Adaptable leaders Swindon showing their class
Newport 3.211/5 v Swindon 2.56/4; the draw 3.55/2
Considering all the fuss made about Eoin Doyle's return to Bradford, Swindon did pretty well to hammer out a 3-1 win over their main title rivals Crewe last weekend.
Dave Artell's men weren't caught unaware - their manager told the world the Bantams were to recall League Two's top scorer.
But it seems Richie Wellens had an 11th hour change of heart about going 4-4-2 after a bad training session on Friday, and went with three at the back, giving his team just two hours notice of this untried formation. He wasn't happy that, in a diamond midfield, Michael Doughty would get forward to leave defensive minded Danny Rose exposed to three midfielders attacking him.
But if you thought footballers lack intelligence, they took all their new instructions on board, adapted and ground out the first half hour before imposing themselves to score, soak up an equaliser and net twice more to win. Rose even got far enough forward to bag the clincher.
Key to note in the success was that Jerry Yates, on loan from Rotherham, netted his 12th of the season, proving that the Robins were not just a one-man scoring machine when Doyle was around.
Given they are a striker down, it is interesting that Swindon's second addition in the January window, after Shrewsbury's Anthony Grant in midfield, is a defender - and a young one. Rarmani Edmonds-Green must have something about him (but not be quite good enough for Huddersfield yet) at 21. Wellens says he is useful because of the number of different positions he can play. While not expanding on that, it isn't expected that one of those positions is forward!
So all in all, Newport are going to have to do well to hold off League Two's top side over 10 games, with 23 points and a +12 goal difference in that time, and only one defeat. Opta point out they have one defeat in 13.
The Exiles have had the sort of run that would get most managers in this division the sack: victory at Scunthorpe last weekend ended a 10-game winless run from which they only took four points.
Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond might well have saved Michael Flynn's job. The manager has asked all fans to get behind the side, not listen to the minority who want to have a go when things are not going well. He points out that before their win last weekend, they were six points behind where they were last season having played two games fewer and ended up in the play-off final.
Matt believes they can find what it takes to upset Swindon's runaway train and in fact all those four draws in their winless 10 games came at Rodney Parade. Flynn has been busy in the window, adding not only Billy Waters but defender Ashley Baker from Sheffield Wednesday for 18 months and Barnsley's Jordan Green. He played the first half of the 2016-17 season with Newport and describes himself as a "tricky winger". Even so, I expect Swindon to edge. Newport have more winnable matches coming up.
Plymouth ploughing up to automatic promotion places
Plymouth 2.01/1 v Mansfield 4.216/5; the draw 3.711/4
Ryan Lowe made no secret of the fact he wanted to bring in a striker to bolster his club's promotion bid. Opta point out they have had 17 different scorers, the most among League Two clubs. First he went for Luke Jephcote, whom he recalled from a Truro City loan spell. Then he gave a second player a League Two debut for Plymouth, Ryan Hardie on loan from Blackpool, who also scored in his first game, as a substitute.
If the season had started 10 games ago, the Pilgrims would be pushing Swindon pretty close for the title, (21 points to 23), while they would be leading it if it began six games ago (15 points to 11, with Exeter gaining 14).
They sit in a clutch of clubs on 44 points and it seems unlikely that any of those could make up the nine point gap to the Robins, but you never know.
It appears lots of players are enjoying themselves in Devon. Keeper Alex Palmer says his loan from West Bromwich Albion could not be going better: and Tyreeq Bakinson "looks the part," says Lowe, after playing leading roles from midfield in away wins at Carlisle and Scunthorpe.
He's not even stepped on to Home Park yet. They were good wins, too, both involving Plymouth scoring three, to earn five wins out of six games.
Mansfield, we're continually told, are ever improving. But it's not really happened yet. One win, at Cambridge, is all the victories they have to show in 11 matches, drawing four - and losing 4-3 in the last minute at home last weekend to Forest Green - a team barely able to score in their previous eight matches.
Graham Coughlan won't be impressed that the Stags gave away a 2-0 lead through CJ Hamilton and Danny Rose. Nicky Maynard even equalised in stoppage time, thinking he had forced a draw.
At least he is in form. Their only win involved a hat-trick from the former Bury man who has five goals in the new manager's six games, after scoring six across the rest of the season previously. Their 6-1 win at Oldham seems longer ago than early October. The hosts should find the power to win, especially as they don't do draws - as Opta point out they have nine wins and three losses in 12.
Cheltenham can hold their injury-hit hosts
Crewe 1.9210/11 v Cheltenham 4.67/2; the draw 3.814/5
I never like tipping teams who are odds-on, as Crewe are at 1.910/11 to win: there are a huge number of incidences I could quote when they don't win. They are accumulator fodder. However, I don't think the Railwaymen will lose, especially off the back of last weekend's defeat at Swindon, where perhaps the psychology of not facing the league top scorer, after he returned to Bradford, worked against them.
But is there anything to suggest Michael Duff's Cheltenham can do enough to earn a draw at Gresty Road? Let me rephrase that, Mrs Merton style: what are the chance of a team who has drawn seven away this season drawing this game? They also have four wins, and by far the tightest defence in League Two, of any team's record away, conceding just seven. Next lowest are Forest Green and Grimsby, while the average is about 20.
They are also among the lowest scorers away, with 13, so it will surprise nobody that their past three away games have finished 1-1, and two more of their past six 0-0. In the other, they beat Mansfield 3-0.
Seven of their last 11 games have been draws, with only two defeats, which makes a big case for this game finishing level, despite midfielder Max Sheaf and new striker Alfie May maybe feeling they have hit form in front of goal.
Both have scored in the Robins' past two matches, a 3-0 win over Oldham and a 3-1 win over Walsall. Crewe are a tougher prospect than those sides.
May, signed for an undisclosed fee from Doncaster, certainly makes a great addition to Ryan Broom and Luke Varney, top scorers but with fewer than 10 apiece.
Dave Artell's hosts are in the middle of a defensive injury crisis, with Nicky Hunt probably joining those ranks - Eddie Nolan, Olly Lancashire, Rio Adebisi and Billy Sass-Davis. Midfielder Ryan Wintle has had to move back for four and a bit games - of which Crewe have lost three. Blackpool's Michael Nottingham has been brought in as a reinforcement.
Midfielder Perry Ng says good teams have to bounce back from disappointments. Artell says they need to be more clinical. Chuma Anene has started to show that he is, with four goals in the Alex's past four league games, from which the hosts have 10 points.
That hasn't quite matched the high standards and returns which have propelled them to an automatic promotion spot. Daniel Powell also has three goals in that time, with their last two matches at home finishing 4-1 and 3-1 against Carlisle and Scunthorpe. They have a strong record at home, but Cheltenham have a stiff one away. Crewe have won once against Cheltenham in seven, say Opta, drawing three. What's not to like?
Cambridge should be wary of Westley's ambition
Cambridge 1.981/1 v Stevenage 4.67/2; the draw 3.711/4
Graham Westley never fails to surprise. He acts like Brian Clough at times. Old big head or old big mouth? It was he who kept Newport in the Football League a few seasons ago, even though he was sacked in the March, because he signed all the players.
His revolution at Stevenage this time hasn't been as fierce, but now, in his fourth spell at Boro with the club bottom of the Football League, he proclaims that the club has the potential to reach the Championship - and everyone at the club believes it.
It's true that Phil Wallace, who has run the club since 1999, has had a fair amount of success, gaining them promotion from non-league and Stevenage were just outside the League One play-offs when Westley left for Preston in 2012.
But their situation at present looks bleak: Since Westley arrived, he has picked up three points - all draws - in seven games. His side have scored two goals and conceded nine. He has signed two players, Maidenhead's Jake Cassidy, a striker for an undisclosed fee and winger Joe Leesley from Harrogate Town on loan. Non-league players. Not from a higher level, even Blackpool, who are shelling loanees like peas. Maybe they will be stars. Stevenage have, however, used the biggest number of players of any League Two club this season say Opta - 34.
Even at the end of Mark Sampson's reign Stevenage had drawn his last four, which means no wins in 11. They've won no games away. So bring on the derby! Anything can happen against Cambridge, which makes them dangerous opponents. It is about time Curtis Guthrie added to his five goals, having not scored since mid-October.
Westley has been praising his team's attitude in draws and frankly Cambridge are a bit hit and miss, winning only once in six, their only points.
Director of football Graham Daniels says the U's will not just let the season fizzle out, after admitting that Gary Deagan, Elliott Ward and Marc Richards, who were allowed to leave in quick succession, would not be replaced in the January window.
Youngsters such as Harvey Knibbs, Harry Darling, Andy Dallas and Leon Davies could be given first team chances instead of bringing in new players.
Essentially, then, Cambridge are no better off than they were this time last season, when they had to see off the threat of relegation.
Midfielder George Maris is targeting points over performances while Kyle Knoyle should return from injury. Last weekend, they didn't register a shot on target at Exeter, but they have played better at home, scoring twice and leading at home to Mansfield before going down to 10 and losing 3-2. They also lost 3-2 at home to Leyton Orient. For me, they are there for the taking, even at the Abbey, which makes a win for the visitors a cheeky value bet to go with Westley's cheeky outlining of his ambition for the club he has served so well.