League Two Preview: Gameweek 6

Matt Green

Matt Green

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for 3 of the weekend’s games in League Two. Leyton Orient will stay at least 3 points clear at the top of the table with a win at Exeter, Mansfield could break into the top 7 if they beat AFC Wimbledon, while Dagenham & Redbridge aim to end their terrible record against Northampton with a first win of the season.

Exeter v Leyton Orient

Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale has said that his squad has not been stronger in 5 years, and from an attacking perspective, one can see his point. Exeter boast quality and depth in forward areas, with young striker Tom Nichols having been among League Two’s top goalscorers last season, and winger David Wheeler starting this campaign in impressive form.

However, there are question marks about Exeter defensively, because they have conceded 15 goals in 8 games in all competitions, and goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik has not made the impact many predicted. Although, the return of defender Jordan Moore-Taylor helped the Grecians in their 2-0 JPT win over Portsmouth on Tuesday night. Moore-Taylor is not a particularly tall defender, but he has great upper body strength, and Exeter arguably missed his physical qualities in the 2-1 defeat to AFC Wimbledon, who are a very powerful side.

Exeter will certainly need Moore-Taylor to have any chance of keeping out Leyton Orient, who have had a perfect start to the League Two season, with 5 wins out of 5. Manager Ian Hendon however, has still seen the need to strengthen his squad. He has signed Peterborough midfielder Jack Payne on a season long loan, with a view to a permanent deal. When Orient play with a diamond midfield, Payne may be well suited to playing as the holding midfielder. Lloyd James tends to play there at the moment, but he is a fairly creative player, and perhaps needs the freedom to move slightly further forward. There is now plenty of competition for places in Leyton Orient’s midfield, because Bradley Pritchard has started the season well after being heavily criticized last year, while summer signing Sammy Moore has settled in very quickly.

Leyton Orient are looking very strong going forward, too. Some fans were disappointed with the departure of last season’s top scorer, Chris Dagnall, but that will not last too long if Paul McCallum and Jay Simpson maintain their current form. Both players are very hardworking, and that is a massive factor. McCallum did not have a particularly eye-catching game in the 2-0 win against Bristol Rovers, but his work rate remained high, and that is what tires opposition centre-backs out. On the other hand, Simpson showed his class against Rovers with a brilliantly taken goal, but also had the determination to chase back, and help his teammates win the ball.

Leyton Orient are looking a very well-rounded team at the moment, and this blog believes that they will continue their 100% winning record at St James’s Park.

Mansfield v Wimbledon

Mansfield have had a positive start to the season, with 8 points from their first 5 league games. Many neutrals tipped the Stags for relegation in the summer after a poor finish to the previous campaign, but manager Adam Murray has carried out an impressive overhaul of the squad, and his signings have gelled very quickly. The fact that Murray was able to make the vast majority of his signings before July 1st has certainly helped, because it has given the new squad a chance to bond as a team over pre-season, without the disruption of other players coming in.

Striker Matt Green scored a brace in the team’s 2-1 win at York last time out. Green scored 25 goals for the Stags when they won promotion from the Conference in the 2012-13 season, before injuries disrupted his time with Championship side Birmingham. If Green can maintain his raw pace and cool finishing qualities that made him a success in his first spell at Mansfield, he could become the reliable goalscorer the team needs. Added to that, Mansfield will pose a threat from set pieces this season, as 4 of their 7 goals so far have come from dead ball situations.

AFC Wimbledon have the potential to cause problems from set plays this season themselves. Neal Ardley does have a number of tall, physically imposing players in his side, and a lot of the goals the team have scored thus far have come from high crosses into the box.

Adebayo Akinfenwa said on Friday that he is not concerned by his lack of goals so far this season. Statistics suggest that if the target man stays confident, he will find form soon. It took him until mid-September to score his first goal for AFC Wimbledon last season, when he ultimately scored 15 goals, in the 2012/13 campaign, he only scored 1 goal in his first 7 games for Northampton, before scoring 12 in the following 16. In recent years, Akinfenwa has developed a habit of finding his best form in the run up to Christmas, when the conditions are perhaps more suited to a tall, strong target man harrying defences.

AFC Wimbledon have nothing to be worried about in terms of a relegation battle, but Mansfield could be League Two’s surprise package this season and this blog will back them to pick up 3 points.

Northampton v Dag & Red

If head-to-head records count for anything in football, we can write this match off as a definite home win. Northampton have won 9 of their last 10 meetings with Dagenham & Redbridge, and drew the other game. Could we see a change of luck for the Daggers? Their current position would suggest not, yet it is intriguiging to see how much better the team have fared when striker Jamie Cureton has been out of their team.

Two weeks ago, this blog wrote an article about why, despite his goalscoring ability, Cureton had become a liability for Dagenham & Redbridge. Since then, the team have played 2 games without him in the side, and picked up 2 positive results. They drew 1-1 at then league leaders Wycombe Wanderers, and beat Cambridge United 2-0 in the JPT. In both of those games, Matt McClure started alongside target man Christian Doidge, and McClure scored twice, although he did get (perhaps unfairly) sent off at Adams Park. McClure and Doidge are hardworking strikers, both are willing to track back, press the opposition defence and run into space, which Cureton does not have the energy to do consistently at 40 years of age. If McClure starts games ahead of Cureton from now on, Dagenham may see some joy.

Wayne Burnett’s side face a Northampton team that have had a mixed start to the season. Striker Marc Richards has already scored 3 goals, but the attacking players behind him are yet to truly gel. Lawson D’Ath is struggling to repeat the strong performances he put in for much of last season, Ricky Holmes is currently out injured, while Darren Potter and Nicky Adams have not made they impact they had hoped to after joining in the summer.

With Northampton yet to show their attacking quality this season, there is an opportunity for Dagenham to pick up a surprise result. Providing that Wayne Burnett starts Matt McClure ahead of Jamie Cureton, or plays Christian Doidge as a lone striker, this blog will back his side to put an end to their horrific run of results against Northampton, and pick up a long overdue win at Sixfields.