By Jason McKeown
It’s been a busy week on WOAP, with so much hard work from others. So before we talk about the latest in the League Two promotion race, I’d urge you to read and listen to anything on WOAP you may have missed.
Conspiracy theories can’t be allowed to rewrite history – by Steve Dennis
One week in May – by Nigel Hall
The WOAP podcast – with Tim Penfold and Alex Scott
This is a big weekend. The race for the automatic promotion places could be decided – and in the battle for the final play off spot, there is little margin for error.
Stevenage’s 1-0 Tuesday win over Swindon Town means they’re one victory away from sealing an automatic promotion spot. On the same night, Mansfield’s home defeat to Leyton Orient means they’re very much still sweating over finishing inside the play offs.
If it’s the play offs – and City might not even achieve that – who would we want to play?
There are seven teams who could still make up the four sides who feature in the play offs. So who has the best record against each other?
We’ve complied all the results of when these seven clubs have faced each other this season, and put together a ‘mini league’ just on these records. Below are the results.
- Stockport are unbeaten at home against everyone – three wins and three draws.
- Salford have 10 points from five games on the road with Carlisle to play this Saturday. Bradford City are the only side Salford have lost to away from home.
- Bradford City have 10 points from five games on road. Carlisle are the only side to beat us on their own patch, with Northampton to play this weekend.
- The only side to beat Northampton at home are Salford. They have 10 points from five at Sixfields, with City to play.
- Mansfield have eight points from six at home and five points away. Stockport and Stevenage are the only side they’ve beaten at home, and Carlisle are the only side they’ve beaten away.
- Carlisle’s record is not great. The only sides they’ve beaten are Bradford City at home and Salford away.
- But with a goal difference of minus eight, Stevenage have the worst record of the lot. Just two points from six away matches. They’ve lost seven of their 12 games in this mini league.
Based on these head to head records, Stockport look to be the team to avoid. Though Salford could be tougher than many might assume. If Stevenage somehow miss out on the top three, you wouldn’t back them in the play offs.
In the meantime, there’s two more promotion six-pointers this weekend that could decide a lot
The top billing in League Two is undoubtedly Northampton vs Bradford City, where a home victory will seal the Cobblers’ promotion to League One.
Northampton didn’t have the best of January and Februarys, but they truly have come good when it really matters. Just one defeat in 13 games – eight of them victories – has put them on the brink of glory. They have the opportunity to get promoted in front of their own supporters, and with just one home loss since the turn of the year, will be confident of taking it. Northampton have won five of their last six matches at Sixfields. Their home is a fortress.
John Brady declared midweek, “There are two games left and other teams have got to win so the pressure is on everyone else. We don’t need pressure on ourselves. We have been doing this with a very depleted squad but everyone is stepping up to the table and giving everything they’ve got and that’s all you can ask for.”
It’s a really interesting one for Bradford City. With the game in hand at Crewe on Wednesday, they do have an insurance policy of sorts. And then of course, it’s a visit from the Champions in the final game. Is a point at Sixfields acceptable, given that extra game to come?
If City beat Northampton and then win at Crewe, they will go into the final game of the season still having a chance of automatic promotion (they’d be two points behind Northampton, who are away at Tranmere on the last day). A long shot, but you never know.
“We’ve got three games to go and we’ve just got to try our best to win each and every one of them,” was Mark Hughes’ verdict. “We’ve got a huge game against Northampton but it’s no different to what we knew it was going to be, even before Saturday[‘s 2-2 draw with Gillingham]. It was always on the horizon that it was a game we needed to win.”
Although Hughes has told his own players they “can’t worry about what everybody else is doing”, it won’t be so easy for us supporters to ignore other events. And so as City lock horns with Northampton, half an eye will be on another potentially huge clash in Cumbria, where Carlisle are playing Salford.
Having looked to be running out of steam – and especially goals – Carlisle have found a bit of form again. A 2-2 home draw with Stockport was followed by a handy win 1-0 at derby rivals Barrow. The 20th clean sheet of the season picked up in the process has equalled a club record.
“You have to try to achieve things like this because any sort of success is built on solid defending,” beamed Paul Simpson on their record-equalling defensive exploits. “Now we’ve got two more definite league games to go and it would be nice if we can get another couple and see this through properly.”
Carlisle will hope to win and take advantage of any Northampton/Stevenage slip ups. For Salford, the stakes are also incredibly high. And given their dramatic recent away victories over Wimbledon and Walsall, don’t write them off if they’re trailing or drawing in the closing stages.
Neil Wood reflected, “We keep going and this squad of players never gives up, they go to the end. We’ve got a big game next against Carlisle – we can only look after what we can do, we’ve got to go out to win the next two games, if we do hopefully that puts us in a really strong position.”
Elsewhere, Stevenage have a kind-looking home game against Grimsby, who they drew 1-1 with at Blundell Park last December. After winning at Swindon, it’s hard to see them failing now.
Steve Evans was naturally humble about their County Ground success. “We got the team right, the tactics right with how we played and we re-energised the boys after Mansfield,” he roared. And on Saturday’s game with Grimsby, “We’ll need a full Lamex, we’ll need them right behind us but we’ll need them to have patience. You don’t win one of these games in the first 10 or 15 minutes, you have to earn it.”
Stockport – like Carlisle four points behind Stevenage – are at Leyton Orient. Much has been made of whether Richie Wellens’ side would ease off now they have won the league, but their hard-fought victory at Field Mill on Tuesday would suggest they’re not relaxing just yet. That could be bad news for Stockport, and City.
It’s over two months since Stockport’s last defeat, they are unbeaten in 11. Although they have drawn their last two away games. “We’ve just got to win our last two games now if we’re to give ourselves a chance of getting automatic promotion,” said Dave Challinor. “That’ll be a tough ask, especially away against the champions.”
But Challinor did highlight that Stockport have been here before, last season in fact. “We’ve got that experience you need. There was a lot more pressure on us to go up last year but we got through that and that was amazing. We’ve just got to deal with things over these next two games and see where it takes us.”
Finally, Mansfield have a home game with Harrogate Town, who are now safe from relegation. “An unbelievably poor way to lose a 10 game unbeaten run,” fumed Nigel Clough of the midweek Leyton Orient loss. “We had 30 minutes against 10 men and didn’t carve out enough. And we didn’t show the composure needed to get a goal.”
Mansfield have got to either win their last two games handsomely (and so boost their goal difference) or hope for slip ups from City or Salford. With a tricky final day trip to an in-form Colchester, the Harrogate Town game is clearly vital for the Stags. “I hope we’re still in with a chance come the last game,” added Clough.
Let’s imagine for a moment that City beat Northampton, Salford beat Carlisle, Stockport lose at Leyton Orient, and Mansfield beat Harrogate. Not completely unrealistic, right? That would leave FIVE teams tied on 75 points. And the tightest of play off race finales.
More realistically, come 5pm on Saturday, it’s likely that a great deal will have been decided. And as the dust settles, City – with their game in hand – will know that they can still pick up six more points this season, when everyone else will only be able to earn three more.
And that could prove absolutely vital.
Great analysis Jason especially how teams have performed against each other who currently occupy the top eight positions. For what it’s worth, I think that we will draw at Northampton Town today. Is that such a bad result? Only time will tell. We know that we can only affect our games, although what happens to the teams around us will contribute to how we are feeling at 2:30pm on 08 May. I still maintain that we haven’t been consistently good enough to get promoted automatically this season, however I believe that we will finish in a play off position. Exciting times. P.S. I hope that the 960 Bradford City supporters at Sixfields today enjoy themselves today 🤞⚽️.
How we are feeling at 2.30 on 8th May? It May be totally different at 2.40 given our knack of dropping points in time added on especially given the amount of time is added on these days coupled with Salfords recent knack of picking up points at the death.
Sorry, but I can’t really see us getting automatic promotion and even have doubts about making the playoffs. This team just hasn’t been able to put a sustained run of victories together all season although we have been quite hard to beat most of the time, there have been too many dropped points when drawing games. Not sure what the problem is but we just don’t seem to have enough “umph” to raise our game when it matters. Really hope I’m wrong but league2 beckons again next season.