Written by Andy Wood
Fans of Premier League and Championship will naturally be disappointed to be missing out on club action this weekend, with the international break no longer carrying the same level of anticipation as it should. The club action carries on as normal for Leagues 1 and 2 though and it should serve to be another intriguing weekend in the lower leagues. Here are 3 matches that catch the eye the most…
Mansfield v Notts County
What better place to start than Saturday’s early kick off, and a tasty local derby that’s sure to provide plenty of fireworks. Both managers have naturally talked up the occasion, with Notts manager John Sheridan claiming that it is one of those matches where ‘it’s about winning the game no matter how you win’.
Mansfield fans will certainly have fond memories of the reverse fixture – their 5-0 win back in April was their biggest ever victory in this fixture. In fact they did the double over their neighbours last campaign, also recording a 2-0 win on the second game of that season. The confidence that comes with such bragging rights would be much needed right now for the Stags, with manager Adam Murray succinctly summing up their recent fortunes when he said in his pre match interview;
“This time last month I was nominated for manager of the month. I think this month some of our fans would probably chuck me out of a window, but that’s the game.”
There’s been a very notable drop in form, having started the season very strongly. Since the end of August Mansfield haven’t picked up a single win, a run of 6 league games, including 4 without a goal before successive 1-1 draws. The only positive that they can take out of this is that they actually have a decent defensive record over this period, shipping only 4 goals in these 6 matches. The hope for Mansfield will be that they can continue to keep tight whilst recapturing the early goalscoring form that got them going earlier in the campaign – indeed a return to the form of their previous derby encounter wouldn’t go amiss.
Notts County will go into this game as favourites having worked their way up to an early play off spot, despite not winning any of their opening 3 fixtures. They were stopped in their tracks somewhat by the postponement of their most recent fixture against Morecambe but they still come into to this with 3 straight league wins behind them. A key catalyst to this has been experienced striker Jon Stead, whose 5 goals in the last 3 league matches has been rewarded with the awarding of the player of the month for September. With the momentum and confidence behind them, the smart money is on a Notts County victory but derbies can do funny things to football teams…
credit Martin Belam
Leyton Orient v Portsmouth
It’s becoming an all too familiar story for the poor Leyton Orient fans. The managerial door has once again revolved and Chairman Francesco Bechetti resisting the urge to name an experienced manager with calibre at this level and instead deciding that obscure Italian lower league boss Alberto Cavasin is worth bringing out of a 5 year hiatus. It’s a shame to have to write so negatively about a decent club like Orient who only recently looked good for promotion to the second tier, but the effect of clueless foreign owners has once again risen to the fore.
Of course, form is not good on the pitch at Orient right now – they haven’t won for 5 matches. The frustrating thing for fans, and needless to say for the departed Andy Hessenthaler, is that he was only given 16 games to make an impact at the club – only 9 of those at the start of this season. It seems incredible that it can go through anyone’s mind that this is a reasonable time to get it right at this level – squad turnovers and general competitiveness make it extremely unpredictable and fortunes can turn at any instance. Leyton Orient may sit 17th in the table – but they’re only 5 points of the play-offs. A run of even just 2 or 3 wins would likely change the entire outlook. They’re good enough to manage this, but what opportunity is handed to Cavasin remains to be seen.
His challenging first league fixture sees Portsmouth make the trip up to Greater London. They’ll provide as good an introduction to English football as anyone, bringing with them vociferous away support and a high tempo footballing style. Their own season has seen some hit and miss levels of consistency- at one point they had 4 straight wins and some real wind in their sails but back to back defeats have halted their progress, although they still find themselves 6th at this early stage. They’ll definitely be able to find goals in their side- if key talisman Gary Roberts has an off day then Conor Chaplin, Kyle Bennett or Curtis main could happily step up to the plate. If they can keep resolute against the attacking talents that Orient possess – and they are impressive on their day – they’ll fell good about a fruitful away day.
credit Paul Wilkinson
Stevenage v Plymouth
Regardless of opposition, Plymouth are THE team to watch in League 2 right now. As an avid Yeovil Town supporter I masochistically followed my team to Home Park last Saturday, and probably got my money’s worth not from my own team but rather from Graham Carey’s audacious long range goal itself. Carey is the best player in this division by some way in my opinion, the sort of naturally confident playmaker most teams dream of having to link their build up play. He’s well supported though, with the physical forwards and watertight defence allowing him to play on his own terms. They already have a 5 point lead and even though it’s early, their consistent improvement over the last couple of seasons should leave supporters feeling very confident.
I would fancy them to beat Stevenage quite comfortably this weekend, and that’s not necessarily a slight on Stevenage. They themselves are a useful outfit, and have even found some decent form at times this season, but on the whole they haven’t fared well against some of the better teams in this division. They’ve come unstuck against Crewe, Leyton orient and Grimsby already, but if they have the right mindset they could still nick something. They impressively beat high flying Luton earlier this season and their midweek performance should give them some momentum- albeit they were playing a reserve side in an irrelevant competition.
What will be the most interesting match of the weekend? What are your predictions? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Paul Wilkinson