Life's become a Beech after January hiatus
Barrow 3.185/40 v Carlisle 2.68/5; the draw 3.412/5
While most teams were contriving to clutter up their Easter Bank Holiday weekend with ineffective performances or results (was it ever thus in League Two?), Carlisle ploughed on up with two wins.
That makes three victories in a row - all 2-0 - as Chris Beech's men regain some much-needed momentum and form after that horrible hiatus in January. The Cumbrians came off worst from Covid-related call offs and the weather, not playing between January 2 and January 30.
Offrande Zanzala, who promises to keep doing the dirty side of the game, has found his feet with several goals recently. Top scorer Jon Mellish (10) is back among them, too with two in the home defeat of Scunthorpe.
Carlisle have been great at home this season with 12 wins. But they need to build on that recent win at Southend to improve their away results from just five wins and four draws if they are to actually reach the top seven, something which seems to be in view. They are just three points and two places short. Beech has already challenged his players over their away form. As Opta stress, they have one once in their last seven on the road (last time out).
The Blues have showed attacking intent by playing with three strikers in a side unchanged for those three wins, Lewis Alessandra and Patrick Omari being the other two forwards with Zanzala. Joshua Kayode, working his way back from injury, will find opportunities limited, then, but having him as an option will give Beech a positive headache.
Barrow's immediate headache, the threat of relegation, has been eased by some fine form of late and this will be a test of the Bluebirds' resolve. Having pulled themselves to a position of relative safety with four straight wins, as Opta point out, Rob Kelly's men have only one once in their past four. They lost against relegation threatened Grimsby and revived Stevenage, before defeating Newport and drawing at fellow strugglers Colchester.
They have conceded in each of their past five games, which does not bode entirely well against a side keeping clean sheets. Midfielder Tom Beadling was delighted to score his first goal for the club, against Colchester, but admitted the team didn't play particularly well. They scored late again, as new face Calvin Andrew did against Stevenage in defeat at the end of March. Kelly expects the season's relegation fight to go to the wire. This could just be one game where they find their opposition's momentum too strong.
Odds large on a much-needed Southend home win
Southend 3.211/5 v Crawley 2.68/5; the draw 3.39/4
Considering the form guide, the urgency Southend have for points and the fact that Crawley have little to play for, there is a stronger chance of a home win at Roots Hall than the odds suggest.
Mark Molesley's men have lost once in six games, with one defeat to in-form Carlisle. However, most of those were draws, a result which simply won't do any more. They need wins to make up the five point gap to safety against relegation. Just like when Ashley Nathanial-George gave them victory at Harrogate, who were on a poor run of results at the end of March, they have an outstanding chance to earn three points here.
If they can score, that is. Morecambe manager Derek Adams was gracious enough to say after Tuesday's draw that he didn't feel the Blues should be struggling. But three goals in 10 games tells a very depressing story. Opta stress it, and add that the Shrimpers have failed to score in more League Two matches this season than any other side (22).
James Olayinka wasn't fit enough to play on Tuesday, but Southend hope he can postpone surgery he needs on his groin to help fight the drop. Maybe it's the experience of Greg Halford that Molesley will have to draw on to help them stay up, but if Simeon Akinola and Jacob Mellis can return from injury they have a better chance. Jason Demetriou certainly believes the battle for the drop is a long way from over. And he knows it is careers and livelihoods that are at stake.
A heavy defeat to Oldham put paid to any lingering chances of reaching the play-offs for the Reds. Centre-back Jordan Tunicliffe said they really needed to apologise to fans. They are six games without a win now, Opta adding that they last went seven without victory in December 2019 (a run of nine).
They have shipped 13 goals in the process. One point from three away games does not bode well either, if Southend can hold their nerve. The hosts need to win if their ideas of a winner-takes-all match against Colchester in three games time is to come to fruition.
Bolton must take advantage of Harrogate's woes
Bolton 2.1211/10 v Harrogate 3.711/4; the draw 3.814/5
Opta present the telling stat that Bolton (joint with Tranmere) top the League Two charts for League Two home points (21) since the turn of the year. They are unbeaten in nine on home soil, winning six.
It gets better for Ian Evatt's men, who are not only fourth in a six-game form table but clear top over 10 games, with 23 points and only one defeat. Meanwhile, Harrogate, add Opta, are winless in five and have not scored in four, despite a long list of attacking talents from Jack Muldoon to Josh McPake. Comfortably in mid-table, it seems to be a case of "job done" for the Sulphurites whose prime aim was to stay up, having reached the EFL for the first time.
I'm sure Simon Weaver doesn't see it that way but his team are very much missing the injured Josh March, who has scored five times since his arrival from Forest Green in January.
Harrogate, say Opta, will be the eighth team this season who Bolton have faced at home for the first time. Surely facing an out-of-form team is the perfect chance to make up for, surprisingly, taking just one point over Easter - and scoring no goals. Defeat to Newport on Monday ended a 14-game unbeaten streak.
Ultimately, the statistics suggest that Bolton will never have a better chance to start another winning run. They just need to take their scoring chances.
"Take it out on Harrogate," was manager Evatt's reaction to Monday's defeat, refusing to blame anyone for the loss. Fans saw it differently, some blaming the absence of rested Arthur Gnahoua whose impact, particularly as a substitute, seems much admired. Others questioned why Nathan Delfouneso seems to be consistently selected, despite having little impact several games running (in their opinion). Eoin Doyle was unfortunate to crash a first time volley against the bar, while Declan John seems effective on the wing but could have done better with his own goalscoring chances.
Boss Evatt will want whoever he picks to show the urgency Bolton surely can sense, as they flirt with an automatic promotion place. Having risen after Friday's draw, a top three place now seems within their grasp.
Mariners could earn another draw
Bradford 2.1411/10 v Grimsby 4.216/5; the draw 3.55/2
The inconsistent form of League Two teams is best summed up by Bradford. The Bantams had great momentum at one stage. Firstly, after appointing joint bosses Mark Trueman and Conor Sellers in mid-December, they went eight games unbeaten (three draws). That turned into a run of one defeat in 15 including a spell of seven wins in eight games.
They looked certain to reach the play-off places. And yet seven games later, they are still five points off the top seven, having lost three, drawn two and won two. A 4-1 home win over Forest Green looked an impressive way to kick-start momentum again, but coming from the bottom half of the table (they are 12th) will be a tough mental hurdle to achieve a top seven spot with eight games to go.
One positive is veteran Clayton Donaldson finally scoring his third goal this season. The 37-year-old is relishing his 'new' No10 role and thinks opponents Grimsby, requiring points urgently, won't "sit in" like Stevenage could afford to do, as they extended their unbeaten run to 12 with a draw against the Bantams.
Grimsby might be trying to draw their way out of trouble, but they also have an unbeaten run, showing grit and determination against the likes of Salford and Barrow (where they actually won) in their eight-game undefeated streak. Scoring more than once per game does seem a problem, although they did manage it twice at Mansfield (a 2-2 draw), Lenell John-Lewis scoring one of his three in eight games and George Williams claiming a late equaliser.
They have shown solidity at the back, registering three clean sheets in those eight, while Bradford have conceded in seven of their past eight. Opta point out that Bradford are unbeaten in nine at Valley Parade (winning six), while stressing that Grimsby have drawn seven of their past eight, including finishing 1-1 in their last three matches. While a draw does neither side any good in their season's ambitions (the Mariners are seven points away from safety) the stats point to another tight game and a draw.