With the race for promotion and the battle to avoid relegation hotting up, we preview this weekend’s three biggest League Two fixtures.
Newport County v Leyton Orient
The division’s bottom two sides meet at Rodney Parade this afternoon in a classic relegation six pointer.
A defeat for Newport could start to spell the end of their stay in League Two. A loss would leave them six points behind Orient and could see them cut adrift by 12 points if Hartlepool beat Exeter. A win would lift them off the bottom of the table and could see them move to within six points of safety.
Leyton Orient will look to improve a dreadful week which has seen them ship four goals at Stevenage on Tuesday and more worryingly be served with a winding up order on Wednesday. A win could see them move within three points of safety and help to stop the downward slide on the pitch.
Newport have become draw specialists under Graham Westley and have become harder to beat without adding that penetrative edge. They also remain hampered by an injury crisis and players wanting away. Their fortunes this afternoon may well depend on whether Westley has David Pipe, Josh Sheehan, Sid Nelson, Josh Labadie and Sean Rigg available, with them all in contention to return to the starting line-up.
Both sides have been in poor form, having just two wins between in their last ten fixtures. But it is Orient with the most recent taste of victory and if they could repeat the level of performance they showed in their 3-2 win against Plymouth three weeks ago, they may well be favourites to take all three points.
It is also worth noting that after today’s fixture, Newport travel to Crewe and then Morecambe, who have been poor this season at home. Thus, a win this afternoon could well put them in position to string some good results together and get the great escape underway.
Plymouth Argyle v Carlisle United
Two of the top three sides in League Two meet at Home Park, as Plymouth host Carlisle in a top of the table clash.
Plymouth could put more daylight between themselves and Carlisle with a win and cut Doncaster’s lead over them to just three points, if the Dons slip up against Crawley.
The game is potentially a more crucial affair for Carlisle, as Plymouth have a game-in-hand over, meaning a loss for the Cumbrian side could see the deficit between the two sides stretched to six.
The battle for second is perhaps not their main concern, as they could drop out of the play-off places this afternoon if they fail to beat Plymouth and Portsmouth take three points against an out of form Crewe side.
Both sides have suffered a dip in form recently with Carlisle suffering back-to-back defeats and Plymouth winning just one of their last five. The three points therefore have a big significance for both teams, who want to keep their promotion pushes on track and avoid losing more ground on leaders Doncaster.
The match should be a high quality affair with the result hard to call. Plymouth have the seventh best home record in the division whilst Carlisle have the seventh best away record in the division, which suggests a draw. A tight game is expected and there is certainly the chance for either side to steal a very valuable three points.
Hartlepool United v Exeter City
Hartlepool meet Exeter at Victoria Park in a game that could have ramifications at both ends of the table.
A win for the home side could see them move eight points clear of the relegation zone and possibly move into 19th place. Hartlepool put four past Crewe in midweek and a win today would be the first time this season that they have won back-to-back games in League Two.
Should Hartlepool taste defeat they could find themselves sucked deeper into the relegation battle, as a Leyton Orient victory would slash their cushion over the basement battlers to just two points.
Exeter meanwhile have their eye on a return to League One and a victory would to cement their place in the play-off zone. Losing just once in their last ten fixtures, their superb form has seen them climb away from danger and into contention for promotion.
The Grecians will enter the encounter as favourites and could run riot if Hartlepool’s defensive form doesn’t improve. No team in League Two has conceded more goals than Hartlepool whilst only three teams have scored more than Exeter.
By Alex Knight