Newport County v Stockport County
Newport County are in for a tough afternoon this weekend as they welcome in-form Stockport County to Rodney Parade.
The Exiles have made a slow start to this season and have won just four games out of their opening 17. They are sat down in 18th position and are already onto their second manager of the campaign in Graham Coughlan after sacking James Rowberry last month. The Welsh club lost 3-0 away to Leicester City in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night and their boss said he was ‘proud’ but they ultimately lost out to their Premier League opponents.
On the injury front, Newport hope that midfielder Aaron Wildig will be back for Saturday’s game. He will give them another option in the middle of the park alongside the likes of Matt Dolan, James Waite and Noah Moriah-Welsh. They have won once in their last six outings in the league and are struggling to find that spark in the team. It has been an underwhelming past few months for a side who over the summer were eyeing promotion from League Two. Scoring goals has been an issue for Coughlan’s side and they have the joint-third worst return in the division, with struggling Harrogate Town and Crawley Town managing to find the net more than them.
Stockport have turned a corner after an inconsistent opening couple of months and are on a roll at the moment. The Hatters have risen up to 14th in the division and are only six points off the play-offs now. They thrashed Swindon Town 4-0 in the FA Cup at home last time out with Antoni Sarcevic (x2), Akil Wright and Ryan Rydel on the scoresheet and their manager Dave Challinor said it was a ‘brilliant performance’ from his side.
They have received a boost with right wing-back Macauley Southam-Hales returning from injury and he will now compete with Blackburn Rovers loan man James Brown for a starting spot. County have lost just once in their last nine matches in all competitions and haven’t conceded in the league in their last four outings either which shows how well they are playing right now. In terms of away results, they have picked up recent wins at promotion chasing Bradford City and Salford City and drew 0-0 at Tranmere Rovers in their last clash on the road so are starting to pick up points on their travels which bodes well for their trip to Newport as they eye another victory.
Harrogate Town v Leyton Orient
Table toppers Leyton Orient will be desperate to bounce back from their loss to AFC Wimbledon last time out as they prepare to face lowly Harrogate Town away.
Simon Weaver’s side find themselves down in 21st place and are in a relegation battle this season after just three wins from their opening 17 games. They drew 3-3 on Tuesday night at home to Carlisle United and were left devasted after conceding an equaliser in stoppage time. That will not do their confidence any good at all and Weaver himself said afterwards that he ‘feels’ for his team.
The Yorkshire outfit still have a couple of players out of action at the moment, most notably midfielder George Thomson and attacker Max Wright which isn’t ideal. They are two players who would be useful to have fit right now as their current side struggle to pick up results. Conceding goals has been a real issue for the Sulphurites this term and they have let in 27 in their first 17 matches, which makes their defensive record the third worst in the league behind Crawley Town and Hartlepool United respectively. Harrogate have let in nine in their last three and have won just once in their last 13 outings in the league which shows they are there for the taking.
Leyton Orient lost 2-0 against Wimbledon last time out in what was only their second defeat of the season. They remain at the summit though and are three points above 2nd place Stevenage and eight points into the automatic promotion places. Speaking after their loss to the Dons, boss Richie Wellens said that his players need to ‘go again Saturday’ so he will be eager to see a response.
The O’s have no fresh injury concerns at the moment. However, winger Theo Archibald, defender Rob Hunt and attacker Paul Smyth are all only one yellow card away from a suspension which is worth keeping an eye on. Leyton Orient have been the best team in the division so far in this campaign and Wellens has got them well-drilled, hard to break down and deadly in attack. They have the best defensive record in the division having only let in 11 goals, and also have the second best attack along with Carlisle United and Mansfield Town with only Northampton Town finding the net more. Wimbledon beating them could be a bit of a reality check for them and we will find out what they are made of on Saturday.
Stevenage v Hartlepool United
Stevenage have a big opportunity to pick up three points this weekend as they take on struggling Hartlepool United.
Boro have been one of the surprise packages in League Two so far this season and are 2nd in the league behind Leyton Orient having won 11 out of their opening 17 matches. Steve Evans knows what he is doing at this level and put his own stamp on the squad over the summer with a series of signings like midfielder Alex Gilbey and striker Danny Rose. They were beaten on penalties by Charlton Athletic last time out after a 1-1 draw and Evans said that his team ‘outplayed’ their League One opponents which shows they can compete with clubs in the division above.
On the selection front, right-back Kane Smith remains out of action but Luther Wildin is proving to be a useful option in his position. Stevenage have lost just three out of their first 17 games and know how to grind out results, especially at home. They have lost just once at Broadhall Way in their opening eight matches there this term and their form on their own patch has been a key reason behind their impressive first few months.
Hartlepool are in the relegation zone and are one point above bottom of the table Colchester United. The Pools risk dropping back into the National League in this campaign if they can’t turn their fortunes around. They have won just two games so far out of 17 and drew 2-2 away at non-league side Solihull Moors in their last clash in the FA Cup, with attackers Josh Umerah and Jack Hamilton scoring their goals. Speaking after that one, interim manager Keith Curle said his side ‘hung in there’ which isn’t ideal against a team in the league below and shows how fragile they are. To make matters worse, defender Alex Lacey went off injured in that one with an arm injury, whilst David Ferguson also sat out after pulling up in training. Fellow defenders Jamie Sterry and Rollin Menayese remained sidelined so Curle has a lot of absentees in that department which is something high-flying Stevenage will be pleased about.
The Pools have the worst defensive record in the league and have conceded a whopping 30 goals already this season so will need to shore things up at the back if they are to avoid going down.
Sutton United v Bradford City
Sutton United’s form has slumped over recent weeks as they gear up to face promotion chasing Bradford City.
The U’s lost 2-0 at home to Farnborough in the FA Cup last weekend and were left red-faced by the non-league side. They find themselves down in 17th position and have only won five out of their opening 17 games as they struggle to reach the heights they made in the last campaign. Speaking after their embarrassing cup exit last time out, boss Matt Gray said he was ‘disappointed’ with the performance and believed his side missed a hatful of chances.
Striker Omar Bugiel is suspended still as he serves another match of his three-game ban after being sent off away at Stockport County at the end of last month. His absence is a blow and means Donovan Wilson and Kylian Kouassi, who have scored just a combined three goals between them this season, will most likely lead the line. The London club are winless in their last four in all competitions and seem to be lacking that spark in their starting XI. Creating chances has been a problem and they miss attacker Isaac Oloafe, who was on loan from Millwall last term but has now gone back to his parent club.
Bradford are 5th in the table and are only two points off the top three now as they chase down promotion to League One. They have an experienced manager in the form of Mark Hughes and these are exciting times to be associated with them. The Bantams picked up an impressive 2-1 away win at Mansfield Town on Tuesday night courtesy of goals from midfielder Richie Smallwood and striker Andy Cook. Hughes said after that one that he was ‘really pleased’ with the result and will be hoping for more of the same against Sutton. Defender Matthew Plant, who joined over the summer from Barrow, was sent off at Field Mill so will be suspended but they strong options in his position with the likes of Romoney Critchlow and Yann Songo’o.
Bradford are in confident mood at the moment and are unbeaten in their last five league outings. In addition, they have lost just once in their last 13 League Two clashes and that was against in-form Stockport County last month so they are playing well right now.
Carlisle United v Walsall
Carlisle United lock horns with Walsall this weekend in a game that should have plenty of goals.
The Cumbrians drew 3-3 last time out with Harrogate Town in a match that showed both their attacking threat and defensive fragilities. Taylor Charters, Ryan Edmondson and Owen Moxon scored their goals against the Sulphurites and boss Paul Simpson said afterwards that his side showed ‘great character’ to pick up the result in the end.
They are in line for a boost ahead of this Saturday with Derby County loan man Jack Stretton expected to be fit. He wasn’t risked against Harrogate but has returned to training and will give them another option in attack alongside the likes of Edmondson, Krystian Dennis and Tobi Sho-Silva. Carlisle have scored 26 goals already this season which makes their striking department as deadly as table toppers Leyton Orient, with only Northampton Town finding the net more. However, at the other end of the pitch, they are having some issues which they will want to solve. Simpson’s men have let in eight goals in their last four league outings which is an average of two per game meaning they are vulnerable at the back.
Walsall are in confident mood at the moment and seem to be playing for their manager Michael Flynn. They beat Wycombe Wanderers 2-0 last time out in the FA Cup thanks to goals from midfield pair Jacob Maddox and Isaac Hutchinson and showed that they can compete with teams in League One. Flynn has this week revealed that he keeps in contact with Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola after he faced the Premier League giants as manager of former club Newport County in 2019 and asks him for ‘advice’ now and again.
Guardiola’s wise words are obviously helping the Saddlers and they are only five points off the top seven after their impressive recent form. They are unbeaten in their last four in all competitions and have lost once in their last seven league clashes. However, they are capable of leaking goals and could struggle against Carlisle forward Dennis, who has scored 10 goals this term. Striker Connor Wilkinson remains out injured on the sidelined but in Mansfield Town loanee Danny Johnson, Walsall have a perfect alternative and he has bagged 11 in all competitions this season and will be in the hunt for more.
Grimsby Town v Doncaster Rovers
Grimsby Town go into their clash against Doncaster Rovers in good spirits after a couple of cup wins.
The Mariners thrashed League One table toppers Plymouth Argyle 5-1 in the FA Cup last weekend before seeing off Manchester City U21s on penalties in the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday night after a 1-1 draw. Speaking after that one, boss Paul Hurst said these past two games have shown a ‘decent response’ from a couple of recent league losses against Barrow and Hartlepool United and he will now be looking for his team to build on it against Doncaster.
Luton Town loan man John McAtee remains out of action but he isn’t missed too much at the moment with the likes of Brendan Kiernan, Otis Khan, Lewis Richardson and Keyendrah Simmonds all proving to be useful options at League Two level. Grimsby have adapted well to life back in the Football League after promotion from the National League last season and are currently 13th in the table, just five points off the play-offs with a game in hand. They have been a tough side to play this term and have only let in 14 goals which means they have the joint-second best defensive record behind top of the league Leyton Orient which takes some doing.
Doncaster have been disappointing in this campaign and their new boss Danny Schofield hasn’t managed to inspire them to an upturn in form just yet. The Yorkshire club were dumped out of the FA Cup last time out by National League North side King’s Lynn Town. Schofield said he was ‘disappointed’ with the result and will be embarrassed to have lost to a team two leagues below 1-0 at home. Key midfielder Tommy Rowe and defender Tom Anderson will be assessed ahead of Saturday but the fact they are not 100% fit isn’t ideal and they miss them both dearly.
In addition, defender Joseph Oluwu remains sidelined with Ro-Shaun Williams and Adam Long likely to play at the back again. Doncaster have won once in their first four games under Schofield and face a tough afternoon at Blundell Park against a difficult Grimsby outfit. Promotion was the aim for Donny before a ball was kicked after their relegation from League One but things haven’t gone to plan for them, hence why Gary McSheffrey was given the sack last month. They need to start picking up wins if they are to rise into the play-offs but based on their flat level of performance against King’s Lynn, they don’t have much hope of getting something this weekend if they play like that again.
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