Gillingham v Salford City
Things are getting desperate for Gillingham. Suffering with a low quality squad and issues away from the pitch, Neil Harris continues to have his hands tied as he looks to avoid sending the Kent outfit to consecutive relegations. England’s lowest scorers are averaging 0.32 goals per league game, but life at Priestfield Stadium has certainly been much better than life away from home. The Gills have collected 10 of their 14 points on home soil, regularly playing in low-scoring affairs. Only one game at Priestfield this season has seen more than two goals scored, a 3-2 EFL Trophy win over Brighton and Hove Albion U21s. Promotion and play-off hopefuls have come down to Kent and come back with no better than a point, Barrow, Stevenage and Swindon Town all earning draws from their away trips in southeast England.
It is another play-off challenger who face the trip to Kent this weekend, and one looking out of shape. A 2-0 victory up at bottom club Hartlepool United is the only league game that Salford City have won since the 8th October. Neil Wood is currently struggling to find a suitable formation to accompany his inconsistent forward players, as well as returning defender Richard Nartey. The 24-year-old signed from Burnley in the summer and is much better suited to a centre-back role than the right-back role he played during Salford’s 4-1 defeat at home to Carlisle United. Salford’s top scorer this season remains Brandon Thomas-Asante, who departed for Championship West Bromwich Albion during the summer window. Neither Callum Hendry nor Matt Smith have filled that goalscoring berth in the team, with Wood recently giving opportunities to vastly inexperienced forward Marcus Dackers. The Ammies are too reliant at the moment on players ‘chipping in’ with goals rather than having a recognised main goalgetter.
Gillingham games at Priestfield Stadium are generally low-scoring affairs, and this is likely to be another one against an out-of-form team sliding away from League Two’s top places. With Salford severely lacking firepower and defensive solidity however, this could be a golden opportunity for Neil Harris’ side to claim some precious points in their pursuit of survival. Higher-ranked sides have come down to Kent and headed home without winning, Salford City could suffer the same fate.
Carlisle United v Sutton United
Carlisle United have been putting in some strong performances over recent times as they prepare for another home game against Sutton United.
The Cumbrians are 6th in the table after their decent first few months of the season and have their fans dreaming of promotion. They were beaten 2-1 away by Walsall in the FA Cup last time out, with striker Ryan Edmondson scoring their goal, and boss Paul Simpson is eager to see a response from his players now and has said that they need to come back ‘stronger’. On the injury front, defender Morgan Feeney has been ruled out of action for up to four weeks with a hamstring problem. However, his absence won’t be missed too much as the squad has useful strength in depth in his position in the form of Paul Huntington, Callum Whelan and Ben Barclay. Despite their defeat to the Saddlers last weekend, Carlisle have been going well recently and battered Salford City 4-1 in their last league outing which was a very impressive result. They are unbeaten in their last four League Two games and with in-form Krystian Dennis up front, they will fancy their chances of beating anyone. He has 12 goals to his name already and will be hungry for more.
Sutton haven’t been pulling up any trees this term and lack that spark in their team. They are 17th in the division and are in for a season of mid-table mediocracy so are a side that Carlisle need to beat if they are to be genuine contenders at the top end of the table. The U’s lost 1-0 away at AFC Wimbledon in the Papa John’s Trophy last week and manager Matt Gray said it was a ‘very frustrating’ evening for his players. On the selection front, Sutton have winger Luke Gambin back from his international duty with Malta and back-up goalkeeper Lewis Ward after he was cup-tied against Wimbledon after playing in the same competition for Swindon Town before his switch to Gander Green Lane. They both give Gray another option to pick from but he will know they are in for a difficult afternoon as they make the long trek up to the Lake District.
The U’s away form hasn’t been great and they have won just once in their seven games on their travels since the start of the season and that was against Wimbledon back in October. The London outfit have also struggled for goals recently and have only found the net once in their last four games in all competitions so confidence among their strikers will be low.
Hartlepool United v Stockport County
Bottom of the table Hartlepool United are in for a tough afternoon at home to Stockport County this weekend.
The Pools have won just two out of their opening 19 league games and sit at the foot of the Football League. Keith Curle’s side have struggled all season long and are at serious risk of dropping into the National League. They won 3-1 at home to Harrogate Town in the FA Cup last time out courtesy of goals from striker Josh Umerah (x2) and midfielder Callum Cooke. However, they were playing against 10 men for half of that game after defender Joe Mattock was sent off for the Sulphurites. Curle said his side are not at the ‘level’ they need to be at the moment despite their victory and they have been dealt a blow on the injury front with goalkeepers Ben Killip and Kyle Letheren out of action. It is hopes that Killip will be back for Saturday, however emergency loan addition Alex Cairns from Fleetwood Town will see his stay extended if not but he hasn’t played much football recently.
Hartlepool have scored just 16 goals in League Two so far in this campaign which is the third lowest return in the division behind Gillingham and Rochdale, hence their poor league position, and they are lacking that cutting edge up top. At the other end of the pitch, they can’t defend and have leaked a mighty 34 goals this term which makes their defence the worst in the league which is a big worry ahead of their next game.
Stockport are starting to look up the table and picked up an impressive 2-2 draw away at League One outfit Charlton Athletic last weekend in the FA Cup, with winger Myles Hippolyte scoring an equaliser in the seventh minute of stoppage time. Manager Dave Challinor, who had a spell at Hartlepool before moving to Edgeley Park last year, was delighted with the result and said they ‘thoroughly’ deserved to get a replay.
On the selection front, Stockport have given the green light for centre-back Ashley Palmer to leave the club on a permanent basis for Chesterfield which raised a few eyebrows. That isn’t too much of an issue though as they have strong options in defence in the form of Fraser Horsfall and Chris Hussey who are playing well. The Hatters are in confident mood at the moment and have also lost once in their last nine outings in all competitions and that was last Saturday against table toppers Leyton Orient 2-1. They matched Richie Wellens’ side toe-to-toe and felt they were unlucky to lose. Therefore, the North West outfit will be eager to bounce back with a victory away at lowly Hartlepool and will have too much for their opponents.
Mansfield Town v Colchester United
Mansfield Town will be desperate to get back to winning ways this weekend and have a great opportunity to do so against lowly Colchester United.
The Stags lost their last league game 3-0 away at Harrogate Town and have since lost 2-1 away at Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup and 2-1 against Everton in the Papa John’s Trophy. Manager Nigel Clough said after their loss away at Hillsborough last Saturday that his players were ‘magnificent’ so if they can play like that against Colchester they will have enough to pick up the three points. The Nottinghamshire outfit have received a boost on the injury front with striker Rhys Oates fit and ready to play. He gives them something different to the likes of Jordan Bowery and Will Swan and is a proven goal scorer at League Two level, having chipped in with 12 goals in all competitions last term.
Mansfield remain well in the promotion race and are 8th in the table, just one point outside the play-offs so a win could see them rise back into the top seven. They spread their goals across the whole team which means they have threats from all over the pitch. Midfielder George Lapslie has six, attacker Swan has six, versatile forward Ollie Hawkins has four, whereas midfielders Riley Harbottle and George Maris have three to their names which will please Clough.
Colchester have struggled so far in this campaign and sit down in disappointing 22nd place. They are only outside the bottom two on goal difference having won three out of a possible 19 this term. The U’s were beaten 2-1 at home by Bristol Rovers in their last outing in the Papa John’s Trophy, with attacker Freddie Sears finding the net for them, and boss Matt Bloomfield has since said that his players gave away ‘chances’ which has been a theme for them this season. Striker Kwesi Appiah is out of action through injury which isn’t ideal and leaves their current attacking options as Samson Tovide, Alex Newby and Frank Nouble. Colchester don’t possess many threats and have only scored 17 goals, with only Hartlepool United, Gillingham and Rochdale finding the net less.
They have serious problems away from home and haven’t won on their travels this season in a run of eight fixtures spanning back to their opening day defeat at Northampton Town. That has been a key reason behind their stuttering first few months and that dire form isn’t likely to change anytime soon as they prepare to head to Field Mill.
Northampton Town v Tranmere Rovers
Northampton Town are on a roll at the moment and will fancy their chances of extending their run of form at home to an out of sorts Tranmere Rovers.
The Cobblers have made an impressive start to the League Two season and have their sights set on promotion after missing out by a single goal last term. They are 3rd in the table at the moment and are four points inside the top three. Jon Brady’s side beat Bradford City 3-1 away last time out courtesy of goals from winger Mitch Pinnock, defender Sam Sherring and midfielder Shaun McWilliams and their boss has said he wants his side to be ‘fast and aggressive’ this Saturday.
On the injury front, Northampton have almost a clean bill of health and have received a huge boost with key attacker Sam Hoskins fit and available to play again. He sat out last week, with Louis Appere and Kieron Bowie playing instead, and his return will be music to the ears of fans. Hoskins is the joint top scorer in the league this season on 13 goals along with Bradford’s Andy Cook and his team will face a battle to keep hold of him in the future. Brady’s men are prolific in front of goal and have found the net 34 times which makes their attack the most lethal in the division making them full of confidence at the moment.
Tranmere’s results have slumped over recent times and they have dropped down to 12th in the table. It is the same old story for the Merseyside outfit this term and they are struggling for goals again. Micky Mellon’s team lost on penalties to Burton Albion in their last outing in the Papa John’s Trophy after a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes and the boss said he was ‘disappointed’ and will be worried about the lack of attacking threat his side have right now.
The Whites have a few long-term absentees such as left-back Luke Robinson and striking pair Joel Mumbongo and Charlie Jolley which isn’t ideal and limits the number of options in their ranks. Meanwhile, centre-back Dynel Simeu is suspended after seeing red in the last league clash against AFC Wimbledon so is likely to be replaced by Neill Byrne, who hasn’t played as much football. Tranmere’s form has been dire recently and they winless in their last eight games in all competitions, with their last victory coming back on 18th October in the EFL Trophy against Crewe Alexandra which is a big worry for them.
Rochdale v Harrogate Town
Rochdale have been poor all season and are in for a tough game against Harrogate Town.
The Dale are 21st in the table and will be nervously looking over their shoulder towards the bottom two after a difficult first few months of this campaign. They have won only four out of a possible 19 and are only above the relegation zone by a single point. The North West club have lost back-to-back games 1-0 against Mansfield Town and Sutton United in their last two outings and speaking after the last one, assistant manager Nick Chadwick said it was a ‘very frustrating’ encounter and he that he was ‘disappointed’ with the performance.
Regarding injury news, left-back Aidy White is back from an ankle injury that has seen him ruled out since last month and he gives them another option in his position as opposed to Cameron John. However, he hasn’t played football over recent times and may be still lacking that sharpness needed so could be targeted by opponents. Rochdale’s problems lie at the top end of the pitch and they lack any threat whatsoever, scoring just 13 goals all season which is the second worst return behind Gillingham. In addition, their recent form has been awful and they have won just once in their last eight in all competitions so will be feeling low.
Harrogate could start surprising a few now after their impressive 3-0 thrashing over Mansfield Town at home in their last league game thanks to goals from midfielder Alex Pattison and striker Luke Armstrong (x2). The Yorkshire club were beaten by Hartlepool United 3-1 in the FA Cup last weekend and boss Simon Weaver will be looking to see a big reaction now, saying after that one that it was a ‘bad’ afternoon.
Harrogate have a couple of injury woes to deal with as Huddersfield Town loanee Matty Daly faces eight weeks out and Pattison poised for a spell on the sidelines too after picking up a knee problem. However, they have useful alternative options at their disposal in the form of Josh Falkingham and George Thomson who are experienced at League Two level now. Harrogate won’t want to be sucked into a relegation dogfight and will see their trip to Rochdale, who sit a point behind them in the league, as a fantastic opportunity to build on their win over Mansfield. The Sulphurites are scoring goals and have fired in nine in their last five league clashes so will cause struggling Rochdale some issues at Spotland.
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