The festive period might be over but the 2019/20 League Two is only reaching the half-way stage. With teams playing twice in three days, the complexion of the league table saw some interesting changes. Let’s have a look at the key matches and talking points in this festive double header special.
Doyle’s goalscoring run ends as leaders slip to rare defeat at Vale
Swindon Town striker Eoin Doyle extended his goalscoring run to 11 games on Boxing Day in a convincing 4-0 victory against Cambridge United. The Robins faced a tough trip to Port Vale three days later, and it proved to be one game too many for Doyle.
Both teams went into their encounter in opposite ends of the form table. That was quickly forgotten when Scott Burgess broke the deadlock for Vale on 13 minutes. Swindon’s Jerry Yates almost provided a spectacular assist for Vale’s Tom Pope, only for his effort to be saved by goalkeeper Steven Benda.
The lead was doubled early in the second half when Jake Taylor curled the ball into the top corner. Pope came close again only for his driven effort to go narrowly wide of the far post. Doyle created few chances to extend his goalscoring run, with a tame header the best he could manage as the Robins suffered a rare defeat.
The victory was Vale’s first in six games and rejuvenates their playoff challenge following three consecutive draws. Swindon’s nine-match unbeaten run comes to an end as their gap over second-place Exeter City is cut to two points.
A full programme of fixtures on New Year’s Day sees The Robins face a tough trip to Westcountry rivals Plymouth Argyle while Vale host Macclesfield Town.
In-form Plymouth and Colchester soar into playoffs
Plymouth Argyle and Colchester United are showing signs of a promotion challenge as both teams moved into the playoff places.
Argyle were one of two teams to win both of their games in the festive period along with Salford City. A first-half strike from Zak Rudden was enough to seal a 1-0 victory away at playoff rivals Cheltenham Town on Boxing Day. There was late drama three days later as a 96th minute winner from Niall Canavan gave Argyle a 2-1 victory at home to Stevenage.
Colchester extended their unbeaten league run to nine games as they picked up four points from their festive fixtures. Theo Robinson scored a brace in a 3-1 victory away at Leyton Orient on Boxing Day to send Colchester up to fourth, their highest position of the season. The U’s would hold on for a 2-2 draw at home to Exeter City in a thrilling game which saw the hosts play the latter stages with 10-men following Tom Lapslie’s dismissal.
Plymouth move up to seventh having won four of their last five league games, and Colchester drop to sixth and are ahead of the Pilgrims on goal difference.
The new year begins with Argyle entertaining league leaders Swindon Town while Colchester host Crawley Town.
Northampton & Cheltenham’s dip in form sees them drop out of playoffs
While Plymouth and Colchester are soaring into the playoffs, Northampton Town and Cheltenham Town appear to be heading in the opposite direction. Both teams were in bad form heading into the festive fixtures and would take just one point each – against each other.
Cheltenham suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to Plymouth Argyle on Boxing Day as already mentioned. Northampton failed to register a shot on target as they suffered a 4-0 loss away at Crawley Town, their heaviest defeat of the season.
The two teams would play each other three days later at Sixfields with both desperate to move into the playoff places. The visitors took the lead from Conor Thomas’ third-minute penalty before Jordan Turnbull equalised later in the first half. The game ended on a sour note for the Robins as Alex Addai was sent off deep into added time.
Despite having solid starts to the campaign, both teams end 2019 outside of the playoff places. Cheltenham are a point and a place behind Plymouth after drawing three of their last four games, while Northampton are a further point behind as they drop down to ninth.
Both teams will be hoping to start 2020 with a change in fortune with Northampton hosting struggling Stevenage and Cheltenham visiting Newport County.
Coughlan still searching for first win as Mansfield boss
Graham Coughlan is still looking for his first win as Mansfield manager but he’ll at least be encouraged by the level of performance from his new team.
The Stags produced a memorable comeback to earn a point at home to Port Vale on Boxing Day. Goals from Nathan Smith and Leon Legge looked to have given Vale the victory, but Mansfield managed to claim a point with a 10-minute comeback. Nicky Maynard reduced the deficit on 81 minutes before CJ Hamilton equalised in added time with a powerful strike.
Luck wasn’t on Mansfield’s side three days later when they visited Bradford City. The Stags controlled the majority of the game but would be undone by two penalties from Bantams’ captain James Vaughan.
Despite the improved performances, the Stags are winless in eight games and have dropped to 20th in the table.
Coughlan will be desperate for a first win on New Year’s Day as his Mansfield side travel to mid-table Cambridge United.
Macclesfield return to league action but their winless run continues
Macclesfield’s year has certainly been eventful, to say the least. Under Sol Campbell, he guided the Silkmen to safety at the end of last season. This campaign saw Campbell leave in August before financial troubles resulted in player strikes and failing to fulfil fixtures.
With a six-point deduction in place and an impending punishment expected after their postponement against Plymouth Argyle, the Silkmen were back in league action over the festive period. Macclesfield returned to Moss Rose on Boxing Day in a 1-1 draw against fellow strugglers Grimsby Town. Striker Joe Ironside’s penalty early in the second half was cancelled out by Grimsby’s Joe Vernan 10 minutes later.
Macclesfield would be in another game of few chances three days later when they visited promotion-chasing Forest Green Rovers. The only goal of the game came on 74 minutes when Rovers defender Farrend Rawson glanced in a close-range header.
The Silkmen are in 22nd place and just two points clear of the relegation zone following their points deduction. A winless run of eight games will also be worrying as Macclesfield face the impending threat of relegation.
Macclesfield’s next game is away at Port Vale as those connected with the club hope that 2020 sees their issues on-and-off the pitch end.
Matchday 23 results – Boxing Day:
Leyton Orient 1-3 Colchester United
Carlisle United 0-0 Bradford City
Cheltenham Town 0-1 Plymouth Argyle
Crawley Town 4-0 Northampton Town
Exeter City 1-0 Newport County
Macclesfield Town 1-1 Grimsby Town
Mansfield Town 2-2 Port Vale
Morecambe 1-2 Oldham Athletic
Salford City 3-1 Crewe Alexandra
Scunthorpe United 0-2 Walsall
Stevenage 0-0 Forest Green Rovers
Swindon Town 4-0 Cambridge United
Matchday 24 results – Sunday 29th December:
Bradford City 2-0 Mansfield Town
Cambridge United 1-0 Morecambe
Colchester United 2-2 Exeter City
Crewe Alexandra 3-1 Scunthorpe United
Forest Green Rovers 1-0 Macclesfield Town
Grimsby Town 1-1 Crawley Town
Newport County 1-1 Leyton Orient
Northampton Town 1-1 Cheltenham Town
Oldham Athletic 1-4 Salford City
Plymouth Argyle 2-1 Stevenage
Port Vale 2-0 Swindon Town
Walsall 1-2 Carlisle United