Preview: Lincoln City

Those three points against Stevenage on Friday night have gone a long way towards securing our first ever trip to the play-offs. Four more points will make it mathematically certain, one more win seems like it will be enough, and we could even get away with failing to pick up another point, were Mansfield to fail to win either of their remaining games. It is most definitely in our hands.

While this upcoming game against Lincoln isn’t the must-win game against a play-off rival that it looked like being a few weeks ago, we’re not a stage of the season yet for either team where we might consider playing out a tactical draw. A point in this game for either side, coupled with a loss on Saturday, is likely to lead to a nervy final day. I don’t think either manager will want to risk that – although I’m not sure there will be too big an effort from either side to win the game if it’s level in the final 10 minutes.

This is a chance for us to build some momentum heading into the play-offs (touch wood), Mark Robins has changed the tactics up and it has brought back-to-back wins but this game will be a test of whether those wins have come because of or in spite of the switch in systems. Bringing Jordan Shipley into the side for Bayliss allowed Robins to play a more orthodox midfield three which certainly brought the best out of Liam Kelly as more of a marauding midfield presence than we’re accustomed to and saw us control possession for large portions of the game.

Possible Line-Up

However, something doesn’t sit quite right for me in having to play two strikers on either wing. The biggest issue is that defensively, it leaves a huge gap in front of our full-back for the opposition to exploit. Secondly though, it leaves us with a dearth of creative players in the side, players who might otherwise be creating chances for McNulty, Ponticelli or Clarke-Harris.

As for the team selection for this game, it’s unlikely that Mark Robins will rock the boat too much. Despite this being a midweek game, this is certainly the most important of the two we’ll play this week, and we’ve had an extra day’s rest than our opponents. The only possible change that I can foresee is Tom Bayliss returning to the side for Jordan Shipley, based on the assumption that he was rested on Friday with this game in mind, rather than simply dropped from the team.

Last Time We Met

With this game having originally been pencilled-in during the height of the Beast From The East – called off at around 10am on the day of the game, you have to go back to November for our last clash with Lincoln City.

That trip to Sincil Bank was a rare occurrence for us, a game that we won after falling behind. A dismal first-half performance from the Sky Blues saw Lincoln take a deserved lead via man mountain Matt Rhead. However, Duckens Nazon and Jodi Jones took the second-half by the scruff of the neck and dragged us to victory. First, Jones fired an audacious effort from range and a narrow angle to level the scores up, before Nazon fired home a rebounded Jones effort to put us ahead.

How Are They Doing?

Lincoln have had a strong season back in the Football League and should really have nailed down a play-off place already, but have been consistently undermined this season by their lack of a reliable goalscorer. Their run to the Checkatrade Trophy final – which they won – has also hamstrung their past couple of months, leading to long runs of Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday weeks.

Their top-scorer this season is Matt Green – one of the umpteen strikers Mark Robins had been chasing over the summer – a very hard-working player with a good turn of pace and a physical presence too, Green isn’t the most clinical of finishers and is currently being deployed on the wing. Lincoln’s only other striker options are Ollie Palmer and Matt Rhead, who are both very similar bulking target-men centre-forwards lacking in mobility.

In wide areas, Cowley generally likes to play hard-working and direct players who look to put crosses into the box, although a switch to a 4-3-3 system has meant less room for that type of wide player. Harry Anderson is their best winger and has six goals and four assists to his name this season, but typically blows hot and cold. Ipswich loanee Danny Rowe impressed initially after arriving in January but hasn’t been on top form since, while ex-Stevenage star Tom Pett offers more of technical option out wide.

Lincoln’s midfield three of Alex Woodyard, Lee Frecklington and Elliott Whitehouse have gelled together strongly over the past month or so and give Lincoln a rock-solid core in the centre of the pitch – again, through work-rate. Woodyard is one of those midfielders that likes to keep things simple on the ball but does excellent work off it and looks destined to play at a higher level. The experienced Lee Frecklington has scored some important goals since returning to the club in January, while ex-Nuneaton star Elliott Whitehouse has finally come to the fore after taking time to adapt since signing for the club in October 2016, scoring the winning goal against Shrewsbury in the Checkatrade Trophy final.

Possible Line-Up

In defence, Lincoln will be able to call upon Michael Bostwick, whose suspension for a soft red card was overturned this morning. Bostwick is an important player for Lincoln, not only as someone who clearly should be playing at a higher level but also in the character and leadership he offers.

Additionally, right-back Neal Eardley has been a big player for Lincoln this season. The experienced ex-Blackpool and Birmingham man was brought in on a short-term contract over the summer due to his recent injury issues, but he’s stayed fit all season and proven to be a shrewd signing, offering energy going forward and defensive sturdiness at right-back.

Prediction

As mentioned earlier in the article, this isn’t exactly a do-or-die game for either team but it is one that I think both managers will be looking to win – is that’s not a completely trite insight. Neither team will want to be playing under pressure in their remaining fixtures and this is an opportunity to strike a bit of a blow against a team we could be playing either twice more, or at Wembley.

These are two even sides with similar approaches to the game, Lincoln are slightly more physical, we’re slightly more explosive. I can see this being a 1-1 draw.

Preview: Stevenage

Last week’s win over Crawley puts the chance to secure a play-off place tantalisingly within our grasp. Taking 73 points as a benchmark, we are just one win and two draws from our final four games from securing that, winning this upcoming match reduces that task to taking two points from three remaining games. It’s all looking very doable at the moment – presuming we’ll only need to reach 73 points.

Winning tonight’s game is crucial in crystallising our play-off spot at this late stage in the season. It puts the pressure on Mansfield and Lincoln to win their games on Saturday and potentially leaves us in a situation where a win over Lincoln on Tuesday could all but secure a play-off place – were Mansfield to lose their game. However, a defeat in this game could also put us back in a situation where we’re chasing a top seven place with games running out.

For Mark Robins, this game will be about ensuring the players use the pressure of the situation in the right way. For Stevenage, this is a free hit and, like Yeovil, they may be able to exploit the leadenness in the legs that pressure games can inflict. From our perspective, it’s all about ensuring that Stevenage have no reason to believe they can get something from this game – preferably by scoring a couple of early goals.

Possible Line-Up

After beating Crawley on Saturday, the team has received a much-needed shot in the arm after back-to-back defeats that were harrowing in different ways. However, the team selection and formation used by Mark Robins for that game was more than a little baffling and there’s a strong suspicion that we won in spite of the formation rather than because of it – although getting the win to avoid the season nosediving was important regardless of how it came.

Mark Robins intimated that the formation involving Jordan Ponticelli and Marc McNulty deployed as wingers and Tom Bayliss looking uncomfortable being played further forward was something that had been designed specifically with Crawley in mind. It may be the case that it was a one-off team selection, however, it’s hard to see how Robins can drop Ponticelli after his brace against Crawley while also having Marc McNulty, a target man, Tom Bayliss, and Doyle and Kelly in midfield, which seem to be his preferred options.

Last Time We Met

We drew 1-1 with Stevenage the last time we played them, Marc McNulty scoring first before Stevenage got a relatively late equaliser via Tom Pett. However, it’s a game that will be remembered most for the injury sustained by Jodi Jones, which subsequently saw us without arguably the division’s best player for the rest of the season.

Maybe this return match wouldn’t have just been about holding onto a play-off spot if Jodi had never picked up that injury.

How Are They Doing?

The season is petering out for Stevenage, a side that had been hopeful of being something of a dark horse for the play-offs but have spent the year unduly troubled by neither the play-offs nor fears of relegation. Nonetheless, a poor run of form between October and March saw manager Darren Sarll out of a job.

Sarll has been replaced by Dino Maamria – an ex-player and assistant manager during the successful Graham Westley-era which saw Stevenage rise from the National League to the League One play-offs – brought in after turning Nuneaton from relegation contenders in the National League North into outside play-off candidates. Big on motivation and fitness. Maamria had the team fired up enough for important wins over Barnet and Newport recently which have secured Stevenage’s place in League Two for another year.

It appears though that that initial spurt of motivation that Maamria provided has fizzled out, with last week’s 2-0 defeat to Cambridge a particularly limp performance. The manager appears now to be starting to test out players and formations before the summer transfer window.

Any team that Maamria builds next year is likely to be based on getting the best out of striker Danny Newton – a hard-working forward who has some excellent goals this year on his highlight reel – goal-poacher Matt Godden and academy attacking midfielder Ben Kennedy – who Maamria described recently as being capable of playing in the Championship, right now.

Possible Line-Up

Some important January loan signings have added quality to Stevenage’s squad, although at least two of them look set to play next season in League One. Those two are Tom King in goal, on loan from Millwall, who heroics have been important in Stevenage avoiding a complete mid-season collapse, and Luke Amos, from Spurs, who is a classy presence on the right of a midfield diamond who seems reminiscent to me of Grant Ward during his loan spell with us a few years ago. Arsenal youngster Ben Sheaf has shown glimpses of quality in defensive midfield, but has been overwhelmed with the physicality at times of League Two football.

With the quality of the side generally further forward, Stevenage’s ageing back four has looked creaking at times this season. Centre-backs Luke Wilkinson and Jack King are two pretty agricultural centre-backs at this level and also suffer from a lack of pace. Similarly at full-back, Ronnie Henry and Joe Martin aren’t exactly the most dynamic. We should probably be looking to press them into errors, or exploit them with balls played in behind.

Prediction

It’s not helpful that right now it’s not clear what XI and formation Mark Robins is going to pick for this game, however, you would hope that the opportunity that this game presents to take a step forward in securing a play-off place would not be lost on any combination of players used here. Stevenage are in many ways an ideal opponent as a side relatively low on confidence that has little to play for, although similar things were thought about Yeovil.

Nonetheless, this is a game that we should be expecting to win if everyone is playing to their highest level of concentration and intensity. I can see this being a victory by a single goal, so I’m going to call it as a 1-0.

Preview: Crawley Town

The point salvaged by Jordan Ponticelli’s impudent backheel had evaporated so quickly in front of our eyes at Notts County that it still feels difficult to compute the gravity of losing what was the biggest game of our season up until that point. While results in midweek have allowed us to hold onto our play-off spot, there is no denying that our hold on a play-off spot is slipping.

It’s not just the buffer being reduced to one point, but the sudden lose of form and any sense that Mark Robins knows his strongest team. Aside from Lee Burge in goal, Rod McDonald at centre-back, Michael Doyle in midfield and Marc McNulty up front, it feel as if Robins could be set to pick any combination of the remaining available players for this upcoming game against Crawley.

To be in such a situation with five games remaining and a play-off place on the line is really a cardinal sin. Our best runs this season have coincided with having a settled line-up, our poorer runs have been when Robins has tried to chop and change things. It doesn’t take a genius at this stage of the season to spot the trend, Robins should have known better than to pick the heavily-changed team he did at Notts County.

Possible Line-Up

A win is needed in this game against Crawley to kick-start us ahead of the run-in – as well as a potential further three games to secure promotion via the play-offs – although, it’s not a make-or-break game. A point may be enough to begin the turnaround, but that probably puts pressure on us to avoid defeat in our final four games and win at least two of those. However, if confidence really has been dented by our recent run, trying to value a clean sheet may not be the worst course of action.

Jordan Willis’ return to fitness is likely to mean a third different back four in the space of three games, but is undoubtedly an upgrade on Tom Davies – especially against a pacey Crawley side. Elsewhere, there is conundrum over who to play on the right wing, whether we continue to shoehorn Tom Bayliss there, or restore Peter Vincenti to allow Bayliss to play in his stronger central position. Up front, Jonson Clarke-Harris seems set to return as Marc McNulty’s strike partner despite Maxime Biamou looking more threatening during his half of football against Notts County.

Last Time We Met

It was during a similar period to now where we had not only lost form but Mark Robins was experimenting with his line-up that we faced Crawley at the Ricoh Arena back in November. For the first and only time this season, Mark Robins attempted to deploy a back three, however it was quickly discarded as Crawley’s pacey front three carved through it for the game’s opening goal.

An improvement in the second-half was reward when Duckens Nazon took down Ryan Haynes’ cross and squared it to Marc McNulty who levelled matters. Jordan Ponticelli had an excellent chance to secure what would have still been our only victory at home this season after falling behind, but failed to seize it. The game ended 1-1, which was probably a fair reflection of the balance of play.

How Are They Doing?

Having made the decision this summer to appoint the ex-Premier League player who looked least likely to go into management in League Two in Harry Kewell, Crawley looked like they were wilfully playing with fire. Despite a rocky start marred by defensive errors caused by ambitious attempts to play out from the back, Kewell has proven to be something of an inspired choice for Crawley.

For a period between December and February, Crawley looked like a side capable of gatecrashing the play-offs. Their pace and skill up front supplied via Enzio Boldewijn and Jordan Roberts in particular was devastating, supplemented by the goals from midfield of the experienced Jimmy Smith, as well as later on via the loan signing of Charlton’s young forward Karlan Ahearne-Grant – who has eight goals in 12 appearances since joining Crawley.

Possible Line-Up

Their recent win over Port Vale though came via bringing in the hulking Dutch centre-forward Thomas Verheydt back in the side, who has the ability to bully our defenders. There has also been praise recently for the hard-running and pacey forward Panutche Camara, who provides Harry Kewell with a different kind of number nine from Verheydt to pick from.

The Achilles’ heel of this Crawley side though is undoubtedly their defending. On their day, defenders Mark Connolly and Josh Yorwerth are high-calibre performers at this level, with keeper Glenn Morris an excellent shot-stopper. However, Yorwerth in particular is incredibly inconsistent and the lack of defensive strength at full-back along with their attempts to play out from the back can spectacularly backfire.

Prediction

While Crawley are still within grasping (with the very tips of their fingers) distance of the play-offs, the focus around the club already appears to be on next season. Nonetheless, there are very few teams who get to this stage of the season and genuinely give up. There will be players in that Crawley side playing for their futures at the club or looking to make a move elsewhere. We have to approach this game with intensity and intent, otherwise we could fall sucker to a side playing without the pressure we are under.

This has to be the game where the turnaround starts. The teams below us aren’t going to continue to miss opportunities to take our play-off spot and even if they do, we still have to end the season with confidence, momentum and a settled team.

I think this will be a 1-1 draw.

Preview: Notts County

How on earth do you go about reacting to losing 6-2 at home to Yeovil?

Do you make wholesale changes? Do you stick with the same players hoping for a positive reaction? Do you punish the players in training? Do you go about your usual business? Do you spend hours analysing what went wrong? Do you forget that it even happened?

Whatever happens in this upcoming game against Notts County – or, has happened on the training pitch since Monday – it has to be the right reaction. Whether that’s tearing everything up and starting again, or treating the Yeovil game as a one-off, this is a big game that if we can win, it puts to bed any talk that the team is choking now the pressure is on.

There are some players in this squad who feel like they will react well to having a point to prove in this game, and others who may have to be taken out of the firing line. In the latter category, Dominic Hyam looks the likeliest candidate for the drop after a naive showing against Yeovil and now that Tom Davies is fully fit again. Other likely candidates to be left out look to be Ryan Haynes and Peter Vincenti, despite other players maybe having worse performances, there are alternatives available in their positions.

Possible Line-Up

Whether Lee Burge is dropped is a more nuanced debate, it looked for all the world on Monday that his half-time substitution was for something other than injury. Provided that this injury isn’t serious enough to rule him out of this game, the hope is that Burge’s confidence hasn’t seriously been dented by Monday’s game – winning the division’s goalkeeper of the year award should be a confidence boost. Whatever you think of Burge, this is not the time of the season to be messing around with your goalkeeper if you can avoid it.

Elsewhere, Robins should be looking to avoid making too many unnecessary changes. We were seven games unbeaten before the Yeovil game and it looked like we had settled into a functioning team dynamic. Maxime Biamou scoring three goals in two games possibly changes the conversation up front, but any further squad rotation would be overkill.

Last Time We Met

Oh, happier times.

The last time we played Notts County was back on the opening day of the season. A new team in a new division, we had no idea how this year was going to play out. Jodi Jones though offered a tantalising vision of us steamrollering through this league – which, hasn’t materialised – Jones’ pace, skill and composure when through on goal was the difference between two fairly equal sides, notching a hat-trick on one of those glorious, summery opening days when anything looked possible.

How Are They Doing?

The Notts County that we played on the opening day weren’t the Notts County side that snarled, bullied and battered its way to a comfortable automatic promotion place during the first half of this season. Kevin Nolan’s side were almost a perfect incarnation of their manager’s recent playing days, technically limited perhaps but physical, determined and never letting games going against them peter out.

Since the turn of the year, it’s been a different story for Notts County. Losing the midfield presence of Ryan Yates robbed them of a key component in their settled 4-4-2 system based on holding the fort in midfield, energy on the wings and Shola Ameobi holding the ball up expertly up top. Kevin Nolan has shown his inexperience as a manger, signing too many replacement players for Yates, none of whom were like-for-like, which has forced a tactical re-think and led to disjointed performances and inconsistent results.

However, they remain relatively comfortably in a top seven position and if they can win this game it gives them a half-chance of getting back into the automatic promotion race or at least builds momentum heading into the play-offs. This is a big game for both sides.

For a side built on physicality, experience and work-rate, they also have one of the division’s best technical operators in Jorge Grant. Perhaps the dynamic of the rest of the side suits having someone like Grant in there who is free to let his superior technical skill flourish. He is on 18 goals this season, many of which have been important goals in the final 10-15 minutes of games.

The front pairing of Shola Ameobi and Jon Stead has generally been a reliable one for Notts County this season, although there have been consistent calls for the introduction of the pacey Jonathan Forte to add to the variety of threats Notts County pose other than the work of Jorge Grant out wide – and Lewis Alessandra to a lesser extent on the other wing – and the physical battering that Ameobi poses and Jon Stead’s goalscoring ability.

Possible Line-Up

As mentioned, the failure to directly replace Ryan Yates has led to a weekly conundrum for Kevin Nolan in which, and how many, players to pick in midfield. The signing of Liam Noble, who had starred for Forest Green in the National League last season, should have improved Notts County’s midfield, instead, Noble’s positional indiscipline hasn’t fitted in with Kevin Nolan’s tactics. Neither has the passing ability of Noor Husin, despite scoring a belting goal against Crewe back in February. With Michael O’Connor – arguably a League One standard player before his injury – edging closer to fitness, Nolan certainly has options to play alongside holding midfielder Elliott Hewitt, but it’s about which are the right ones.

Notts County look exploitable at the back given those midfield troubles, along with the lack of mobility of regular defensive stalwarts Carl Dickinson and Richard Duffy. With Adam Collin failing to convince in goal either, we should be looking to disrupt Notts County high up the pitch and getting efforts in at goal.

Prediction

This is possibly an ideal game for us to get back on the horse following the Yeovil game. Not only do we tend to play better against the better sides in this division, but Notts County aren’t exactly playing with confidence or continuity at the moment and you would hope that, motivated by the need to react to the Yeovil result, a strong start to the game from us could rattle them enough to put us in a good position to win the game. However, Notts County’s home form has held up relatively well over the past few months and us losing this game will multiply the negativity from Monday’s defeat.

Nonetheless, I’m reasonably confident that there is enough about this side to put in a positive reaction and make sure that we win this game. As for a scoreline, I can see us winning this 2-0.

Notes On A Catastrophe

We lost today, emphatically and farcically, at home to a side that in theory had nothing to play for and had won just three away prior away games. Just when it seemed we had put to bed the inconsistency that has dogged our season, today recalled some of this season’s more chastening results – Forest Green (both times), Newport (at home), and Accrington (at home) all rolled into one.

While it can be put down to just a freak result, there were some themes that emerged today that I feel are worth further comment than a tweet or a mention in a preview.

So, here goes.

15 Farcical Minutes

In a sense, there are no positives that really can be taken from today – although, I’ll try to later on – because we fell behind so quickly and so heavily. It behoved Robins and the players to go gung-ho, because what kind of team accepts a 3-0 scoreline after 15 minutes?

We had to react, but we shouldn’t have needed to react.

It isn’t ideal to fall behind so early, but you at least have the benefit of time to calm down before plotting your way back into the game. In particular, the defence clearly panicked during that spell for the other two goals with players making both silly errors and failing to keep positional discipline.

I appreciate that this is written with the benefit of hindsight, but we allowed a bad start to become a terminal one.

Haynes And Burge Are At Crucial Stages Of Their Careers

If you dropped a player every time they made a mistake, you would quickly run out of players to choose from. Someone isn’t instantly bad when they make a costly error, neither shouldn’t it be expected – particularly at League Two level – that a player is always good all of the time.

For young players, you have to be especially forgiving of their errors or bad performances that they make as it’s what ultimately helps them improve as players. However, there comes a time where young players stop being judged on the players they might eventually be and are judged on the players that they are.

Lee Burge is 25 years old and is closing on 100 league appearances for us, Ryan Haynes is younger at 22 but has now made his 75th league appearance for us. We aren’t talking about complete rookies here, they have been playing regular first-team football for some time now.

Lee Burge can be an excellent goalkeeper on his day – just look at the save he produced against Newport last Friday. Ryan Haynes can be absolutely devastating as an attacking force from left-back when he’s running at full steam. However, Burge continues to make costly errors and Haynes continues to struggle to convince as a defender.

For now, the lack of genuine alternatives means they’ll have a chance to put things right, but with each game their education comes to a close and their careers as professional footballers are increasingly made.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want, But If You Try Sometimes You’ll Get What You Need (Although You Can Also Get Punished For Taking Risks)

I’ve seen us lose this season by narrower margins than today and been much more angry than I am currently. After falling three behind, we saw a group of players desperate to pull off an unlikely comeback and a manager willing to take risks to facilitate the comeback.

Robins put on an extra striker and actually played the extra striker as an extra striker (rather than on the wing which he usually does), Kyel Reid was pushed to full-back, we got crosses and men into the box, and we tried to make the pitch big. This was the kind of risk-taking – along with attacking pressure – that we simply didn’t see earlier in the season.

Moreover, we saw a fiery determination from the players to force something from the game – probably too much so in the case of Jonson Clarke-Harris. The team could easily have spent the rest of the game trying to avoid making any more errors, but both the players and managers decided they’d rather lose emphatically trying to make a game of it, than accept what was a bad day at the office.

On another day, maybe we get ourselves a goal before half-time, maybe some of those chances we created during the second-half go in, maybe Yeovil are less clinical on the counter in the second-half. Who knows?

Let me put it this way, I’d rather see my time lose one game emphatically and win another from a losing position than draw two games by taking a risk-free approach.

We’re Still In A Good Position

We’ve just been hammered 6-2 a home to Yeovil, that’s hard to take. We’re still in the play-offs though and few of the teams around us are in particularly tremendous form. There are going to be good and bad days for all of the sides in the mix, the important thing is that we make sure Saturday’s game against Notts County is a good day.

Games like today feel like they should change everything, they don’t have to if you don’t let them.

So, the conclusion to this 900-word article is… let’s forget about it and move on.

Preview: Yeovil Town

With the run we’ve been on, and with teams above us dropping points on Saturday, the draw at Newport has to be viewed as a disappointing result. Fortunately, it hasn’t been a costly draw, the gap to third place remains at six points (with a game in hand) and the cushion to the play-offs cushion reduced by one point. If we can back up Saturday’s result with three points in this upcoming game against Yeovil, the run continues, anything less and we’re back to looking nervously over our shoulders to hang onto a play-off spot.

Having based this recent run on a settled line-up and being able to score the first goal in games, to have salvaged the draw against Newport via the introductions of Kyel Reid and Maxime Biamou from the bench, it’s a sign that Mark Robins hasn’t simply stumbled on a temporary winning formula. Players are likely to get fatigued over the next seven games, we’re also likely to fall behind in at least a couple of those games, the Newport result was a sign that we might be able to overcome those kind of setbacks.

Possible Line-Up

With this Yeovil game coming so quickly off the back of the Newport game, Mark Robins may have to change up the starting XI that’s served us so well in recent weeks – particularly as Yeovil have the advantage over us of not having played on Friday. The question is which changes can be made that avoid disrupting the balance of the side?

It only really looks like the introduction of Kyel Reid on the wing for either Peter Vincenti or Jordan Shipley doesn’t alter the team dynamic too drastically, but even then, it takes away a game-changing substitution that we could potentially need in this game – with Shipley and Vincenti players less likely to change games as substitutes. Unless there are players carrying knocks, it seems unlikely that Robins will make changes for this game, despite how quickly this game has come around.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Yeovil came off the back of the defeat to Newport and saw us lose in similar manner. A decent start to the game was undermined by Liam O’Brien needlessly charging off his line and colliding with Chris Stokes to hand Yeovil’s Rhys Browne a tap-in. We continued to pound away with decent-ish half chances before Olufela Olomola charged through our defence to seal the win for Yeovil.

How Are They Doing?

Yeovil looked like heavy favourites for relegation this season – emphasised by their 8-2 opening day defeat to Luton Town – however, manager Darren Way has managed his resources well to render Yeovil effectively safe from relegation with nine games of their season remaining.

What has been particularly impressive is that Yeovil’s safety has been achieved with a relatively inexperienced squad – packed out with loanees – which has rarely been the formula for avoiding relegation in the lower leagues. Darren Way seems to put an emphasis on developing promising young players in need of experience to round out their games, rather than the safe approach of doling out one-year contracts to experienced journeymen – however, their away form this season has arguably demonstrated the limitations of such an approach.

Possible Line-Up

With the experienced lower league maverick Francois Zoko as the figurehead in attack, the pace and skill of wingers Otis Khan, Jordan Green, Rhys Browne and Jake Gray has really come to the fore at times for Yeovil this season. Khan in particular has shone for Yeovil this season, and was seemingly close to a move to a League One club in January which fell through. Green and Browne offer raw pace in wide areas, while Jake Gray can operate as a central midfielder, where he offers drive and creativity.

In defence, Yeovil have a few players who are being linked with bigger and better things. The lanky Omar Sowunmi – who has also played as an emergency centre-forward – is seemingly on the radar of League One sides, while the composed Shaun Donellan at centre-back has impressed immediately since joining the club in January, and the versatile Tom James has been linked in the press to Swansea and Bournemouth. The form of those three – along with emergency goalkeeper signing Stuart Nelson – has helped Yeovil tighten up at the back considerably over the past couple of months.

Prediction

There is a danger that the expectation that this a straightforward three points for us against a side that not only has little to play for but has one of the worst away records in the division engenders a sense of complacency among our players and anxiety in the stands if we take time to settle into this game. However, we’ve shown in recent weeks that we can put away these kind of sides and this should be a three points to set us up for a big game against Notts County afterwards.

As for a scoreline, I can see us winning this 2-0.

Preview: Newport County

Having looked in danger of dropping out of contention for the play-offs just over a month ago, we’ve put ourselves in a position where automatic promotion could be within our grasp. With many of the promotion and play-off chasing sides playing each other over the Easter period, six points against two teams with nominally nothing to play for could put automatic promotion into our own hands – or at least, very close to.

While you usually want to revel in a 4-0 win and a hat-trick from one of your strikers, we can’t afford to lose any of the focus we’ve shown in recent weeks. Past slip-ups mean that our hold on even a play-off place is still tentative. The fact that the Grimsby win was our third in a row – and sixth game in a row unbeaten – has barely been commented on, which is a positive sign that there is a focus on finishing the job off, rather than basking in a strong run of form.

Possible Line-Up

After months of chopping and changing, Robins looks to have settled on a balanced and consistent side. Dominic Hyam and Rod McDonald have formed an excellent understanding in central defence, Jack Grimmer and Ryan Haynes from full-back allow us to stretch sides, Tom Bayliss and Michael Doyle seem the ideal yin and yang pairing in the centre of the park, Jordan Shipley and Peter Vincenti seem to balance things out nicely out wide and in Jonson Clarke-Harris and Marc McNulty we have two goalscoring strikers up front who are increasingly developing an understanding of how to play together.

Unless there are injuries that have cropped up since last week, there is absolutely no reason to change things up for this Newport game. While Liam Kelly, Kyel Reid and Maxime Biamou made important contributions against Grimsby from the bench which allowed us to kill the game off, the starting XI is performing so well that it’s hard to see anyone forcing their way into the side at the moment.

Last Time We Met

It was a defeat typical of the games we lost in the first few months of this season. Newport, a determined and hyper well-organised side, set out at the Ricoh Arena to contain us and went about their game-plan to perfection – even managing to be the better, more creative side in the first-half. Thanks to a a goalkeeping howler from Liam O’Brien, as he completely misjudged Reece Cole’s 25-yard daisy-cutter, and then some determined defending from Newport, it was a game we lost without posting too much of an attacking threat.

How Are They Doing?

For the opening few months of the season, Newport looked like being one of the surprise packages in League Two this year. Carrying the momentum from their remarkable escape from relegation last season, Newport were playing a physical, combative, and determined style of football that also saw them pummel the opposing side with crosses, set-pieces and shots and had them right in the play-off picture.

However, their run in the FA Cup – which saw them beat Leeds and take Spurs to a replay – seems to have derailed their season somewhat, with teams starting to cotton onto Newport being a genuinely good team. They have just one win in their past 10 league games and it seems that Mike Flynn – in his first full season as a manager – has struggled to deal with the drop-off in form, having chosen on one or two occasions to hang his players out to dry in the press, which is often a tactic of last resort.

Despite their recent run of form, here are two important stats to bear in mind – they have only lost three games at home all season, and none of the current top seven have beaten Newport at home this season. Going to Rodney Parade hasn’t been an easy fixture for anyone this season and Newport are a side that appear to relish playing against the better teams than in the games where they have to go out and attack.

The physicality and threat from set-pieces of Newport could be where we come unstuck in this fixture. Dan Butler and Robbie Wilmott – having played most of their football this season at wing-back – are their leading assist-makers, along with centre-back Ben White – mainly from flick-ons at set-pieces. Additionally, defender Mickey Demetriou is on five goals, further highlighting Newport’s threat from dead-ball situations.

Possible Line-Up

Newport appear to have been affected by the loss of midfield enforcer Joss Labadie to a season-ending injury, which has placed extra emphasis on the more creative-minded Matt Dolan and Josh Sheehan to perform their defensive duties. Nonetheless, Dolan is a player who can run a game at this level if given time on the ball, and Josh Sheehan – along with Wolves loanee forward Aaron Collins – has been one of Newport’s better players in recent weeks.

In attack, Newport have one of the division’s more reliable goalscorers in Padraig Amond, who is generally played with Frank Nouble as either a strike partner or wide player. Nouble is enjoying one of his best goalscoring seasons at Newport, having finally accepted the impact his physical presence can make. Additionally, Newport have Shawn McCoulsky on the books, who has 10 goals to his name this season but has lost some of the form he was in earlier in the campaign.

Prediction

It’s been a bit of a trope during these past few games that ‘it would be typical if we slipped up now’, but it would be typical if we slipped up now. Newport having essentially nothing to play for creates the sentiment that this is a game we should win easily, however, football isn’t as simple as that. Newport are a team that relish taking on better teams, especially if they can get an early goal and set about frustrating the flow of play.

If we are going to drop points in one of these two games over Easter, it seems likelier that it will be against a Newport side that are strong at home rather than a Yeovil side that struggle to win away. The intensity and ruthlessness we’ve shown in recent weeks has to be continued in this game. Nonetheless, I think we’ll drop points here – 1-1.