With gaps slowly starting to appear in the League Two table, now is the time when we should be finding out who are the runners for promotion and who will be stuck fighting a relegation battle come May. The next few weeks should separate the league so points are more crucial than ever as we head into the fourteenth round of fixtures.
MATCH IN FOCUS…HEREFORD UNITED v BARNET…
Last Season: Hereford 1-2 Barnet
Two teams that battled the drop last season come into focus this week and with both sets of fans preparing for yet another nervy season after disappointing starts, Hereford and Barnet come head to head at Edgar Street on Saturday.
You get the feeling that a victory in this type of game will be crucial come the end of the season for either side. Clawing away points from teams in mid-table and above is all well and good but when you’re looking at a relegation scrap, it’s results against teams around you that will ultimately decide your destiny.
There is, of course, time for both clubs to escape and launch an attack on the upper reaches of the table and both will go into this weekend seeing the game as a must win encounter.
Izale McLeod made the difference back in March as Barnet secured a massive 2-1 victory at Edgar Street to help them in their latest Great Escape and though many thought he would be moving on in the summer he’s stuck around and his seven league goals so far proves his worth as one of the hottest properties at this level. Still just 26 years old, McLeod has a career still ahead of him and there’s no better way to be noticed than by scoring goals, especially at a struggling outfit.
On his day, McLeod can be the difference between a relegation scrap and mid-table, so often has he found the net in important matches at the end of last season and that start of this one. One of the main worries for Hereford early in the season was the lack of a goal scorer but the loan signing of Tom Barkhuizan on loan from Blackpool seems to have solved some of that problem with the striker netting three times in six starts in League Two.
But with goals must come victories and both managers received huge boosts last weekend to ease the respective pressure on their positions. Lawrie Sanchez is being touted for a return to the Northern Ireland set up and before Barnet’s 2-1 win over Aldershot last weekend there were few Bees fans standing in his way. His undoubted experience should see him through if he does stay at Underhill though and I would be more confident in them steering clear of the drop than I would be for their opponents on Saturday.
Hereford boss Jamie Pitman did a remarkable job to turn around the Bulls’ fortunes last season but this time around it’s been another difficult start and the club are back in familiar surroundings. It would take another huge effort from a relative rookie manager to do the job again and you get the feeling that Pitman being on a learning curve still could count against him. His side saw off Bradford in a massive game on Saturday in only their second win of the season so they will be desperate to record back to back victories for the first time.
Browsing forums for both sides in the build up to this one I get the feeling that both sets of fans see this as one they should be winning but something will have to give in an early League Two six pointer!
Elsewhere in League Two…
Accrington Stanley v Cheltenham Town (Friday)
Last Season: Accrington Stanley 2-4 Cheltenham Town
Cheltenham will be more than happy to play on Friday night again after last Friday’s victory over Burton Albion propelled them up to third in League Two before Oxford’s draw on Saturday dropped them to fourth. They can at least temporarily go back into the automatic promotion places if they can come up with another away win, this time at Accrington. Stanley have been up and down so far and will want to stop a run of conceding two goals in each of their last three league games.
AFC Wimbledon v Crawley Town
Last Season: AFC Wimbledon 2-1 Crawley Town
The two promoted sides meet for the second time this season having already played each other at the Broadfield Stadium in a Carling Cup Preliminary match which Crawley edged 3-2 before the league season kicked off. The Wombles got the better of the Red Devils last season at Kingsmeadow though and know that a repeat of that 2-1 result will take them to within two points of their opponents at the top of the table.
Burton Albion v Bristol Rovers
Last Season: n/a
In a first ever meeting between these sides, Burton will be looking to bounce back from last Friday’s home defeat against Cheltenham Town that saw them lose a little ground on the top seven while visitors Rovers are still trying to claw their way back into the top half. The Gas also played on Friday last week but they were more successful, hammering Rotherham 5-2 at the Memorial Stadium. Rovers will go above Burton with a victory here so that’s the motivation for them to finally kick on from a stop-start opening to the campaign.
Crewe Alexandra v Macclesfield Town
Last Season: Crewe Alexandra 1-1 Macclesfield Town
These teams are no strangers to one another having met in the league and also in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy for the last two seasons. Crewe were the victors in that competition back in September with Max Clayton’s goal the difference but the league game should be a completely different prospect for both teams, currently sitting comfortably in mid-table.
Dagenham and Redbridge v Aldershot Town
Last Season: n/a
There’s only ever been one match between Dagenham and Aldershot before this weekend, a 4-0 win for the Shots in the FA Cup back in 1973. Plenty has changed since then but they are currently separated by just one point and one league place going into their first league meeting. Dagenham’s recovery from a long losing run didn’t last long and they’ve now been beaten in their last three outings while Aldershot have lost all five games in all competitions since beating Rochdale in the League Cup a month ago.
Gillingham v Oxford United
Last Season: Gillingham 0-0 Oxford United
You wouldn’t expect a lot of goals in this one based on last season when just one goal was scored in the two games between the clubs. But both are eyeing promotion this time will both be buzzing ahead of this one. Gillingham come in off the back of a 5-2 hammering of Torquay at Plainmoor while Oxford’s progress was slightly halted by a draw at Macclesfield but the fact that they equalised in the last minute would have still send their fans home happy. In what should be one of the games of the weekend in League Two I expect a lot more goals between them than last season.
Plymouth Argyle v Swindon Town
Last Season: Plymouth Argyle 1-0 Swindon Town (League One)
Plenty has changed since Plymouth did the league double over Swindon in League One last season (Swindon replied with an FA Cup win at Home Park) with both clubs now battling it out in the basement division. Ambitions are poles apart with Swindon looking for promotion and Argyle simply trying to survive with a young squad and still uncertain future. They did come away from Dagenham on the right end of a five goal thriller on Saturday though and are slowly gaining confidence. Swindon’s victory at Accrington took them into the top half and to within three points of the top seven and Paulo Di Canio’s men will be favourites to continue their recovery from a poor start to the season.
Port Vale v Morecambe
Last Season: Port Vale 7-2 Morecambe
The Morecambe supporters boarding coaches to Port Vale will all be recalling the absolute nightmare they suffered at Vale Park last season when they were hit for seven but they should provide a much sterner test this time. The Shrimps are above their hosts on goal difference alone following a good draw at high flying Southend with Vale doing their hopes the world of good by beating the Cobblers last Friday night.
Rotherham United v Shrewsbury Town
Last Season: Rotherham United 1-3 Shrewsbury Town
Shrewsbury’s victory at the Don Valley Stadium in late March went a long way to securing their playoff push while defeat for Rotherham signalled the beginning of the end for their unsuccessful attempts to clinch a spot in the top seven. Promotion is on the minds of both teams again this season with Rotherham in desperate need of a boost having dropped into the bottom half of the table after losing 5-2 at Bristol Rovers. The Shrews are in fifth but are being held back by their away form, having only dropped two points at home all season.
Southend United v Torquay United
Last Season: Southend United 2-1 Torquay United
Southend’s draw at home to Morecambe allowed Crawley to replace them at the top of League Two last weekend so they will be looking to get that spot back as they host a Torquay side who have slipped into the bottom half. Despite that, and a 5-2 home defeat last week, Gulls boss Martin Ling has denied that there’s a crisis at the club ahead of the trip to Essex.