League Two Preview: Gameweek 5


Graham Carey

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for 3 of the weekend’s games in League Two. Pre-season promotion favourites Luton and Portsmouth go head-to-head at Kenilworth Road, while former Motherwell colleagues Derek Adams and Terry Butcher are re-united at Home Park. Notts County, who put in an encouraging display against Premier League side Aston Villa in the week, travel to Jim Bentley’s Morecambe.

Luton v Portsmouth

Luton Town exited the League Cup on Tuesday night with a penalty shootout defeat to Stoke City, but they can be proud of the performance they put in. Most lower league teams that play a top flight side will struggle to sustain high levels of energy, but Luton did that very well.

After that good performance, Luton manager John Still will be tempted to stick with 4 at the back, rather than the 3 at the back system that saw the Hatters lose 2 and draw 2 of their first 4 league games. However, he has used 2 strikers in every league game so far, and a 4-4-2 system may not get the best out of Cameron McGeehan, who showed when he came on against Stoke that he can provide a real goal threat. McGeehan likes to burst forward from midfield, but if he only has one holding midfielder behind him, he may not be given the freedom to do that.

Portsmouth manager Paul Cook has selection dilemmas too. Striker Matt Tubbs has had a difficult start to the season, mainly because he has not been playing alongside a target man. Last season, Tubbs benefited from the support of Ade Akinfenwa at AFC Wimbledon, and Ryan Taylor (now departed) at Portsmouth, but he has played up front on his own so far this year and it hasn’t worked. Tubbs is the kind of striker where you have to either play him alongside a physical striker, or drop him completely. The problem for Cook is that he cannot afford to play a 4-4-2 formation, because that would limit the creative freedom of Portsmouth’s luxury players, Gary Roberts and Kyle Bennett.

Because so few of Portsmouth’s attacking players work hard when out of possession, their midfield was wide open in the first half of their 3-3 draw with Morecambe. It was only in the second half, when their opponents stopped showing any ambition on the counter-attack, that Portsmouth were allowed a way back into the match.

Paul Cook needs to be brave and drop Matt Tubbs in favour of Jayden Stockley, who looked a threat when he came on against Morecambe. Whether he will do that however, remains to be seen. Home win.

Plymouth v Newport

Plymouth Argyle manager Derek Adams played under Newport County boss Terry Butcher at Motherwell, and on Saturday the two will be re-united. Derek Adams will feel the more confident of the two managers, as his side are 3rd after back-to-back league wins.

Plymouth have looked very strong in the first few weeks of the season. For all their goalscoring problems last year, Argyle have now not failed to score in a competitive match since 18th April. They are the joint-second highest scorers in League Two at present, and the signing of creative midfield Graham Carey looks a real coup. Carey put in man-of-the-match displays in Plymouth’s 4-1 win over Carlisle on Tuesday, and 2-0 victory at Northampton on Saturday, taking his goal at Sixfield with real confidence.

Newport have picked up just 1 point from their first 4 matches, and the frustrating aspect for manager Terry Butcher is that they are losing a lot of games by narrow margins. They put in a valiant performance at Wolves in the League Cup, lead Stevenage 2-1 before conceding a 90th minute equalizer, came back from 2-0 down to nearly gain a point against league leaders Leyton Orient and were involved in an even game at Hartlepool, which they lost 1-0.

Newport are not being outplayed by teams, but they have left every match this season with their heads down, and that is not healthy for the mentality of the group. They play a lot of teams in the bottom half in the next few weeks, and September could prove to be a pivotal month in their season. Getting a result at in-form Plymouth may be a little too much to ask.

Morecambe v Notts County

Notts County crashed out of the League Cup to Aston Villa on Tuesday, but not after they had given their top flight opponents a major scare. County manager Ricardo Moniz was very brave with his team selection at Villa Park, because while most League Two managers in his position would have looked to defend from deep and pack the midfield, Moniz played 5 attacking players. They might not have won, but they were the first League Two team to score 3 or more goals away to a Premier League club in this competition since Bury lost 6-3 to Norwich in August 2013.

Notts County will be the most exciting team in League Two this season. They will attack teams relentlessly, regardless of whether their opponents are 1st place Leyton Orient or 24th place Dagenham & Redbridge. Notts County will play the game their way under Moniz, and look to win games solely on their ability with the ball. Whether that shows refreshing confidence, or blind naivety, only results will prove.

The Magpies march to Morecambe, who threw away a 3 goal lead to draw 3-3 at Portsmouth last time out. Having talked about managers who are too brave, Shrimps boss Jim Bentley was perhaps overly cautious on Saturday. His side had played very well in the first half, and been perhaps unlucky not to have scored more than 3 goals, yet in the second half they made the mistake of sitting back.

Striker Shaun Miller and forward Tom Barkhuizen both came off for more defensive players, and Morecambe did not have enough attacking outlets. Ultimately, they invited too much pressure onto themselves, and that can often be costly. Had Bentley stuck with the formula that had put Morecambe in such a strong position, it is arguable that his side would have won that match comfortably.

Notts County might be slightly fatigued after playing 120 minutes of football against a Premier League side in midweek, while Morecambe have had a week’s rest. Home win.