Stevenage can force victory at Oldham, predicts Ian Lamont, who says leaders Cambridge simply must win on Friday, while strugglers Southend can do so on Saturday...
"Mark Bonner’s Cambridge can’t afford any more slip-ups if they want to guarantee a top three finish, let alone win the League Two title. The chasing pack are too close and too many."
Friday April 2
Back Boro to hold nerve and find enough to win
Oh no! Somebody mentioned Stevenage and a shock tilt at the play-offs in the same sentence. Then they offered the quick caveat that it was still unlikely. Phew! Eight points from seventh, with eight games left, the gap does indeed sound insurmountable.
However, boss Alex Revell is delighted with the turnaround from the team who were staring relegation in the face at Christmas. He says it comes because the club is united from top to bottom. Meanwhile Chris Lines says they can carry on achieving the great results that have given them five wins and five draws in their past 10 games. Seven of those games came with clean sheets - six of them in a row, a club record.
Elliott List has 10 goals now, with Luke Norris, signed from Colchester in January, bagging one in each of the past two games, too. Those games reaped impressive victories, against Carlisle and in-form Barrow.
Those games were both at home of course, while Stevenage have drawn their past four away games 0-0 and won the other, 1-0.
Their hosts seem to have reduced their regular goal gluts - at both ends - under new manager Keith Curle. Well, not entirely. They have scored six and conceding eight in their past six games. But at least that slows the pace. Opta say the 119 goals witnessed in their games is the largest in the top four divisions this season. Only Exeter and Cambridge have scored more than Oldham's 55 goals, while 64 goals conceded is the division's biggest. Bottom club Grimsby are second worst with 55.
Curle wants his team to keep it simple and not try to play their way out of the back, causing mistakes in defeat to Leyton Orient. He's still trying to work out his new charges, then, but will be pleased Alfie McCalmont has three goals in four games and happy that the club has taken up a further option on Davis Keillor-Dunn.
Statistics show that Stevenage had 19 shots in their past two games (11 on target). While Oldham had 25 shots in two games, they had 17 of those against Orient - but shockingly only one in that game on target! If the visitors can hold their nerve and use their 10 away draws as a platform, they can possibly pull on their recent confidence and snatch a win, extending their unbeaten run to their best since 2012 (Opta add this was a run of 17).
Stags draw platform key to holding O's
Leyton Orient, say Opta, last won more than their current run of three matches in a row in August 2015 (5). They probably won't have a better chance for a long time. Mansfield have drawn their past four, taking their tally to a League Two high 17, add the stats compilers.
However, the Stags are unbeaten in five at home, drawing the past three. Nigel Clough is impatient for them to progress, believing they are better than their 19th place. Iron out the mistakes is his message. Top scorers Jordan Bowery (10), George Lapslie (5) and Jamie Reid (5) will want to show the boss they are worth retaining come the end of the season and that they can turn an excess of home draws (9) into more wins (4 so far).
Jobi McAnuff's Orient are on a high but given Mansfield's propensity for finishing level and their own low-scoring results, a full three points doesn't look particularly likely.
Conor Wilkinson finding the net again, with goals in three straight games after going 12 matches without scoring, has helped lift the visitors to the fringe of the play-off picture. Danny Johnson, who has 14 goals, could do with ending his 11-game barren run. Perhaps togetherness and putting in a grinding shift, such as McAnuff pointed to in the first half against Newport, give them what Mansfield are lacking. But scoring just five times in six games has to be a worry if they are to bridge that four-point gap to seventh place. A draw could ensue.
Leaders must keep up momentum
I feel as if I am repeating myself. Cambridge must surely win this match. Mark Bonner's men can't afford any more slip-ups if they want to guarantee a top three finish, let alone win the League Two title. The chasing pack are too close and too many.
The U's have won their last two home matches, by the unimpressive scoreline of 1-0 against the varying strengths of Walsall and Forest Green.
Top scorer Paul Mullin obliged deep into injury time for the first, with experienced Irish attacker Wes Hoolahan proving the difference in the latter. Away wins at Oldham and Carlisle have transpired in between, while defeat at in-form Bolton just shows their inconsistency. Another home slip-up like against Scunthorpe six games ago just won't do.
The hosts are looking to win four straight games for the first time since February last year, emphasise Opta. They have played a game more than all others in the top six and there is only a five point gap to their sixth-placed visitors.
Their last gasp winner at Carlisle was symptomatic of their drive to fight to the end of games, with a late victory at Port Vale at the end of February another example. Nine games without a draw (even with three defeats) perhaps indicates their willingness to attack.
After wins against Cheltenham and Harrogate, Morecambe will find this a different kettle of fish. Derek Adams' men have not won consecutive away games since the start of the season, say Opta. So what of the draw, if that's not Cambridge's style? The front line led by Cole Stockton and Carlos Mendes Gomes have at least netted in their past six matches, in which the Shrimps have only been defeated once. It's taking a risk to predict any sort of outcome, but I think Cambridge can find the means.
Saturday, April 3
Attacking shape can light up Southend
A false dawn or a hint of daylight that could be the spark to lift Southend out of the relegation zone? The Shrimpers managed to snatch victory at Harrogate last Saturday, courtesy of Ashley Nathaniel-George's second goal of the season.
Combined with third-from-bottom Barrow's second defeat running, victory gave fans hope. The gap now stands at three points, with supporters also assessing that Colchester seem to be in freefall whereas Southend have some positive results behind them.
Unfortunately a hefty -27 goal difference could prove decisive in the relegation end play. But Mark Molesley's side have tightened up at the back significantly. In 12 games during February and March, they conceded just six goals. The trouble is at the other end, where they have notched just six - three in one game at Forest Green. Five of their seven goalless draws this season have also come in that spell.
A more attacking style, particularly a move to 4-4-2, at Harrogate, gave club legend Steve Tilson the impression that they could now stay up. Centre-back Tyler Cordner believes they have what it takes to prove everybody wrong and stay up. John White's injury has allowed the Bournemouth loanee to team up again with Shaun Hobson.
Carlisle, sitting in the top seven for much of the season, might have won at home in midweek, but their away form will give their hosts extra hope: Opta emphasise the Cumbrians are winless in six away, losing four. Their problems seem the opposite to Southend's: they can't stop conceding, having done so in 13 games on the trot (24 goals) before beating Crawley 2-0 on Tuesday. They have also scored in 10 of those games, but whether they can overcome Southend's defensive resolve is the question.
Having 12 different scorers of their 16 goals in the past 13 games will give Molesley plenty of headaches. Perhaps the biggest threat is Offrande Zanzala who has netted his three goals since signing in January in the past six games, while Lewis Alessandra (8) will be disappointed not to have reached double figures this season.
League Two -20.05pt
FA Cup +13.86pt