A combination of the Checkatrade Trophy final and the usual fixture backlog that occurs in lower league football meant that there were a few, but not a full fixture of, matches in League One through midweek. In case you missed it, here’s a quick guide to all you need to know from the events of these fixtures:
Charlton 0-2 MK Dons
A huge local matchup between two sides who have surprisingly underperformed throughout the entire campaign, in Charlton’s case because of unfortunate off-field events. Football was set aside pre-match, with an emotional and respectful tribute paid to PC Keith Palmer (RIP) who lost his life in the Westminster attacks.
On to the football, and it was the worst possible start for Charlton, conceding the first goal just 7 minutes in- despite a decent save from an initial shot by keeper Declan Rudd- with Stuart O’Keefe bundling home from close range. This lead was rarely troubled, with Charlton’s best first-half chance coming through Ricky Holmes, who jinked his way into space on the edge of the area before firing wide.
On the whole though this was all too comfortable for Dons, who doubled their advantage with a classy finish from loanee Harvey Barnes, collecting the ball in space about 40 yards from goal, racing into the penalty area and hitting a lovely curled effort into the far corner. It was by far the standout moment of the match and killed off whatever momentum Charlton may have mustered up, and from then on they never really looked like threatening a comeback.
Rochdale 3-0 Port Vale
At this late stage in the season Rochdale will still be hoping that they have an outside chance of making the play-offs, whilst Port Vale are undoubtedly looking over their shoulders. Whilst the home side will say this was a thoroughly deserved victory, creating far more chances than their opponents, the visitors will be ruing a miserable result compounded by a red card for Danny Pugh and an injury to Kjell Knops that won’t do their predicament any good.
It was a deserved red for Pugh, with the score still at 0-0, sliding in desperately on Rochdale’s Matty Lund on the edge of the box following a direct counter attack. It left Vale with all to do and from that point on Rochdale dominated, and in fact all their goals came in the remainder of the first half.
First up, Lund broke the deadlock in fairly scrappy fashion, a cross in the box bouncing around and eventually falling at his feet, the midfielder drilling home not before another heavy deflection on the goalline. It was during this passage of play that Knops suffered his game-ending injury, clutching his knee before coming off on a stretcher. The second goal was the pick of the bunch, with Donal Mcdermott twisting and turning on the edge of the penalty area before finding space by linking a one-two with full back Joe Rafferty. McDermott then proceeded to chip a curling effort across goal and into top corner to bring some real quality into the game. Things got worse still for Vale, with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing going down in the area, and despite the referee initially waving away protests for a penalty the linesman flagged otherwise, convincing the ref to overturn his original decision. Ian Henderson made no mistake from the spot and from then on the game was comfortably won for Rochdale.
Shrewbury Town 1-2 Millwall
Millwall continued their strong push for a play-off place with this away victory against Shrewsbury, but the outcome really could have been different.
I say this because very poor defending was the cause of both Millwall goals, and the Shrews will need to take a long look at this in training. In the first instance, Byron Webster was left with an incredible amount of space in which to turn and volley Steve Morrison’s flick on into the far corner, left unmarked by a highly unorganised back line from the set piece. Other than that, the first half contained relatively little in the way of clear cut opportunity or major incident.
The home side came very close to equalising early in the second half though, with positive running down the right hand side from Shaun Whalley and a dangerous low cross almost being turned in by defender Mahlon Romeo for an own goal. Millwall capitalised on their luck, and once again poor defending from set pieces gifted them the opportunity. Although Shame Ferguson’s free kick was dealt with at first, the ball was rebounded into the penalty area and this time it was Shaun Hutchinson who found himself with room in the box to turn and shoot into the bottom corner.
Shrewsbury made an effort in getting back into the game, with substitute Stephen Humphrys impressing off the bench after the second Millwall goal. His pace and direct running first saw him set up Alex Rodman who forced a save from the Millwall keeper, and then again before slipping the ball through for Whalley to drive home a consolation.
Southend United 0-1 Bolton Wanderers
Bolton Wanderers took another major step to promotion back to the Championship with a late victory away at play-off chasing Southend United.
Both teams could easily have taken the lead during the first half, with Bolton seeing a deflected effort come back off the post and Southend seeing an effort cleared off the line by a Bolton defender. Overall though it was Bolton who created more chances and the stand out player was Southend keeper Christian Walton, who made a string of highly impressive saves in the second half, coming out bravely to deny Max Clayton one-on-one before spectacularly keeping out a deflected header from a set-piece. There was also controversy as Shrimps manager Phil Brown was ejected to the stands for arguing the referee’s decision to not award a penalty when Nile Ranger went down in the area.
Bolton’s winner came inside second-half added time, when Bolton defender Mark Beevers pounced on a loose ball in the box and turned to finish and secure a valuable win for his side. That opened up a ten point gap between themselves and third-placed Fleetwood, and brings their promotion dream ever closer
Oxford United 1-3 Fleetwood Town
Promotion chasing Fleetwood Town gained another impressive victory, this time away at Oxford, themselves harbouring outside hopes of the play-offs.
The visitors were gifted an opportunity to get themselves on front, Amari’i Bell with a powerful run into the penalty area before he was bundled over by two Oxford defenders. Bobby Grant slotted home the penalty, sending the keeper the wrong way to secure a 1-0 lead. It only lasted two minutes however, Oxford almost immediately pegging them back through Curtis Nelson. A powerful drive from the edge of the area from Liam Sercombe fell to the defender 6 yards out and he had his wits about him to turn it home and grab the equaliser.
After two goals in the first ten minutes, it took until the 76th minute for either side to take the lead again, and when it came it was Fleetwood who regained their advantage. Bell hustled the Oxford defender in the corner, allowing Grant’s clipped cross to be headed home by Ashley Eastham at the near post. And a comfortable 3-1 scoreline was confirmed when David Ball struck into the top corner at the near post.
Sheffield United 2-0 Coventry City
Coventry had easily their best day not only of this season but of the past few seasons, claiming glory in the final of the controversial Checkatrade Trophy at Wembley, but they were brought back to Earth with defeat at league leaders Sheffield United.
The closest either side came during the first half was when United’s Danny Lafferty found space 30 yards from goal and curled the ball into the side netting, whilst the Blades will have thought they’d taken the lead in the second half when Lafferty turned home after Leon Clarke was excellently tackled whilst through on goal, but the linesman ruled it out for offside.
Legitimate goals came eventually for the home side, firstly when John Fleck volleyed in cross that Clarke turned in at the back post, and then a for a second time when Fleck burst through midfield past two Coventry defenders before brilliantly finishing from the edge of the area. Ahead of the weekend matches it left both sides within a single result of promotion and relegation respectively.
The midweek action leads us into an exciting weekend of action, with a full compliment of fixtures taking place and a number of key outcomes still to decide at either end of the table
AFC Wimbledon 0-1 Bristol Rovers
There was a bit of history made in this one, as the only goal of the game came after just 11 seconds, making it a club record quickest opening goal for Bristol Rovers. His low volley was enough to secure a decent away victory for Rovers, who are still in with a shout of making the play-offs, but Wimbledon will be wondering what could have been following an impressive performance.
After their lightning start, Rovers looked to have made it 0-2 through Billy Bodin, but he was judged to be offside as he turned in from close range. From then on the majority of possession and chances fell Wimbledon’s way, with Lyle Taylor having a luckless day in front of goal. His angled shot was well saved by Joe Lumley and he also put a header narrowly wide in the first half, before seeing another shot saved early in the second half and also dragging a good chance wide of goal. Ultimately though it was a frustrating afternoon for a Dons side that couldn’t fault their work ethic and chance creation, but just couldn’t force the issue.
For Rovers, this win leaves them 4 points off the play-off places with 4 to play, and even though they found themselves on the ropes during large periods of this one they showed enough resilience overall to further boost their momentum ahead of a big run-in- with 6th place Millwall coming to town on the final day, this play-off race could well go the distance.
Bury 0-2 Bradford City
Bradford are another team doing very well in said play-off chase and they secured themselves another impressive result away at Bury, a side who are looking over their shoulders.
Both teams had excellent chances to take the lead in the first half, and in fact it was the home side who had the best of them, with the usually reliable James Vaughn finding himself one on one with the Bradford keeper but flashed his shot wide of goal. Bury had their own keeper, Joe Murphy, to thank for making a fine save to turn away Charlie Wyke’s effort.
Bradford eventually made the breakthrough in the second half and it was a fine effort to boot- Mark Marshall fired home a fierce 25 yard shot past Murphy to really turn on the style. Vaughn then had another glorious opportunity but couldn’t apply the finish from a long throw in to the penalty area. In form Charlie Wyke then made sure of proceedings, turning home form Jordy Hiwula’s pull back to send the Bantams home happy with three big points. They have six points more than 7th placed Southend and sit 4th themselves, a big chance to make it into the play-offs. Bury however are just a point above the drop zone and surely need a win next up to settle the nerves of the fans.
Charlton Athletic 2-1 Southend United
It was a bitterly disappointing midweek for Charlton losing to local rivals MK Dons but they secured a much needed victory against Southend to ease any relegation concerns for the time being. Ricky Holmes was one of their more promising players in the midweek defeat and he showed his quality once again by opening the scoring with a nice run and angled drive. The lead lasted only a few minutes however as Southend equalised through defender John White, who got his head to Michael Timlin’s corner delivery.
The rest of the first half passed with some good possession but little in the way of opportunity, before both teams came very close to taking the lead during the second half. Charlton’s was a scrappier chance, coming after Josh Magennis won an initial header in a crowded penalty area and then acrobatically hooked the ball towards goal, seing the ball ricochet off the post and agonisingly roll across the goal line before Christian Walton took control of it. At the other end, Stephen McLaughlin was released one on one with Addicks keeper Declan Rudd but couldn’t find a way to beat his oncoming opponent. Charlton took advantage of that miss, scrappily again, with Nathan Byrne’s dangerous cross going in off Southend’s Adam Thompson for a decisive own-goal.
Southend are still well involved in the play-off hunt and sit just a point behind Millwall with a superior goal difference. Charlton are up to 16th and 5 points above the drop- it should take one more win to fully secure their safety at this stage.
Chesterfield 1-0 Port Vale
Chesterfield staved off relegation for another week with a win that leaves Port Vale a point from safety themselves. This was never expected to be a game where quality shone through and the first half was a dull affair with neither side finding any particular rhythm or confidence. Chesterfield’s Thorsten Stuckmann was forced into a couple of decent saves but with one goal looking like it would be enough, the home side made their breakthrough count. Kristan Dennis had a decent effort parried by Vale’s Deniz Mehmet, but youngster Joe Rowley was on hand to convert the rebound for his first senior goal.
From then on, save for a short period at the end of the game, it looked fairly comfotable for Chesterfield to sit on that one goal advantage in a low quality affair. It still looks bleak for the home side as they are nine points from safety with 4 games left. Port Vale are one point behind but perhaps crucially they have a game in hand over their nearest rivals.
Coventry City 1-o Peterborough United
Coventry managed to dearly their otherwise seemingly inevitable relegation for another week with a home win against mid-table Peterborough, but unfortunately for them other results made their good work a small dent in a huge task.
They had the best early opportunities, firstly with defender Jordan Turnbull winning a header from a set piece but the effort was cleared off the line, before Stuart Beavon had an ambitious acrobatic effort come back off the post. The best chance came for Peterborough though, who were given a penalty for a foul on loanee Martin Samuelson, but Craig Mackail-Smith saw his 12-yard strike saved by Lee Burge. Coventry made it count in the second half with a goal from Ruben Lameiras, finding space before striking into the bottom corner.
With eleven points still betwen themselves and the safety line, relegation still looks likely for the Sky Blues, but following their Checkatrade trophy victory this and a couple more wins could at least salvage some pride from what has been a difficult season. All eyes will turn to the boardroom to see if SISU will finally spare fans of their reign.
Gillingham 1-1 Millwall
Millwall squeezed into the play=off places with a draw away at struggling Gillingham, who sit a point above the drop zone.
Millwall had the better of the first half play without finding a reward- Shaun Williams came very close with a volleyed effort, whilst Steve Morison made a number of good chances with his positive target man approach. He generally found his efforts proving fairly routine for Gills keeper Tomas Holy or he just missed the target. There was little impact going forward for Gillingham, a sign of the difference between two sides well apart in the league table. There was a contentious moment when a fan appeared to aim a coin throw at ex-Millwall winger Lee Martin as he prepared a corner.
There was some questioning over the way Gillingham went ahead, a corner being given after Millwall’s Tom King was nudged off the pitch by a Gills attacker. From that corner, King saved from Cody McDonald, but Joe Quigley was on hand to apply the follow up. The lead was short-lived however, as in similar fashion to the first goal, Morison was in the right place at the right time to convert after Jed Wallace saw his initial shot saved.
The point then is enough to climb Millwall into the play-offs at this late stage- they play Northampton next. Speaking of which…
Northampton Town 1-2 Sheffield United (Sheff Utd promoted to the Championship)
So after six seasons in the third tier, Sheffield United are finally back in the Championship, securing their success with a victory over Northampton- a fitting place for Chris Wilder to win it as he achieved this same feat with Northampton from League Two last season, a real accolade for the 49 year-old who completes a hattrick of promotions after his success with Oxford in 2010- he could be a manager destined for the Premier League one day, given he’s still at a decent age.
The Blades were guaranteed promotion with a win in this one, but they were made to work for it on the day, having to come from behind after Marc Richards opened the scoring on the stroke of half time. United have had a really strong core unit this season and they rallied to come back in the second half, Leon Clarke equalising and then John Fleck- one of the signings of the season- scored the late winner to start the party up in Yorkshire.
Northampton are going to finish mid-table in their first season back in League One, a decent showing by all accounts and they’ll definitely be looking to kick on next year. The day belongs to United though- they’ve had a frustrating time in the third tier, including three failed play-off attempts, so this will be a huge relief for their large and loyal fanbase.
Oldham Athletic 2-0 Fleetwood Town
Fleetwood’s chances of automatic promotion look increasingly slim following a 2-0 defeat to Oldham, who are boosted in their survival bid.
It could have been a great start for Oldham as Lee Erwin found himself with a dream chance on the six yard box with the goal at his mercy, yet somehow he sent his effort over the bar to the amazement of those watching. If that was a moment of rotten luck for the home side, the fortunes were reversed on 25 minutes- Paul Green delivering a cross form the right hand side that was turned into his own goal by Fleetwood’s Nathan Pond.
The visitors then had keeper Alex Cairns to thank for keeping out Ollie Banks’ strong free-kick. The lead was doubled ten minutes into the second half though Erwin, who atoned for his earlier miss with a well timed volley from inside the penalty area. It could have been worse still for Fleetwood, who surprisingly struggled to ever get a foothold in the game, when Cairns was again tested by substitute Michael Ngoo.
Fleetwod are still third and still look good for a play-off place- automatic promotion looks beyond them now though. Oldham move three points clear of the drop zone.
Scunthorpe United 1-0 Bolton Wanderers
Bolton had a real chance to capitalise following the Fleetwood defeat, but they themselves were thwarted away to Scunthorpe, who had been early contenders but instead are in the play-off hunt.
The first half belonged to the hosts and they managed to take an early lead, when Josh Morris once again demonstrated his excellent dead ball delivery, curling it to the back post where defender David Mirfin was able to rise highest and open the scoring. Scunthorpe generally controlled the first half, playing out the back and enjoying large spells of possession. They looked to turn the screw in the second half. continuing to enjoy good possession and having good chances with Neal Bishop breaking through midfield, the closest they came being when Bishop struck the post following a heavy deflection.
Bolton looked to capitalise on this and applied heavier pressure as the half went on- Scunthorpe keeper Joe Anyon had to be alert, especially when Max Clayton had a powerful header saved well down low. At the other end, Josh Morris countered but his low drive was well kept out by Mark Howard.
Bolton still have a comfortable hold on automatic promotion, and Scunthorpe in the play-offs- they’ll both be hoping to meet a division up next season
Shrewsbury Town 1-0 Rochdale
Shrewsbury have been on a slide for some time now but they managed to gain a very much needed victory against Rochdale to pull themselves out of the bottom four- and subsequently put a serious dent in Rochdale’s top-6 ambitions.
The goal was a fairly early one- Stefan Payne took advantage of some uncertain defending to skilfully get himself in on goal and make a composed finish past the Dale keeper. This lead was nearly doubled when Bryn Morris drove powerfully from the edge of the area- the shot rose just over the bar, so Morris was unlucky to have gained 5 or so yards before shooting. Rochdale only threatened briefly- Nathaniel Mendez-Laing ran well down the left and flashed across goal, and also troubled from a free-kick.
The second half followed a similar theme to the first, with Shrewsbury enjoying a little more of the ball and territory, and as such made a few more opportunities- Shaun Whalley threatening himself from a set piece. Keith Keane came close for Rochdale and after Mendez-Laing used his blistering pace to get up the wing once more, his cross was headed in by Calvin Andrew- the linesman however flagged for offside. Towards the end, Stephen Humphrys, who impressed in midweek, came extremely close by firing across the face of goal, but there was to be no second goal.
The difference to the relegation zone is still only a point for Shrewsbury, but this win may hopefully encourage some much needed momentum for them.
Swindon 1-1 MK Dons
Swindon salvaged a late point against MK Dons to keep their survival push alive.
MK Dons perhaps played the better football throughout with their attractive passing style although both teams created chances, although Swindon’s young keeper Lawrence Vigouroux was kept busier. He saved well from Kieran Agard in the first half before the Dons striker was given a great chance from 12 yards when Ben Reeves was felled in the area. Agard made no mistake and the visitors had the lead just before half time.
Matt Goddard had a wonderful chance to make it 1-1 in the second half, racing clear in a two v two breakaway but Lee Nichols was equal to the effort. Ed Upson then made space for himself on the edge of the area with a skillful piece of play, but he could only lift the ball onto the crossbar. The same player was then played in on the counter attack but his low effort could only graze the post and go out of play. Swindon then found their crucial goal- Jon Obika pounced on a loose Dons pass and drove into the box before unleashing a ferocious drive across the keeper and an excellent goal.
Swindon are three points from safety with four games to play. MK Dons stay 12th.
Walsall 1-1 Oxford United
Two mid-table sides played out a draw in their fixture.
Walsall made a frenetic start to the match and were celebrating after just a couple of minutes when a downward header from a set piece was tapped in by Scott Laird at the back post, but he was ruled to be offside- the ball might even have gone in off its own trajectory but the defender wouldn’t have known. Kieron Morris then rattled the post shortly after with a raking left footed strike from the edge of the area. Morris was the biggest threat in the first half- his free kick also led to the disallowed goal- and another similar strike from a similar area forced a good save from the Oxford keeper.
After the goalless first half, Walsall took the lead in spectacular fashion- Andreas Makris with an audacious volley that crashed in off the underside of the bar. They almost self-imploded just two minutes later- Laird lost possession near his own byline, and Chris Maguire’s pullback was turned onto the post by Saddlers defender James O’Connor, with the rebound effort from Connoe McAleny being hooked off the line. The equaliser then came when Maguire found space 25 yards out, central to goal, and his strike deflected heavily off a defender to strand the keeper and send the ball in. Another long-range effort, this time from McAleny, forced Neil Etheridge to be at his best to get down and beat it away- neither side eventually could muster a winner.