League Two – An update on England’s most bewildering league

The beauty of League Two is the fine margins in which it sits.

On one side is England’s third division, with its fallen giants and significant financial increase, it is the pedestal to really mixing it with the big boys. The other side is the dark abyss of which most dare not speak, a fall to the fifth tier and the horror of regular semi-professional competition.

A bit like sword swallowers, non-league is something people would prefer to admire from afar than take part in.

Most will commend its community spirit and agree the old-school romanticism lost in modern football is often still found on an open terrace in Hampshire, but no one really wants to be visiting these boggy marshes as a travelling supporter with indispensable vested interests.

It’s because of this intricate balance that League Two can throw up some of the best stories of recent years, recently playing host to both Bristol Rovers’ and Leyton Orient’s dramatic cascade out of the football league; or Portsmouth spending about ten minutes top of the table, but it being the last ten minutes of the season.

This season looks no different, it has a fascinating title-race, a delicately poised fight for the play-offs and a traditionally brutal relegation battle.

This weekend, free-scoring Luton Town went some way to putting talk of a wobble to bed by routinely beating Morecambe 1-0. This will have calmed nerves and gone some way to amending their 2-0 loss at struggling Chesterfield last weekend (in what can only be described as an “accumulator-buster”).

This result which was even more surprising than it appeared on the surface; this wasn’t just the league leaders losing at 23rd, but record-breaking Luton who only trail Manchester City in goals scored, who have put more than seven goals past three different opponents so far this season, and who looked well on course to cruise to the title.

But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised anymore; just two weeks earlier the Hatters went from beating play-off contenders Swindon 5-0 away from home, to losing 4-0 at Port Vale, both results coming over the course of four days. As usual, League Two continues to baffle.

Notts County look the most likely to challenge them in the run-in to the title, where Kevin Nolan has transformed them from much-maligned strugglers to a real force to be reckoned with.

Who would have thought the ageing strike-force of Shola Ameobi and Jonathon Stead (with a combined age of 70) could prove so effective?

They grabbed a creditable draw at high-flying Lincoln last weekend but this week, in the biggest game of the weekend, they surprisingly lost at home to Exeter and lost considerable ground in the title-race.

You still wouldn’t rule out Exeter or even Accrington mounting some sort of title challenge in the second half of the season, and Coventry might still fancy themselves as they boast the best home defensive record in the division.

But it’s the hunt for the play-offs that are really fascinating. At the time of writing, only five points separate Accrington in 3rd to Swindon in 10th, with only one goal separating both Mansfield and Coventry, and Accrington and Wycombe respectively.

Newport dispatched Crawley 2-1 at Rodney Parade on Friday night and are probably the shock package this year.

They may be setting themselves up for one of the most unlikely play-off campaigns in recent memory, after last season’s shambles was only rescued by Michael Flynn and final day heroics at the expense of Hartlepool.

Meanwhile, Exeter’s huge win at 2nd place Notts County might help them step up that extra gear to confidently make that step back to League One – last season they were the only team in the top seven not to spend a single minute in the top three automatic promotion places.

This incredible fight for the play-off places is one that doesn’t surprise at all.

In fact, it is completely in the norm for League Two; on the final day of last season there were three play-offs places up for grabs which any of nine teams could mathematically have filled, leading to 90 minutes of desperate fans updating live score apps, only to find themselves one down and finishing the season in mid-table.

The bottom of the table isn’t quite as tight. Barnet are propping up the table at the moment and find themselves six points adrift, and their performances, frankly, are deserving of it.

However, the interesting aspect of the relegation battle is between Chesterfield and Forest
Green. They sit 22nd and 23rd respectively, but both have reasons to believe they can escape the drop. Chesterfield are fresh off the back of victory against the league leaders and a last-gasp win this weekend at fellow strugglers Yeovil, and in Kristian Dennis have a very decent striker whose substantial goals could single-handedly keep them up.

Meanwhile, Forest Green have the advantage of heavy financial backing, and their recent addition of prolific striker Reuben Reid is a coup that might end up saving them.

Their investment in goals paid dividends this weekend as they put five goals past one of the meanest defences in the league at home Cambridge United.

Port Vale, Crewe, Morecambe and Yeovil won’t rest on their laurels; all have performed at relegation standard at some point in the season and at the halfway stage it only takes a run of bad games to find yourself in the muck.

The conference is renowned as the hardest league to escape; not only is there just one automatic promotion spot out of 24 teams, but the styles and playing surfaces are so different from the football league that it can often take years to break free.

All of Cambridge, Luton, Lincoln, Grimsby spent over five years in the mire, while Wrexham and Tranmere still find themselves washed away, clutching at any chance to return to where they feel they belong.

The Author

Julian Roberts

@stilesmagazine @AbbeyStandPod

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