Solid foundations helping Stevenage
Leaders and pretenders could draw
Crawley's new boss could be disappointed
Bluebirds could swoop in for a point
Stevenage 2.01/1 v Barrow 4.67/2; the draw 3.613/5
Friday December 2, 7:45pm kick-off
Can Steve Evans keep his side grounded before their FA Cup trip to Aston Villa in the new year? (Where they could get a draw by the way.) No player dares taking their foot off the gas and crossing the Stevenage manager, who is well versed in cup runs from his days at Crawley Town - memorably at Manchester United.
Boro put in a great performance to sink Kings Lynn, but I was slightly surprised to hear Luke Norris described as "in-form" after netting the opener. He hadn't scored since early October. Jamie Reid and Jordan Roberts always look lively up front while Stevenage's success in climbing to the top of League Two this season is also built on solid foundations at the back.
Carl Piergianni and Dan Sweeney are among those to keep Stevenage seven clean sheets this season. That record could be better, but they very rarely conceded more than one: Northampton and Bradford are the exceptions who have scored three each against them.
It is no surprise that the hosts are so close to even money: they have won eight times at home, that 3-2 loss to Northampton being the only blemish at Broadhall Way.
Barrow have the advantage of a week's rest - from FA Cup or League Two action anyway. EFL Trophy games, with all their changes, are no guide to meaningful form in my opinion. The Bluebirds have risen to the playoff positions in recent weeks and while their home form is their "bedrock", says Pete Wild, they must take points on the road to maintain their push. Therefore Billy Waters, who has come into form with six goals in four of the past five league games, and 10-goal Josh Gordon must take advantage of any fatigue felt by their hosts.
Opta point out the visitors have won four of their last five and only drawn once in 23. This might be another such rarity.
Fixtures on Saturday December 3
A Dons win? Should be no H-Assal
AFC Wimbledon 3.211/5 v Grimsby 2.6413/8; the draw 3.211/5
Finally, AFC Wimbledon have come into some form. Six games unbeaten with four wins. Before that, Johnnie Jackson's side were all over the place with one win in eight. A shock FA Cup defeat to Chesterfield, the manager will hope, won't interrupt League Two progress.
Moroccan midfielder Ayoub Assal has found his feet with four goals in five league matches and another couple in the FA Cup first round to boot! Goals don't come easy against Leyton Orient or Tranmere, either. Clean sheets in their last three games will give Paul Kalambayi, Ryley Tyler and Jack Currie incentive to keep another.
Grimsby have a strong away record, but have lost their last two on the road. Apart from their FA Cup run, beating two sides from League One, they have only two points from their past five games, as Opta stress. That does not bode well for this particular trip to South London, where Opta say the Dons are looking for their third straight win for the first time since April 2021.
Mariners boss Paul Hurst has been shouting about the need for consistency in recent weeks and one commentator says this match is a perfect launchpad to press on from the home draw with Stevenage.
The return of John McAtee certainly gives them extra bite up front, while Kieran Green looks solid in front of the back four. Hurst also went for the experience at the back of Niall Maher against Cambridge in the FA Cup. It will be an interesting contest, but the hosts should have the edge.
Promotion rivals to fight out draw
Leyton Orient 2.47/5 v Bradford City 3.613/5; the draw 3.412/5
Richie Wellens will be eager to celebrate a contract extension to 2025 with a victory, but football fate has a way of puncturing such pairings. League leaders Orient have been impressive at home, dropping just four points and conceding only four goals.
Paul Smyth (8) has led a variety of goalscorers on their route to the top while Ruel Sotiriou continues to come of age. It really helps a team when a backline features the same players regularly: cue Tom James, Omar Beckles and Daniel Happe. Of course the experience of Lawrence Vigoroux is a massive help.
They will need all their nouse to hold Bradford, whose away record of six wins and a draw (19 points) is only bettered by Northampton and Orient themselves.
Expectation continues to weigh heavily on the Bantams' shoulders, but boss Mark Hughes has clearly fostered a great team spirit (wins help of course). Ollie Banks says the players genuinely look after each other - and it is great to be halfway home to Edinburgh compared to being based at his parent club Crystal Palace.
Andy Cook has been firing on all cylinders with 13 goals and the visitors will be fresh for not having had a game of any sort in 11 days. They could even win, but I suspect Orient will prove tough enough for the sides to draw. The Opta stats of Orient winning seven of nine at home and Bradford winning six from their last seven away could well balance out into a point each.
Crawley Town 4.03/1 v Swindon Town 2.111/10; the draw 3.613/5
Lewis Young must be feeling somewhat raw after ending eight years as a player and twice caretaker manager at Crawley by being ejected on Sunday. The 33-year-old took 12 points from seven League Two games to pull the Reds off the foot of the table. The only league reverse was at home to Walsall a couple of weeks ago.
The Sussex side's owners decided, however, that former Tottenham man Matthew Etherington (and Simon Davies) would be better, on the back of training Peterborough's youngsters.
Whether the revolving door will mean Dom Telford, Tom Nichols and Ashley Nadesan all start up front again is a big question. But that wasn't Kevin Betsy's biggest headache at the start of the season: it was how to stop opposing attackers. His 12 games featured one clean sheet. George Francombe is not a centre-back and and needs to stick to right-back, while Ludwig Francillette and Joel Lynch have done much to steady a much-rearranged ship at the back. Even without suspended Francillete, Crawley earned only a third clean sheet (a second under Young), against Gillingham.
Gaining anything against a far more polished Swindon will be tough. But does the Robins' away form which features four draws give them hope of a point? Somehow Scott Lindsey's side collapsed to a 4-0 reverse in the FA Cup First Round, losing 4-0 at Stockport, a week after smashing five past Mansfield on the Stags' home turf.
Midfielder Jonny Williams might not be totally at his best after flying back from the World Cup following Wales' exit. However, he is a big part of the Wiltshire club's desire to reach the playoffs or better. He is top scorer with six, which means Jacob Wakeling and Luke Jephcott (five each) need to start hitting double figures quickly in order to make Swindon's away form feared.
Opta say that Swindon haven't lost consecutive league games since February (they lost at Crewe last time out). It is games like these they have to win to achieve their promotion dreams.