We look ahead to the upcoming fixtures in Sky Bet League 2.THE LEADING PACK
Following their dramatic survival back in May, few would have predicted that Wycombe Wanderers would be topping the table as we approach the halfway stage of the 2014/15 season, but Gareth Ainsworth’s side have scored the most goals, boast the best away record and, as a result, hold a two-point advantage over Shrewsbury Town and Luton Town. However, that could all change as they face their two nearest rivals in the three days after Christmas.
THREE’S A CHARM: Gillingham and Chesterfield both led the way going into Christmas over the last two campaigns, with both sides carrying their form into the second half of the season and going on to clinch the title.
First up for the Chairboys is the Boxing Day visit of the Hatters, before they travel to Greenhous Meadow to face a Shrewsbury side who are yet to lose a game on their own patch this season. The Shrews sit ahead of Luton on goal difference and will make the trip to Oxford the day after Christmas, with the chance to hit the League 2 summit if results go their way.
Luton’s second match of the busy period comes at home, where they have only conceded four goals this term. They welcome Portsmouth to Kenilworth Road for the first time since September 1995, when the Hatters triumphed 3-1 in a second tier fixture.
Burton Albion head the chasing Play-Off pack, only sitting outside the top three on goal difference. They face Tranmere and Accrington with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink looking to take his team back among the automatic promotion places.
Fifth-placed Plymouth Argyle boast the best defence in The Football League, and have been boosted by the news that captain Curtis Nelson will be fit for the upcoming gamres. They face a tricky trip to Newport on Boxing Day with the Exiles’ strong run of form taking them into the top seven, however the Welsh side are looking for their first win over the Pilgrims, having failed to take three points in either encounter from their first meetings last season. Plymouth will close out 2014 by welcoming Oxford to Home Park, while Newport go on the road to Cheltenham.
Southend United currently sit in sixth, having followed their perfect November with just a point from their last two. They are looking to return to winning ways, with a trip to Cambridge and a home fixture against Dagenham.
FOURTH TIME LUCKY? Southend have been among League 2’s top seven at Christmas for the last three seasons, but are yet to convert their strong starts into promotion.
In-form Exeter, and Bury – without a win in five – have had contrasting fortunes recently, but both sit on the tails of the Play-Off chasers, and their upcoming fixtures are against teams in the bottom half.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
Only five points separate the teams in 10th and 18th with some of those sides looking to launch an assault on the Play-Offs, while others will still be nervously looking over their shoulder. Jim Bentley’s Morecambe top the bunch, having slipped down the table after a strong start to the season. A lack of consistency has been a problem and they take on strugglers Carlisle United and Hartlepool United.
Accrington sit below the Shrimps on goal difference, and they play sides from opposite ends of the table, travelling to lowly York before welcoming promotion-chasing Burton to the Crown Ground. The teams lying between 12th and 15th will take each other on over the weekend with Cambridge visiting Stevenage, and Portsmouth hosting Wimbledon in mid-table battles.
Mansfield have had a recent upturn in form, climbing to 16th under the guidance of Adam Murray. They have taken seven points from their last 12 available and host bottom side Hartlepool the day after Christmas, ahead of Sunday’s trip to Bury.
Another team on form is Oxford, who go into the busy schedule on the back of a five-game unbeaten run, but they face two tough matches; Shrewsbury on Boxing Day and then Plymouth.
Paul Buckle was pleased with his side’s resilience following their 1-1 draw with Portsmouth last time out, but he is still looking for his first success as Cheltenham boss. The 18th-placed Robins are without a win in seven, and it doesn’t get any easier as they face two of League 2’s form sides in Exeter and Newport.
AT THE BOTTOM
Ronnie Moore’s first game in charge of Hartlepool resulted in a draw, sharing the points in a 1-1 stalemate with Oxford last weekend. His side are seven points off safety and host Morecambe on Boxing Day before travelling to Mansfield two days later. Pools have triumphed on their last two trips to Field Mill, including a 4-1 success last season.
Tranmere are the other side in the bottom two despite being unbeaten in three, a period in which they have taken seven points. They face a tough trip to Burton on Boxing Day but play Northampton on the Sunday, when they can really drag the Cobblers into the relegation dogfight if they can pick up all three points.
Chris Wilder’s side currently sit five points clear of the drop-zone but eight defeats from their last 10, including their most recent 2-1 loss at Carlisle, has seen them slide into trouble. They face Bury at Sixfields on Boxing Day, before making their first trip to Prenton Park since August 2008, when they were thumped 4-1 on the Wirral.
Carlisle and York have both found themselves in the bottom two this term, but they currently occupy the two positions above the relegation zone, and they will face off at Brunton Park on December 28th. The Cumbrians have conceded more goals than anyone in League 2, while York make the trip with the seventh best away record in the division.
The Minstermen’s form on the road has been crucial, having not managed to win a game in front of their own fans this season. They have the chance to end that unwanted run on Boxing Day though, when they entertain Accrington at Bootham Crescent, although the last three meetings between the pair have finished one goal apiece.
TURNING THE TABLES: York were just one point and one place better off at this point last season, before a remarkable run after Christmas resulted in the Minstermen squeezing into the final Play-Off position.
Dagenham sit 20th, above Carlisle on goal difference, and their home record isn’t one to be envied either. They have taken just nine points from their 10 games on their own turf and welcome Stevenage on Boxing Day, who have only taken six points on their travels so far. The Daggers then make their way to the East Coast to round off their Christmas, taking on Southend at Roots Hall, where they recorded two wins in two weeks last season. A 5-2 romp in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was followed up by a 1-0 league win a fortnight later, and a repeat of either of those would be the perfect gift for Wayne Burnett’s side.
Upcoming Sky Bet League 2 fixtures:
Friday 26th December 2014
Burton Albion v Tranmere Rovers
Cambridge United v Southend United
Dagenham & Redbridge v Stevenage
Exeter City v Cheltenham Town
Mansfield Town v Hartlepool United
Morecambe v Carlisle United
Newport County v Plymouth Argyle
Northampton Town v Bury
Oxford United v Shrewsbury Town
Portsmouth v AFC Wimbledon
Wycombe Wanderers v Luton Town
York City v Accrington Stanley
Sunday 28th December 2014
Accrington Stanley v Burton Albion
AFC Wimbledon v Exeter City
Bury v Mansfield Town
Carlisle United v York City
Cheltenham Town v Newport County
Hartlepool United v Morecambe
Luton Town v Portsmouth
Plymouth Argyle v Oxford United
Shrewsbury Town v Wycombe Wanderers
Southend United v Dagenham & Redbridge
Stevenage v Cambridge United
Tranmere Rovers v Northampton Town