with a 2-0 victory against Burton on Tuesday.

This weekend sees several top versus bottom clashes, but the game of the day comes from Roots Hall where Southend, top of the table on goal difference, host Oxford who are just outside of the automatic promotion spots. Both sides were handed tricky trips to League One teams in the FA Cup first round draw last week with Southend heading to Preston and Oxford making the journey to Brammall Lane to face Sheffield United. Southend head into the game unbeaten in nine league games but with an air of caution, as their three league defeats so far this season have all come against top-half opposition. Oxford share the best defensive record in the league with their opponents tomorrow, and are in a similar vein of form to the Shrimpers, having lost once in 10 league matches. Oxford have seen striker Robbie Hall recalled to West Ham this week, and there is a four-way contest between Franks, Philliskirk, Smalley and Hall for the vacant spot. Also, right-back Damian Batt returns from suspension, but will battle to win his place back from Andy Whing. Southend will have Frenchman Bilel Mohsni missing for the visit of Oxford, as he picked up his fifth yellow of the campaign against Macclesfield Town last Saturday.

The League Two story of the week saw Plymouth finally exit administration after a lengthy spell of uncertainty regarding the club’s future. A Football League statement released on Monday announced the formalisation of Argyle’s takeover by businessman James Brent’s consortium which brought an end to the club’s spell in the hands of the administrators. Carl Fletcher and assistant Roman Larrieu were installed on a full-time basis a day later, having acted in a caretaker capacity for the last seven weeks. The Pilgrims’ first fixture out of administration sees them host high-flying Morecambe at Home Park. The Shrimps sit in third on goal difference thanks to last weekend’s victory against Gillingham and have retained their spot in the promotion spots in spite of a slight wobble in league form which has seen them draw three and lose two of the last seven. As well as their financial plight, Plymouth’s fixture list has also been slightly unkind, as tomorrow’s match is their twelfth against top half opposition in what will be their seventeenth match of the campaign. However, Morecambe’s record against teams in the bottom 12 will make encouraging reading for Argyle fans, as they have won less than half of their games in matches against bottom-half opposition. Neither side has any fresh injury worries.

Crawley are off the top on goal difference, thanks to last weekend’s draw with Accrington, and the Red Devils travel to Hereford, who hover above the relegation places by four points. The Bulls’ recent three-match winning streak came to an abrupt end at the hands of Torquay last weekend, but the run has seen them climb out of the relegation zone. Crawley had a winning streak of their own ended last weekend, with their seven wins on the bounce halted by the draw against Stanley. The Bulls, looking for their third win on the bounce at Edgar Street, will face a stern test against the Red Devils, who have won their last three away from West Sussex. Hereford will be without Stefan Stam for the match and Andy Todd will face a late fitness test. The Bulls should have Ryan Green and Tom Barkhuizen available for the visit of the promotion chasers.

The match at Vale Park sees two play-off hopefuls go head-to-head as Paolo Di Canio takes his Swindon team to visit Staffordshire. Swindon’s 0-0 draw against Bradford was one of the two goalless fixtures of last weekend, and the Robins will be looking to continue an impressive five match unbeaten run. Meanwhile, Port Vale have suffered defeat twice in the last three games to two of the current top four. That mini-run is indicative of Vale’s form against top-half teams, which has seen them fail to win in eight games against teams in the top 12. Swindon will be looking for their third consecutive away victory and head into the game with no new injury worries. Port Vale will be looking to bounce back from their last home match, a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Morecambe.

Barnet, second-from-bottom and fresh from the nine-goal thriller at Underhill last weekend, travel to Wimbledon who are without a win in four. Barnet’s woeful recent form has seen them win just once in eight league matches, and they have tumbled into the relegation spots. The Wombles have had a miserable October that started with victories against Gillingham and Morecambe, but has seen them slip down the table to twelfth after their recent winless run. The Bees’ manager Lawrie Sanchez reacted to his team conceding six goals by signing two centre backs. 20-year-old Paul Downing and 19-year-old Michael Hector arrived this week on one-month loan deals from West Brom and Reading respectively. Neither side have any fresh injury worries.

Play-off hopefuls Cheltenham and Shrewsbury will make the respective journeys to relegation-threatened Bradford and Dagenham & Redbridge this weekend. Cheltenham have won their last three away matches, but the Shrews will be looking for their first away victory since mid-September. Bradford have won just twice in their last eleven league fixtures and sit three spots off the bottom and the Daggers go into their game having lost their last five league games on the spin and dangerously close to the relegation zone. Bradford will be without Robbie Threlfall, but will have Jamie Devitt available for the visit of Cheltenham, who can call on striker Jimmy Spencer for their trip to Valley Parade. Shrewsbury and Dagenham & Redbridge have no fresh injury concerns.

Elsewhere, Accrington Stanley host Bristol Rovers, Aldershot visit Rotherham and Torquay travel to Crewe in a trio of bottom-half clashes. Burton face Macclesfield at the Pirelli Stadium and Northampton travel to Kent to face Gillingham.

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