League Two Preview: Gameweek 39

Tom Nichols

Tom Nichols

In League Two, Exeter look to continue their recent resurgence with a win over Morecambe, whose season looks to be somewhat petering out. Oxford and Carlisle meet at the Kassam Stadium, as both sides aim to put more points between themselves and the bottom 2. Tranmere are outside the relegation zone only on goal difference, and they need to bounce back from last week’s 4-1 defeat to Burton when they host AFC Wimbledon, who have not won an away match since Boxing Day.

Exeter v Morecambe

Exeter City have picked up 10 points from their last 4 games, and after an awful post-Christmas period looked to have ended their hopes of breaking into the top 7, the Grecians are now just 4 points off. If Exeter were to make the play-off places, it would be one of the biggest achievements in the Football League this season, considering the turmoil surrounding the club over the summer, the awful start, and the mid-season loss of Matt Grimes. Since the midfielder left to go to Premier League Swansea for a 7 figure fee, Exeter took a while to replace his creativity, but over the last few weeks, midfielders such as Ryan Harley and Arron Davies have begun to shine in Grimes’s absence. Improved performances have meant better service for 14 goal man Tom Nichols who, this blog would suggest, is one of the most intelligent strikers in League Two. While Exeter’s side is built on flair and technical audacity, Morecambe are a more robust outfit. Jim Bentley’s players are typically honest and hardworking, but are yet to demonstrate much quality on the ball. Their best two attacking players are Kevin Ellison, who tends to score opportunist tap-ins, and Jack Redshaw, whose main asset is his pace. That is not to discredit those players, who have contributed 10 goals each, but they have got their goals through extra hard work, rather than unique talent that could be seen at any higher level than League Two. The success of the Morecambe team is dependent on high levels of work rate, which means that the challenge for them now is to maintain this between now and the end of the season, with the Shrimpers safe and having nothing to play for. By contrast, Exeter’s play-off chances will give them that extra incentive on Saturday.

Oxford v Carlisle

In Oxford United’s last 11 games, they have only had 1 goal from a striker. That statistic alone makes it clear why the team have only picked up 3 wins since January, and moreover, why Michael Appleton has brought in forward Kyle Vassell on loan. Vassell’s goals played a significant part in Peterborough’s impressive early season form, but in an injury-plagued season at London Road, he has struggled to rediscover his goalscoring touch. That is a crucial signing for Oxford, because while Alex MacDonald and Callum O’Dowda are capable of adding goals from wide areas, forwards such as Patrick Hoban and Danny Hylton are not natural finishers. The main positive for Michael Appleton is that the defensive structure of his team has begun to look more brittle over the last few weeks, helped by a consistent back-line. The Kassam stadium will play host to Jeffrey Monakana for the second team in barely a month, as the winger had played there with previous loan club Mansfield, and he has now joined Carlisle United. With David Amoo potentially unavailable for the Cumbrians, Monakana will add the necessary cover, but the dilemma for Keith Curle will be whether to start him consistently. He possesses good physical qualities, most notably lightening pace, but he rarely tracks back and his crossing accuracy is relatively inconsistent. Monakana can have a big impact on a match when coming on as a substitute, when a game becomes stretched, but earlier on when technical quality and tactical discipline is required, he is not quite as effective. However, his new side have picked up 8 points from the last 5 games, including an impressive 2-0 victory at Northampton. Carlisle could move above Oxford with a win, and this is an excellent opportunity to take yet another step closer to survival.

Tranmere v AFC Wimbledon

Tranmere’s awful defending let them down against Burton Albion last week. The match as a whole would have been reflected better by a 0-0 scoreline rather than 4-1, but lapses of concentration from Rovers cost them. This was most notable in the second goal they conceded, when an opposition player received the ball in the box unmarked, and none of the defenders reacted. At 2-1, Tranmere put their opponents under a degree of pressure early in the second half, with Jennison Myrie-Williams causing problems down the right, but the missed penalty from Max Power meant confidence levels dropped. At this stage, manager Micky Adams may be inclined to revert to the 5-3-2 formation which he used when he initially took over. With Marcus Holness currently injured, there are question marks about whether Tranmere’s other centre-backs are good enough to operate as a duo. Rovers have conceded 13 goals in 6 games, which suggests that more defensive cover is required. AFC Wimbledon manager Neal Ardley had a hip operation on Thursday and may not be able to attend the match, but the key absentee for the away side will be Dannie Bulman. The midfielder plays a vital role in breaking up opposition attacks with his tenacious, aggressive play, but will be ruled out for the trip to Prenton Park due to suspension. Wimbledon could also be without George Francomb, who offers energy down the right flank and is one of the best crossers of a ball in League Two. However, Tranmere are without 4 first team players due to injury, and with morale low, AFC Wimbledon will sense an opportunity.