Tranmere Rovers v Mansfield Town
The wheels of Tranmere Rovers’ automatic promotion push are starting to fall off after their poor run of form.
Micky Mellon’s men haven’t won in their last five league games and have slipped out of the top three. They are now only inside the League Two play-offs by two points and are nervously looking over their shoulders. They were beaten again 3-2 away at promotion rivals Northampton Town in their last match and their boss said that they “didn’t fight hard enough” against the Cobblers. The Whites have been missing key midfielder Jay Spearing in the middle of the park over recent times and he missed the whole of last month with an injury he sustained on 1st February against Stevenage. He is back running on the grass now but is still a couple of weeks away from being fully fit meaning his teammates go into Friday night’s crucial clash against Mansfield Town without him once again. Everton loanee Lewis Warrington, who joined in the January transfer window on a deal until the end of the season, has stepped in for him over the past few matches but is playing in the Football League for the first time in his career and it shows. The 19-year-old lacks the experience that Spearing has and their next opponents will be eager to capitalise on that.
Mansfield are the in-form team in the division and are a point outside the top three after their 2-1 win over Exeter City in their last game. Their manager, Nigel Clough, said it was a “special” victory and his side haven’t lost in the league for 14 matches now in a run spanning back to their last defeat on 23rd November against Sutton United. A key reason behind the Stags’ form is the strength in depth they have in their ranks. They bolstered their squad by signing the likes of Matty Longstaff, Lucas Akins and Jamie Murphy in January to inject some quality into their side. All three players have slotted into their side with ease over the past month or so and their additions have seen midfield pair George Maris and Ollie Clarke struggle to break into the starting XI. The duo were surprisingly left on the bench against Exeter and Clough revealed that was due to a selection decision and based on the fact they have an abundance of good quality options at their disposal. That plays into their hands as they make the trip to face to Merseyside to lock horns with a Tranmere side low on confidence and gives them the opportunity to freshen things up as the fixtures come thick and fast.
Rochdale v Barrow
Barrow made their return to the Football League after a 48-year absence in 2020 but risk dropping back into non-league this season.
The Bluebirds are currently in 22nd place in the League Two table and are only two points above the relegation zone, with Oldham Athletic having a game in-hand below them. They are the 2nd lowest scorers in the division behind bottom of the league Scunthorpe United and have managed to find the net on a measly 31 occasions out of 34 games so far. They dropped two points in their last game against Walsall, who cancelled out midfielder John Rooney’s first-half wonder goal by equalising in the second-half through defender Donervan Daniels. Their boss, Mark Cooper, says he was “happy” that his side didn’t end up losing. The Cumbrian side are seriously lacking goals at the moment ahead of their game against Rochdale this weekend and have managed just two in their last five outings. Their highest scoring attacker this term is Josh Gordon on just five goals followed by Josh Kay on three. As a result, the club tried to add more firepower to their ranks in January by signing youngster Will Harris on loan from Sunderland but he lacks experience and hasn’t scored in his nine appearances since his winter switch.
Rochdale haven’t been great in front of goal either over recent times and will be aware that they need some more points in this campaign to avoid getting sucked into any potential trouble. The North West outfit were comfortably beaten 3-0 away at Sutton United in their last game and their manager, Robbie Stockdale, said it was a “very tough day” for his team. The Dale have fired blanks in their past two games now against Carlisle United and Sutton and are lacking that cutting edge up front, which is also reflected by the fact they have only scored twice in their past four outings. This is mainly because they lost their top scorer Jake Beesley to Championship side Blackpool in the January transfer window and haven’t replaced him adequately. Tahvon Campbell and Luke Charman came in to step into his shoes from non-league sides Woking and Darlington respectively but have scored a combined two goals between them. Their former attacker fired nine goals during the first-half of this season and remains their highest scorer this term to date, with winger Alex Newby being their 2nd on just five. Defender Max Taylor has proven he can be a threat going forward from set pieces as he has chipped in with three goals from the back this term. However, to make matters worse for Rochdale, he is out injured with an ankle injury that he picked up against Northampton Town last month and remains sidelined. Veteran Jim McNulty replaces him in the side but he doesn’t pose the same attacking threat as he hasn’t found the net this term.
Stevenage v Newport County
Newport County are hoping that this is the year that they finally get out of League Two after some near misses over recent seasons.
The Exiles are in good form at the moment and are only outside the automatic promotion by a single place in the league table. They became the first team to beat Bristol Rovers for 13 matches in their last game thanks to attacker James Waite’s goal with his boss, James Rowberry, saying he was “delighted’ that he was the one to score the winner. Newport haven’t lost for their their past five games and have picked up results against promotion rivals Forest Green Rovers and Tranmere Rovers in that run. They also travel well and have lost just once in their last nine away games as they prepare to make the trip to face lowly Stevenage this weekend. Rowberry is without injured attacking pair Cortney Baker-Richardson and Robbie Willmott which has paved the way for youngsters Fin Azaz and Rob Street to get more game time under their belts. They are loan from Aston Villa and Crystal Palace respectively and are both in confident mood at the moment as their side hunt down another win. Azaz, who is 21-years-old, has five goals and seven assists to his name this season and is one of the brightest young talents in the league, whereas Street is itching closer to finding his first goal since his January move.
Stevenage are at risk of dropping into the National League with the way their results are going right now. They were denied a win away at Leyton Orient last weekend by a last-gasp O’s leveller by attacker Theo Archibald. The result was a real kick in the teeth for a Boro side shot of any sort of confident at the moment with it being seven league games now without a win. Their manager, Paul Tisdale, said it was “two points” dropped against their fellow strugglers and it doesn’t get any easier for his side as they prepare to face promotion contenders Newport. Stevenage have been leaking goals over recent games and have shipped eight in their past three matches, scoring just twice at the other end. In terms of injury news, Boro have a clean bill of health but the current set of players they have are evidently struggling to pick up wins. Tisdale switched to a back five in defence of Luther James-Wildin, Scott Cuthbert, Theo Vancooten, Luke Prosser and Luke O’Neill after their 4-0 hammering away at Bristol Rovers on 19th February but they still appear to be conceding too many which has seen them slip to 20th in the table, just three points above the drop zone.
Forest Green Rovers v Bradford City
Forest Green Rovers have proven over recent weeks that they are not invincible and have seen their charge for the League Two title surprising stutter.
The high-flying Gloucestershire side haven’t won in their last five games but have still managed to score in four of them. They were held 1-1 by Salford City last weekend with striker Matty Stevens scoring in the second-half to cancel out Matt Smith’s opener for the hosts. Their boss, Rob Edwards, said he had “mixed feelings” about the result and will be keen to bounce back this Saturday when his side take on Bradford City at home soil. Rovers are still well on track to secure their first ever promotion to League One and have only lost twice at The New Lawn all season to Swindon Town and Walsall. They remain eight points clear of 2nd place Northampton Town at the summit with a game in hand and are 12 points above 3rd position Newport County. Forest Green have always got a goal in them and that is proven by the fact they are top scorers in the league this term with a blistering 64 goals in their 34 games. Their striker pair Matty Stevens and Jamille Matt have a combined 40 league goals and keeping those two fit until the end of the season will surely mean promotion.
It is a new era at Bradford following the appointment of former Premier League boss Mark Hughes as manager. He hasn’t had the best of starts though and has lost back-to-back home games against promotion chasing pair Mansfield Town and Swindon Town. Nevertheless, his side found the net against the latter meaning he is showing signs of getting the best out of his newly inherited squad on the attacking front. Speaking after their defeat against the Robins last time out, Hughes said his side were ”excellent” and will be hoping they can build on that performance against an out of sorts Forest Green. The Bantams have welcomed January signing Jamie Walker back to training after he has missed the past few games with injury and he is line to return to the squad for the away trip this weekend. His contract at parent club Hearts is up this summer and he has said this week that his loan at Valley Parade is an opportunity to put himself in the shop window. The Scottish attacking midfielder’s absence has seen the experienced Gareth Evans come back into the side and he scored against Swindon so his manager has some healthy selection decisions to make. Bolton Wanderers loan man Nathan Delfouneso is also available after missing last week through illness which gives Hughes another option in attack.
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