League Two Betting: Back Valiants on a record roll

Darrell Clarke, the Port Vale manager
Darrell Clarke has overseen eight wins and a draw in nine at Port Vale after an initial poor run having switched from Walsall

Darrell Clarke's decision to leave Walsall for Port Vale has come to the boil nicely, says Ian Lamont, who tips the latter to beat Grimsby, plus a couple of tight draws...

"It has been a stop start season for Newport, perhaps highlighted by the loan player arrivals that no doubt contribute to the Opta stat that the Exiles have had 23 different goalscorers this season. This is more than any other League Two side, or even any side in the top four divisions since Stevenage in 2015-16."

Port Vale full of optimism for next season

Grimsby 3.55/2 v Port Vale 2.47/5; the draw 3.613/5

With two rounds of fixtures to go, Grimsby relegated and Port Vale now unable to qualify for the play-offs, a dead rubber game might seem an odd place to start. But the Valiants are in such good form they are hard to ignore for a win at dejected hosts.

Paul Hurst, who brought the Mariners up from the National League five years ago, must now set about the task of doing so again. Very belatedly, they made a stab at staying up, beating Bolton and Oldham in recent weeks as well as leading at Exeter in midweek, before Jay Matete's dismissal turned the tide, shortly after his goal to lead 2-1.

Too many draws in January, Hurst feels, stifled the efforts of a team from then, he says, that deserved to stay up. Now Lenell John-Lewis, James Hanson and others are playing for non-league contracts.

The Valiants are in such fine form, eight wins and a draw from nine (Opta emphasise they have kept six clean sheets), that their club historian has had to go back to 1958-59 to find a better run, when they won 11 from an unbeaten 12 in a season when they won the Fourth Division. End-of-season mid-table runs have less pressure and resonance, but Darrell Clarke must feel he is building well for next season. (The visitors had failed to win any of his first seven games, drawing three.)

Tom Conlon will certainly want to be part of next year, having scored five of his 10 this season for his new boss, while Dave Worrall and Devante Rodney also seem to have prospered. There have been a few false dawns for Port Vale, but optimism for next season could be measured against their performance here against opponents who face uncertain futures. Five clean sheets for the visitors before conceding once in the 2-1 win over Bradford indicates the Valiants feel capable of holding any opponent at bay right now.

Bowyer's boys can forge another narrow win

Colchester 4.03/1 v Salford City 2.01/1; the draw 3.412/5

Finally, Salford won three games in a row in the EFL when they won at Bradford on Tuesday. But it was touch and go. Ian Henderson's sixth strike in seven League Two games only came in the first minute of injury time. Boss Gary Bowyer reported how the players said to themselves at half time they knew they could play better - and proved it in the second half.

Defensively, they have been excellent more or less since his appointment, conceding just four times in nine games and keeping clean sheets for four games running. Finally, the Ammies have winched their way back into the play-off places. It seems like a long time coming and as if there have been false dawns and expectations too high for a club on its third manager of the season.

Keeper Vaclav Hladky has clearly been instrumental, but having a settled back four - or even back six unit - led by Ashley Eastman and Jordan Turnbull. It's now down to the likes of midfielder Ashley Hunter to put in one more big effort, as supplier or scorer, to overcome a side who still, technically, need a point to guarantee their EFL status, although Scunthorpe's heavy midweek defeat now throws the Iron more into the mix than the U's.

Colchester's keeping coach Darren Smith says it would be great to "get the job done" (of staying up) by defeating Salford. But it looks a big ask, even if he is advising manager Hayden Mullins. The boss also has words of wisdom to consider from former Exeter boss Paul Tisdale. Captain Ian Pell says this summer will be huge for the U's, but first he and the team would have to inspire Michael Folivi to only a sixth goal of the season. By contrast to Salford, the hosts only have two clean sheets in six games and have conceded eight, five to Oldham. I'm not expecting that type of goal blitz from the visitors and under 2.5 goals should be considered, but I do expect the away win.

Newport have built form to hold Robins

Newport 3.211/5 v Cheltenham 2.68/5; the draw 3.613/5

I can envisage a situation whereby Cambridge continue some fine away form by winning on Friday night at Harrogate, but Cheltenham only draw at Newport and fail to claw back top spot.

That is not because the Robins will be lacklustre having earned promotion: Michael Duff promises there will be no "promotion hangover". They still want the title. Nor is it because of the flip-flop nature of the divisional leadership reflecting League Two this season as a whole. It is because the Exiles have found some strong form.

Newport boss Mick Flynn used five outfield substitutes on Tuesday, not to take the gas off against Scunthorpe before Mickey Demetriou notched his second late in a 4-0 win, because he felt some players were "struggling". He wants perfection at this stage, especially if Newport are to realise their long-held promotion ambitions. This isn't the first season they have made a late charge for the play-offs. It has been a stop start season, perhaps highlighted by the loan player arrivals that no doubt contribute to the Opta stat that the Exiles have had 23 different goalscorers this season. This is more than any other League Two side, or even any side in the top four divisions since Stevenage in 2015-16.

Form is relative and Flynn knows that while one defeat in seven games sounds good, it has been averaged out with three draws and three wins. But in three of those seven they have not scored at all.

Josh Sheehan, Joss Ladabie and Ryan Haynes were all substituted with little injuries from a starting team unchanged in three. So is there some fatigue?

Lewis Collins, 19, has been tipped for great things if he continues to work hard. He scored his first goal on Tuesday and has formed an "energetic" partnership up front with Padraig Amond recently.

Only one goal conceded (in defeat to title-chasing Cambridge) in the past five games shows tenacity at the back. How much will the visiting Robins challenge that? They have their own record of three goals conceded in six games to defend. They have also only scored five times in six games and never more than once, picking up three wins and two draws. A battle of would-be gladiators this will surely be.

Defender Will Boyle, sidelined again with a knee injury after coming back over Easter, believes Cheltenham have done enough to deserve to be champions over the season. Promotion, he says, has banished the memories - used for motivation at various stages - of last season, when they won their play-off semi-final first leg but lost the second to Northampton.

The curve has always been upward, insists Doyle, since the players bought into the philosophy brought in by Duff, an Irishman who nonetheless considers Cheltenham his home town club and was appointed in September 2018. A couple more goals by Conor Thomas, who has three in the last seven matches, wouldn't go amiss in the final two games if the visitors are to be crowned title winners. But I think Cheltenham will be held at Rodney Parade.

Low scorers could well end up drawing

Forest Green 2.77/4 v Tranmere 3.02/1; the draw 3.55/2

The wisdom of sacking a long-standing manager when you are having your best season, just six games before you might reach the play-offs, is yet to be proved. Forest Green chairman Dale Vince lost patience after one point from a possible 18 leading into April. A fully fit squad could not continue an upward curve and with Cooper's contract close to its end, his tenure was cut after five years.

Vince was probably damned if he did gamble, and damned if he didn't. After an initial bounce, a 3-2 win over Scunthorpe, Jordan Moore-Taylor scoring for the second game running, Rovers have had little to cheer, however. No goals for a start. Two goalless draws, with Exeter and Crawley, plus a 2-0 defeat to desperate Barrow.

If scoring has been a problem for Jimmy Ball's hosts (seven blanks in 10 games), goals have been a premium in Tranmere matches too. They have scored three in their past seven games and conceded three in six. Opta point out they have three clean sheets in a row and haven't had four since September 2012. Two goalless draws have taken their tally to five for the season, matching their opponents. Luckily, goals by Dave Nugent and an own goal have given them two victories to keep them firmly in the play-offs picture. Kaiyne Woolery could do with a confidence-boosting goal, especially in James Vaughan's continued absence.

As much as Keith Hill wouldn't admit it before kick-off, a draw that would practically put the hosts out of the play-offs would suit, Tranmere having qualified for the top seven already. Low scores from both sides could well point to a low scoring draw.

P/L 2020-21

League Two -23.77pt
FA Cup +13.86pt

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