League Two Preview: Gasheads finding form


Darrell Clarke – www.westerndailypress.co.uk

Here are The Football Lab’s predictions for the weekend’s games in League Two. Bristol Rovers look to continue their good run at AFC Wimbledon, whose season is dominated by off-field matters. Portsmouth aim to back up eye-catching recent results with victory at Leyton Orient, where the pressure has intensified on manager Ian Hendon. Mansfield hope to get back into the top seven on their trip to Lancashire, as hosts Morecambe have slipped down the table of late.

AFC Wimbledon v Bristol Rovers

Following Bristol Rovers’ 2-1 defeat to Stevenage in November, manager Darrell Clarke scrapped the 4-4-2 system and went with a 3-man defence. In the four games that followed, the team’s results were encouraging, as a reasonable display in a 1-1 draw at Exeter preceded three straight wins.

The Gas had gone from leaking 11 goals in seven games – including a humiliating 1-0 FA Cup defeat to seventh tier Chesham United – to letting in just two in four. The third centre-back has certainly given Bristol Rovers a bit more security at the back.

AFC Wimbledon plan to build a new ground next to the ground of the old Wimbledon, Plough Lane, so news surrounding the club is currently dominated by off-field matters. On the field, the first team are having a steady, yet unremarkable, season in League Two. The Dons have tended to be involved in low-scoring games recently, with just 18 goals scored in the last 10 league matches involving Neal Ardley’s side.

AFC Wimbledon lost 2-1 to Stevenage a couple of weeks ago and struggled to adapt to the conditions, perhaps missing the application and aggression of Barry Fuller. A costly error from goalkeeper Ben Wilson also did not help their cause, and the Cardiff loanee was subsequently dropped for the next game in favour of James Shea. AFC Wimbledon lack the goalscoring quality required to push for the top seven and a lower mid-table finish looks likely. Bristol Rovers, on the other hand, are playing well and this blog backs them for a successful trip to South-West London.

Leyton Orient v Portsmouth

Portsmouth picked up a 2-1 win at promotion contenders Northampton, which was an important result for them. It was an entertaining game at Sixfields and although Portsmouth were fortunate their opponents weren’t more clinical in the first half, they played well after the interval and assistant manager Leam Richardson was pleased with the display.

Conor Chaplin scored the winner and captain Michael Doyle has praised his performances, saying he believes the youngster to have a big future in the game. Chaplin certainly has no shortage of competition, however, because Caolan Lavery and Marc McNulty have played well since coming in on loan and Matt Tubbs has proved his finishing ability elsewhere.

There is no doubt that Portsmouth possess goalscoring quality in their ranks, but the conundrum for Paul Cook is how they get the ball to these forwards. Pompey’s poor home form this term is down to visiting teams parking the bus at Fratton Park and denying space in advanced areas. It does not matter how good your strikers are if they don’t see enough of the ball. Seven of Portsmouth’s nine wins this season have come either by a goal in the last five minutes, or by a margin of two or more goals. They are a team that can score a lot of goals once they have scored their first, but they sometimes find it difficult to get the first goal that forces teams to open up.

Leyton Orient have dropped down to 10th and a lot of their fans seem to be against manager Ian Hendon. The London club drew 1-1 with relegation threatened Yeovil last time out, as a great long range goal from Jobi McAnuff got them a point late on, but was not ‘Anuff’ to claim three points on that occasion. All in all, atmosphere at the ground seems flat while the team has been playing football that is unlikely to inspire fans, thus creating a damaging cycle of decreasing confidence. The O’s are drawing a lot of games at the moment and the team is perhaps playing with a sense of fear.

And yet, perversely, that sense of fear might serve them well against Portsmouth. Pompey thrive against the more expectant teams that throw men forward, but when opposing sides are reluctant to challenge for the ball or leave space in behind, they often run out of ideas.

Morecambe v Mansfield

Mansfield have only won twice since mid-October and they are not posing quite the same threat that they did in the first couple of months of the season. Their traditional game plan is to hold onto the ball in their own half and wait for gaps to open up in behind, but there is a danger that opposition teams are becoming more streetwise, and wary of Adam Murray’s tactics.

Sam Binch has written an article that discusses the problems the team are having when they face top half opposition, as a failure to score in their last seven games against teams in the top 14 has caused concern. Added to that, the three goals they had scored against top half teams prior to this run did not come from open play, but from set pieces. That, too, is a strength that Mansfield may be beginning to lose, having gone 10 games without a goal from a dead ball situation and they have taken 58 fruitless corners in that time.

Morecambe are in poor form at the moment, with four points from a possible 21. The defence continues to let Morecambe down and his young Shrimps side lacks experience at centre-back. Captain Mark Hughes was not always flavour of the month at the Globe but selling him, and replacing him with a poor defender in Adam Dugdale, is beginning to look like a bad decision. Morecambe’s defensive naivety means Mansfield might get a bit more space in forward areas for Green to exploit and this blog predicts an away win.