It’s another unpredictable season in League Two and as we head into October with the first milestone of the season – the ten game mark – passed, I look ahead to another action packed week in the basement division below…
MATCH IN FOCUS…CRAWLEY TOWN v PLYMOUTH ARGYLE…
Last Season: n/a
The polar opposite teams in League Two when it comes to finances go head to head on Saturday with money bags Crawley Town playing host to Plymouth Argyle, fresh from their ‘Fans Reunited Day’ victory over Macclesfield Town – their first of the season.
It would be a tough task to find a neutral supporter on the side of Crawley going into this weekend with Plymouth suddenly a million miles away from a club that were, in 2010, three divisions below them in the league ladder.
Argyle’s relegation in May that year kicked off a series of problems that saw them go from being within one league of the elite to falling to bottom of the entire Football League. Indeed there was just one day between Plymouth’s relegation – at the hands of a 2-0 home defeat to Newcastle, clinching the Championship title for the Toon at Home Park – and Crawley’s last game of their old ‘era’.
Crawley rounded off that 2009/10 campaign with a 1-1 draw at Kettering Town but little were their fans to know what was around the corner. Their £1 million worth of debt was cleared by owners and huge funds, by Conference standards, were made available to manager Steve Evans. Over £500,000 was spent in bringing in new talent including £70,000 for Matt Tubbs from Salisbury City, £100,000 for Sergio Torres from Peterborough and Richard Brodie for an undisclosed fee thought to be over £250,000.
In a season that saw them reach the FA Cup Fifth Round and come to within a crossbar of earning a draw at Old Trafford, Evan’s men pushed on in the league and pipped AFC Wimbledon to the title after collecting wins from many of their games in hand that had built up during that cup run. The death of co-owner Bruce Winfield under three weeks before the club sealed the title provided the most emotional of backdrops for the success on the pitch with Winfield’s work off the pitch coming to fruition and the club earning promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history.
The combination of money and Steve Evans saw the Red Devils earn themselves the automatic choice of Pantomime Villains for the League Two season but it’s not going to deter any of their supporters from enjoying every moment. Their team currently sit in fourth place in the league after ten games, winning six of those but coming through two defeats that showed that they are nowhere near invincible – a 6-0 drubbing at Morecambe and 3-0 home reverse against Swindon. Back to back victories followed though and there’s now a sense that Town are ready to leap back into the automatic promotion places that many pundits have predicted for them to finish in come May.
Coming the other way were Plymouth and they had just as little knowledge of what was to come after that night against Newcastle as Crawley did at the end of their season in 2010. The Pilgrims would spend just one season in League One but exited the division by the wrong door, bringing them to the present day nightmares that have been plaguing the club.
After an inconsistent start in League One under new boss Peter Reid, it was the troubles off the pitch that would lead to their downfall. A winding up order was brought against the club and they were given a 63 day adjournment to pay outstanding taxes. By March, Argyle were in administration and lost the obligatory ten points, dropping them deep into a relegation battle that they had steered clear from fairly comfortably up until that points.
A derby defeat at the hands of Exeter City left the Pilgrims on the brink and relegation was confirmed by Southampton’s victory at Home Park in early May, a result that saw the Saints promoted in a scene of jubilation at one end of the ground and dejection in the three other stands. It was a bitter pill to swallow after Newcastle’s similar celebrations a year earlier as Argyle fans faced the prospect of League Two football for the first time since 2002’s title winning season under Paul Sturrock.
There’s been more problems this season and at the time of writing the club are desperately working to complete a deal to appoint new owners. Brent’s Akkeron Group agreed a deal in principle on Wednesday night with a number of agreements still to be finalised. It was expected that Brent will meet the players and staff on Thursday to discuss financial issues, mainly addressing the fact that they haven’t been paid in full for some ten months!
A fans reunited day last weekend saw all kinds of positives for the Greens as well with Brighton fans replicating the support shown during their own dark days by Plymouth fans by helping out with a day designed for fans of all clubs to go down to Home Park for the match with Macclesfield Town. It resulted in a memorable occasion with fans coming from as far as Scotland to lend their support and a 2-0 win, the club’s first of the season, was more than welcome.
So with things on a knife edge for one club and a ‘never been better’ life for the other, this should be one of the more intriguing matches of the weekend in the Football League. By the time you read this I hope Plymouth’s situation is close to being resolved and also hope Crawley fans don’t see this preview as too one sided!
Elsewhere in League Two…
Macclesfield Town v Swindon Town (Friday)
Last Season: n/a
On the back of that defeat at Plymouth last Saturday, Macclesfield host Swindon on Friday night with the Robins coming into the match in good form. Paulo Di Canio’s men have won four of their last five games and hammered Barnet 4-0 at the weekend.
Southend United v Shrewsbury Town (Friday)
Last Season: Southend 0-2 Shrewsbury
In the other Friday night encounter this week, second placed Shrewsbury travel to Third placed Southend in a crunch game at the top of League Two. The Shrews have powered their way up the table with five wins in six, seeing them top the League Two form table, whilst Paul Sturrock has led his Shrimpers to three straight victories including Saturday 4-0 away win at fellow high flyers Rotherham United. Sturrock wants to stamp out what he calls ‘petulance’ at his club though after Southend picked up two charges of failing to control their players during the first two months of the season. If they can keep their cool then they should give Shrewsbury, hit by a growing injury list, major problems at Roots Hall.
AFC Wimbledon v Gillingham
Last Season: n/a
It’s seventh v sixth at Kingsmeadow as both sides look to make it three wins in a row to push on towards the top three. The Wombles beat Cheltenham (4-1) and Bradford (2-1) to set up this one against a Gills side coming in off the back of a 6-1 hammering of Hereford and a 3-1 home win over another team who have had a good start to the season, Burton Albion.
Accrington Stanley v Aldershot
Last Season: Accrington 0-0 Aldershot
Both games between these sides ended in a draw last season and Stanley have drawn half of their league fixtures so far this season. Four of those have been away from home though, one which being last weekend’s 1-1 at Oxford. The Shots were boosted by Saturday’s Carling Cup draw that saw them paired with Manchester United but couldn’t use the jubilation of that to extend a run of eight games unbeaten as Crawley took home all three points from the EBB Stadium.
Bristol Rovers v Cheltenham Town
Last Season: n/a
No game last season between these two but the last meeting back in 2009 saw a five goal thriller edged by Rovers. Back then, Cheltenham were 2-1 up going into the last six minutes before goals from Darryl Duffy and Rickie Lambert turned the game dramatically. Duffy should line up for the visiting team this time around having scored three in eight games for his new club and it should be another entertaining encounter with both sides looking to escape the clutches of mid-table.
Burton Albion v Bradford City
Last Season: Burton 3-0 Bradford
Many predicted these sides to be at opposite ends of the table but not many would have been bold enough to suggest that after ten games it would be Burton who would be among the top ten and Bradford who would be struggling. But the Bantams are still trying to find their feet again under Phil Parkinson and have lost their last three. Parkinson’s men are also the only club in League Two not to keep a clean sheet so far this season. Burton were flying until last weekend’s defeat at Gillingham which saw two Albion players sent off late on with Aaron Webster and Ryan Austin picking up second bookings.
Dagenham and Redbridge v Crewe Alexandra
Last Season: n/a
Crewe go in search of their first ever win over Dagenham with the Daggers doing the double over them the last time they shared a division in 2009/10. John Still’s men are on a run of five straight defeats while Crewe are moving in the opposite direction. After a poor start it’s now just one defeat in six for the Alex following a 1-1 draw with local rivals Port Vale on Saturday.
Hereford United v Oxford United
Last Season: Hereford 0-2 Oxford
James Constable and Tom Craddock were on target as Oxford took home all three points from Edgar Street just over a year ago and they will be aiming for a repeat performance to build on an unbeaten run of four games that’s taken them to the brink of the playoff places. Hereford are still in the bottom two but at least put the 6-1 thrashing against Gillingham behind them last weekend by drawing at Cheltenham.
Port Vale v Rotherham United
Last Season: Port Vale 1-0 Rotherham
Both of these sides are expected to be in or around the playoff places at the end of the season and both are currently around that area of the table. Vale are three points behind fifth placed Rotherham after a hard fought draw at Crewe whilst Rotherham will be a wounded animal coming into this game on the back of the 4-0 hammering at home to Southend.
Torquay United v Morecambe
Last Season: Torquay 3-1 Morecambe
Morecambe saw two players sent off at Plainmoor during last season’s meeting between the sides but come into this one hoping for happier memories as they look to maintain their position at the top of League Two. Defeat at home to Bristol Rovers couldn’t knock them off but they will be guaranteed to not be on top come kick off as second and third place Southend and Shrewsbury play each other on Friday night. Torquay slipped into the bottom half after a 2-0 reverse against the Shrews last weekend and are looking for a first win in five.