Slough v Ebbsfleet
You can probably expect a big turnout at Arbour Park come Saturday with this one being on BT Sport, as the hosts take on what have been arguably one of the most impressive National League South teams of all time. Sitting on 93 points with 7 games to go, the league is all but wrapped up for them. However, I still think they’ll be hungry for the points.
Slough enter this one with three wins in 10, putting them 17th in the table. Whilst 6 points from the drop, there may be some fight from the home team although I simply do not believe they have the quality to gain anything from such a dominant Fleet side.
Since signing in December, Ogo Obi has been Slough’s most prolific player and you’ll expect him to attempt to cause problems at the weekend. However, the away side have been very strong at the back this season, having strong depth and one of the best defensive records in the league so far. Mark Cousin’s penalty save at the weekend will certainly have given him strong momentum heading into this one.
In terms of going forward, Dominic Poleon has been outstanding this season – Fleet and the League’s top scorer. Last week in a 4-2 at home to Dulwich Hamlet, the centre-forward scored all 4. You can expect him to be a very dangerous threat here. Ebbsfleet have scored the most goals this season with 93 in 39 games, the second best so far being Worthing with 72 – this quite well sums up their dominance this season.
Despite being away from home, I believe Fleet get the win here. They still need the wins to wrap up the league, they’ve been in impeccable form and they’ve won in Slough multiple times. They also won the reverse fixture last December, with Greg Cundle and Rakish Bingham getting themselves on the scoresheet in a comfortable 2-0 win.
Charlton v Wycombe
Charlton Athletic have won their last two matches away at lowly Morecambe and Cambridge United, but are significantly weakened in the final third ahead of hosting Wycombe Wanderers.
Corey Blackett-Taylor could be out for the rest of the season and Miles Leaburn is not going to be fit enough to start the game after picking up a hamstring injury last weekend.
Chuks Aneke and Lucas Ness’ seasons are over and Todd Kane remains unavailable while Joe Wollacott and Terell Thomas are on international duty.
Mandela Egbo returned from the bench after four and a half months out last midweek but did not make the final 18 last Saturday.
There has been a huge points-per-game drop-off for Charlton when Leaburn does not start and the Chairboys arrive at The Valley in aiming to bolster their play-off bid.
Tjay De Barr has rejected a Gibraltar call-up to be available for Matt Bloomfield, with Ryan Tafazolli providing a defensive boost in returning from the bench last weekend.
Dominic Gape, Sam Vokes and Jordan Obita have not featured of late, but the Chairboys are value outsiders, having won two and drawn one v Charlton in the last two seasons.
Wycombe were arguably the better side in a 1-0 defeat to high-flying Barnsley last weekend.
MK Dons v Morecambe
MK Dons have the chance to pull away from the relegation zone, that they are currently one point above, as they host Morecambe in search of a third straight win over Mark Jackson.
The Dons will welcome Jonathan Leko back into contention while they have been boosted by Dean Lewington’s return in recent weeks.
The Dons beat the Shrimps 4-0 in the reverse fixture and also beat Derek Adams’ men 2-0 in the Carabao Cup this season.
The hosts have been very strong against teams around this season, also beating Forest Green Rovers since the turn of the year, although this is mainly an anti-Morecambe based selection.
The Shrimps’ recent performances have been awful and they benefitted enormously from a weak deflected shot to snatch a 1-1 draw against a very low on confidence Oxford United side last time out.
Morecambe lost the expected goals (xG) battle 0.19- 1.16 in that match and will likely sit in at Stadium MK this weekend.
Max Melbourne, Jake Taylor and Kieran Phillips are sidelined, but Jacob Bedeau has returned to strengthen the backline.
Portsmouth v Port Vale
Portsmouth’s chances of crashing the League One play-offs before the end of the season are slim, but the signs of potential are certainly there heading into next season. Concerns were raised when the inexperienced John Mousinho ended his player/coach role at Oxford United to take up the managerial position at Fratton Park on the 20th January.
His 14 games so far have produced eight encouraging wins and just four defeats, all against top end opposition. Mousinho’s 4-3-3 feels a much better fit for the players at his disposal than the back three utilised at the end of the Cowley’s tenure.
Luton Town loanee Matt Macey sits behind a back four of Connor Ogilvie, Ryley Towler, Sean Raggett and Joe Rafferty. Midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe is hitting impressive performance levels alongside Joe Morrell and Louis Thompson, with the more lively Tom Lowery an option from the bench.
A brace for Colby Bishop last weekend brought his tally to 18 in League One this season, his sixth in six matches. Only Peterborough’s Jonson Clarke-Harris has more. Bishop is supported out wide by two of Owen Dale, Reeco Hackett-Fairchild or Paddy Lane, a trio of wide players very capable against weaker League One defences.
Mid-table Port Vale are almost ready to retire to the beach. The Valiants have had a comfortable season after being promoted through the League Two play-offs in 2021-22, taking advantage of spells of good form to spend the season no lower than 19th place at any point. Darrell Clarke’s side have struggled on the road recently, a 3-1 win at bottom club Forest Green Rovers being their only win in their last nine away matches, losing six of the other eight.
The loss of Will Forrester in the first half of last weekend’s defeat to Burton Albion could hurt Vale further as replacement Derek Agyakwa failed to impress on the right side of a back three. Wing-back Sam Robinson can provide excitement with his direct dribbling from wide positions.
Tom Pett is an important part of the midfield with his disciplined role in the very centre. The front pair of Ellis Harrison and Oxford United loanee Matty Taylor have been impacted by injury this season, but the latter still has double figures to his name under his former Bristol Rovers boss.
Pompey have incredibly high standards to hit if they want to end this season with a surprise top six finish. Even if that target isn’t reached, there is a sense that the Southsea outfit could end the season in a run of form that could raise confidence from neutrals and supporters alike ahead of the new campaign.
Up against a Port Vale side who are just win or two away before they can officially announce safety, there is a good opportunity to pick up a sixth win in the last eight.
Doncaster v Northampton
Doncaster Rovers are out of form and don’t really have anything to play for as they prepare to take on a Northampton Town side who are eyeing promotion to League One.
The hosts have won just once in their last seven in a run of form that has seen their faint hopes of making the play-offs fade away now with just nine games left to play. They drew 1-1 away at relegation threatened Crawley Town on Tuesday evening and took the lead through striker Caolan Lavery.
However, they were fortunate to get away with a point after their opponents, who are 22nd in the table, had 15 shots and 62% position. Speaking afterwards, boss Danny Schofield admitted his side ‘lacked quality’ and he will surely be keeping one eye on the next campaign now.
On the injury front, Rovers have been dealt a blow with Burton Albion loan man Charlie Lakin injured for the rest of the season and they miss his creativity in the heart of midfield with players like Ben Close and Liam Ravenhill struggling to create chances for the attacking players.
Doncaster have endured an underwhelming campaign and it will be hard for them to motivate themselves between now and the summer as they gear up to face an in-form opponent this weekend.
Northampton are hoping that they can get out of League Two this year and are hitting form at the right time now. They are unbeaten in their last six outings in the league and have lost just once in their last 11 which shows how tough they are to beat at the moment. The Cobblers beat Crewe Alexandra 1-0 at home last time out courtesy of attacker Louis Appere’s first-half goal and that result leaves them just outside the top three on goal difference behind Carlisle United.
Their manager Jon Brady has said his side are ‘enjoying’ themselves and having ‘fun’ as they look to win again against Doncaster this Saturday and he is giving his players the freedom to go out and express themselves.
In terms of selection news, Fulham loan striker Kieron Bowie has been called up by Scotland U21s so will miss out but Northampton have one of the best players in the division in their ranks in the form of forward Sam Hoskins so won’t miss him too much. He has scored an impressive 19 league goals this term and he has caused all sort of problems for defences in the fourth tier in this campaign and should have too much quality for Doncaster.
Crawley v Rochdale
Crawley Town are starting to pick up some momentum as they lock horns with a Rochdale side who are rock bottom of the Football League.
The Red Devils are unbeaten in their last three games as they look to pull away from the relegation zone. They drew 1-1 with Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night with attacker Rafiq Khaleel scoring an equaliser for them eight minutes from time but they felt they should have won the match having had 15 shots and 62% possession.
Nevertheless, they are showing obvious signs of improvement under the management of Scott Lindsey and he said afterwards that they ‘completely dominated’ so if they can play like that against Rochdale on Saturday then they should pick up all three points.
On the selection front, defender Joel Lynch went off with a head injury so is expected to be sidelined this weekend but that isn’t too much of an issue with the dependable Kellan Gordon ready to step in and cover for him if needed.
Crawley will be in confident mood after recent weeks and they have only lost once in their last five home games and that was against promotion chasing Carlisle United so they will cause problems for whoever they come up against as they look to avoid relegation.
Rochdale need a miracle to survive this season and have won just six of their 37 matches, scoring a measly 33 and conceding a whopping 57. They are seven points from safety and look set to drop into non-league for the first time in their history.
They drew 4-4 with Swindon Town last weekend courtesy of goals by attackers Devante Rodney, Danny Lloyd, Abraham Odoh and Ian Henderson and although they had no problems in finding the net for once, their defensive issues were there again as Charlie Austin scored all four against them for the Robins.
The Dale’s boss Jim Bentley said he was ‘disappointed’ and his side are finding it tough to get points on the board at the moment. They have no fresh injury concerns but it is worth noting that Rodney is only one yellow card away from a suspension.
Rochdale have won only twice in their 15 games so far in 2023 and it appears only a matter of time before they slip into the National League with another defeat likely to be on its way.
Swindon v Stockport
Swindon Town’s season is starting to peter out as they take on a Stockport County side who need to win to keep their promotion push on track.
The Robins drew 4-4 away at Rochdale last time out with striker Charlie Austin scoring all four of their goals. However, the fact that they conceded four times to the team who are bottom of the table is a big worry and shows how weak their defence is.
Speaking after the game at Spotland, their boss Jody Morris admitted his side’s build-up play was ‘awful’ and he didn’t ‘enjoy’ the match at all as his side dropped two points. The Wiltshire outfit have been dealt a blow with defender Ellis Iandolo ruled out for the rest of the season with a heel injury which isn’t ideal with inexperienced Marcel Lavinier taking his place in the starting XI.
Swindon’s chances of making the play-offs are fading away fast and they are winless in their last four games in the league. It has been a poor campaign overall and they will surely be keeping one eye on next term now with only 10 games left to play and they will be in for a tough test against a solid opponent this weekend with another disappointing afternoon on the horizon.
Stockport County are proving to be a tough nut to crack in League Two and could do with a win at the County Ground to keep their hopes of back-to-back promotions alive. They won 1-0 in their last away game at Colchester United thanks to striker Kyle Wootton’s goal but were denied another victory at home against Mansfield Town last time out after Lucas Akins’ last-gasp equaliser for the Stags cancelled out attacker Paddy Madden’s opener.
Their manager Dave Challinor said he wants his side to be ‘judged’ at the end of the campaign as he looks to get them over the line and into League One. He remains without wing-back Macauley Southam-Hales but January recruit Kyle Knoyle, who joined from Doncaster Rovers, has been a hit since his winter arrival.
Stockport don’t lose easily and have been beaten just once in their last 11 games and just three times in 2023 so far so are defensively sound. They just need to find that cutting edge up top again and with options like Wootton, Madden, Isaac Olaofe and Jack Stretton, mixed in with the midfield quality of Will Collar, Antoni Sarcevic and Ryan Croasdale, they should click again and if they do they should start winning more.
Mansfield v Sutton
Wednesday’s goalless draw against mid-table Grimsby Town will have annoyed Stags fans, especially with them registering just a single shot on target against them. Nigel Clough’s side missed the chance to move level on points with seventh place Salford City, but do still have a game in hand on them and want to take advantage of the fact that six of their last ten games are on home soil.
An injury crisis isn’t helping Mansfield at current who are having to deploy Elliott Hewitt and Jordan Bowery as wing-backs in the absence of regulars Stephen McLaughlin and Callum Johnson. With Stephen Quinn still suspended for one more game, Ollie Clarke desperately needs to stay fit in order to play in midfield alongside Hiram Boateng and behind Davis Keillor-Dunn.
The latter has been a highlight for Mansfield since the end of the January window, netting three goals since arriving from Burton Albion. Another former Brewer in Lucas Akins has seven to his name this season and was partnered up top on Wednesday by the returning Rhys Oates. When fully fit, he is a serious problem for League Two defences with his direct running.
Sutton United sit just two points behind Mansfield Town in ninth and are still hopeful they can crash the play-off partner before the end of 2022-23. Matt Gray’s side have been on a strong run of form since mid-November, amassing a points total that rivals those of the automatic promotion contenders.
Coby Rowe and Ben Goodliffe form an impressive centre-back pairing, even if Rowe is normally second choice to the injured Louis John. Full-backs Rob Milsom and Joe Kizzi support Will Randell and David Ajiboye respectively during open play. Milsom is a dangerous set piece taker with his inswinging deliveries whilst Kizzi looks to utilise his long throw. Craig Eastmond is pivotal with his disciplined midfield role alongside the energetic Alistair Smith.
Sutton’s group of strikers contains Omar Bugiel, Donovan Wilson, Lee Angol and Matthew Dennis, none of whom have been exceptionally prolific this season but each of whom possess unique and valuable skillsets.
Sutton United have been a bogey side for Mansfield Town, having beaten them in all three previous meetings since being promoted to the Football League. This weekend’s game at Field Mill sees two top seven hopefuls meet with neither wanting the other to emerge victorious. Mansfield are low on numbers, but still have a frontline that can hurt. The visitors meanwhile are a consistently difficult to handle outfit. Potential for goals here in Nottinghamshire.
Aldershot v Gateshead
I’m expecting an entertaining affair as Aldershot Town and Gateshead take on one another at the EBB Stadium.
Aldershot Town played within themselves in the early weeks, failing to score in five of their opening 12 league fixtures. Since Ross McNeilly took the reins, Aldershot have scored in 21 of 25 league games, playing with an extra freedom and confidence in their attacking play that ensured losing top goalscorer Inih Effiong didn’t blunt them in the final third.
That ability to score goals has been useful given their propensity to concede goals, unhelped by having only three or four senior defenders available most weeks – they have conceded 1.64xG per game over the last seven and 1.66xG over the last 22. It’s unsurprising that they have seen both teams score in each of their last seven matches.
Gateshead are joint top of the table when it comes to both teams scoring, seeing 71% of their league matches finish with a goal at either end. Both teams have scored in eight of their last 12 league games.
Despite a small squad being forced to change their XI a couple of times in recent weeks, the Heed have created 1.4xG or more in 11 of their last 13 matches and 1.5xG or more in four of their last five, the outlier being a 2-1 defeat against Chesterfield. Clean sheets have been a problem all season – they have registered four over the course of the campaign.
Chesterfield v Halifax
Chesterfield have found their feet again after a tough run and I’m backing them to continue that against FC Halifax Town.
A nine-match winless run ended their hopes of turning the title race into one from three and the frustration for Paul Cook was that performances never dropped as far as chance creation was concerned – a lack of concentration and ruthlessness at both ends of the pitch was costing them.
The Spireites have responded by winning four of their last five, scoring ten goals in the process and conceding three. Over their last 13 matches, they have recorded 2.39xPts based on game-by-game xG and they have created 0.86xG more than they are conceding on average in that period.
They come into this having kept back-to-back clean sheets, helped by the returns of Jeff King, Mike Jones and Ollie Banks to the starting XI, adding more experience to the core of the side.
Chris Millington’s Halifax side come into this game having won two of their last 15, dropping from the top half into 16th as they see out the rest of a campaign that won’t see them promoted or relegated. The Shaymen have struggled on the road this term, losing ten of 19 away from home, including all four matches against top six sides.
They have lost seven of eight overall against the same opposition, failing to score more than one goal in those matches. They have lost six of eight away from home against sides in the top ten and have failed to score in four of those.
They have not scored more than once on the road since late August and while they come into this game unbeaten in four, the results have come against a weakened Wealdstone side and three of the bottom six.
Maidstone v Woking
A case of backing one of the division’s best to pile more misery on a side whose relegation is all but confirmed by this point.
Maidstone United come into this game having not won any of their last 17. They have conceded 37 goals in that time and two or more on 12 occasions. They have taken two points from a possible 51 against top half sides and conceded two or more on 13 occasions.
They have picked up two points from a possible 21 at home against top half sides, conceding two or more on four occasions, including all three matches against the top seven. They have picked up zero points from nine against the top seven overall, conceding two or more in all nine and three or more in eight. They have since sold top goalscorer Jack Barham and continue to select makeshift defences due to a lack of options.
Their chances of ending this run against Woking are minimal at best. The Cards have had an up-and-down period with four wins, four draws and four losses from their last 12. However, they have played eight of the top 13 in those games with another coming against an Oldham Athletic side that would be 5th if the league started in early December.
They have conceded four goals in their last six matches, have been able to welcome Rhys Browne back from suspension and have further strengthened with the signing of Charlie Wakefield transfer deadline day. Woking have won seven and drawn two against the bottom six this season and won all four away matches.
Notts County v Scunthorpe
A huge game for two clubs that would love three points in a bid to realise their ambitions come the end of the season.
Notts County are understandably heavy favourites for this one and there should be goals. Firstly, Notts have scored in every league game this season bar one, and that was a game in which they created over 3xG. They have scored in each of their last 19 league matches.
They have also won nine of their ten home matches against sides in the bottom half of the table and have scored two or more in eight of those ten. They are struggling defensively, however, conceding in 15 of their last 19 league matches and they are further unhelped by Aden Baldwin and Sam Slocombe succumbing to injury.
Scunthorpe United have had a near full-squad makeover since David Hilton took ownership of the club, entrusting Jimmy Dean to make the changes necessary to give them a shot at survival. They have won five and drawn two of their last 13, showing the changes have helped, but they continue to struggle against the better sides in the division, all six defeats against sides currently in the top nine.
They have won one and lost 11 of their 18 away matches, picked up one point from a possible 33 available against top half sides away from home and conceded two or more in nine of those. They are creating chances, however, averaging 1.81xG over their last five matches and they have found the net in 15 of their last 21 games.
Worthing v Havant & Waterlooville
This game is set to be a very interesting, fairly matched fixture. Both of these sides have looked like threats to the title for a strong portion of the season, although have equally had a drastic dip in form and are fighting for playoff spots. St Albans sit in 8th, only 1 point behind Worthing and 2 points behind Havant – this is essentially a must win for both sides if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Despite both teams having poor form recently, they’ve certainly been finding the back of the net. This is why I believe both teams will be scoring at Woodside Road. Two evenly matched teams with very similar form where both teams need the points desperately. Havant have scored in all 5 of their last games, albeit coming away with 3 points from them. Alternatively, Worthing have scored 8 goals in their last 5, coming away with a total of 2 points.
There’s been a strong sense in both teams here that the defence has let down the attack at points in the season, especially in recent fixtures which have often been decided by only one goal. However, this creates strong value for both teams scoring as you can rely on both teams merely trying to outscore each other due to equal defensive flaws and threatening attacking ability. Mo Faal and Ollie Pearce have both been incredibly prolific this season, even with recent losses they’ve managed to find the scoresheet.
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