Cup weariness could catch up with Northampton and allow Scunthorpe a draw, says Ian Lamont, who also thinks Stevenage might take another big-priced victory...
"The bare statistics of Scunthorpe's run don't tell you that the last two draws were against high-flyers Bradford and Crewe. There is much to like about them, although Paul Hurst says they must want to defend better."
Iron can show a bit of strength
Northampton 2.166/5 v Scunthorpe 3.7511/4; the draw 3.711/4
The Iron's challenge for a play-off spot which looked promising in November seems to have faltered. They remain 13 points adrift of seventh, having taken one win and two draws from their past six games.
That's the bare statistics, which don't tell you those two draws in their most recent games were battling 2-2 ones against high flyers Bradford and Crewe. In the first, they had to come from 2-0 down and in the second they led, then went behind but levelled.
In the two games before that, they lost to revived Newport and Plymouth, who are acting much like a team train as they pursue an automatic promotion place.
So there is a fair amount to like about Scunthorpe, although boss Paul Hurst rightly points out they have to want to defend more if they are to win games. That's seven out of 10 games in which they have conceded twice or more. And yet in the other three matches keeper Jake Eastwood and his defence kept clean sheets. Eastwood, on loan from Sheffield United, has since been recalled and Ian Lawlor brought in on loan from Doncaster Rovers.
Kevin van Veen is clearly noticeable when absent. The Dutchman has scored 14 times, netting eight in his last 11 appearances and being involved in their last eight goals when he's been on the pitch. He supplied the corner for Jacob Bedeau's first goal for the club. Abo Eisa is always capable of causing problems for opponents (he has four goals in those recent 10 games) and while the visitors might have to be at their best to gain something at Northampton they might just find their hosts a little leg weary having spent Friday night chasing Wayne Rooney's Derby in the FA Cup.
There can be little more draining than the thought of having to do it all again at Pride Park in a replay. Keith Curle has done much to create a unified culture at the Cobblers, improving them in sufficient increments from when he took over and they languished near the foot of the table to prominently placed in sixth with a big eye on promotion.
Friday's goalless draw could have been so different. Skipper Charlie Goode was lucky not to be sent off for an early "last defender" foul on Jack Marriott. Northampton created the most chances, with Andy Williams at the heart of them.
Ryan Watson has helped himself to a couple too in the hosts' unbeaten five game run in League Two, featuring three wins. Interestingly, in their past 10 games they also have three clean sheets - all at home as it happens - scoring 15 times and conceding 12. While they have signed Gillingham winger Mark Marshall who might give them fresh legs, a draw is distinctly possible.
Can Simeon help Stevenage spring a surprise?
Grimsby 2.26/5 v Stevenage 4.216/5; the draw 3.412/5
'Westley tips hot Argyle' read the headline about the Stevenage boss suggesting Plymouth will win the title. Thanks Graham. Betting.Betfair readers have had a voucher for that since July. We're clutching it hard!
In the nice, nice aftermath of Plymouth's 2-1 win Broadhall Way, Pilgrims boss Ryan Lowe was also highly complimentary about Stevenage. So Westley must be doing something right as he tries to lift Stevenage off the bottom.
Midfielder Joe Leesley and forward Jake Cassidy are two things he has done right: bringing them in from non-league clubs. So far, they have contributed much, Cassidy scoring against Cambridge. And I can't wait for Simeon Jackson to get more game time than the ten minutes on Saturday. If he is half the player he was when scoring plentifully for Gillingham to get them out of this division some years ago, via the play-offs, he was worth recruiting.
A positive influence is clearly being had. Westley growled about an alleged handball in the build up to one of Plymouth's goals on Saturday. They had 15 shots in all, six on target. All pleasing statistics. He's clearly got something extra out of Elliott List in midfield - goals. Two in the past seven games. Stevenage now at least scored in each of their past two matches, after not doing so in their previous four.
Whether they can actually beat Grimsby is a tough ask. The Mariners don't have the fragility of Cambridge, whom Boro beat 4-0 away. With Ian Holloway providing positively - and even going back just before his arrival - they are on a run of two defeats in seven, with two wins, both 1-0. In fact Saturday's 3-2 defeat at Crawley was the first time they have scored or conceded more than once in nine games (a 3-0 reverse to Swindon was the last time).
Keeper James McKeown has been a busy boy, while the hosts only have 11 goals at home - second lowest in the league. James Hanson is not the semi-prolific finisher he was at Bradford, although he is top scorer with six. Nobody else has more than three. Scoring goals, as Holloway reference afterwards by noting they had not scored twice in one game since Exeter in September, has been a long term problem. Yet he was pleased with the application and "didn't want to see sad faces".
They simply sat too deep and were pushed back, having been leading at half time. I don't think Stevenage will go mad again, goalswise, like at Cambridge. But one hopes they have the energy on a long midweek trip (what are the schedulers up to?) to pinch three points at a big price. They need to, not only to prove that pretty much matching Plymouth was their new standard, but to start to reel in other clubs to the current two-way fight between themselves and Morecambe to stay up. Eight points currently separate the sides.
Robins can hold the misfiring Bantams
Bradford 2.56/4 v Cheltenham 3.412/5; the draw 3.613/5
Such is the tightness of League Two - as observers of the teams in the middle like to point out - that everywhere you look you end up seeing potential draws.
Bradford owe their fans at least that it would seem, after a heavy defeat at Mansfield left their promotion bid without a victory in five games and with supporters calling for boss Gary Bowyer to go.
The manager apologised for the performance, at the team with the division's worst home record, and was at a loss to explain the display after the plaudits of a goalless draw in midweek at fellow high flyers Colchester. Bowyer said they were second best in many ways at Mansfield. Fans were quick to assess that they were also second best in several other away performances.
At Valley Parade, it seems, it is different. They have the second best points return in League Two, with 30 and the fewest goals conceded, joint with Northampton (10).
They felt obliged to recall Eoin Doyle from Swindon after all his goals, but he hasn't scored for them yet and there were suggestions he wouldn't suit their system. Squad strength in depth? With James Vaughan bagging 11 goals in Doyle's absence out on loan, at least they had a focal point scorer. A few others must start to get towards five though.
Cheltenham had the weekend off, and if they watched the game at Mansfield they might have learned little about Bradford's strengths, particularly as they seem to perform differently at home. Seven draws away and only eight goals conceded on their travels - most teams have conceded at least double that - gives them a chance of a draw, while they have only netted 13 away.
Michael Duff will hope his defence show their usual meanness and even without keeper Scott Flinders, out for the season with broken fibia and tibia, they can cajole Max Sheaf into continuing his scoring run, or that Ryan Broom and Alex Addai can produce chances or score as the Bantams try to impress their home fans.
Grecians have the knack of finding away wins
Port Vale 2.915/8 v Exeter 2.77/4; the draw 3.412/5
Even in a draw-strewn division, I've used up my quota for this round of fixtures, although I am tempted by Colchester v Swindon. I have visions of a third goalless draw in a row for Colchester.
Instead, I am going all out for Exeter to extend their excellent run like their Devon neighbours. Both are in the top five teams over ten games, the Grecians unbeaten with 24 points. That includes four 1-0 away wins.
It's not hard to draw conclusions, then, that against several types of opposition - from Grimsby to Crawley and Forest Green and Salford - they kept it tight and found a way to "do a job" as the cliche goes at tricky places to win, where the hosts might not have oodles of flair but will make away sides work hard for anything.
Ryan Bowman, Nicky Law, Dean Moxey and Nigel Atangana have scored on those occasions. In their other away game, they drew 2-2 at Colchester. Of all those, only the U's and Forest Green are truly vying for promotion. And Port Vale have those pretensions, so this is a good chance for Matt Taylor's team to keep the lid on their opponents' ambitions. Fifteen clean sheets in League Two this season is no mean feat and something Tom Parkes is proud of.
Port Vale have only been beaten once at home, by Walsall in early December, and handed out defeat to Swindon at Vale Park on the Sunday after Christmas. So either this can be a Tuesday night upset that they are defeated, or they upset Exeter's 11-game unbeaten run.
One wonders why footballers put themselves in the social media firing line at all. Plenty they say could be construed as misconduct. Tom Pope sat out defeat at Swindon with a ban for something said on Twitter. He'd been pretty vocal about how he could score against John Stones. And he did so. He had also allegedly made an anti-semetic remark, although the FA did not specify the actual incident when handing out the ban but it is likely that is why he was fined and banned.
The 34-year-old will just be glad to let his feet do the talking again as he seeks to add to his five league goals this season before others on four, who include Nathan Smith, out-score him. However, I think the visiting defence can keep him under wraps again while their forward line can conjure sufficient chances to score and defeat John Askey's side.
Back Northampton and Scunthorpe to draw 3.711/4
Back Back Stevenage @ 4.216/5 to win at Grimsby
Back Exeter @ 2.77/4 to win at Port Vale
Back Bradford and Cheltenham to draw @ 3.613/5