Boxing Day saw the traditional near-full programme of fixtures, with just a couple of postponements due to transport disruption and the weather. The AFC Wimbledon-Northampton tie was called off due to a waterlogged pitch, but that didn’t stop the rest of League Two springing into action. The round-up begins with the top three, where the pressure was surprisingly on Martin Allen’s early pace-setters Gillingham at the top of the division.
Continuing their recent mini-slump, The Gills suffered a shock defeat to lowly Barnet at Priestfield. The only goal of the game came in the 19th minute – Jake Hyde bagging his seventh of the season – enough for the Bees to snatch all three points. Gillingham had a number of opportunities to earn a point, or even seize victory themselves, but Graham Stack in the visitors’ goal pulled off a number of good saves. Barnet move up a place to 21st, level on points with Aldershot; both teams sit three points clear of the drop zone.
Meanwhile, Port Vale remain in second place but close the gap to two points after their 2-1 win away at Rotherham. It took as long as the 56th minute for the first goal to arrive – Louis Dodds’ strike giving Vale the lead. Less than 10 minutes later and they had a second through the division’s top scorer: Tom Pope against his former club netted his 21st goal this campaign. Kieran Agard pulled one back for the Millers late on but it wasn’t enough and Vale fully capitalised on their rivals’ slip-up.
After their defeat on Friday night against Rochdale, Cheltenham bounced back in emphatic style when they tore apart Wycombe, who themselves have been doing well of late. Two goals in each half meant the game was settled with just over 20 minutes left on the clock. Jake Taylor put the home side ahead midway through the first period and their advantage was doubled just four minutes later when Jeff Goulding headed in. Darryl Duffy added a third after the break and the victory was complete when Jermaine McGlashan’s simple finish made it four. It’s still very close at the top of the table, with three of the teams in the playoffs also registering wins.
Southend stay in fourth, two points behind the Robins – they saw off Dagenham & Redbridge at Victoria Road. Gavin Tomlin’s brace in the first 15 minutes helped the Shrimpers extend their unbeaten run to 14 games. His first arrived as early as the opening 60 seconds: his shot taking a deflection and beating Chris Lewington in the Daggers’ goal. His 14th of the season came in as many minutes from close range and a third was added early in the second half to kill the game off – Kevan Hurst this time with the finish – a 25-yarder ensuring the Daggers wouldn’t make it three consecutive victories.
Bradford maintained the pressure on the rest of the teams at the head of the table after their win against Accrington. Stanley, on the other hand, have hit some poor form of late – they last picked up maximum points on November 20th. The Bantams went ahead halfway through the first half: a clever assist from James Hanson allowed Garry Thomson to tuck home. With just over an hour played, Stanley were a man light – Dean Winnard picked up his second yellow card after fouling substitute Nahki Wells. But the visitors were next on the scoresheet – Rommy Boco with their goal and only 10 minutes to hold on. But Bradford won the game with less than five minutes remaining – Alan Connell’s header giving their promotion push a helping hand.
There was also a win for Fleetwood – League Two’s new boys in seventh place with a superior goal difference to Burton Albion. A solitary goal in their derby against Morecambe handed new manager Graham Alexander his first win as boss of the Lancashire outfit. The strike came in the 69th minute – Junior Brown’s cross being met by the head of David Ball. Morecambe haven’t won a game in December.
Following their victory on Friday night, Rochdale were on the losing end of a five-goal thriller at Burton Albion and have now won only once in six league matches. A brace from Billy Kee helped the Brewers record their first win in three and keeps them within touching distance of the playoffs. The home side went ahead on 15 minutes – a low free-kick drilled in by Kee, who turned provider for Calvin Zola with under half an hour played. His neat back heel made it 2-0, but the deficit was halved before the first half was out – Peter Cavanagh’s volley meant Dale finished the opening period the stronger. Buoyed by the goal back, Rochdale came out fighting in the second half and the scores were levelled when Bobby Grant netted his second in as many games. The Brewers had the final say though and three minutes later the winner came – Zola on the assisting end allowing Kee to score his second of the match.
At the wrong end of the table, Plymouth picked up a point against local rivals Torquay, while Aldershot and Bristol Rovers played out an exciting 2-2 draw. At Home Park, it looked as though Torquay would have Devon bragging rights when they went ahead through Aaron Downes’ header with 12 minutes left to play. But teenager Tyler Harvey spoilt the visitors’ party when he scored on his full debut in the closing minutes to snatch a point for the Pilgrims. Elsewhere at the bottom, Aldershot twice went ahead against a Rovers side, who now prop up the rest of the Football League. Michael Hector, on loan from Reading, put the Shots in front midway through the first half before David Clarkson levelled for the Gas early in the second period. His equaliser came from the spot after Aaron Morris was adjudged to have fouled Tom Eaves. The Shots restored their lead when they themselves were awarded a penalty – Craig Reid stepped up and it looked as though the hosts would be well on their way to victory. But Rovers came from behind for the second time in the game: Eliot Richards salvaging a point in the final minutes.
There were also wins for Cheltenham and Oxford, beating York and Exeter respectively. Cheltenham move to within a point of the playoffs after three second half goals saw off York, another team to have endured mixed results of late. The Spireites’ opener came just after the break when Drew Talbot tapped in from close range. Two goals in as many minutes for the home side wrapped up the victory – first Danny Whitaker netted with his first touch since arriving on the field of play as a substitute, before he turned provider, allowing Tendayi Darikwa to fire in a third. Over the border in Devon, a Jamie Cureton penalty was no more than a consolation for Exeter as they were beaten 3-1 by Oxford. A James Constable double helped the Us secure a surprise win, his first coming just before the 20 minute mark from Tom Craddock’s pass. Two goals in quick succession extended their lead – Constable netted his and Oxford’s second on 50 minutes before the points were made safe by Peter Leven’s low drive.
With the next round of fixtures coming on the 29th, there are only two clubs who can make it a nine point Christmas: Barnet (who travel to Exeter) and Southend (away to Burton). Elsewhere, Plymouth meet fellow strugglers Wycombe.