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League Two

Sammy McIlroy's Blog 24

30 January 2013

Aldershot didn't quite manage to keep their FA Cup fairytale alive by beating Middlesbrough on Saturday but they certainly did the npower League 2 proud with a cracking performance at the Riverside which finished 2-1 but could easily have seen the Shots earn themselves a replay.

To describe the end of the match as dramatic would be an understatement with Boro only grabbing the winner in the sixth minute of injury time. Aldershot must have thought they'd grabbed a famous draw when Danny Hylton scored the equaliser in the 89th minute but football can be cruel sometimes and it just wasn't to be.

I hope the last-gasp nature of the defeat doesn't have a negative impact on Dean Holdsworth's side, though. I'm sure everyone at the club was disappointed to get knocked out but the last-gasp nature of the defeat must have really knocked the players for six and it will probably still be playing on their minds.

But with Aldershot perched precariously in 21st in the table, they really cannot afford to dwell on the 'what ifs'. The spotlight isn't on them anymore but they have the bread and butter of league football ahead of them and they've got to their heads right for those challenges ahead.

It's at times like this a manager really earns his corn and Dean has to get into them, get them focused on picking up points and to forget all about the FA Cup. The players were a credit to the club but the adventure is over.

I know it's not strictly npower League 2 business but I'd also like to sing the praises of my old club Macclesfield Town after they pushed Wigan Athletic close in the FA Cup. They couldn't quite emulate Luton Town and make it two non-league sides in the fifth round but to lose just 1-0 to a Premier League outfit was a fantastic effort.

The team still have a decent chance of making the Play-Offs and hopefully they can push on and finish in the top five. At the start of the season, they will have been targeting a return to The Football League rather than a run in the FA Cup, so they shouldn't feel too downhearted after going out to the Latics.

Looking back at the weekend's league action, for me the stand-out result had to be Bristol Rovers' 3-1 victory over Rotherham United at the New York Stadium. Rovers had only won twice on the road all season before Saturday and I definitely didn't see that win coming.

The three points also took John Ward's team off the bottom of the table and at this stage of the season, it's impossible to overstate how big a psychological boost that will be to the players. At the moment, it looks like a straight fight between the bottom six sides to avoid relegation. No-one wants to be the team propping up the other five. It's incredibly tight down there and any little mental edge you can get over your main rivals is worth its weight in gold.

The other interesting result in my mind was Torquay United's 1-0 over Exeter City at St James' Park in the Devon derby. I watched the match on the telly and although Exeter huffed and puffed after going behind, I thought the Gulls were worth their three points.

The scoreline was a bit of a shock but I wasn't surprised at all by the way Rene Howe converted the penalty in the first half. I had Rene on loan at Morecambe from Peterborough United in the 2008/09 season and he was always a cool customer with bags of confidence. He got a few goals for me too and it's good to see enjoying a good spell in his career at Torquay.

I'll give you my thoughts on the transfer window in next week's blog when all the deals have been finalised but I have to admit I'm a little surprised there hasn't at this stage been more serious interest in Port Vale's Tom Pope.

He's been head and shoulders above all the other strikers in the division this season and while these have been whispers of other clubs looking at him, it looks like Vale will hang onto their top scorer.

The Valiants haven't lost a league game in which he has scored this season, which underlines his impact for the club. I suppose potential buyers may have second thoughts because it is the first season in which he's been really prolific and maybe they're waiting to see whether he can maintain his purple patch through to May.

To be honest, I'm not expecting a flurry of late deals. It's been a quiet window so far and I think the recent inactivity reflects the financial reality for so many of the sides in the division at the moment.

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