Stockport County v Grimsby Town
Last Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Bradford City was only the fourth game in all competitions that the Hatters have won all season. Expectation and excitement was high around Stockport County upon their long-awaited return to the Football League, but this season has so far provided little to shout about.
Dave Challinor has shown inconsistency with both formations and personnel as he looks to discover a winning formula. Last weekend, Stockport lined-up in a 4-2-2-2 formation that included goalscorer Paddy Madden partnered by Kyle Wootton up top. There was a debut for left-back Calum MacDonald hours after his free agent signing was confirmed, and natural midfielder Will Collar continued to play at right-back whilst others remained absent. Only time will tell whether that formation persists for a prolonged period of time at Edgeley Park.
Stockport’s opponents Grimsby Town returned to winning ways last weekend with a routine 3-0 victory over bottom club Crawley Town. Left-back Anthony Driscoll-Glennon’s free-kick was another addition to the superb highlights reel that the 22-year-old is forming with the club.
The versatile Otis Khan is seeing his importance to the team grow as he finally returns to full fitness, with Harry Clifton and Gavan Holohan forming a competent midfield partnership. The centre back pairing of Luke Waterfall and Hull City loanee Andy Smith is among the most underrated at League Two level, fitting in well with the newly promoted Mariners’ under-the-radar season. Even with unfortunate injuries, Grimsby Town perform like a side capable of ending this season with another play-off campaign. The results should soon reflect this.
Both Stockport County and Grimsby Town came up from the National League last season, but it is the play-off winning Mariners who look the more likely of the two to have an enjoyable fourth tier season. Paul Hurst’s variance between a 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 has produced notable results so far and is likely to produce more.
Stockport County on the other hand have shown inconsistency despite possessing an impressive group of individuals. Perhaps by the end of the season, Stockport will look more like the winning machine that was on show in the National League last campaign. For now though, Grimsby are definitely capable of taking a result back to North Lincolnshire.
Crawley Town v Newport County
Crawley Town’s season of optimism has been a trainwreck so far. A lone win and just six total points leave the Red Devils bottom of the Football League ahead of this weekend, a set of results that has seen head coach Kevin Betsy relieved of his duties a little over four months after arriving. The 44-year-old has had to cope with notable injuries to key defensive players, but that cannot be seen as a justifiable excuse for his passive, possession-based football which has provided limited chance creation and poor defensive solidity.
Whoever the new head coach is, they will inherit what is a massively underachieving squad. Whether it be Dom Telford, Ashley Nadesan and Tom Nichols in the frontline, Jack Powell and Jake Hessenthaler in midfield, or Tony Craig and Travis Johnson in defence, the Red Devils possess the core of the team that finished 12th last season, alongside extra quality.
Opponents Newport County are also without a manager, dismissing James Rowberry of his role during the week. Despite drawing plenty of plaudits as both a coach and a person, Rowberry ultimately fell victim to the ruthless results-based demands of football. Form in the backend of 2021-22 extended into 2022-23, with the Exiles losing eight of their 13 league matches and possessing just a single home league win since the 5th March.
For a club that has come very close to reaching League One in recent seasons, it just isn’t good enough and the departure therefore has to be seen as understandable. Much like with Crawley Town, Newport County possess a squad of players better than their 17th place position reflects. Standouts include underrated defender Mickey Demetriou, attacking midfielder James Waite, electric forward Thierry Nevers and competent goalscorer Omar Bogle.
Both Crawley and Newport will hope that new appointments can turn around disappointing seasons. At the time of writing, the pair enter the weekend clash against each other with temporary management teams in the dugouts. With uncertainty in place around formations and personnel that will be picked to play, this could prove a low-scoring affair at Broadfield Stadium. Interim bosses can only do so much work on implementing style and structure to their teams.
Mansfield Town v Walsall
Mansfield Town are in strong form as they look to see off a Walsall side who are sat down in 14th position in the table.
The Stags are 5th in the league after their strong start to the season and are three points off the top three as they eye promotion to League One. They reached the play-off final last term and are hoping that they can take the next step this time around. Nigel Clough’s side are going about it the right way so far and are unbeaten in their last six games in the league.
They picked up an impressive 1-0 away win at Barrow last time out courtesy of striker Jordan Bowery’s second-half goal and Clough said they played some ‘absolutely brilliant’ football. On the injury front, the Stags have a relatively clean bill of health and received a boost last weekend with midfield pair John-Joe O’Toole and Hiram Boateng making the bench following their respective injury woes.
They came on for Stephen Quinn and Ollie Clarke and give their manager something to think about now in terms of his next starting XI. Mansfield are on a roll and haven’t been beaten in the league since August now and are unbeaten in all five of their games at Field Mill so far this term as well, so most signs point towards another three points.
Despite seeing an upturn in form over recent times, it has still been a disappointing few first months of the season for Walsall. Michael Flynn’s side were hoping to compete at the top end of the table, but they have won just four in their opening 13 matches. They beat AFC Wimbledon 3-1 last Saturday, but their manager still believed the first-half performance ‘wasn’t good enough’ by his team.
That was the first time in 13 games that they had scored more than once in a single game which shows how poor they have been in front of goal. They are very reliant on Danny Johnson, who has scored nine times so far, with their second top scorer being midfielder Tom Knowles on just two. However, Johnson is on loan from Mansfield so is unable to play against his parent club meaning the Saddlers will be seriously missing their only attacking threat.
The Midlands outfit are also still missing midfielder Joss Labadie, striker Conor Wilkinson, as well as summer signings Joe Riley and Oisin McEntee, so are short of key options as they gear up for their tough test against the Stags.
Gillingham v Stevenage
Gillingham have struggled so far this season and are in for a difficult afternoon against a Stevenage side who are flying high in the table.
The Gills were relegated from League One last term and have carried on with their poor performances from the last campaign, despite the change of manager over the summer to Neil Harris. They are down in 19th place in the table which is poor considering their aim was to gain an immediate promotion back to the third tier.
The Kent club drew 1-1 away at Crewe Alexandra in their last league game, with attacker Scott Kashket scoring their goal, before they beat Colchester United on penalties in the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday evening after a 1-1 draw. Harris said after that one that he isn’t ‘really fussed’ about that competition meaning it is hard to read into that win.
Defender David Tutonda and midfielder Stuart O’Keefe are out injured which is a blow as they are two experienced players and the likes of Ryan Law and Rob McKenzie who are taking their places don’t possess the same experience.
In terms of Gillingham’s performances in the league of late, they have been poor in front of goal and are the lowest scorers in the division by far having found the net just four times in their opening 12 games. Bottom of the table Crawley Town have scored six more goals which proves just how weak their attacking prowess has been so far.
Stevenage have been the surprise package in League Two in this campaign and manager Steve Evans has transformed them into genuine promotion contenders. They find themselves top of the table and they are three points above Leyton Orient after their 2-0 win over Swindon Town last time out, with Jordan Roberts scoring both goals. Evans said afterwards that Roberts is a ‘top player’ and that will give the former Ipswich Town forward even more confidence.
Boro don’t have any fresh injury concerns of note which is a boost and things are on their side at the moment. Michael Bostwick and David Amoo, who both had injury worries last month, are back available now and came off the bench against Swindon again. Stevenage are on a roll and are building momentum as they head into a hectic winter period.
They have lost just twice so far this season and have conceded just once in their last four games as well which shows they are well organised and tough to break down. The Hertfordshire outfit also have various sources of goals with the likes of Roberts, Jamie Reid and Luke Norris all finding the net four times and Danny Rose and Dan Sweeney twice.
Swindon Town v Colchester United
Swindon Town will be itching to get back to winning ways as they prepare to lock horns with lowly Colchester United.
The Robins won 1-0 at home to Newport County a couple of weeks ago at the County Ground but were beaten 2-0 away at table toppers Stevenage last time out. Speaking after that one, boss Scott Lindsay said that he still has full ‘trust and belief’ in his squad ahead of their upcoming busy schedule.
The Wiltshire club are currently 10th in the league table and are only a point outside the top seven meaning a win this weekend could see them rise into the play-offs which would be a boost for the club. They made the play-offs last term which shows that this squad has quality in it.
In terms of injury news, defender Angus MacDonald has been sidelined but veteran centre-back Mathieu Baudry has returned to the side over the past couple of weeks and will be looking to use his experience to help the side start picking up some more wins.
The fact Swindon have lost just once at home so far this season will give them confidence that they can pick up a victory on Saturday. In addition, they have scored in all but two of their games so far which proves they possess an attacking threat.
Colchester have a new manager at the helm in Matt Bloomfield and the former Wycombe Wanderers midfielder guided them to a 2-1 win over Harrogate Town last time out in the league, with attackers Kwesi Appiah and Frank Nouble getting the goals. However, they were playing a seriously out of form Sulphurites squad and that was only their second win of the campaign. Bloomfield said he was ‘proud’ of the result but will know they will have their work cut out away at Swindon.
Colchester are without midfielder Charlie Owens, who is on loan from Championship outfit QPR, at the moment and his replacement in the heart of midfielder is 19-year-old Marley Marshall-Miranda, who is inexperienced in the Football League and is a player who opponents could look to target.
The U’s are only a point above the drop zone after their dismal first few months of the campaign and they have lacked that cutting edge in front of goal, finding the net just seven times in 12 games. Only Gillingham and Harrogate have scored less, and their top scorer is midfielder Noah Chilvers on three, proving that their striking options like Nouble and Appiah need to build on the goals they got last time out.
Leyton Orient v Northampton Town
It is an early promotion contenders tussle at Brisbane Road this weekend as Leyton Orient take on Northampton Town.
The hosts have started well under Richie Wellens and find themselves in 2nd position behind Stevenage with a game in hand. They have lost just once in their first 12 outings and are the second top scorers in the league behind Northampton which suggests that there will be goals in this big clash.
Orient drew 1-1 away at Doncaster Rovers after leading 1-0 thanks to Paul Smyth’s first half and were disappointed to draw. That result shows that they are vulnerable to leaking goals and Wellens, who won the Manager of the Month award for September, said his side ‘dropped’ two points against his former club.
The London club don’t have any fresh injury worries which is good news for them, but it is worth noting that key midfielder Darren Pratley is a couple of yellow cards away from suspension so will be walking on eggshells slightly over the next few games. Leyton Orient have a whole host of players who can score goals such as Smyth on five, Charlie Kelman and George Moncur on three and the versatile Tom James on two and they are where they are in the league for a reason so will cause all teams problems.
Northampton have lost their last two games 1-0 against Walsall and Salford City and the fact they have conceded the most goals in the top seven (14 in 13) highlights that they have some defensive woes. Nevertheless, despite not finding the net in their last two, they remain the top scorers in League Two on 23 goals and will be confident of scoring at least once against Leyton Orient.
Boss Jon Brady has said his team must ‘work harder’ so will be hoping that fires them up ahead of their next game. Illness has affected the Cobblers’ camp which has had a negative impact on their recent results, with goalkeeper Lee Burge and attacker Louis Appere the latest to be struck down. However, they will be praying that everyone has recovered this weekend and if they a clean bill of health that will certainly boost their chances of getting a positive result.
Sam Hoskins, who is the top scorer in the division on 11 goals, returned to the side against Salford last time out after he was ill, so is back available which is music to Brady’s ears. He has been prolific this term and will be eager to help his team get back to winning ways.
AFC Wimbledon v Sutton United
AFC Wimbledon will be looking to get back to winning ways against fellow London club Sutton United this weekend.
The Dons have had no problems scoring goals this season having found the net 14 times in their opening 12 games. However, they find themselves down in 17th place and will be eager to start climbing up the table after a slow start. They lost 3-1 away at Walsall last time out and boss Johnnie Jackson said that there ‘wasn’t too much between the two teams’ despite the result.
Wimbledon’s saving grace ahead of Saturday is the fact Sutton can’t win away so they will be in confident mood. In terms of injury news, Brentford loan man Paris Maghoma missed the trip to Walsall in the last match and was replaced by Ryler Towler, who ended up scoring to prove he is an adequate alternative.
The Dons won their last home clash 2-1 against Colchester United courtesy of two goals from striker Josh Davison which shows they are capable of picking up results when they need them. If they can play like that in this clash, they should have no problems against Matt Gray’s struggling side.
Sutton’s form has slumped dramatically over recent weeks and they are winless in their last four games on the spin. They also haven’t scored in their last three outings and have slipped to 15th after what was initially a decent start to the new campaign.
The U’s were thumped 3-0 in their last away fixture at Stevenage before they were beaten 2-0 at home by Tranmere Rovers last time out so they are having defensive problems at the moment. Manager Gray said that his players ‘didn’t deal’ with their latest opponents and he has a couple of new injury worries to contend with as defender Louis John and attacker Will Randall had to be substituted against the Whites.
Aaron Pierre came on for John but then picked up a problem himself so they will both be assessed ahead of their next match which isn’t ideal. Sutton are winless on the road so far this season, scoring just three times in their five away trips, and had difficulties on their travels in the last campaign as well so Wimbledon won’t get many better opportunities to win on home soil.
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