Stockport County v Leyton Orient
Goals should be in full supply as in-form duo Stockport County and Leyton Orient locks horns at Edgeley Park.
The hosts are looking strong now after a shaky start to life back in the Football League and are starting to rise up the league table. They beat Newport County 2-1 away last time out and boss Dave Challinor said he his side showed ‘great character’ to pick up another three points and they are a dangerous team to play at the moment. In terms of selection news, goalkeeper Vit Jaros has been sidelined with injury but that isn’t too much of an issue with the experienced Ben Hinchcliffe stepping in and performing well. Stockport have also welcomed back right-back Macauley Southam-Hales and he provides useful competition for his spot with Blackburn Rovers loan man James Brown. County have been in fine form of late and have lost just once in their last 10 games in all competitions to climb within five points off the play-offs. Striker Paddy Madden is on fire and has chipped in with seven goals so far this term so with the Irishman up top, the Hatters always fancy their chances of scoring past anyone.
Leyton Orient sit top of the League Two table and are three points above 2nd place Stevenage after a blistering first few months of the season. They carried on their exploits with a 2-0 away win at Harrogate Town last weekend courtesy of goals from attacker Paul Smyth and midfielder George Moncur and their manager Richie Wellens said afterwards that they could have scored ‘more’ goals. The O’s have received a boost ahead of Saturday with versatile Tom James back from suspension and he will give his boss another option to choose from in his squad. Leyton Orient have lost just twice in their opening 18 matches so far this season which shows what a good side they are. They are prolific going forward and will cause Stockport problems as they are the second top scorers in the division having found the net 28 times already, with only Northampton Town managing more. However, it is worth noting that they lost 2-0 away at AFC Wimbledon in their last away game which proves that they are vulnerable to conceding goals which means both teams to score is the most likely outcome here as a win could go either way.
Sutton United v Rochdale
First team injuries can sometimes jeopardise a club’s hopes and form. That is certainly the case with Sutton United. Injury issues for Harry Beautyman and Alistair Smith for instance have seen 23-year-old Adam Lovatt earn a string of games in midfield, something he has never previously had during his time at the Amber and Chocolates. Full-back Jonathan Barden and centre-backs Ben Goodliffe and Aaron Pierre have been long-term absences, and a recent injury to Coby Rowe has forced Matt Gray to deploy starting right-back Joe Kizzi in the centre of a back four and move natural winger Enzio Boldewijn into an auxiliary full-back role. First-choice goalkeeper Jack Rose has only just returned from nearly two months out, and striker Omar Bugiel serves the final game of his three-match suspension. The importance of set-piece taker Rob Milsom, as well as lively wingers Josh Neufville and Will Randall, grows evermore by the week. Youngster Kylian Kouassi is deputising as the strike partner to Donovan Wilson in Sutton’s 4-4-2, but cannot yet be considered on the level of ability and physical presence that Omar Bugiel possesses.
The depleted Sutton United team have picked up just one league win since the 17th September. That could present an opportunity for Rochdale to head down to Gander Green Lane and collect a positive result. Jim Bentley’s side are not fully fit themselves, influential loan striker Scott Quigley has been out for the last month. Ian Henderson occupies the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation whilst he is absent, and though he does not possess the same complete game as Quigley, the 37-year-old can still be called upon for goals. His recent winner against Salford City was his 130th for the Dale, making him the club’s all-time record goalscorer. Assisting him on that day was 18-year-old midfielder Ethan Brierley, whose start last weekend against Mansfield Town was pleasing news for Rochdale fans who have wanted to see more of him up to now. Brierley formed part of midfield with Toumani Diagouraga and James Ball, and could continue whilst Liam Kelly remains unavailable. Devante Rodney, Abraham Odoh and Tyrese Sinclair are all suitable options in wide positions, whilst a consistent back four has formed from Cameron John, Ethan Ebanks-Landell, Sam Graham and the incredibly versatile Jimmy Keohane.
Whilst Rochdale continue to live in an uncomfortable position just three points above the relegation zone, narrow victories across the last couple of months have enabled them to pull clear of desperate trouble. Away at a Sutton United side out of form and desperately low on senior number, this could be an opportunity for the Dale to pick some more priceless points in their pursuit of safety. Expect Ethan Brierley to likely catch the eye again in the centre of the park.
Harrogate Town v Mansfield Town
Things continue to look desperate for Harrogate Town. Victorious in the league just three times this season, Simon Weaver’s side are low on quality players, with attacking midfielder Matty Daly, one of four on loan from Huddersfield Town, the standout in recent matches. Playing behind the lacklustre Luke Armstrong in a 4-2-3-1, Daly has been the bright spark in a frontline that contains Harrogate stalwart Jack Muldoon and the fairly ineffective Irish winger Danny Grant. Tenacious captain Josh Falkingham has been a welcome addition after returning to full fitness, but concerns still remain about Harrogate’s backline. Warren Burrell and Joe Mattock are natural full-backs who have to play in centre-back roles, with left-back Jaheim Headley and right-back Kayne Ramsay perhaps better noted for their attacking output rather than their defensive contributions.
Mansfield Town head to Harrogate this weekend, having returned to winning ways last Saturday. An injury to key creative wing-back Stephen McLaughlin forced Nigel Clough to change his 3-5-1-1 into a 4-1-2-1-2 setup. The short-term signing of Lewis Page is aimed to compensate for McLaughlin’s absence. Mansfield’s greatest strength comes in midfield, where Stephen Quinn, Ollie Clarke, Hiram Boateng, George Maris and George Lapslie have all caught the eye across the season. The latter formed part of a front two last weekend with Lucas Akins. Will Swan, Jason Law and Jordan Bowery are forwards who can contribute to the Stags either from the bench or as part of a different-look starting eleven.
Whilst Mansfield Town are not at full strength at current, few League Two teams will not carry confidence heading into a game against Harrogate Town, who continue to struggle at the bottom of the Football League. The Stags have promotion aspirations, play-offs at a minimum, and victory in North Yorkshire will be seen as a necessity if they are to achieve their seasonal targets.
Barrow v Hartlepool United
Barrow have a great opportunity to get back to winning ways at home to lowly Hartlepool United this weekend.
The Bluebirds lost 1-0 away at Crawley Town last time out and will be desperate to bounce back with a victory. Speaking after that one, boss Pete Wild said that his side need to ‘learn’ from that defeat. Barrow have received a boost on the injury recently following the return of striker Richie Bennett from his spell on the sidelines and he gives them something different to the likes of Billy Waters and David Moyo in attacking areas which is useful. Wild’s men will fancy their chances of extending their impressive run of results on home soil and have won all three of their last few games at Holker Street in the league against Grimsby Town, Crewe Alexandra and Colchester United, scoring seven goals and conceding just once in the process. The Cumbrian outfit have been one of the surprise packages in League Two so far this term and are 5th in the league table having won 10 out of their opening 17 games which shows that they know how to grind out results.
Hartlepool risk slipping out of the Football League in this campaign if they can’t turn their fortunes around. They are 23rd in the table and are only a point off Colchester United at the bottom. The Pools had a distraction from league action on Tuesday night and needed penalties to beat non-league side Solihull Moors after a 1-1 draw, with defender Reghan Tumilty getting their goals. Their interim manager Keith Curle said he was ‘disappointed’ with they play they played and to make matters worse he remains without a whole host of players at the moment such as defenders Alex Lacey and Jamie Sterry, as well as midfielders Mark Shelton and Tom Crawford. The North East outfit have won just twice out of 18 games and are very poor on the road having not won on their travels all season. They have picked up just two points away from the Suits Direct Stadium so their confidence will be very low ahead of this Saturday’s tricky trip. In addition, Curle’s men have the leakiest defence in the division and have let in a whopping 31 goals already meaning Barrow’s attackers could be in for a field day.
Bradford City v Northampton Town
Bradford City have a good opportunity to make a big statement of intent at home to Northampton Town.
The Bantams will be in confident mood following their impressive run of results and you shouldn’t bet against them carrying on their momentum. They won 2-0 away at Sutton United last weekend with striker Andy Cook and Crystal Palace loan midfielder Scott Banks on the scoresheet. Boss Mark Hughes, who is more used to a Premier League relegation fight than a League Two promotion push, is working wonders at the moment and his side are only two points behind 3rd place Northampton now ahead of Saturday. Ahead of this one, Hughes has said his side are ‘ready’ and they could be in line for a boost with winger Tyreik Wright expected to be fit, with Abo Eisa doing well in his position over recent matches. Bradford are unbeaten in their last six league matches and have lost just once in 14 which shows how tough they are to play at this moment in time. Forward Cook has been their standout player and causes problems to every team he plays against, having found the net an impressive 15 times altogether this term.
There is no doubt that Northampton are strong but they are in for a tough game at Valley Parade. Prior to their 2-0 away win at struggling Gillingham last Saturday courtesy of goals from attacking pair Sam Hoskins and Kieron Bowie, they had won just once in eight in all competitions which suggests that they have not been performing to their best. Speaking ahead of their trip to face Bradford, manager Jon Brady has said that he thinks the Bantams will be going into the game ‘confident’ so that shows that he is under no illusion how difficult it will be. Northampton have been dealt a huge blow on the selection front with key player and top scorer Sam Hoskins suspended after picking up five yellow cards. He has scored 13 goals in this campaign and his usual replacement Bowie may also miss out as well as he has a friendly against Iceland with Scotland U21s this week and might not be ready for club duty in time. The Cobblers have let in 19 goals so far and that makes their defence the leakiest in the top six in the league so Bradford and Cook will be rubbing their hands together.
Newport County v Gillingham
Newport County won’t get many better opportunities to return to winning ways this season than against goal-shy Gillingham.
The Exiles have a new manager at the helm in ex-Bristol Rovers boss Graham Coughlan and he is experienced at League Two level as he looks to guide his new squad up the table. The early signs have been positive and he has already picked up two wins against Colchester United (one in league and one in FA Cup) as well as draws against promotion chasing Mansfield Town and Northampton Town. They were beaten 2-1 at home by in-form Stockport County last time out, with defender Aaron Lewis getting their goal, but Coughlan wasn’t too disheartened and said afterwards that his players ‘gave their all’. In terms of selection news, goalkeeper Joe Day came back in for Nick Townsend against the Hatters and the former Cardiff City stopper is a proven performer in the fourth tier and will be ready if tested on Saturday. Prior to their losses to Stockport and Premier League side Leicester City in the Carabao Cup a few days beforehand, Newport had gone four games unbeaten and Coughlan had tightened up their defence, keeping two clean sheets, which shows his arrival has had an impact on their squad. If they can recapture their spirit from late October, they should have no problems bouncing back at all.
Gillingham will be leggy having had to play non-league AFC Fylde in an FA Cup replay on Tuesday which isn’t ideal. Despite edging 1-0 past a team from two leagues below thanks to forward Lewis Walker’s goal, an extra game means they could tire at Rodney Parade. Their manager Neil Harris said he was ‘pleased’ that they won but the fact they only had 42% possession against a National League North outfit will surely be a worry. To make matters worse, first choice goalkeeper Glenn Morris is injured and his replacement, 23-year-old Jake Turner, hasn’t played much first-team football so far in his career and will be thrown in at the deep end. He was sent back to former club Newcastle United 12 months ago from Morecambe after a series of mistakes so is a potential weak link. Most of Gillingham’s problems lie at the other end of the pitch though and they have the worst attacking record in the whole of the Football League. This is because they have only scored six times in 17 games so far this season which has left them just a point above the drop zone so most signs point towards another disappointing result.
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