League Two Round-Up – Gameweek 40

Another week of football, another week of joy and tears. In case you missed it, here’s a quick guide to all you need to know from the events of the League Two fixtures:

Grimsby Town 1-5 Doncaster Rovers

Doncaster are all but up now, but it looked as if the Mariners were going to pull off a shock when they went ahead through Sam Jones in the first half on Saturday.  However, Darren Ferguson’s side hit back immediately to knock the wind from the hosts’ sales when top scorer, John Marquis equalised just two minutes later.  The forward then scored his second on the stroke of half-time when he headed Gary McSheffrey’s corner past McKeown in the Grimsby goal.  It was no surprise who scored the game’s next goal as Marquis popped up again to score his first ever Football League hat-trick and his 26th goal of this season.

Andy Williams and Alfie May then ensured that the Donny fans who travelled to Blundell park with two goals in the final fifteen minutes.  Doncaster have not quite secured promotion to League One, but they are very close and a win at home to Mansfield on saturday will be enough to guarantee mathematic promotion.  Donny are six points clear of Plymouth in second place so it looks like Ferguson has done enough to reward the board’s faith in him by securing the League Two title at the first time of asking.  Grimsby, on the other hand, will need to recover quickly from their setback as they now find themselves ten points behind Carlisle in the last play-off spot.  It looks as if losing Omar Bogle on deadline day will have foiled their chances of making it into the top seven this season, effectively ruling out automatic promotion.

Plymouth Argyle 0-1 Accrington Stanley

Plymouth were on a high going into their match at Home Park on Saturday after beating first place Doncaster Rovers 1-0 in their last match, while Stanley were on a great run of form, having been unbeaten in eleven league matches going into their tie.  It was the visitors who had the better start when Jordan Clark scored a header in the opening ten minutes.  The Pilgrims will have been very disappointed with their performance as they found themselves under extensive pressure from their opponents, and it was only the heroics of Luke McCormick who kept the score down to 1-0; showing his worth to the team for the second week running.

In the second half, however, it was the Accrington keeper who shone, keeping out a host of efforts from the likes of Antoni Sarceviċ and Graham Carey, as well as a wondersave in the last minute from Ryan Taylor.  Accy managed to close out the game to secure a vital win, keeping alive their hopes of a late push into the play-offs.  The win moves Stanley up to 13th and leaves them seven points outside the play-offs with six games remaining.  Although this might seem like a tall order, their great recent form will make the supporters confident that they can make up for last season’s play-off disappointment by winning promotion this time around.  Plymouth now have no realistic chance of winning the league as they have to make up six points on Doncaster, but they must now look over their shoulders at Portsmouth who are just four points behind, with the sides still to play each other at Fratton Park.

Hartlepool 0-2 Portsmouth

The hosts had not enjoyed the best season going into their match against promotion chasing Portsmouth and sat in 21st place.  Pompey needed a win to continue their push for automatic promotion, as they needed to sustain their six-point gap over Stevenage.  The home side started brightly and almost punished a couple of early errors from Portsmouth, but a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal meant they failed to turn their early pressure into goals.  On the other hand, Pompey were clinical when they went in front after 17 minutes when Kal Naismith volleyed home Enda Stevens’ cross, ensuring the teams went in at half-time with the score at 0-1.  Dave Jones sent Hartlepool out for the second half with renewed vigour and they almost equalised straight away, but Nathan Thomas saw his curling shot hit the base of the post from 25 yards.

That was a game changing moment and Pompey soon doubled their lead when Naismith set up substitute Gary Roberts to smash the ball into the roof of the net from close range.  The wind seemed to go out of the home side’s sails after that, and Naismith struck the post from outside the penalty area as the game reached the closing stages.  Pompey will have been delighted with their 0-2 victory and now have automatic promotion all but assures, being six points ahead of fourth place with six games remaining.  Hartlepool, on the other hand, will be looking over their shoulders as the season reaches its climax as they are just one place and five points outside the bottom two.  With Newport County’s recent good form they will need to ensure they pick up at least a couple of results between now and the end of the season, starting on Saturday when they travel to Morecambe.

Stevenage 1-0 Barnet

The Boro had been in good form ahead of their match with Barnet and had managed to get up to fourth place.  A goalless draw with Cambridge the week before will have been disappointing, but a fantastic 3-0 victory over Portsmouth two matches ago made their fans very optimistic about their promotion chances.  Barnet, by contrast had been slipping down the table lately as their home form had dropped from its usually exemplary standards, meaning they had won just one of their last five games at the Hive.  An early goal from Tom Pett was enough to secure the win for Stevenage in a match where neither side set the world alight with their play.

The winger’s deflected goal was one of only two shots on target for the hosts, although Barnet could only register four.  The Bees did have a few chances to get back in the game but wasteful finishing meant they were unable to get the all-important goal to draw level.  A rare off-day for John Akinde meant that Barnet did not have any real threat up front, although Stevenage’s top scorer Matthew Godden also failed to score; although he did have a goal disallowed for offside.  Stevenage are now five points in front of Blackpool in eighth and as long as they can avoid any major slip ups and continue their great home form they should secure their place in the to seven in the coming weeks.  Barnet, by contrast, are in no real danger of relegation but cannot viably get into the play-offs either so we may see them start to wind down their season in the final six matches.

Luton Town 1-0 Blackpool

This match could have huge consequences for the play-off race, as Luton went into the match without a win in five and clinging onto their place in the top seven, while the Tangerines had just forced their way into seventh place after a run of nine games without defeat.  Luton had drawn three of their last four matches and it looked like they would be held to another draw as both goalkeepers put in great performances to keep the game level at half-time.  However, the deadlock was almost broken when an acrobatic volley from Kyle Vassell had to be tipped onto the crossbar by Matt Macey.

In the closing stages it looked like the points would be shared, with neither set of strikers being able to beat the opposition keepers, but a late error from Dean Lyness allowed Ollie Palmer to tap the ball home for Luton.  The Blackpool keeper spilled Luke Gambin’s shot into the path of the ex-Havant & Waterlooville man, and the striker couldn’t miss.  The victory will be a pivotal moment in Town’s season and if they can push on from this they will surely secure their place in the top seven, as they currently three points ahead of Blackpool in eighth.  Blackpool themselves have to recover from this defeat as soon as possible as they are now outside of the play-off positions.  However, they are just two points behind Carlisle and Exeter and their good goal difference means they are still in a good place to catch any side in the play-offs who slip up.

Mansfield Town 1-2 Exeter City

Exeter are another side who are on a comedown from a great run, and had won just one of their last five games before travelling to Mansfield.  The hosts went into the match in a similar situation, having recently dropped out of the play-off spots, which only increased the importance of the match for both teams, making it a genuine six-pointer.  The Grecians have garnered a reputation in the last couple of games of scoring late goals, after coming back from 3-0 down after 88 minutes against Yeovil to draw 3-3.  It was certainly Mansfield who started quicker, as Danny Rose rattled the Exeter crossbar with a header from a corner after half an hour.  Shaquile Coulthirst then saw a first half goal ruled out for handball before Malvind Benning scored at the near post just two minutes later.

But Exeter continued their run of scoring late goals when Ryan Harley scored from inside the penalty area with six minutes remaining.  They then managed to complete the turnaround in the seventh minute of stoppage time when ex-Plymouth Argyle man Reuben Reid was hauled down in the area.  Reid got up to take the penalty himself and slotted the ball past Jake Kean to complete a vital win in emphatic circumstances.  Exeter are now level on points with Carlisle, but their goal difference means they are ahead of the Cumbrians in sixth.  However, they can’t afford many slip ups or they will drop out of the play-off positions.  Their match against Carlisle on the last day of the season will be an absolutely vital match for both teams and could easily decide who gets into the play-offs.  Mansfield, however, have been hurt by the defeat and are now reliant on one of the top seven teams to suffer a couple of defeats if they are to make up the four point gap.

Yeovil Town 0-2 Carlisle United

Yeovil went into their match with Carlisle having drawn three matches in a row and feeling slightly deflated after having what looked like an emphatic victory snatched away from them late on by Exeter.  However, compared to Carlisle they will have felt very optimistic, as the Cumbrians had not won in seven league games and, remarkably, seven games without scoring a goal.  They spent much of the first half of the season in the automatic promotion places but had since dropped out of not only the top three but the top seven.  Carlisle were pleased to welcome their captain, Danny Grainger back to the starting eleven after a long injury lay-off, and he played a big part in their first goal as his free kick was headed home by John O’Sullivan to give Carlisle a lead at the half-time break.

Ten minutes into the second half, the match all but finished as a contest when Yeovil’s Ben Whitfield was shown a straight red card for elbowing an opponent.  Tom Miller went down after a clash with the midfielder and Whitfield was sent off despite his protests.  Yeovil appealed against the Bournemouth loanee’s suspension but the three-match ban has been upheld.  The Glovers did not deal with going down to ten men at all well and conceded instantly when Reggie Lambe went through one-on-one with Artur Krysiak and scored at the second attempt.  Carlisle were happy to take the 2-0 without risking anything by going for a third and played out the remainder of the game without any major incidents.  United are now back in the play-off places and will be hoping that their abysmal run is now over, while Town will simply play out the rest of the season with no threat or relegation or any promotion prospects.

Leyton Orient 0-2 Wycombe Wanderers

Orient look sure to get relegated and will just want to get this season over with as they travel closer and closer to the Vanarama National League.  Their opponents, however, still had something to play for and are in with a chance of securing a play-off spot.  Things didn’t start off brilliantly for the hosts as they had their centre back, Tom Parkes, sent off for a high foot after less than half an hour.  Wycombe then scored two goals in two minutes after calamitous defending allowed Matt Bloomfield and Myles Weston both to score simple finishes.  Orient then had their caretaker manager, Omer Riza, sent to the stands in his first match in charge after abusing the referee as the players went in at half-time.

The game finished without either side truly threatening to score and it finished 2-0 and signalled another deflating day for Orient supporters.  Things could hardly be going worse for the O’s at the moment and if their fans weren’t frustrated enough by off-the-field issues, they will be seething at the defending for both Wycombe goals as the defence simply couldn’t clear the ball despite seemingly having the situation under control.  The Chairboys have a difficult run-in as they have to play against Mansfield, Doncaster, and Cambridge in their last six games so will need to secure wins against at least a couple of them if they are to make up the four point gap between themselves and seventh place before the end of the season.

Crewe Alexandra 1-2 Cambridge United

Alex had won four of their last five games as they went into their match against Cambridge United so will have been confident of getting a result against the play-off chasers.  However, they were still the underdogs for the match despite Cambridge having won just two of their previous five games prior to their trip to Gresty Road.  The visitors went in front in the first half when Luke Berry received the ball just outside the area and was able to jink past some bodies before unleashing a drive into the far corner of Ben Garratt’s goal.  Early in the second half the hosts managed to equalise when Leon Legge sliced an attempted clearance into his own net after some good work from Chris Dagnall on the left side of the box.

The U’s went back in front after 72 minutes when a great free kick from Luke Berry found its way into Garratt’s bottom corner from 25 yards out for Berry’s second of the match and 14th of the season.  Crewe never really threatened to get back on level terms before the end of the match, but they were given a boost in the last minute of the game when their opponents went down to ten men after substitute Paul Lewis was given a straight red card for going into a strong challenge with Chris Dagnall.  Alex failed to make the most of their man advantage and the game finished 1-2 to Cambridge.  Cambridge have an outside chance of getting into the play-offs but could hardly have a more difficult run-in with games against Exeter, Portsmouth, and Wycombe still to go.  Crewe have nothing to play for so it is unsurprising that they were defeated on Saturday.  Their supporters will have to hope that the players can find the motivation to pick up some results in their final six games or they could be in for a rather uninspiring end to the season.

Notts County 3-1 Colchester United

Notts County are a side who have improved lately and have guaranteed themselves League Two status for next season with three wins from their last four matches before hosting Colchester on Saturday.  Colchester are one of the sides who still have an outside chance of sneaking into the play-off spots before the end of the season but they would have to go on a great run to do so.  However, their ambitions suffered a setback when an almighty goal line scramble allowed Haydn Hollis to head in the rebound after an earlier effort came back off the crossbar.  The next goal of the game, however, was much easier on the eye as Chris Porter cut in from the right side of the penalty area and curled the ball into the far top corner after 21 minutes.

But a brace from Shola Ameobi then secured the win for the Magpies, the first of which was thanks to magnificent finish by the veteran striker as he flicked the ball up before volleying past Sam Walker from outside the penalty area.  The ex-Newcastle striker then completed the scoring with a much simpler goal when he rose highest to power home a header from a Jorge Grant free kick.  Notts County are now up to 16th and have no realistic chance of getting relegated and they will now do all they can to finish the season well as they aim to finish in the top half.  Colchester, however, cannot afford to drop many more points if they are to make the play-offs; something which is looking increasingly unlikely.

Newport County 1-0 Crawley Town

Newport County looked dead and buried a few weeks ago, but they have managed to prise themselves off the bottom of League Two and are now doing their best to escape the bottom two.  Going into the match this looked like a very tough ask as they were behind Hartlepool by eight points, but Mike Flynn had expressed his faith that the Exiles could escape relegation.  Crawley, on the other hand, had almost nothing to play for and would have been ideal opponents from Newport’s perspective, being a bottom half side themselves.  Sure enough, Mickey Demetriou put County ahead on 18 minutes with the Rodney Parade pitch playing a part in the goal as the ball appeared to get stuck in the mud before the left back thundered the ball home from 30 yards.

The pitch made it very difficult for either side to create many chances during the game, and the second half was overshadowed by disciplinary issues as both sides were reduced to ten men after 51 minutes.  An off the ball clash between Josh Yorwerth and Joss Labadie resulted in both players being awarded straight red cards, though unfortunately there was no more flowing football with ten men each than there was before the sendings off and the match finished 1-0 to Newport County.  Although this was a fairly dull game, it has some very interesting effects on the league table.  While Crawley are still stuck as a mid-table mediocrity, Newport now have a real chance of survival and are just five points behind Hartlepool.  County are still to play two of the top seven and have a couple of difficult matches against Accrington and Carlisle, so it would take something special for them to stay up but we have seen escapes of that proportion before in this division.  How ironic it would be if Hartlepool were sent down by a Pools-esque great escape!

Cheltenham Town 3-1 Morecambe

Cheltenham went into the game in 22nd place and just six points above the relegation zone so had far more to play for than their opponents, who were all but guaranteed to be spending next season in League Two.  However, Cheltenham did not go into the game in the best of form as they were without a win in five league games.  Morecambe started brightest as Paul Mullin won his side a penalty after 13 minutes, but Michael Rose’ effort was kept out well by Scott Brown.  Cheltenham made the most of that let off by going ahead through a Harry Pell header at the far post just after the half-hour mark.  The Shrimpers then had a man sent off just after half time when Alex Kenyon kept out Will Boyle’s header with a handball on the line.  Dan Wright scored the resulting penalty by smashing to Roche’s right.

Cheltenham scored their third of the game just inside the hour mark when Harry Pell unleashed a thunderous free kick into the top corner to score his second, before Morecambe got a consolation goal when a long throw-in was deflected into the far corner for an own goal, though it wasn’t clear who got the last touch.  Cheltenham will not think the job is done just yet as they are only one point ahead of Hartlepool and six ahead of Newport County, but this victory will have gone a long way to ensuring they stay up.  Morecambe, on the other hand, will be disappointed with the way they fell apart and, although they are in no danger of relegation, they will want to put in some improved performances before the end of the season.
Here is a look at the League Two table after Saturday’s matches, as well as the fixture list for this weekend.  Hopefully it will throw up another fascinating week of Football League action for us all to enjoy!

Image courtesy of BBC Sport