League Two stretches over two days this weekend with three games taking place on Friday night as some teams look to get an early advantage on their rivals with three points a day before the rest of the fixtures are played out. One of those Friday games is the match in focus this week with two teams chasing an unexpected playoff spot going head to head at the Pirelli Stadium.
(Come back to the blog tomorrow for a full Preview of the Cobblers’ Friday night trip to Port Vale!)
MATCH IN FOCUS…BURTON ALBION v CHELTENHAM TOWN…
Last Season: Burton Albion 2-0 Cheltenham Town
Back in April, Burton Albion picked up only their second win in eleven matches as victory over ten man Cheltenham Town took them three points clear of the relegation zone that had threatened to drag them in after a failure to keep up with the rest of the pack thanks to a hectic fixture list. The Brewers had a disastrous winter and were well behind in games played as the season came to its conclusion but despite some poor results in those games in hand finally began their escape from the clutches of the drop with that victory over Cheltenham.
Paul Peschisolido’s men remained unbeaten for the remainder of the season but had dragged Cheltenham into the mix with that result and only after a 2-0 win at Lincoln on Easter Monday were the Rubies finally breathing easier again.
With both sides beating relegation there was a fresh approach to the summer and incoming transfers were impressive from both sides. There were no massive signings but both sets of fans were quietly confident that they could make a much better go of it this time around.
Burton’s major dealing was to bring in striker Justin Richards from Port Vale and he’s started this season on fire, already topping the nine goals scored for the Valiants last term. Two of those came on the opening day at Playoff finalists Torquay in a 2-2 draw and Albion have slowly made their way towards the top seven in recent weeks, jumping right back into the pack with last weekend’s impressive 1-0 win at Rotherham United, Richards again on target.
Cheltenham have also began strongly and are level on points and goal difference with the Brewers and sit in seventh only by virtue of scoring one more goal than their opponents on Friday night!
Marlon Pack was the pick of their summer signings having spent time on loan from Portsmouth last season. Pack makes the team tick from the middle of the park and has helped to bring real belief to the club that they can stay at the right end of the league this season after dropping out of the race last term. The midfielder scored in the final game of 2010 as Cheltenham hammered Bradford 4-0 to go seventh in the table but a disastrous second half of the season saw them fall away badly and end up in the dog fight at the other end of the league.
Mark Yates has worked hard to get them back in the hunt this time out though and he’ll be desperate for form to continue. Three victories in a week has brought his team’s season to life as they won 3-1 at Bristol Rovers and 2-1 at home to Dagenham in the league and also progressed into the Area Quarter Finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy by seeing off League One Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park.
So plenty to play for at The Pirelli on Friday night with two somewhat overachieving teams go head to head…the winners will start the weekend in the top seven and as we head towards winter that’s not a bad place to be at all!
Elsewhere in League Two…
Bristol Rovers v Rotherham United (Friday)
Last Season: n/a
Friday night’s other game takes place at the Memorial Stadium with a first meeting in ten years of Bristol Rovers and Rotherham United. With both sides back in the same division and both aiming to live up to high expectations, it’s a big game for both of them. Rovers are in the bottom half of the table thanks to back to back defeats against Cheltenham and Oxford and the Gas have conceded six goals in those two games. Rotherham have dropped out of the top seven thanks to a run of no wins in five games but will re-enter the playoff places if they pick up a Friday night win in Bristol.
AFC Wimbledon v Crewe Alexandra
Last Season: n/a
Wimbledon’s recent good form has lifted them into the top three with four straight victories including an excellent 2-1 success at fellow high flyers Morecambe last weekend. Crewe have got into a nasty habit of conceding late goals recently including two in Saturday’s 3-1 home reverse against league leaders Southend so they will be desperate to stop that run of luck as they head to south-west London.
Accrington Stanley v Swindon Town
Last Season: n/a
Accrington produced a fine come back last weekend as they recovered from Sean Hessey’s sending off and from going two goals down to earn a point at Plymouth. Swindon, meanwhile, were two up at home to strugglers Hereford before a fine second half showing from the Bulls forced them to settle for a point in a 3-3 thriller, leaving Paulo Di Canio’s men in thirteenth place.
Barnet v Aldershot Town
Last Season: Barnet 1-2 Aldershot Town
A New Year’s Day encounter last season saw Aldershot complete a league double over Barnet so the Bees will be looking for revenge as they attempt to stop a rot of four straight defeats. Aldershot’s inconsistency continued as they were beaten at home by Macclesfield on Saturday but they’re stronger on the road this season having taken ten of their fourteen points away from home.
Crawley Town v Shrewsbury Town
Last Season: n/a
Crawley briefly went to the top of League Two after sneaking out of Sixfields with a 1-0 victory at the weekend and they now take on fourth placed Shrewsbury at the Broadfield Stadium. The Shrews recovered from a 3-0 reverse at Southend to see off Barnet and get themselves right back in the hunt for the top three but this will be a stern test of their promotion credentials.
Dagenham and Redbridge v Plymouth Argyle
Last Season: Dagenham and Redbridge 0-1 Plymouth Argyle
This was a League One fixture last season with Plymouth taking home all three points but both sides were eventually relegated. The two teams have collected just seven points between them in the last six fixtures and are inevitably both at the wrong end of the table. Argyle’s collapse against Accrington cost them dearly and they are on just five points and prop up the league. The Daggers are eight points better off but just four places above their opponents.
Hereford United v Bradford City
Last Season: Hereford United 1-1 Bradford City
Hereford are bottom of the League Two form table with no wins in six games and just two draws collected along the way. Bradford earned their first win in seven as their ten men beat Torquay United to move up a place in the league. Phil Parkinson will be hoping for more of the same as they visit one of their rivals at the wrong end of the table.
Macclesfield Town v Oxford United
Last Season: Macclesfield Town 3-2 Oxford United
These two sides met at Moss Rose on exactly the same weekend last season with the U’s throwing away a 2-0 half time lead to lost out 3-2. Oxford are unbeaten in six going into this year’s game but come up against a Macc side in decent form themselves having recorded back to back league victories.
Southend United v Morecambe
Last Season: Southend United 2-3 Morecambe
Another game that finished in a five goal thriller last season as the Shrimpers meet the Shrimps at Roots Hall. Paul Sturrock’s Southend side were knocked off top spot for a couple of hours last weekend but returned to the summit thanks to those two late goals at Crewe, both scored by Bilel Moshni. The centre-back was brought on to play on the right side of midfield and took his chance to score twice having only been brought on in the 84th minute. Morecambe’s rise was halted by the defeat against AFC Wimbledon and they will be hoping to avoid defeat against another one of their rivals at the top.
Torquay United v Gillingham
Last Season: Torquay United 1-1 Gillingham
Both games between these sides finished 1-1 last season and you wouldn’t bet against a repeat with two teams of a similar pedigree going head to head. Both need a lift after inconsistent runs of late with both sides aiming for the playoffs come May. Gillingham, held by Port Vale at home, are still just two points from the top seven with Torquay three points back after a run of six without a win.