League Two Tips: Salford need to make it count

Gary Bowyer, the Salford City manager
Gary Bowyer is the latest manager tasked with fulfilling Salford City's ambitious targets

Gary Bowyer's play-off chasers can't afford any more slip-ups as they travel to Tranmere, says Ian Lamont, who also tips in-form Bolton plus a couple of draws...

"Mansfield skipper Ollie Clarke wants them to finish the season with a bang, but Stevenage also have a high tendency to draw (17)."

Saturday 12:30pm kick-offs

Ammies need a big push to achieve ambitions

Tranmere 2.77/4 v Salford City 3.211/5; the draw 3.39/4

How can you, as a manager, build a football team without two to three years to achieve it? Rules should be changed so managers can't be sacked mid-season in their first year. Gary Neville's words, requoted back at him on Twitter last month by Jamie Carrager when Salford City, part-owned by Neville, parted with Richie Wellens, the Ammies' second manager of the season.

Now, Gary Bowyer has the dubious pleasure of trying to achieve what Salford desperately want - a promotion to add to their "every other year" record of going up. A first home defeat, on Tuesday, was a reminder this won't be easy. Bowyer felt the Ammies were hard done by.

They have plenty of talent, from 14-goal top scorer Ian Henderson, who has scored thrice in three games, to Vaclav Hladky, highly rated in goal. The visitors certainly need to step things up a bit, having found goals hard to come by in recent weeks. In six of their past 11 games they have not scored. Wins over Forest Green and Stevenage brought two goals apiece. James Wilson could return to bolster the attack as Salford give reaching the play-offs almost a final throw of the dice.

Tranmere have faltered in recent weeks, keeping in touch with the automatic promotion places partly through the equally indifferent form of others. Three blanks in front of goals in their last four games have all been away, which will give boss Keith Hill a modicum of comfort. At least they have scored in their past three at home. One win since their Wembley defeat to Sunderland isn't the form he would have wanted to approach the tail end of the season. After such a fine run through January and February, it is of serious concern.

Jay Spearing's suspension for dismissal against Walsall doesn't help. Kaiyne Woolery, having fought his way into the team, now needs to produce from the starting line-up. James Vaughan's return, via the substitutes bench, from injury has been a bonus. Hill admits this is the first difficult spell the team has had since his arrival. It could well be that Salford's tails are up after the jolt of losing their unbeaten home record.

Bolton have been best in many ways

Grimsby 4.46 v Bolton 2.01/1; the draw 3.613/5

Much has been made of Bolton being the best "night owls" - gaining the most League Two points this season from evening games, Salford the latest victims. Well, they are the second best over six games, clear best over 10 and have picked up the most points in 2021 - 44, state Opta. So being best on a Tuesday night is hardly a surprise. As Gethin Jones says, they don't do much differently in midweek to Saturdays.

It is perhaps significant that they broke Salford's home resistance. All of this makes Ian Evatt's men duly favourites to win at Grimsby. I wouldn't put anyone off backing them to win the League Two title at 8.07/1. Even if their goal difference is a dozen or so off that of Cheltenham and Cambridge, their points accumulation in recent months has been phenomenal.

Ignoring a blip of going goalless over Easter, the Trotters scored in 16 consecutive games before that and have continued in that vein afterwards. Lloyd Isgrove has impressed his manager with his defensive work as much as his wing play. And aside from scoring in the past two matches it is perhaps significant that he has reunited with Eoin Doyle this season. The latter has 17 goals this season, the most by a Bolton player since Michael Ricketts' 19 in 2000-01.

Can the visitors overcome a Mariners side desperate for points and whose drawing (plus occasionally winning) run came to end at Bradford last weekend? Boss Paul Hurst has had a hard time galvanising a struggling side. They have scored for him 12 times in 19 games, plus had Stefan Payne sent off against the Bantams.

Keeper James McKeown, the last remaining member of the squad who played in non-league football last time Grimsby fell that low, says the club deserves better. The season offered much promise when Ian Holloway took the reins, not least for quotable press conferences. Hurst has led them back from non-league in the past, before quitting to manage elsewhere. If Llenell John-Lewis can add to his three goals in the past nine games they might have a chance, but I think Bolton are going to be too cute and confident for them.

Stags draws approach record levels

Stevenage 2.962/1 v Mansfield 2.962/1; the draw 3.211/5

If Easter weekend results were anything to go by, the "end of term" feeling has already kicked in. A week off for most teams seemed to ensure form was thrown to the wolves. At least Mansfield reverted to some sort of type on Easter Monday with a draw. Six of their past seven matches have finished level. Only Walsall (21) better the Stags (19) in League Two this season.

It is the sort of run which culminated in David Flitcroft's exit and which continues to frustrate Nigel Clough. Opta point out the Stags have only drawn more (20) in two seasons, 1971-72 and 1995-96.

Players should not be complacent at this time of year. Contracts are on the line. New careers dawn, as Tyrese Sinclair hopes now that he has scored his first goal after just a couple of starts. Mansfield are not quite safe from relegation yet, although the drop seems unlikely.

Mansfield skipper Ollie Clarke wants to finish the season with a bang, but Stevenage also have a high tendency to draw (17). Six of those came on a 12-game unbeaten run before last Saturday's defeat at Salford.

The run will have made Boro's Alex Revell the happier of the two managers, safe in mid table. Colchester might even be regretting letting Luke Norris move to Stevenage. He has three goals in five games while Elliot List needs two more to hit double figures for the season. That, at least, might make what has been a tough campaign satisfactory.

Saturday 17:30 kick-off

Walsall can keep U's at bay by staying level

Colchester 2.68/5 v Walsall 3.55/2; the draw 3.39/4

Colchester have picked the worst possible time to bump into Walsall - who are in a stride of form. The U's need a few points yet to stay in League Two but haven't won in 10 games.

A 5-2 Friday night thrashing at Oldham won't have helped confidence but might have focused minds for Hayden Mullins charges (the manager is now advised by Paul Tisdale, the former Exeter boss) who have drawn five of those games but also not scored in six of them. At least Frank Nouble has two goals in four games, but Harry Pell will be wondering why he chose to stay at the club on various occasions rather than move up the divisions.

Tom Lapslie could make a landmark 150th appearance for the hosts. He has had only a few outings this season because of injury. He won't want to end up on the losing side and risk pushing the Essex club closer to the bottom two.

So what chance even a point against in-form Walsall? Rory Holden has returned from injury to huge effect. He scored early against Forest Green in a 2-1 win last Saturday, which was the Saddlers' first win in 14 games. Their previous four had been draws, so they are now on a winning run of six having also defeated Tranmere on Tuesday.

Manager Brian Dutton noted the crucial nature of his presence after that victory last weekend: eight of their nine wins this season came with him in the side, so having the best players available is vital. That Walsall have only won 10 times now this season is shocking, but they sit on a pile of away draws - a huge 13. Opta say that only four teams in Football League history have drawn 14 away in one season, most recently Accrington in League Two (2010-11).

Emmanuel Osadebe will have other ideas having signed a new deal with the club, but the statistics point to Walsall gaining no more than a point, having drawn six of their past seven away and scoring an average of one goal every two games on their travels in that time.

The visitors have done quite a bit to secure their Football League status in the past week and - at the end of this game - won't mind keeping the gap to their opponents to eight points. Shockingly, say Opta, Colchester have won once in 25 games (drawing 11).

P/L 2020-21

League Two -16.31pt
FA Cup +13.86pt

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