AFC Wimbledon v Crewe Alexandra
The long-term absence of Nathan Young-Coombes has thrusted the importance of Ayoub Assal and Josh Davison into the spotlight. The pair form the frontline in Wimbledon’s 3-5-2 formation, and both were on the scoresheet at the weekend as the Dons picked up an important three points away at struggling Rochdale. Ayoub Assal’s mobility and close control perhaps makes him better suited for a role behind the frontline, but in turn makes him a lively threat moving in behind and onto the end of loose balls. Josh Davison, who moved with manager Johnnie Jackson from Charlton Athletic in the summer, is growing into a forward with a strong all-round game. The pair have provided 44% of AFC Wimbledon’s 16 league goals so far this season, with attack-minded midfielder Ethan Chislett also contributing with a notable set-piece threat. The attacking output is timely for Wimbledon as it helps compensate for limited numbers in defensive positions. 23-year-old Paul Kalambayi is getting more game time in defence than would naturally be anticipated as both Alex Pearce and Will Nightingale remain unavailable.
Crewe Alexandra, a fellow side relegated from League One in 2021-22, are also experiencing a good goal return from their number nine. A header from Courtney Baker-Richardson brought the 26-year-old’s league tally up to seven for the season. Baker-Richardson was partnered by Dan Agyei yesterday at the front of a new-look 3-5-2 formation, with Rio Adebisi and Tariq Uwakwe providing the wide support. It was the latter whose cross from the left was converted by Baker-Richardson to give Crewe the lead during their 1-1 draw with Doncaster Rovers. Youngster Joel Tabiner has been drawing high praise from supporters as he has entered the first team fray as both a winger and midfielder option. The 18-year-old is seen as the next of the Crewe conveyor belt of talent, entering a squad that already has several homegrown players including Luke Offord, Kelvin Mellor, Zac Williams, Oliver Finney and Billy Sass-Davies.
A clash between two sides readjusting to life after relegation, both AFC Wimbledon and Crewe Alexandra possess notable attacking options, but still carry a defensive vulnerability that has kept them away from the division’s elite up to now. Both teams are certainly capable of hurting each other during this match at Plough Lane.
Mansfield Town v Newport County
Mansfield Town have a great opportunity to bounce back from their loss to Crawley Town against Newport County on Tuesday.
The Stags were surprisingly beaten 3-2 away by the Red Devils over the weekend and fought back from 2-0 down through goals from striker Jordan Bowery and George Lapslie which shows their fight, only to concede again and lose. Boss Nigel Clough said his side were ‘uncharacteristic’ and will be desperate to see them respond with a win. On the selection front, the Nottinghamshire side remain without attacker Rhys Oates for another four to five weeks but that isn’t too much of an issue with Bowery in decent form at the moment, scoring three in his last three games. Mansfield will fancy their chances of getting back to winning ways as soon as possible, especially due to the fact they are the joint-second top scorers in the league behind Northampton Town having found the net 23 times in their opening 14 games. In addition, their form at Field Mill has been very impressive and they are unbeaten there so far this season in a run spanning six fixtures.
Newport have a new manager at the helm in former Mansfield boss Graham Coughlan and he will be locking horns with his ex-club for his second game in charge. He won his first against fellow strugglers Colchester United 1-0 last time out with forward Will Evans scoring the only goal. Speaking after that one, Coughlan said after there is still ‘lots to work on’ with his newly inherited squad which suggests it will take time for his ideas to get across to the players, which isn’t ideal ahead of a tough trip to face the 4th place Stags. Striker Offrande Zanzala, who joined over the summer from Barrow, is back available now after 10 weeks on the side lines and gives the Exiles another option in attack, with Evans and Omar Bogle currently leading the line. However, the 24-year-old hasn’t scored yet this term and might take a while to get up to speed. Although they beat the U’s, Newport could struggle in their next clash and have lost nine out of their first 15 outings. In addition, their away form isn’t great and they have been beaten in three of their last four games on their travels which doesn’t bode well.
Barrow v Grimsby Town
A run of four consecutive league defeats was halted by a 1-1 draw down at Gillingham, though it was a game where Barrow found the lead and could have later doubled their advantage from the penalty spot. Pete Wild opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation down in Kent with David Moyo leading rhe line and Ben Whitfield again demonstrating his superb crossing ability as he provided the assist for Josh Kay’s opener. With the likes of Harrison Neal and Tom White in midfield, Patrick Brough and Tyrell Warren at full-back, and Billy Waters further forwards, Barrow are perhaps better set for being dangerous in transition as opposed to being most effective when sustaining long spells of possession. The impressive Sam McClelland, on loan from Chelsea, has been absent in recent games and has led to a centre-back partnership of George Ray and Niall Canavan being formed instead. It is a more experienced duo overall, but is perhaps not considered full-strength when compared to what McClelland and Canavan have offered as a partnership.
Grimsby Town continue to fly under the fourth tier radar. Just a point outside the play-offs ahead of the midweek schedule, a goalless draw with Bradford City at the weekend saw a large Blundell Park crowd see the Mariners held at bay by impressive defensive performers from the Bantams. Recently favouring a 4-1-4-1, with Kieran Green integral at the base of midfield, Paul Hurst has been benefiting greatly from players returning to fitness and slotting into an impressive attacking side. Left-back Anthony Driscoll-Glennon is one of the brightest creative talents at lower league level, providing excellent support to the now fit Otis Khan who plays further up ahead of him. Gavan Holohan and the versatile Harry Clifton are very capable, technical midfielders, with Brynn Morris and Alex Hunt as strong alternatives for the central positions. As Luke Waterfall and Hull City loanee Andy Smith further blossom a superb centre-back partnership, the whole Grimsby Town team is spearheaded by the focal point of Ryan Taylor, who himself has had a battle with fitness during the season but has now played three consecutive 90s.
The momentum and belief from Grimsby’s incredible National League play-off campaign last season has well and truly carried through to 2022-23. Even when not fully fit, the Mariners have built on their promoted team to form an impressive side that contains a solid spine, a competent focal point, and one of the league’s standout young players operating in a creative full-back role. Barrow spent the first part of the season up in the automatic promotion places, it should be Grimsby’s aspiration to reach those spots themselves.
Tranmere Rovers v Rochdale
Tranmere Rovers could rise into the play-offs with a win over lowly Rochdale.
The Whites are in a decent form at the moment and carried on their unbeaten run of six games with a 1-1 draw away at Harrogate Town last time out, with defender Jordan Turnbull equalising for them in the second-half. Their manager Micky Mellon said it was a ‘good reaction’ from his team to get the result in the end and that should give them more confidence. The Merseyside outfit have received a boost on the injury front with defender Tom Davies back training and closing in on a return to the action. However, he could struggle to get into the starting XI with the centre-back pairing of Dynel Simeu and Turnbull doing well at the moment. Tranmere have kept five clean sheets in their last six matches which shows how solid and well organised they are right now. They have the second best defensive record in the division behind table toppers Leyton Orient having only let in 10 goals in their first 14 outings. Mellon’s men will fancy their chances of returning to winning ways this Tuesday due to the fact that they have lost only once in their last five clashes at Prenton Park and are making it a fortress as they eye promotion to League One.
Rochdale have made a poor start to the season and find themselves down in 22nd place, just two points above the drop zone. Jim Bentley’s side were beaten 2-1 at home by AFC Wimbledon over the weekend which was a poor result considering the Dons went into that one with just one win in their last eight. Bentley said that he was ‘really disappointed’ with the result and it most likely won’t get any better for his side soon as they prepare for an incredibly tough trip to Tranmere. In terms of injury news, defender Sam Graham went off against Wimbledon and will be assessed ahead of the next one. 18-year-old Ben Nelson, who is on loan from Leicester City, came on for him but could be a player who opponents target based on his age and inexperience. Rochdale have leaked 21 goals already in this campaign and only Hartlepool United and Crawley Town have managed to let in more which shows how fragile their backline has been. To make matters worse, they don’t score many goals either (only 11 so far) and their top scorer is forward Scott Quigley on four so they won’t be full of anticipation that they can get a result against the Whites.
Leyton Orient v Gillingham
Leyton Orient are flying at the moment and are preparing to take on a Gillingham side who have been struggling massively.
The O’s are top of the table and their sights firmly set on promotion. They have a boss who has done it before in Richie Wellens and the London club picked up an impressive 3-2 away win at Carlisle United over the weekend, with winger Theo Archibald (x2) and attacker Aaron Drinan on the scoresheet. Wellens said his team can still ‘get better’ which suggests he is not 100% happy despite their near perfect start to the season. On the selection front, Orient have seen striker Harry Smith return early from his loan spell at Exeter City which is a boost as he will give them another option in attack. The 6ft 5inc man will look to compete with the likes of Ruel Sotiriou, Drinan, Paul Smyth and Charlie Kelman for a place in the team. Wellens’ men have won 10 out of their opening 14 games in the league and have lost only once so far in this campaign which proves how tough they are to play against. They are also the second-top scorers in the division behind 3rd place Northampton Town and have found the net 23 times, with all the goals spread around the team so they aren’t just reliant on a single player. The O’s home form, bar one game against Newport County earlier this month, has been immaculate and they will be full of confidence right now.
Gillingham have been woeful this term and can’t seem to get going under Neil Harris. They drew again on Saturday at home to Barrow 1-1 with Ipswich Town loan defender Elkan Baggott scoring the equaliser in the second-half. Harris said his players ‘weren’t very good’ against the Bluebirds so won’t be holding out much hope as his side gear up to face probably the best team in the division. The Kent club are expected to make the journey to the capital without midfield pair Olly Lee and Ben Reeves as they continue to fight back from injury. Nevertheless, ex-Crystal Palace player Stuart O’Keefe, who plays in the middle of the park, returned off the bench against Barrow so is fit again. Gillingham seem to be starved of quality in their ranks and have drawn four of their last five games, taking their tally of draws to seven for the season. Harris’ men have only won twice in the league in 14 attempts and are the lowest scorers in League Two by a country mile having only found the net seven times. They have drawn a blank on eight occasions since the start of the campaign on 30th July and their top scorers are Baggott, Scott Kashket and Mikael Mandron on just two each which is very worrying.
Northampton Town v Sutton United
Northampton Town got back to winning ways with an eye-catching 3-2 away win at high-flying Stevenage over the weekend as they prepare to lock horns with Sutton United.
The Cobblers snatched a late winner on 87 minutes through midfielder Shaun McWilliams, with attackers Louis Appere and Kieron Bowie scoring their other goals. Boss Jon Brady said he was delighted with the ‘spirit and the endeavour’ of his players and he will want to see them back up that victory with another on Tuesday. Northampton are 3rd in the league and are three points off Leyton Orient at the top and two behind 2nd place Stevenage now. They will be without forward Danny Hylton for their next game after he was sent off late on against Steve Evans’ side for raising his hand to Dan Sweeney. Nevertheless, his absence won’t be missed too much with the club quality options in attacking areas such as Appere, Bowie and Mitch Pinnock. The Cobblers lost a couple at the start of the month but have now drawn against table toppers Orient and beaten Stevenage in their last two which shows they have turned a corner. They are the top scorers in the division having found the net 26 times in 15 matches and have also lost only three times so will be confident of picking up another three points this week.
Sutton haven’t been pulling up any trees this term and find themselves in 14th place. The London outfit drew 1-1 at home to Walsall last time out and took the lead in that one with a Rob Milsom penalty, only for the Saddlers to equalise four minutes from time through Jacob Maddox despite having 10 men. The U’s were very annoyed with that result and their manager Matt Gray admitted it was a ‘sucker punch’ for his side. Sutton saw goalkeeper Lewis Ward and midfielder Craig Eastmond return to the side against Walsall from their respective suspensions which is useful as they will need as many players as they can as Gray decides who to pick for their tricky trip to Sixfields. The U’s struggled last term on the road and their problems on their travels have leaked into this season as well. They have won just once in their first six away clashes in the league and that was against an AFC Wimbledon who have won just twice in nine. Maddox’s late equaliser was a killer for Gray’s men and it will be hard for them to pick themselves up quickly ahead of an encounter against the league’s deadliest attack.
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