Stevenage’s swagger can earn a draw
Bolton 2.111/10 v Stevenage 3.9; the draw 3.814/5
Des Walker once related how, as a Tottenham trainee encouraged to make travel expense claims, he put in for “shoe leather wear and tear”, because he could walk to training. I remembered this tale when reading that Luke Norris is loving playing at his hometown club Stevenage, because some days he can walk the five minutes to his work.
The striker has now played seven games for Boro, scoring his first goal in the battling draw with Morecambe. And he was attracted by knowing boss Alex Revell and his ideas of where he wants to take the club.
It took Boro a long while to find their feet this season, having initially prepared for non-league. Given a reprieve after Macclesfield were sent down by the authorities, some of the summer recruits – like Inih Effiong – have returned to non-league (with Notts County). They have been replaced by more seasoned Football League campaigners such as Norris.
Where Revell wants to take them is a moot point. This season is still about survival, but they have stolen a march on their relegation rivals by opening up a six-point gap between them and the drop zone. And their goal difference is much healthier than bottom two clubs Grimsby and Southend.
While Elliot List has contributed four goals from midfield, Dan Newton needs to score more. His second of the season won the midweek game at in-form Tranmere, so could Boro repeat the trick at beleaguered Bolton?
Yes, beleaguered. Another win would raise the visitors above the Trotters, who were pre-season title favourites – on club size and reputation only, it seems.
Bolton boss Ian Evatt was forced to defend Marcus Maddison after his red card – on his debut – in the 1-1 draw with Morecambe, insisted the winger had not let the team down. Two-footed tackle? No, insisted Evatt: he went in left-foot first and the opposition surrounded the referee. The manager is at least defending his players. His criticism of keeper Billy Crellin earlier this season is now the stuff of legend.
The boss also defended his tactics – continuing to attack after going 1-0 up, courtesy of Eion Doyle‘s 11th goal of the season. (Apparently, that number hasn’t been reached in seven years by a Bolton player.)
Evatt praised West Ham’s loanee forward Dapo Afolayan and can’t wait to see him in proper tandem with fellow substitute Maddison. Both came on after an hour.
The injury absence of “marquee player” Antoni Sarcevic won’t be helping Bolton’s form. They have at least scored in each of their past five but have drawn three and won just once.
Bolton attacking might play into Stevenage’s feet. The visitors have only won twice away this season – Tuesday being a second in a row, after Grimsby two weeks ago. Opta say they last achieved three on the trot on their travels in April 2019. With the price on both the away win and a draw the same at about 3.814/5, it’s tempting to put half a point on each outcomes. Certainly it would be more profitable than a lay on Bolton, covering both other options.
However, I think there is enough in the formlines to tilt to the draw: Stevenage have three in seven games, four in 10 and six in 13, while their hosts have battled to three in five games and four in seven.
Tranmere can travel with confidence
Grimsby 3.711/4 v Tranmere 2.245/4; the draw 3.613/5
A rare reverse on Tuesday, at home to Stevenage, should not rock Tranmere’s confidence or be more than a dent in a decent formline.
Midweek results have a habit of going against the grain. And teams who rise – into the top seven or top three, or to the top – have a habit of taking a reality check in their next match. Keith Hill was naturally disappointed, not least with the late succour punch of the 82nd minute goal.
Kaiyne Woolery and James Vaughan, who have scored nine of their 11 goals in five straight wins (four of them at home) before Tuesday, will be eager to make amends quickly. Rovers are in fine form. They have five wins and five draws away from home.
Their last win on the road was at Morecambe. Before that they drew at struggling Stevenage and Barrow. Grimsby are in that bracket but arguably in a worse state. They have fallen to the bottom after collecting just a point in six games. Two in just nine games, in fact, scoring four times in separate games.
Paul Hurst has yet to work his magic. Yet to rekindle that positive spark which helped him climb to promotion from the Conference with them in 2016 and then rise to seventh, before leaving.
Left-back Sam Habergham has his work cut out raising spirits as he works his way back into the game having not played since April 2018 because of a knee injury. Another defender, Mollin Manayese, must also wonder what he has got himself into after signing from Mansfield Town on loan. Striker Stefan Payne would love to be as prolific as he was once at Dover. Or even when notching 13 goals for Shrewsbury in 51 games in League One.
Fellow frontman James Hanson could do with his first goal of the season. He’s only played nine times this season and needs to pull on his experience of all those goals he scored when at Bradford. Grimsby have a couple of winnable matches towards the end of the month, but the list doesn’t start with this one in my opinion. They have to start with the defence: Opta point out that in their five-game winless run at home, they have conceded two goals in all three games they have lost.
Lapslie brothers can share bragging rights
Colchester 4.216/5 v Mansfield 2.0621/20; the draw 3.613/5
Brendan Wiredu couldn’t be happier, he says, returning to Colchester, after leaving Charlton for an 18-month deal in Essex. The 21-year-old spent a 10-game spell with the U’s in 2018-19 and says nothing has changed – the people are the same.
That’s not strictly true. But maybe there is something in it. If the turnover of players hasn’t been very big in two years, could staleness be the reason Steve Ball‘s men have slid down the table?
Frank Nouble has also returned, on loan from Plymouth, and said he will play anywhere in the attack. The 29-year-old just wants to play. As does Wiredu who felt he was passed over at Charlton. Goalkeeper Shamal George has been chomping at the bit for four months, said his manager and got his chance firstly as a substitute against Scunthorpe, in a 1-0 defeat, then making his full league debut against Leyton Orient in Saturday’s goalless draw.
Wiredu said heads were down and nobody was happy with the point. Boss Ball said there was lots of positivity in the squad at present. Confidence must be on a knife edge. They have failed to score in four games, and have only netted once in seven – and that was an own goal. That, after scoring in all but one of their previous 19 League Two matches.
They only have two defeats at home, and six wins from 12 games, but haven’t won in 10 games. Five draws have featured three goalless ones and two at 1-1.
So could their persistence in gaining draws hold Mansfield, who ended their winning streak with one at wobbly Walsall? Were the Stags a little rusty after 17 days without a game?
Boss Nigel Clough was pleased with a point despite conceding what he considered a poor goal and having to come back. Jordan Bowery missed a chance to win it, after Ollie Clarke‘s equaliser.
Visiting midfielder George Lapslie will be up against big brother Tom, who can’t be pleased with Colchester’s plight in mostly his absence this season. If Tom Eastman, at the heart of Colchester’s defence, is the easiest professional to manage, says his manager, Ball will hope the experienced defender can inspire his side to a draw.
That will keep the stats men occupied at least, even if Colchester won’t like Opta pointing out that they are on a four-game winless run at home, which was last “bettered” in March 2016 (11 games). Mansfield went 17 games unbeaten to January 2019, the stats men add, being on a seven-game run at present.
Chance for Harrogate to Weave another win
Harrogate Town 2.47/5 v Leyton Orient 3.39/4; the draw 3.613/5
Leyton Orient never quite fail to surprise. You tip them to lose on a losing run, then they win. You tip them to continue a winning run and they lose. It seems unlikely Ross Embleton could take a victory at Harrogate, given they have not scored in four games.
However, they appear to be getting better, drawing the last two matches – their first two goalless games of the season.
They have form in front of goal, having netted in 21 of 23 games previous to their last four. Statistics are against them, as Opta point out, because they are winless in five away, losing four – their longest such run since seven up to April 2019.
Danny Johnson has won a huge amount of plaudits for his 14 goals this season, but is feeling his way back. Conor Wilkinson continues to lead the line, recently with Tristan Abrahams, a surprise capture from Newport.
All four January signings have played in the past two games. They are still settling in. Perhaps this will be the game they spark into life.
But then again Harrogate will fancy their chances of extending what was a winning run before a midweek slip at home to Cheltenham. The new recruits are more settled. Josh March (in from Forest Green) has already scored three times, perhaps bringing the best out of Aaron Martin who has netted twice in recent games, too. The Sulphurites had netted nine times in four games before Tuesday. Conceding seven indicates they might be susceptible to Orient’s new faces finding their feet.
Although their home record isn’t great, Simon Weaver‘s men might just have enough left in the tank from defeating out-of-form former leaders Newport in their penultimate home game to take another win, especially if they can thread the right pass to 11-goal Jack Muldoon who is due a goal after four games without one.