Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Two minutes with… Southend United

There was Tuesday night action at Underhill this week with Southend the visitors. Shrimpers fan, Jamie, gives his views in this instalment of ‘Two minutes with…’.

Had you been to Underhill before?
I’ve been to Underhill about six or seven times now supporting Southend. I’ve always enjoyed standing on the terrace, it’s not far and it has bags of character. It’s a real shame to lose it.
How did you get to the game?
I work in Colchester (*spit) so I drove down to the ground after finishing work at 6pm.
The match
Whereabouts in the ground did you sit/stand?
East Terrace, towards the north end goal.
What did you make of the game?
Southend started well and I thought for the first 15 minutes the gulf in class between the sides was evident. However, our inability to score a first half goal (we haven’t managed one in the league in 2013) cost us as we gave away a needless free kick which was excellently taken and led to Jake Hyde scoring.
After that, we resorted to humping hopeful long balls to Barry Corr and lost our way completely. We allowed Barnet to control the midfield, which to their credit they did very well. We had territorial pressure for much of the second half but never really looked like doing anything with it.
As we pushed forward, we allowed Edgar Davids too much space and he started to make things happen. A second goal on the counter-attack killed the game and was probably no more than the Bees deserved.
Who (from either side) do you think deserved to be man of the match?
I thought Jake Hyde was the first striker to dominate Ryan Cresswell all season – that’s no mean feat. Although Clovis Kamdjo won the official man of the match, I was also impressed with Bondz N’Gala. None of our players should have been anywhere near the MOM award, the pick was probably Britt Assombalonga, but even he couldn’t make any headway.
Was the score line a fair reflection on the game?
Sadly, yes. The loss of Marc Laird and Michael Timlin through injury has crippled our midfield and we are counting the cost. Barnet played well, tried to play football and were deserved winners.
Who do you play next, and how do you think you’ll get on?
Home to Rotherham on Saturday, we do tend to raise our game against teams higher up in the league, so I’m going to be optimistic and hope we can get a draw.
Cost of match day ticket
£16 ––– 7/10
Purchases made at ground
Had a burger from the away end tea bar which was average and took 20 minutes to actually get – but at least you are in view of the pitch ––– 6/10
Couple of posts but it’s great to be back on a terrace and sadly I witnessed the whole sorry affair ––– 7/10
Quality of football
From us, 2/10 but Barnet surprised me with the way they played. Trying hard to be objective, a neutral probably would give the game ––– 6/10
Overall experience
Underhill is always a great away trip for us, it’s such a shame the council cannot see its value. A poor result and performance from Southend, but a trip to Barnet is always one of the highlights of the season so I’ll go with ––– 7/10 (would have been higher if you’d let us win as you normally do!)

Total ––– 33/50

Jamie is the editor for the ‘All At Sea’ fanzine, the only fanzine dedicated to Southend United. The website can be found here. And check out their Twitter: @AllAtSeaFanzine

Monday, 25 February 2013

League Two round-up: 23.02.13

It was another action-packed weekend in the Football League’s basement division and while Bradford and Rotherham’s game was postponed due to the Bantams’ involvement in the League Cup Final, the remaining 22 teams were vying for points. The game of the day was found at the Pirelli where Burton hosted Exeter – and six goals were scored.
Burton recorded their seventh successive victory and occupy the last automatic promotion spot as three first half goals saw them overcome the Grecians 4-2. Despite losing, Exeter remain in the play-off places. Michael Symes gave the home side the lead early on when his side-footed attempt found the back of the net. Two goals in seven minutes arrived before the break: first Jacques Maghoma’s cross met the head of Marcus Holness and then the Congolese midfielder got himself on the scoresheet with his volley. The Brewers found themselves four goals to the good the other side of the referee’s half-time whistle when, with an hour played, Lee Bell’s 20-yard strike extended the lead. Exeter halved the deficit with two goals in four minutes to salvage a bit of pride and after Guillem Bauza pulled one back, Scott Bennett’s header made the scoreline a little less embarrassing for the travelling faithful.
Staying with the teams at the top, there were wins for Gillingham and Port Vale, who remain first and second respectively. Both sides were victorious away from home and clean sheets aided their push for League One football next campaign. The only goal between Chesterfield and Gillingham was scored in the second period when Cody McDonald – in his second spell with the Kent club – netted. McDonald’s fourth goal since arriving at the end of January from Coventry came in the 50th minute and ensured Martin Allen’s side would remain top for another weekend.  Meanwhile, Torquay interim boss Alan Knill’s tenure began with a defeat as Port Vale travelled to Devon. In bizarre fashion, Doug Loft’s 25-yard attempt deflected off the behind of Calvin Andrews, giving Vale a first half lead they were able to hold on to. The Gulls’ winless run now extends to five matches, while Micky Adams’ side keep up the pressure on their rivals.
Northampton remain in the play-off places and sit a point behind Burton in fourth, while things could be better for Plymouth Argyle who now occupy bottom position in League Two following their home defeat. A mistake by Jake Cole in the Argyle net gifted the Cobblers the lead – after flapping at a corner, he allowed Clive Platt to force the ball home. That single goal was enough to settle it and although Plymouth find themselves two points from safety, their goal difference is superior to a number of clubs involved in the basement dog fight.
There were vital wins at the weekend for Aldershot and AFC Wimbledon as they struggle to pull away from the drop zone. The Shots made it back-to-back wins after they beat Fleetwood, who finished the game with nine men. A double from Danny Hylton ensured maximum points and it was a good start for Andy Scott who took over this week after Dean Holdsworth was given his marching orders. The hosts went in at the break with a goal’s advantage after Hylton gave them the lead, and Fleetwood had it all to do when Jamie McGuire received a straight red after the hour mark. Their task was made even harder 10 minutes later when Alan Goodall was also dismissed and the Shots capitalised on their two-man advantage when Hylton netted his – and the Shot’s – second, six minutes from time. The home side also had a penalty saved. Wimbledon’s win saw them not only move off the foot of the table, but also out of the bottom two. 10 minutes from the final whistle, substitute Kevin Sainte-Luce fired them in front against a Dagenham & Redbridge side who themselves remain well clear of danger.
There was also a win at the weekend for Southend, but they had to come from behind against Wycombe. The Chairboys were ahead early on at Adams Park when Dean Morgan’s cool finish saw him net against his former club. Southend levelled after 50 minutes through Barry Corr and the JPT finalists completed the turnaround with five minutes to spare – courtesy of a solo effort from Watford loanee Britt Assombalonga. While the Shrimpers sit two points away from the play-off places, their hosts have now lost three games in a row.
Four goals were shared at the Crown Ground where struggling Accrington entertained promotion hopefuls Cheltenham. While the headlines were all about former England striker James Beattie’s brace for the home side, the Rubies had Marlon Pack to thank for their point as he also netted twice. After Nicky Hunt felled Jason Taylor in the box, Pack put the visitors in front, only for Beattie to level minutes later. The former Southampton front man bagged his second the other side of the half-time whistle, but Stanley were only able to hold on for four minutes and Pack completed his double when Darren Carter’s freekick wasn’t properly cleared. The solitary point sees Stanley fall into the bottom two, while Cheltenham have to continue to settle for a berth in the play-off places.
The points were also shared between Morecambe and Bristol Rovers. Jack Redshaw’s second minute strike from 25-yards was cancelled out by Eliot Richard’s close-range header early in the second half.
Barnet and Rochdale played out an uninspiring goalless draw at Underhill. Oxford and York also finished 0-0.
There’s midweek football this week in League Two, with Bradford v Dagenham & Redbridge on Wednesday night. A day earlier, at the wrong end of the table, Wimbledon host Plymouth and Torquay entertain Wycombe. Seventh plays second with Exeter’s trip to Port Vale and Southend will look to give their promotion chances a boost with a short journey ‘round the M25 to lowly Barnet.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

League Two round-up: 16.02.13

It was all change at the top of League Two this weekend, while there were shocks at the wrong end of the table with struggling teams desperate for points to pull away from the drop zone.
In Friday night’s only game, Exeter beat Accrington to move up to third – subsequently slipping down to fifth after the rest of the weekend’s action. Stanley, on the other hand, haven’t won since New Year’s Day, with their run of poor results extending to six games. After a goalless first half, two efforts from substitute Jimmy Keohane won it for the Grecians. The home side’s opener arrived on 79 minutes through an edge of the area strike before Exeter – and Keohane’s – second, three minutes later; Jamie Cureton teeing him up with the assist.
Gillingham and Port Vale swapped places yet again at the weekend – Gillingham’s win saw them regain top spot, with Vale losing to Morecambe. Leon Legge opened his Gills account scoring for the hosts before the half-hour mark. The Daggers responded early in the second period when Femi Ilesanmi capitalised on a poor clearance but Deon Burton found the winner for Martin Allen’s men 16 minutes later, converting a penalty which was awarded for a foul on Anton Robinson. Meanwhile, a solitary goal for Morecambe meant that Vale had to settle for second place. The deadlock at Vale Park was broken after an hour when Lewis Alessandra bundled home to hand the visitors a surprise lead. The Shrimps had to play the remaining 18 minutes with 10 men after Andrew Wright was dismissed for a second bookable offence, but they held on – moving up to 10th.
Burton’s demolition of recent high-flyers Fleetwood moved them into the final automatic promotion place. They were handed an advantage when the Cod Army’s keeper Scott Davies was sent off in the 50th minute. Jacques Maghoma, the man felled, netted the resulting penalty and from that point a Brewers’ defeat never looked likely. Billy Kee doubled their lead with his neat finish before two late goals completed the rout. Maghoma added to his tally three minutes from time before he turned provider for Calvin Zola to finish the scoring in stoppage time.
AFC Wimbledon remained bottom of the Football League; however, their surprise win dented the hopes of League Cup finalists Bradford, who face Swansea on Sunday. It was the Bantams that went ahead just short of the hour when Kyel Reid’s through-ball set up Garry Thompson. Two late goals for the Dons turned the tide of the game and gave them much-needed maximum points. First came the equaliser through Jack Midson’s header, before an injury time corner met the head of Garry Alexander. A single point separates the Dons from Plymouth in 21st.
Barnet went behind but fought back against York, securing three points to aid their survival fight. The Minstermen scored as early as the seventh minute when John McGrath’s free kick met Michael Rankine to put the hosts in front. Andy Yiadom levelled on 25 minutes when he managed to poke the ball home in a scramble and substitute Jake Hyde bagged his ninth goal of the season with a low drive late in the second half.
Staying with the teams battling for survival, Bristol Rovers continued their recent run of good results – making it a sixth win in eight matches. They faced a Wycombe side who have also managed to pull away from the drop zone. Ryan Brunt scored the game’s only goal – a volley, 10 minutes before the interval. The Gas have now secured 20 points out of a possible 27 under John Ward. Wanderers also remain safe, 11 points separating them and relegation.
Elsewhere, a single goal also separated Plymouth and Oxford. James Constable helped United to their first win in six, while defeat for Argyle saw their five-game unbeaten run ended. Constable’s 16th minute strike was his 11th of the campaign.
There were also narrow victories for Rochdale against Torquay, who are still without manager Martin Ling, and Rotherham who beat Chesterfield to remain in the play-offs. Maximum points for Dale were their first since Keith Hill returned to the helm. An early goal for right-back Ryan Bennett turned out to be the eventual winner – after his initial shot was blocked by Michael Poke in the Gulls’ goal, Bennett was quick to pounce on the rebound. Rotherham sit a point off the automatic promotion places after their home win against Chesterfield. After a dominant opening period by the Millers, a header from skipper Johnny Mullins handed the hosts the lead after the break and it remained 1-0.
Also in League Two, Northampton’s one man advantage helped them beat a Southend side currently vying for the playoffs. Roy O’Donovan opened the scoring for the Cobblers early on, before Bilel Mohsni – in first game for Southend in nine months – saw red halfway through the opening forty-five. It was the Frenchman’s fifth dismissal for the Shrimpers. Despite being a man light, Matty Lund levelled the scores but captain Kelvin Langmead’s header in stoppage time gave all three points to Aidy Boothroyd’s side.
Cheltenham and Aldershot played out the weekend’s only draw in the basement divison. A point saw the Rubies drop out of the top three. A goal in each half meant that both teams would finish the game on level terms. A first half strike handed the Shots the lead, Danny Rose with the finish after 20 minutes, before Paul Benson netted a worthy equaliser. The drama didn’t end there and with 17 minutes remaining, Aldershot were forced to see the game out with 10 men – Anthony Tonkin receiving a second yellow card.
Tuesday night’s results:
AFC Wimbledon 1-1 Northampton
Aldershot 1-0 Torquay
Bristol Rovers 1-2 Rotherham
Looking ahead to Saturday’s games, fourth meets seventh as Burton take on Exeter. Gillingham can extend their lead at the top with a win away from home; they play Chesterfield. Port Vale will look to regain top spot when they travel to Torquay but Rotherham will have to wait ‘til Tuesday to put pressure on the teams vying for third – they don’t play this weekend.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Two minutes with… Port Vale

Last weekend saw the league leaders Port Vale visit Underhill. Vale fan Dan gives his thoughts in this instalment of ‘Two minutes with…’
Had you been to Underhill before?
Yes, this was my fifth visit to Underhill since we were relegated to League Two.
How did you get to the game?
I travelled down on a combination of the train and underground with three others
The match
Whereabouts in the ground did you sit/stand?
I stood in the away terrace, relatively close to the home supporters.
What did you make of the game?
In all honesty, I thought it was a pretty drab affair with very few clear-cut opportunities. It was one of the poorest performances from our point of view all season. Barnet passed the ball around really well but lacked an end product in the final third of the pitch.
Who (from either side) do you think deserved to be man of the match?
Without question, Edgar Davids and John Oster were outstanding in the middle of the pitch, and totally dictated play in that area. A special mention to Andy Iro, who I also thought was very impressive and helped to stop top goalscorer Tom Pope from having any sort of effect.
Was the score line a fair reflection on the game?
I think it was, in fairness. Barnet were the better side but for all their great passing play and build-up, they didn't really test our goalkeeper too much and ironically, it was Vale that had the best opportunity of the game as Tom Pope saw a header come back off the post.
Who do you play next, and how do you think you’ll get on?
Our next fixture is on Saturday where we play Morecambe at home. I should be really confident of a convincing home win but Morecambe are just the type of side to come to Vale Park and catch us with a sucker punch and take a 0-2 victory. I still think we'll win though.
Cost of match day ticket
I think the majority of match day tickets in this division are an awful price. However, a discounted price of £13 wasn't too bad for Saturday's game but I still think every club in League Two should have a re-think as to what they are charging for fourth division football ––– 8/10
Purchases made at ground
I have taken it upon myself to rename the burgers at Underhill as 'Death Burgers' purely because they are not fit to be served anywhere, in my opinion. They consisted of a stale bun and a half-cooked, watery burger and a freezing cold cheese slice. Not good at all. However, no problem with drinks whatsoever and the programme is always an enjoyable read ––– 6/10
––– 7/10
Quality of football
I thought that there were a few glimpses of really fluid football played on Saturday, but mainly from The Bees. We struggled on the narrow Underhill pitch and were out-fought and out-ran thanks to Barnet's game plan of sticking an extra body in midfield with one up front ––– 6/10
Overall experience
I enjoyed the day as Barnet has been a favourite away day of mine for several seasons now. The train journeys were a bit problematic, but that isn't anything to do with the club. It's a great little ground with a lot of character, good acoustics, but it loses marks for its awful food and the lack of atmosphere from both sets of supporters on the day itself; coupled with a drab 0-0 scoreline and no real exciting moments. Going to miss Underhill ––– 7/10
Total ––– 34/50

And you can follow Dan on Twitter @DanPhillipsPVFC

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

League Two round-up: 12/02/13

Last night saw six games in League Two with teams still playing catch-up due to previous, mostly weather-induced postponements.
Rotherham moved back into the playoff places following their away win at Torquay. On the flip side, the Gulls continue their slump and sit in 18th after a third successive defeat. After a goalless first half at Plainmoor the match immediately sprang to life in the second half – Lee Frecklington’s long-range effort wasn’t properly dealt with by the Gulls’ keeper and put the Millers in front with only a minute on the clock. The visitors doubled their lead before the hour mark when Alex Revell latched on to a through-ball and slotted home. Torquay pulled a goal back through Billy Bodin’s penalty but Rotherham restored their two-goal cushion when, in added time, Kayode Odejayi netted. It was Torquay’s fourth game without manager Martin Ling and the club issued a statement today explaining he has been undergoing treatment for a debilitating illness and will be away for a few more weeks – a search is on to find someone to assist current deputy Shaun Taylor.
Elsewhere, Bradford won their first league game in seven as they ran rampant against a recently resurgent Wycombe side. The League Cup finalists were quick off the mark as Nathan Doyle’s half-volley found the net in the game’s opening 50 seconds. Two goals in as many minutes late on handed Bantams the victory. First, Will Atkinson doubled their advantage, before Doyle bagged his second – this time from the penalty spot. Wanderers drop to 13th while Bradford move up to 10th.
Aldershot remain in the dropzone, though a win could have seen them move up to 20th. Hosts Morecambe were gifted their first goal when Oliver Risser headed past his own keeper in the 72th minute. Gary McDonald netted late on to double the Shrimps’ lead when he was quickest to pounce on Ryan Williams’ attempt which was blocked. The Shots pulled one back through Danny Hylton but his stoppage time strike wasn’t enough. A win for the hosts sees them in the top half of the table.
Last night also saw away victories for both Cheltenham and Fleetwood. 7th met 5th at Roots Hall where Southend hosted Cheltenham, but at the end of this one, the Rubies returned to 3rd while the Shrimpers had to settle for a place outside of the playoffs. When Alex Woodyard brought down Russell Penn in the opening 15 minutes it was up to Marlon Pack to put away the resulting spot kick – which he duly did. Cheltenham’s lead was doubled before the half time whistle when Paul Benson capitalised on a mistake between the seasiders’ defence and goalkeeper to record his first goal since arriving on loan from Swindon. Ben Reeves’ 10-yard effort in time added on proved no more than a consolation for the home side.
Meanwhile, Fleetwood’s win sees them continue their unbeaten run and move up to 4th. The Cod Army found themselves two goals to the good at the Kassam: Ryan Crowther’s smart finish before the half hour mark was followed by Junior Brown’s second half header. Liam Davis reduced the deficit for Oxford with his 20-yard effort, but his strike left it too late to get anything from the game. The Us remain 15th.
Gillingham missed out on the opportunity to regain top spot, but a draw at York saw the gap between them and Port Vale cut to a single point. Their game remained goalless.
While Friday night sees Exeter host Accrington, it’s Saturday afternoon action for the rest of the Football League’s basement division. The top three all play at home with Gillingham hosting Dagenham & Redbridge, Port Vale versus Morecambe and lowly Aldershot travelling to third-placed Cheltenham. The league’s bottom side AFC Wimbledon have a tricky game when cup heroes Bradford come to town.

Monday, 11 February 2013

FourFourTwo at Barnet v Aldershot

As you may or may not know, there is a feature about Barnet in this month’s FourFourTwo magazine. A couple of the guys were at the Aldershot game on New Year’s Day, with one of the writers (Nick) and a photographer. Following my previous piece I wrote for them on last season’s relegation scrap (which you can find here), I was asked to give my input again on all things Davids and how the campaign thus far was going.
I didn’t realise at the time, that there would be such a lengthy feature about us and obviously a lot of my content got cut out. I thought I’d blog my responses to the questions I was asked as well as attaching a copy from the magazine. I’ve copied and pasted it so it will be in Q&A format (although I was always taught at Uni to steer clear of that).

How did the fans feel when Davids arrived? How crazy/ unbelievable was it?
It was a strange time. A couple of weeks before, one of the youth players took to Twitter saying Davids had been spotted at The Hive (our training ground). Obviously at this point, nobody knew what he was doing there, but rumours soon spread. I think if we hadn’t known about that one incident, it would have been a massive shock, but personally I was waiting for it to be announced. I was still surprised though – especially when it was explained he’d taken up a player/manager role! I still have to pinch myself because it doesn’t seem real – a legend like that at our club!
What do you think the effect has been on the club?
Well the results have certainly improved. I think he’s been a good influence on the young players in the side as well. It must be special for them to be working alongside someone of his stature, and obviously they want to impress. It’s definitely a bit different than playing for likes of Barcelona and AC Milan. I’m not too sure what things are like behind the scenes, but I don’t think they’ve been good for a while – let’s just say that the set-up, staff-wise, doesn’t seem to the best.
Can he understand football at this level?
The results so far suggest that he is a quick learner; since his arrival, we’ve taken 20 points from 14 games compared to 3 from 11 before he joined!
How has he personally played at this level?
His debut was amazing – he lasted the whole 90 minutes against Northampton, captaining the side in the process. His passing, in particular, was incredible, as was his all-round work-rate and stamina. Not bad for a bloke of 39. All this contrasts massively with reports of his time at Crystal Palace – the last time he played competitively some two years ago! Since then, his performances have been less spectacular but nonetheless he’s still a commanding presence on the field. Needless to say, ‘The Pitbull’s’ feisty attitude has led to, er, a number of yellow cards...
What kind of football are you playing this season?
The plans pre-season were for a “total football” Barcelona-style ‘tiki-taka’ approach; in truth, we’ve seen very little of that so far, though the arrival of some experienced players from a higher level (including Davids and John Oster) have clearly raised the standard.
Has Davids had much contact/ a good rapport with the fans?
Obviously being a major star of world football, he always gets a very good reception from the fans.  When he went off injured at Exeter, even their fans applauded him as he left the pitch, which he acknowledged sportingly.
What did you think about Robson, and what do you think about his sacking?
When it was revealed that he’d be first-team coach it has to be said that the response was somewhat underwhelming. With no disrespect to Mark Robson as a person, I think a lot of people were hoping we’d get Martin Allen especially as he said he’d be up for the job himself. Robson hadn’t had experience of managing on his own, so I think he needed support from the start. It’s a results-driven business and without a win in our first 11 league matches, it was hardly an auspicious start to his managerial career. Things noticeably picked up when Davids joined as Head Coach, but the concept of two men in charge is notoriously fraught with difficulty, particularly given Davids’ experience and ambition. Something had to give. Hopefully Robson will enjoy success at a future club.
Was he unlucky? Was the situation untenable as soon as Davids arrived?
It could be argued that many clubs would not have given a new manager 12 games in charge, particularly after such a dreadful start. At this point in the season, the team weren’t even gelling particularly well either – it wasn’t even a case of us being unlucky or suffering narrow defeats. We were, quite frankly, hopeless. The arrival of ED clearly created new tensions but ultimately, Robson appeared popular with the playing staff, hence the number of sympathetic tweets from players when news broke of his departure.
Do you think you'll stay up, or will it be another nerve-shredder?
Going into the New Year, we were the ninth-best team form-wise over the past 11 games and enjoyed the best Christmas in League Two with seven points from nine. Based on that form, the possibility of new signings and a number of players coming back from injury, we have the potential to avoid our final day dice with the drop – and even aspire to mid-table mediocrity. The current form of the teams around us down in the depths also gives genuine cause for optimism.
How do you see the future for Barnet?
So much hinges on our plans for the new stadium, The Hive and whether Davids stays or tires of the ordeals of League Two. Even Nostradamus would have trouble predicting the future. Having followed the Bees for 19 years, I can safely say that the next few years will not be boring!
Is Davids a flash in the pan or a sign that the club have big ambitions? Is your chairman particularly ambitious?
The concern with having someone of Davids’ cachet at the club is that he could quickly become bored with the rough and tumble of League Two and seek new challenges. At the moment though his commitment seems genuine enough and there have been odd comments in interviews where he has spoken about long-term plans and the squad for next season. Personally, I think it would be wrong for us Bees fans to get too far ahead of ourselves though as experience shows the club tends to disappoint. Our chairman, Tony Kleanthous, has been accused in the past of lacking ambition (i.e. not spending money) but his stewardship of the Hive project and continued search for a new stadium would suggest otherwise. The signing of players like Collins John, John Oster and Davids himself also indicate that his plans are indeed forward-looking, if not unsustainably so.

League Two round-up: 09/02/13

There was a full programme of fixtures in the Football League’s basement division this Saturday with teams vying for points at both the top and bottom of the table. While there was no real change at either end, Gillingham were hoping to close the gap between themselves and current leaders Port Vale.
Two points now separate first and second as Gillingham won on the road at Bradford. Cody McDonald, back at the Gills (this time on loan from Coventry) scored the game’s only goal. He netted midway through the second half for his third strike in four games since his return. The Bantams, who had occupied the playoffs for a large proportion of the season, have to settle for 12th, but have two games in hand over a number of their rivals. Port Vale travelled to Barnet but had to settle for a draw, with their game finishing goalless. A point for the Bees sees them move out of the drop zone, sitting in their usual position of 22nd on goal difference.
It was Aldershot who switched places with the North London outfit at the end of the weekend, following their defeat to fellow strugglers Plymouth. In a game that was a definite six-pointer with 21st playing 22nd at the EBB, Argyle’s win sees them move up two places and two points clear of danger. A double from Jason Banton helped the Pilgrims to a vital win, the January loan signing from Crystal Palace opening the scoring in the fifth minute. The Shots managed to find a leveller minutes later through Peter Vincenti’s close range effort, but Plymouth re-took the lead before the half time whistle was blown – Banton’s curler ensuring victory.
Staying with the wrong end of the table, AFC Wimbledon suffered another defeat and they continue to prop up the rest of the division. Neal Ardley’s side are now five games without a win, their most recent loss being at the hands of Chesterfield. The Wombles went behind in the second half when Danny Whitaker’s cross picked out Armand Gnanduillet for the Ivorian striker to score his first goal in English football. Jack Lester’s low effort seven minutes from time sealed the win for the Spireites.
Elsewhere in League Two and while Burton move to third, Cheltenham slip down to fifth. A win for the Brewers also consigned their opponents Rotherham to a place outside of the playoffs. It was certainly a game of talking points at the Pirelli, the home side going ahead through Billy Kee midway through the opening half.  Before the interval, the Millers were reduced to 10 men as David Noble was shown a second yellow and sent off accordingly. Kee doubled Burton’s lead in the closing forty-five and the visitor’s day got even worse when Michael O’Connor was dismissed for violent conduct – leaving Steve Evans’ team with nine on the pitch. The Brewers could have won by a bigger margin but Michael Syme’s spot-kick was saved by veteran keeper Andy Warrington. The game ended on a sour note, too, with visiting fans being led away by police for allegedly throwing bottles at referee Eddie Ilderton and Evans describing the match official as “obnoxious, rude and embarrassing”, saying he will launch a complaint, post-match.
Dagenham & Redbridge’s win against Cheltenham sees them climb the table. Luke Howell’s strike before the hour mark separated the sides and was their first ever win against the Rubies – who themselves have to settle for a place outside the automatic promotion slots.
Wycombe and Bristol Rovers both continued their good form which has seen the two sides increase the gap between themselves and the relegation scrap. Last year’s promoted side York began the campaign well but are currently in 18th place and they were on the wrong end of a 4-0 drubbing at Adams Park. Two first half penalties from Dean Morgan helped the hosts to a thumping win, with Wycombe taking the lead in the third minute of this one: Morgan was bundled over by Scott Kerr before returning to his feet and netting the awarded penalty. His – and Wycombe’s – second came in first half stoppage time: Jamal Fyfield the offender this time, barging over Joel Grant. It was Grant who put away the third and the rout was completed in style through Dave Winfield’s late header. The Chairboys’ run of games unbeaten increases to five.
Two second half goals for Bristol Rovers against Oxford sees them continue to progress under new manager John Ward. The deadlock was broken in the 55th minute when Ryan Brunt was fouled in the box by Jake Wright, allowing Lee Brown to tuck the ball away from the penalty spot. The Gas’ lead was doubled late on through Elliot Richards’ neat finish from David Clarkson’s quick free-kick routine. Rovers have now secured 13 points from their most recent five games.
Also in League Two there were comfortable wins for Northampton (at home to Rochdale) and Exeter (who travelled to Morecambe). The win for the Sixfields side saw them move back into the playoff places while defeat for Rochdale was their first since Keith Hill returned at the helm. Clive Platt headed the Cobblers in front after half an hour. The visitors levelled the scores through Jason Kennedy midway through the second half but Northampton restored their lead minutes later when Kelvin Langmead was quickest to pounce on a loose ball. The win was wrapped up eight minutes from time when Adebayo Akinfenwa scored from the spot after a penalty was awarded for a foul on Chris Hackett. It was Akinfenwa’s 14th league goal of the season.
Three second half goals for Exeter saw them move from seventh to fourth and sit a point behind Burton in third. A brace from Jamie Cureton saw him notch his 17th and 18th league goals for the season, helping the Grecians to their 10th away win of the campaign – a club record. Their opener came in the 62nd minute with Cureton latching on to Tommy Doherty’s through ball. Two late goals made maximum points secure, with Arron Davies scoring the second, having been picked out perfectly by Jimmy Keohane’s delivery. Cureton wrapped up the win in stoppage time, making the 600-odd mile round trip well worth it!
Completing the round-up, Jon Parkin’s third goal in as many games separated Fleetwood and Torquay at Plainmoor. ‘The Beast’s’ header arrived in the 26th minute and keeps the Cod Army in contention for the playoffs. A late goal for Southend denied Accrington a must-needed win. Stanley took the lead in the second half when James Gray slotted home and the Shrimpers’ task was made more difficult with the dismissal of Ryan Cresswell with just over an hour on the clock. The visitors snatched a point in the closing 10 minutes when Kevan Hurst’s 20-yard drive found the bottom corner.
Tomorrow night sees 12 teams in action, with games in hand still needing to be played. Gillingham can reclaim top spot with an away win at York; 7th meets 5th with Southend hosting Cheltenham and the winners of that one can go third. Aldershot could move out of the bottom two with a point (or win) at Morecambe. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

League Two round-up: 05/02/13

February kicked off with decidedly mixed fortunes for the clubs at the top of League Two following back-to-back wins for Port Vale and a Saturday victory for Cheltenham, while there was a surprise defeat Monday night for early season pacemakers Gillingham at a resurgent Wycombe.
Lee Hughes made his home debut at Vale Park and promptly opened his account with a brace. The afternoon started badly for Accrington, who were a man down within four minutes – Charlie Barnett the offender. The visitors did well to hold on, as the first half ended goalless, but three goals in 16 minutes killed the game off for the hosts. Hughes opened the scoring on 50 minutes, volleying in from Ryan Burge’s assist. Burge was also the provider for the Valiants’ second, his free kick being turned in by another of Mickey Adams’ January signings: veteran Darren Purse, newly arrived from Plymouth Argyle. Hughes wrapped things up with just over 20 minutes left to play with a cool finish – the win sees Vale go top while Stanley remain 20th.
Cheltenham move back into the automatic promotion places following their victory over Torquay. The deadlock was broken after the half hour mark, when defender Keith Lowe headed home for his fifth goal of the season. The Rubies doubled their lead early in the second half when Shaun Harrad slotted the ball past Michael Poke in the Gulls’ net. Rene Howe got his name on the score sheet late on, but it was no more than a consolation and Torquay slip to 16th.
Meanwhile on Monday, Martin Allen’s Gills missed out on an opportunity to regain top spot and slumped to defeat against Wycombe. The only goal came in the 85th minute as Matt McClure snatched a win for the Chairboys from 10 yards out. The victory was marred however, by an incident involving goalkeeper Jordan Archer who was attacked by a home supporter.
Back to the weekend’s action and Friday night saw a six-pointer as Bristol Rovers and Barnet met at the Memorial Stadium. Victory for the Gas saw them move out of the drop zone and although the Bees finished the evening in 21st, by the end of the weekend they found themselves back in the bottom two. Fabian Broghammer put the home side ahead 12 minutes from time. Harry Crawford set up a tense finish as he netted his first Bees’ goal since joining from Non-League Dartford but two minutes into stoppage time Ryan Burge drilled the ball past Graham Stack and secured an important three points for Rovers.
There were also huge wins for Rotherham against Northampton and Morecambe who travelled to York. Victory for the Millers saw them end their three-match losing streak and leapfrog their playoff rivals. Daniel Nardiello gave Rotherham the lead before the break and he converted from the spot after Ben Harding tripped Mark Bradley. Following the interval, Steve Evans’ side extended their lead with two goals in four minutes: Ben Pringle’s curler was followed by an effort from David Noble. Defender Clarke Carlisle pulled one back for the Cobblers but it was too little too late.
Morecambe also ran out resounding winners on their first league meeting at York City’s Bootham Crescent. Lewis Alessandra fired the away side in front midway through the opening period but minutes later the Minstermen equalised – Nick Fenton felled Chris Smith and Jason Walker duly dispatched the awarded penalty. Kevin Ellison tapped in to restore the Shrimps’ lead late in the second half and two goals in the final three minute from Jack Redshaw wrapped up the win. Redshaw’s double saw him enter double figures for the season and helped Morecambe climb to 12th in the table.
Southend left it late to secure maximum points against Oxford, substitute Ryan Leonard netting five minutes from time having been on the pitch for just four minutes. His header from Michael Tomlin’s centre separated the sides.
Elsewhere in League Two, four goals were shared between play-off contenders Fleetwood and Bradford. Alan Goodall headed the home side in front before Nahki Wells levelled for the Bantams, all ahead of the half time whistle. The League Cup finalists then took the lead early in the second half but Ryan Dickson’s effort was cancelled out by John Parkin’s late penalty. A point each was probably a fair result.
Two goals in the first half left AFC Wimbledon and Burton with a point apiece. The Wombles were leading for all of nine minutes and Gary Alexander’s goal – his first since joining from Crawley – was followed by an equaliser from Michael Symes, another January window signing. Brewers’ defender Zander Diamond saw red with 15 minutes remaining but neither side could force a winner and Wimbledon remain bottom.
Rochdale and Chesterfield also played out a 1-1 draw and it was the away side who drew first blood in this one. Jay O’Shea’s side-foot on 55 minutes put the Spireites ahead before Bobby Grant levelled 11 minutes later. His 25-yard curler earned Dale a point but it wasn’t plain sailing and Grant was later dismissed for his challenge on Sam Togwell.
Exeter and Aldershot sit at opposite ends of the table and their stalemate did neither side a favour, as both teams need points for differing reasons. Plymouth and Dagenham & Redbridge also played out a goalless draw but a point for Argyle was enough to see them move to the safety of 22nd – albeit on goal difference.
Yesterday evening saw two games with teams still playing catch-up. A late strike for Bristol Rovers’ Oliver Norburn helped them snatch a point at high-flying Cheltenham. The Rubies had been ahead through Shaun Harrad’s 12-yard effort and although his goal separated the sides at half time and looked like proving the winner, Norburn equalised four minutes into added time. It was also top v bottom as Port Vale hosted AFC Wimbledon and the match at Vale Park was nothing short of a demolition. Lee Hughes continued his goal-scoring run to give Vale an early lead. A double from Ashley Vincent rounded up the comfortable victory – his first went in via a deflection with 35 minutes played; his second was drilled home in the final quarter.
There’s a full complement of fixtures on Saturday and while league leaders Port Vale will hope to extend the gap at the top against lowly Barnet, Gillingham will look to reduce the deficit despite their tough trip to Bradford. Also at the top, it’s 4th meets 6th as Burton host Rotherham while at the wrong end of the table, Aldershot and Plymouth (21st and 22nd respectively) will play out another six-pointer!