Pirates to stay level headed

Bristol Rovers 2.526/4 v Tranmere 3.39/4; the draw 3.412/5

The adrenaline-induced euphoria after a tumultuous FA Cup extra-time replay win over Oxford United might not be the best platform on which to back Bristol Rovers. An inevitable feeling of fatigue will follow. So a draw might be a good way to capitalise on a general upcurve in fortunes by the Pirates.

Sion Spence, who can clearly score when given a chance, and Aaron Collins certainly made their cases to be given starts by Joey Barton, having been hugely influential off the bench on Tuesday.

Spence had previously also demonstrated his skills as a substitute, scoring within a minute of coming on against Walsall the other week, tidying up the victory and arguably buying Barton time in the dugout.

Midfielder Antony Evans has also put himself in a shop window as a player who can prosper above League Two, after fine displays in both FA Cup matches.

The hosts have scored in each of their past nine League Two matches, winning four including last weekend against Northampton who have been flirting with a top three standing.

Tranmere have not been too hot away (one win, four draws from eight). Nor have their strikers been too prolific recently: a single goal in their past four League Two and FA Cup games earned victory at Crawley, in the knockout contest. Away, they have scored just three goals, but conceded a mere six. Swindon can match that. Only leaders Forest Green better it (4).

Micky Mellon’s men did have an eight-game unbeaten run (in all competitions) to late October, however. They have substance, then, to rely on, including Elliott Nevitt’s progress since signing from Warrington Rylands in the summer. He has been rewarded with a new contract.

The visitors have to find a way past defender Peter Clarke being the top scorer – and indeed conceding twice per game in three consecutive matches, before last Saturday’s 1-0 loss at home to Sutton. Clarke was mortified at his error in possession that led to the goal. A matchless midweek might have given them time to refocus in order to add to their away draws, with the Gas running on reduced energy levels as they chase, Opta say, a third straight league win for the first time since December 2019.

Gray can continue to love life with draw

Leyton Orient 2.35/4 v Sutton United 3.814/5; the draw 3.412/5

O’s boss Kenny Jackett won’t thank me for suggesting this match could result in yet another draw for his side. But a double draw got our season back on track last week – and his team contributed, with a League Two high ninth of the campaign.

Home supporters might argue that Sutton are not hugely known for draws. Indeed! The U’s prefer to win away, taking maximum points in four of their last five trips. Manager Matt Gray is loving life in League Two now, having made an uneasy start with two points from their first four games: both away, as it happens.

Leyton Orient have drawn six away and three at Brisbane Road, contributing to a very strong home record in which they have suffered defeat just once – and conceded just three goals. Second top scorers at home, with 15, they will really test keeper Dean Bouzanis and leading defender Ben Goodliffe, son of coach Jason, an experienced ex-professional.

Gray is delighted with where his team “are at”. And Opta emphasise why he should be, saying that the last two newly promoted teams to gain 26 points from 16 games both ended up promoted again: Bristol Rovers in 2015-16 (26pts) and Tranmere Rovers in 2018-19 (27pts).

They are “well organised” Gray assesses, as well as pacey, energetic and displaying quality going forward. Isaac Olaofe will be delighted with the ringing endorsement. As will his striking colleagues Donovan Wilson and David Ajidobe. Rochdale felt they were perhaps fortunate to gain a point against the Orient last weekend.

The visitors will really have to aim for a clean sheet to match those of three of their past five away games. Aaron Drinan and Harry Smith rarely seem to need to be invited twice to score. Sutton should be able to knuckle down enough to earn a point, against tough opposition.

Latics will find Vale too strong

Oldham 4.03/1 v Port Vale 2.111/10; the draw 3.814/5

The trouble with League Two is you easily see draw possibilities everywhere, especially with teams showing little improvements. Hunting games where it seems like one side will win, at a decent price, is tricky. Hence the just-about-backable 2.111/10 on Port Vale to win at Oldham.

The Valiants, held to a 1-1 home draw by Bradford last weekend, are the top scorers over a six-game period, plus slotted five past Accrington in the FA Cup. League-wise, they have one defeat in 10 – and even in that game they scored three!

The Latics might not know what hits them if David Amoo can continue to create an abundance of chances for James Wilson, captain Tom Conlon and James Gibbons, who all had chance to force a win against Bradford.

Wilson must be delighted to have become a solid starter at a side, after years of loans from Manchester United and 18 months at Salford City, where he scored nine times in 21 starts and eight substitute appearances.

Darrell Clarke’s men have scored in 13 straight games in League Two, having not netted for the first three. Oldham have not been nearly so prolific, bagging three in one game only once this season – their last win, five games ago, when they beat Stevenage 3-0.

They have notched three clean sheets in six, but in the past six matches free-scoring Exeter, Swindon and Walsall have all secured victory. Second-placed Port Vale are a similar prospect. Supporters have mapped out how they will protest, trying to force the exit of the owner, over the next two games and it is against this backdrop that boss Keith Curle has to motivate his team.

Positive results always lift a negative mood, but Dylan Bahamboula and Davis Keillor-Dunn, to whom the Latics look for goals, only seem to score occasionally. Curle felt there were lots of positives in the FA Cup replay exit to Ipswich, in which Harrison McGahey gave them the lead, but they could suffer another tough afternoon.

None of the past 11 meetings between the two have resulted in a home win, say Opta.

Tipping an away win seems particularly pertinent considering these additional Opta stats: Oldham have spent the fewest minutes leading in games this season (116) and the most trailing (620), while Vale have led for the most (550) and trailed for the fewest (112).

Managerless Boro need to impress

Stevenage 2.35/4 v Colchester 3.3512/5; the draw 3.613/5

Even without the brief speculation that Steve Evans could return to League Two with Stevenage, there seemed enough reason to give Boro the benefit of the doubt against Colchester. Just about. This is another that could so easily end as a draw, given that the hosts have four at home and the U’s three away.

Victory over League One high-flyers Milton Keynes seemed the perfect platform for Stevenage to regain some confidence, not least at home where they have lost just twice in League Two. Jamie Reid and Luke Norris finally took the pressure off Elliott List to do most of the scoring. Whoever takes the manager’s reins, after Alex Revell’s exit in the light of what Opta remind us was eight points from a possible last 42, needs to nurture the strikers’ attacking instincts.

While the hosts are trying to impress a new manager – in post or not – Colchester’s own form has been pretty dreadful. They finally earned a first league win in nine through Freddie Sears’ early goal to defeat Scunthorpe (before Keith Hill was installed to get to work on turning around the Iron’s fortunes).

A week’s break might have done them good had Hayden Mullins not thrown most of the first team into the EFL Trophy. Confidence will be a little fragile, surely, even after a 4-1 win over AFC Sudbury – Brendan Wiredu and Sylvester Jasper showing fine skills – in the FA Cup.

The fact they haven’t scored in three away in the league might weigh heavy, giving the hosts a chance to sneak a win.

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