With the Cobblers embroiled in a fight to keep away from Barnet and their “mad dog era, mark 2” it’s easy to forget that there’s a side even worse off. A proud member of the Football League as a continued member since 1905 are on the brink of losing their place and you would have to have a heart of stone to not feel for Stockport County. The story of the last few years at Edgeley Park is one of a slow descent that looks certain to culminate in the ultimate demotion.
April 2009 saw the club go into administration whilst in League One and they eventually only survived on the final day of the season. Not so lucky a year later though, County were relegated and there started a campaign to get the club back to where they came from. Gary Ablett, the man who oversaw just five wins in all of the relegation season, was sacked and in came Paul Simpson with the backing of the “2015 Group” consortium.
But just as things looked set to reignite, everything went wrong once again. Simpson was sacked in January with the club just four points clear of the relegation zone and Peter Ward didn’t fare any better with just two wins in twelve. Ray Mathias is now charged with the “worst job in football” and faces a race against time to keep the Hatters in the league. Brief hope came from a rare win a couple of weeks ago in a last gasp effort against Southend but it was back to earth last weekend in a 2-0 reverse at Wycombe and Mathias’ side are six points away from Burton who of course still have two games in hand.
At the other end of the scale and the other side of the pitch tomorrow are Stevenage, a side on opposite parallels to their opponents. Since promotion at the umpteenth attempt in 2010 they’ve spent little time in getting acclimatised to the surroundings that they were denied access to in 1996 due to insufficient facilities.
A positive first half of the season kept them in the running on the back of excellent home form but it was the combination of that with some improving away performances that have propelled the club to within a few games of a second successive promotion. Impressive wins at Crewe, Port Vale, Wycombe, Burton, Oxford and Macclesfield – six in a row on the road – have moved them up to fifth place, a position cemented by a 2-1 home win over Bradford last week and it’s not just the playoffs on the radar with just three points separating them with third place Shrewsbury, the last side to beat them on their travels.
Having taken several, agonising years to get to this stage, could it be that Stevenage are about to elevate themselves again in the quickest of fashions? Or is there a most surprising sting in the tale from a team desperate to salvage a league status that’s been theirs for 115 years?!
Elsewhere in League Two…
Accrington Stanley may be on absolute fire at home despite not being paid this month but it’s away from the Crown Ground that could end up testing them to full potential if they’re to keep their playoff place. Stanley have won just three times on the road all season and will be looking to improve that stat and move closer to the top three in Friday night’s trip to Macclesfield. The Silkmen are without a win in four at home and have collected more points away from Moss Rose this season but relegation is surely still a distant worry for Gary Simpson.
On Saturday, Hereford, fresh from their three point deduction and subsequent drop back into the dog fight, host leaders Chesterfield who are still a massive thirteen points clear of fourth place and within two wins of promotion. The Spireites could clinch promotion as early as next weekend should all results go their way and that inevitable “P” next to their name will surely be there sooner rather than later.
There’s a massive M40 derby at the Kassam Stadium as Oxford, still harbouring outside playoff dreams, face second placed Wycombe. Over 9,000 tickets have been sold for what is regarded as the biggest game of the season for U’s fans and after a goalless draw early in the season at Adams Park it promises to be another tight one tomorrow. Wanderers will be weary of Bury’s threat with their game in hand and need to keep their form up with the likes of Stevenage and Accrington closing in.
Third placed Shrewsbury travel to Aldershot with their own place in the top three under threat. But since a 5-0 defeat at Torquay a few weeks back it’s been full steam ahead for the Shrews who went on to draw with Wycombe and then win their next three games, culminating in a 4-1 demolition of Macclesfield last Saturday. No Football League side has drawn more games than Aldershot this season and they made it seventeen tied matches in their last outing against Southend.
Meanwhile, Torquay were deducted a point yesterday but still remained in the top seven and their recent run of six games without defeat is tested with a home game against a Bradford side coming off the back of a Tuesday night victory at Macclesfield. The Bantams had started to fall back down the table in the games before that but are now surely out of danger.
Gillingham were knocked out of the playoff places due to Accrington’s win in the week and having been the only side in the promotion chasers to drop points last weekend they will want to get back on track in their game at Lincoln. They’ll have to do it without Dennis Oli though as the winger has been ruled out for the rest of the season due to a knee injury. The Imps are without a win in five games since Steve Tilson oversaw a victory over his former club Southend and are just above the Cobblers in the table.
Barnet are rejuvenated under Martin Allen and following a last gasp draw with Chesterfield and a hammering of Burton they’ll be full of confidence going into their home game with Crewe. The Alex hit eight in their last game against Cheltenham at Gresty Road but they’re less efficient on the road with just four wins away all season.
Burton’s draw with the Cobblers on Tuesday night wasn’t enough to take them much further away from danger and they go to Morecambe. The Brewers will be given hope from the fact that their hosts have lost their last three at home but Albion have lost three and drawn one of their four away games since winning at Sixfields.
Cheltenham look to recover from that shocker of a day when they host Rotherham at Whaddon Road. The Millers are now tenth having fallen out of the playoff places with back to back defeats. Coming up against a wounded Robins outfit won’t have been top of their list of games that they would have wanted and there could well be a backlash for them to face.
And Port Vale, overtaken by the surge of Stevenage and Accrington in the last few games, welcome Southend to Vale Park. The Shrimpers’ playoff hopes all but evaporated after defeat at Accrington on Tuesday night but they will still be looking for a strong finish. Vale will be without striker Tom Pope who returned to parent club and fellow promotion chasers Rotherham this week.