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League Two

Sammy McIlroy's Blog 34

10 April 2013

Congratulations to Gillingham this week after their 1-0 victory over Torquay at the Priestfield Stadium on Saturday confirmed the Gills have been automatically promoted to npower League 1. I fancied Gillingham to be there or thereabouts this season and they've certainly lived up to expectations.

Consistency and a solid defence have been their hallmarks throughout the campaign. They haven't lost back-to-back league games and after a flying start to the season, they've chipped steadily away and remained in pole position. They got their noses in front and were strong enough to stay there.

The defence has been absolutely magnificent. To concede just 33 goals in 43 npower League 2 games so far is a great achievement and when you know you can rely on your back four and keeper to make life that difficult for the opposition every single weekend, the confidence spreads through the rest of the team.

The only thing that has surprised me about the club's promotion is the fact it's the first of Martin Allen's managerial career. Martin's been a manager on and off for 10 years but it's the first time he's taken a team up and now he's got that particular monkey off his back, it will be fascinating to see how he progresses. At 47, he's still a relatively young man and perhaps we're yet to see the best of him on the touchline.

Gillingham will now be focusing on seeing off Port Vale and clinching the title but looking ahead to next season, I think they'll adapt well to npower League 1. Everything at the Priestfield is in place for the step up and the club has got the support as well. I wish them the best of luck.

Although I thought they equipped themselves well in the final of the Johnstone's Paint Trophy on Sunday, it wasn't to be for Southend at Wembley on Sunday. The defeat will be hard to swallow for the Southend players they were a credit to npower League 2.

To be honest, the writing was on the wall when Crewe took the lead in the sixth minute. Southend's best chance was to keep it tight but once Alex went in front, whatever nerves they had evaporated and they were able to make their superior quality count.

There's absolutely no doubt Crewe's experience of beating the Cheltenham at Wembley in the Play-Off Final in May gave them a psychological edge. I'm not saying Southend froze but I just got the feeling Steve Davis' team felt more at home and more comfortable with the occasion. The Shrimpers fought to the end but Crewe were more clinical.

Southend were probably unlucky with a couple of shouts for penalties but I don't think on the balance of the 90 minutes, they can feel to aggrieved. You do need a bit of luck in the big games but as their league status suggests, Crewe were the better side.

The standout result from the recent fixtures had to be Port Vale's 7-1 demolition of Burton at Vale Park and if anyone is claiming they saw that scoreline coming, you'd have to say they're not being entirely honest.

I was definitely expecting a close fight between two of the top sides in the division but sometimes you get freak results like that. I'm sure neither Micky Adams nor Gary Rowett could explain why it was so spectacularly one-sided and when you're on the wrong end of a scoreline like that, you have to move on mentally as quickly as possible and regroup.

Ironically I bet it was the easiest pre-match team talk of his career for Gary before Burton faced Wycombe on Tuesday night because his players will still have been hurting. They will have known they let themselves and the fans down and motivation won't have been an issue.

Gary got the response he desperately needed with a 2-0 win for Albion that moved them back into the automatic promotion places and you've got to give the Burton boys a lot of credit. With Northampton breathing down their necks and everyone talking about the 7-1 massacre, they'll have been a few nerves before kick-off but they did the business.

The promotion picture isn't much clearer though, is it? I expect Port Vale to finish second behind the Gills but that all important third place is still up for grabs. Northampton have a game in hand but I'm going for Rotherham to go straight up. I tipped the Millers at the start of the season and after beating Exeter 4-1 on Tuesday night, I think they've got just enough momentum to get over the line.

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