Harrogate have the firepower
Carlisle 3.02/1 v Harrogate 2.77/4; the draw 3.711/4
The tough fixtures just keep coming for new Carlisle boss Keith Millen, whose side failed to score in his first two League Two outings. In fact, they have only four points from their past 11 games, all those points coming from draws. The baptism of fire for Millen continues against Harrogate, who had appeared to have weathered a recent storm of reversals before Saturday’s home defeat to Salford City.
Can we forgive them that result? I think so, because Simon Weaver’s team still sit seventh, a pedigree built on a strong start to the season.
Millen will point to two clean sheets in the past four games (either side of his arrival) but that’s been a rare thing for the Cumbrians this season.
A lack of firepower must worry Millen and, like supporters, he must have one eye on the January window, especially as Carlisle slipped into the bottom two on Saturday night.
Tristan Abrahams hasn’t scored since August, while midfielder Jon Mellish – who joins him and several others as top scorer with two – doesn’t look like achieving last season’s excellence of 11 from midfield. He’s also suspended after Saturday’s dismissal. Captain Callum Guy will at least be back from suspension.
Harrogate’s high placing gives them a platform for confidence. Even when not winning they scored goals in several games, two 2-2 draws and a 3-2 defeat among them.
Before the weekend, striker Jack Muldoon (six) and midfielder Alex Pattison (5) had as many goals in League Two as Carlisle’s entire squad. And the Sulphurites’ have a top scorer, Luke Armstrong, who has nine on his own.
While Carlisle can point to a healthy home draws record (five), the visitors should be able to add to their four away wins.
Newport look eager to attack promotion
Crawley 3.185/40 v Newport 2.68/5; the draw 3.55/2
Sadly for John Yems, he comes up against another in-form side as he tries to inspire his troops to reverse their recent poor run, which ended with a tentative 1-0 win at Barrow.
At least a week off during the international break has given Crawley the chance to regroup. Extra training and even some team bonding – Bryan Robson style, going down the pub – would have seemed in order after four straight League Two defeats and an FA Cup exit.
With tongue in cheek, I wonder if Yems will select striker Ashley Nadesan? He’s been sent off in the Reds’ past two Tuesday night League Two fixtures. The second came against Exeter a month ago and opened up the game for the high-flying Grecians, when Crawley looked like they could hold them. He was adjudged to have dived when challenged by the on-rushing keeper and received a second yellow card just before half-time.
Three of Yems’ side’s six wins this season have come at the Broadfield. Much-loaned former Crystal Palace striker Kwesi Appiah has scored five of their last six goals, in the past seven league games. The Reds don’t seem as settled at the back, however, as they did when Tom Dallison established himself last season.
Michael Flynn, the former Newport manager, must be wondering whether he left at the wrong time. Before he quit, they took victory at Walsall, lightening the mood, and then lost at Barrow. Since then, the Exiles have won four and drawn three before Saturday, James Rowberry taking the reins amid that run and watching in delight as they put five past Stevenage. Dom Telford has certainly grasped the opportunity, scoring nine goals (of his 11 this season) for his new boss.
The visitors have catapulted themselves close to the top seven and the priority this season has to be fulfilling promotion ambitions. This seems a great opportunity to enforce those aims. Weaver will demand they start the game better than against Salford at the weekend and take control of proceedings.
Expect Pools players to be up for the fight
Swindon 1.9620/21 v Hartlepool 4.47/2; the draw 3.814/5
Home supporters might take this as an immediate chance to test where the team is in comparison to leaders Forest Green, who won 3-1 at Hartlepool on Saturday. However, the circumstances are not the same: Swindon rarley win at home, while Pools rarely do so away.
Also, Pools have lost three in a row and temporary boss Antony Sweeney will expect a reaction after a “poor” performance at the weekend.
A heavy defeat in their most recent away league game, at Leyton Orient, would not have been Dave Challinor preferred final curtain call before leaving for Stockport.
The visitors did win their FA Cup replay at League One Wycombe, thanks to Mark Cullen’s strike. Cup games are different, however.
Another straw the players might clutch at is that they did win at Bradford on a Tuesday in October. But that was the first time they had scored a goal on their travels since August (there were five away games in between). They even lost that game back in the summer, 3-2 at Barrow.
Sweeney won’t want poor form to fester. A goal would give them the chance of a point, against a side who have scored in seven consecutive league games and only failed to score twice all season. But six goals scored and nine conceded at home suggest Ben Garner’s men could be vulnerable at the County Ground. Turning wins into draws (of which Swindon have three on home turf) must be a priority if the Robins are to push up into the top three.
Ben Gladwin, Jack Payne and Harry McKirdy, among other regular scorers, must be dying to give home supporters another win. They could just do it. But for some reason they seem to dip when at home and I think Pools players will be worried enough about their places under any new manager who might be watching to want to give a good account of themselves.
Swooping Jay should make Grecians too hot for U’s
Colchester 4.03/1 v Exeter2.26/5; the draw 3.613/5
Exeter’s 20-game unbeaten run (including the scratched FA Cup replay result against Bradford) in all competitions must end some time. But it would be a major surprise if it came at Colchester – and the layers know it. The U’s are a big price to win, while the Grecians’ price seems a generous 2.26/5.
Matt Taylor’s men have not swept all before them on their travels by any means, winning three and drawing four. But when you have a pocket rocket like Matt Jay scoring and dictating play, they could hold their own in League One. Ten goals in League Two is just the tip of the midfielder’s contribution.
Striker Sam Nombe also seems to be able to do no wrong. His manager predicted that when he started scoring there would be no stopping him. Instantly, he netted in six straight games on his way to a total of eight in League and FA Cup strikes in the last 12 matches.
One wonders how Colchester will go about trying to stop them. Having netted only six times at home and conceded 10, Hayden Mullins will not relish trying to extinguish the visiting firepower. Tom Eastman at centre back needs to impart all his experience from centre-back to his fellow defenders if supporters are to see an upturn in fortunes generally. The natives have already become restless. Defeat to Stevenage at the weekend will do nothing to improve their mood.
It matters little that Colchester appear to have dominated after going behind, at Broadhall Way with Sylvester Jasper drawing good saves and Frank Nouble going close. What matters is they didn’t score. Exeter should have the quality to break them down. Having risen to second, they should underline their desire to gain automatic promotion. They are desperate not to end up in the play-offs yet again.