Walsall v Stevenage
Just five League Two teams carry a 100% record into matchday three. Two of them meet at the Bescot Stadium.
Walsall’s season has got off to a flying start under Michael Flynn. A dominant 4-0 opening day victory over Hartlepool United was followed by an admittedly fortunate 1-0 win at Newport County last weekend. Tuesday’s 2-0 home victory over Swindon Town in the League Cup means that goalkeeper Owen Evans is still yet to have conceded. The solid base of Donveron Daniels, Manny Monthe and the evergreen Peter Clarke greatly aid Evans in maintaining his superb defensive record. Up at the other end, Mansfield Town loanee Danny Johnson has already showed why he should be considered one of League Two’s leading finishers. A hat-trick against Hartlepool has been added to by the opening goal from the penalty spot against Swindon.
Walsall’s defence is sure to be tested however against a Stevenage side who have also won all three of their competitive matches this season. Perhaps even more impressive is Stevenage’s knack for late goals, with the winners in all three games coming after the 84th minute. Steve Evans is greatly benefitting from the five-substitute rule, using the opportunity to get as many of Stevenage attacking options on the pitch as possible as the game draws to a close. Even despite Elliott List’s absence through injury, Luke Norris, Jordan Roberts, Jamie Reid and Danny Rose have all impacted matches as part of either the starting eleven or from the bench. A pair of loanees in Norwich left-back Saxon Earley and Aberdeen’s Dean Campbell have also caught the eye when featuring.
Walsall and Stevenage cannot both take their 100% record further than this Saturday. At least one is having to see it come to an end, and at this stage it is difficult to make the call on who that could be. Walsall will be fancied with the game being played in the West Midlands, but Stevenage have been able to show even at this very early stage of the season that they do not lose hope after falling behind. Eyes will likely be on the frontlines as Danny Johnson and Luke Norris look to add to their tallies from the off, but it will be well worth watching who is deployed from that Stevenage bench if the game situation calls for it.
Carlisle United v Swindon Town
Four points from a possible six represents a positive early return for Paul Simpson and Carlisle United. The man hailed as ‘the Messiah’ by the Brunton Park faithful has already got people wondering if they should have expected more of Carlisle this season. The opening day 1-0 win over Crawley, where Carlisle dominated even after taking a fifth-minute lead through Kristian Dennis, provides the strongest evidence that Carlisle’s aim may not just be taking part this season. Dennis has scored in every Carlisle United game so far and has struck a promising partnership up top with summer acquisition Ryan Edmondson. Omari Patrick, Tobi Sho-Silva and Derby County loanee Jack Stretton provide plenty of forward competition, with the central unit behind containing the impressive trio of Owen Moxon, Callum Guy and Jordan Gibson. The capture of Carlisle-born Paul Huntington following his release from Preston North End adds valuable experience to the Cumbrians backline and could be seen as a real coup by the time the season’s up.
If Carlisle’s start has been good, the opposite can be felt about Swindon Town. Play-off semi-finalists last season, the Robins’ transition from Ben Garner and Scott Lindsey has yet to get going. Swindon have lost two and drawn one of their three games in league and cup so far, and are still waiting for their first goal of the season. Last year’s leading marksman Harry McKirdy is back from suspension and would love nothing more to score in front of a Brunton Park crowd who have very little affection for their ex-player. A suitable strike partner has yet to emerge though, and the hope is that it can as a midfield unit containing Louis Reed, Ben Gladwin and Jonny Williams certainly possesses the quality to serve them.
With the home team showing promise and the away side unimpressive, Carlisle United should be fancied to take a result against opposition that perhaps are still perceived to be as sharp and top quality as the one which finished high up last season. That just simply isn’t the case at the moment though, and a long trip back down to Wiltshire from Cumbria could be on the cards for Swindon Town.
Rochdale v Grimsby Town
After two defeats from two league games, Rochdale got to taste that winning feeling on Tuesday. A pair of late goals saw off a poor Burton Albion side in the first round of the League Cup, and Robbie Stockdale will want to take that confidence, and an apparent counter-attacking threat, into their upcoming league games. It remains unclear as to whether Stockdale’s 3-5-2 with attacking wing-backs Femi Seriki and Abraham Odoh is best suited for making the Dale competitive at fourth tier level, but he will hope that new signing Rayhaan Tulloch can add some quality. Tulloch is on loan from West Bromwich Albion and provides a more advanced midfield option, whilst Toumani Diagouraga sits deeper and continues to be composed and smart in possession. His ability to carry the ball through midfield needs to be respected as well.
Grimsby’s two league games have provided a return of one point so far, coming in a draw with Northampton Town which the Mariners dominated despite having to find an equaliser. They too like Rochdale had an enjoyable midweek, a 4-0 league cup win over a weakened Crewe Alexandra, and they will entertain Premier League Nottingham Forest in the second round. Standouts so far in Grimsby’s 4-3-3 formation have been full-backs Anthony Driscoll-Glennon and Michee Efete, as well as Gavan Holohan who Paul Hurst has looked to get further forward than he did during his time in the National League. The importance of striker Ryan Taylor’s fitness has become even more noted recently with news that influential forward John McAtee will be out of action for a prolonged period of time. The 23-year-old had just recently finalised a move to Championship side Luton Town but will spend the remainder of 2022-23 on loan with Grimsby Town.
The absence of McAtee does not eliminate Grimsby’s ability to hurt opponents, however. Mariners fans will hope for good things from Canadian Aribim Pepple, another signed by Luton Town and then quickly loaned out to the Blundell Park outfit. Wingers Harry Clifton, Jordan Maguire-Drew and Brendan Kiernan are all capable of providing wide support and service to Ryan Taylor, with a spine of Max Crocombe behind Luke Waterfall and Andy Smith ready to keep opponents at bay. Rochdale might have got their first win of the season in the league cup, but they may have to wait a little longer to taste victory in the league.
Salford City v Crewe Alexandra
The start to Salford’s fourth football league season has seen the Ammies beat Mansfield Town on the opening day, draw with 10-man Swindon Town, and suffer a heavy 5-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup. New head coach Neil Wood has favoured a 3-4-1-2 formation in those league matches, spearheaded by Conor McAleny playing behind Brandon Thomas-Asante and Callum Hendry, a summer arrival from St Johnstone. Bradford’s Elliot Watt still shows glimpses of being one of the most dangerous deep-lying passers in the league, whilst Burnley’s Richard Nartey has slotted into the backline. Burton’s Ryan Leak adds further competition in a centre-back role to Theo Vassell and Ash Eastham.
Opponents Crewe Alexandra entered the season with external concerns about how the Railwaymen would recover from a season where they finished rock bottom of League One, at times looking like a side that would struggle to stay off the bottom of League Two. The start Alex Morris’ side have had to their 2022-23 though has been exceptional so far. A 4-2-3-1 formation is held in place by a solid spine that contains Rod McDonald, Luke Offord, Conor Thomas and Tariq Uwakwe. Attacking midfielder Callum Ainley is already displaying impressive creative output, and he is complimented by a frontline that includes Bassala Sambou, Dan Agyei and Brentford loanee Lachlan Brook. In contrast to the fluid, possession-orientated side produced under Dave Artell, Alex Morris’ Crewe side are based around solid structure with moments of forward quality and a notable set piece threat. Left-back Zac Williams for instance, equally capable in the heart of defence, provides an aerial threat from corners that gave Harrogate Town plenty of problems last weekend.
Exactly how this season’s Salford City team compares to last year remains to be seen, but there is plenty to like already about Crewe Alexandra who are showing no signs of a relegation hangover. It would appear that the Alex are still being valued up as a team expected to be right down the bottom of the league come May, and it may be worth capitalising on that before people realise how much they are underestimating the Cheshire outfit.
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