EFL ROUND-UP: THE FIVE BEST GAMES FROM LEAGUE ONE AND TWO
Despite an ongoing battle with the Premier League over a bailout package combined with the absence of supporters at games leaving many clubs in Leagues One and Two facing an uncertain future, both the third and fourth tier have got off to an exciting start.
This weekend saw MK Dons win a first league away game in over a year at promotion hopefuls Sunderland, League One leaders Peterborough fall to defeat against Crewe and Tranmere come out on top in a seven-goal thriller in League Two.
Here is the best of the action:
Sunderland 1-2 MK Dons – League One
A penalty from Scott Fraser early in the second half set MK Dons up for a first ever win over Sunderland, and first league win on the road since September 2019.
The spot-kick was controversially awarded after Max Power caught Fraser on the edge of the box as the Sunderland man tried to clear, but there was no doubt about the former Burton Albion midfielder’s finish, as he sent debutant goalkeeper Remi Matthews the wrong way from 12 yards.
It was Sunderland who took the lead early on in this one though, as Power’s deflected shot from the edge of the box wrong-footed goalkeeper Andrew Fisher with 12 minutes gone.
The deflected goal seemed to be symptomatic of the kind of luck MK have been having under Russell Martin recently. The former Norwich defender has got his side playing attractive football, but a lack of cutting edge upfront meant they were only a point above the relegation zone before heading to Wearside.
It took only a couple of minutes for Martin’s luck to change though, as his former Norwich team-mate Cameron Jerome headed in a Ben Gladwin free-kick to level the scores.
Despite all of MK’s wonderful passing, the winning penalty came after a scramble in the box that saw Sunderland struggle to clear their lines before Power’s ill-timed swing of the boot.
Will Grigg missed the Black Cat’s best chance to equalise when he failed to connect with a Lyndon Gooch cross, but Martin’s side merited the win for their performance on the day.
The win sees his side climb to 14th in League One, whilst defeat for Sunderland means they missed out on the chance to move into the automatic promotion places and stay 6th.
Shrewsbury Town 3-3 Swindon Town – League One
John Sheridan was able to celebrate a point on the road in his first game in charge of Swindon after a last-minute goal from Arsenal loanee Matt Smith.
Sheridan arrived at Swindon last week after leaving League One rivals Wigan, and Smith’s late equaliser was the perfect welcome.
The afternoon had got off to a miserable start for the Robins though, as early headers from Aaron Pierre and Matthew Millar put Shrewsbury 2-0 up and on course for a first home league win since February.
However, great work from Swindon winger Joel Grant saw him slalom past the home defence and fire a deflected shot into the roof of the net, giving the new manager something to work with at the break.
The Irishman’s luck didn’t seem to be in though, as 10 minutes after the interval a clearance fell at the feet of the Shrews former Wales international Dave Edwards and he blasted the ball into the Swindon net.
Sheridan wasn’t without hope though, Hallam Hope that is.
The striker curled home a lovely goal with half an hour still to play and a grandstand finish was on the cards.
It took until the final minute as Smith’s shot took an almighty deflection and looped over home ‘keeper Harry Burgoyne to spark delirium in the away dugout.
The pressure is increasing on Sheridan’s opposite number Sam Ricketts as his side’s dreadful home form sees them 22nd in the table.
The draw helped to keep Swindon out of the relegation zone in 20th, with Smith’s late goal keeping them above bitter rivals Oxford.
Crewe Alexandra 2-0 Peterborough United – League One
Crewe Alexandra secured an impressive win over league leaders Peterborough United thanks to first-half goals from Harry Pickering and Charlie Kirk.
Pickering gave the home side the lead after half an hour when he expertly curled a free-kick into the bottom corner via the woodwork.
The advantage was doubled before the interval as a misplaced pass from Peterborough defender Niall Mason was seized upon by Kirk, and the winger finished calmly when one-on-one with goalkeeper Christy Pym.
Peterborough probed for a way back into the game in the second half, but in truth they were always second best to this bright, young Crewe outfit.
The only moment of worry came when ‘keeper Will Jaaskelainen fumbled a long-range effort from Reece Brown, but did well to block the follow up from Mo Eisa.
Crewe are another side that probably don’t have as many points as they deserve so far this season, but results and performances such as this are the perfect example of why so many were excited to see how David Artell’s side would perform after promotion from League Two last season.
The win moves them up to 13th.
Darren Ferguson will no doubt be disappointed by his team’s showing, but the fact that this was their first league defeat since the end of September suggests they will be in the end of season promotion shake-up
The loss, combined with Hull’s win over Burton, sees Posh’s lead at the top cut to a single point.
Port Vale 3-4 Tranmere Rovers – League Two
Manager-less Tranmere came from two goals down to beat in-form Port Vale thanks to a pair of goals in second-half injury-time.
A screamer from Keiron Morris in the 96th minute gave the away side the points and condemned 10-man Port Vale to only a second home league defeat of the season.
Vale started much the stronger of the sides and took the lead from the penalty spot through Tom Conlan after the midfielder had won the spot-kick himself.
Their second goal was straight off the training ground, as a short corner was worked to David Amoo who smashed the ball home after finding himself in acres of space.
Everything was going to plan for John Askey’s side until early in the second half, when Luke Joyce went flying into a dangerous looking tackle on Morris, changing the complexion of the game in the process.
A poacher’s finish and a penalty from veteran striker James Vaughan dragged Rovers level less than 20 minutes after Joyce was given his marching orders, and the momentum looked to be with the side that are unbeaten since sacking manager Mike Jackson a fortnight ago.
It was a real surprise that it was the 10 men who struck next then, as substitute Devante Rodney headed in from a David Worrall free-kick only minutes after Vaughan’s equaliser.
A tidy back-post finish from Tranmere’s Kaiyne Woolery looked to have secured a point for caretaker manager Ian Dawes in the third minute of injury-time, but it was Morris who stole the show with one of the goals of the weekend.
The late goal sees Tranmere move up to 15th, whilst Port Vale drop to 8th.
Walsall 0-1 Southend United
Southend United won a game for the first time since March thanks to a late goal from Emile Acquah at Walsall.
Shrimpers’ substitute Acquah scrambled home the winner only minutes after Walsall striker Elijah Adebayo had missed a penalty at the other end to earn Mark Molesley a first win as Southend boss at the 17th time of asking.
Walsall had only lost one of their last 16 games before meeting Southend, making the Bescot Stadium seem an unlikely location for a Southend miracle.
However, the away side defended heroically throughout, with a goal-line clearance following a wonder-save from goalkeeper Mark Oxley deep in the second half seemingly ensuring they would go home with at least a point.
Late heartbreak looked to be on the cards though as Tom Clifford brought down Cameron Norman just inside the box and a penalty was awarded.
Adebayo, Walsall’s top scorer, stepped up but could only clip the crossbar with his shot and the Shrimps looked like they’d survived for the draw.
However, Acquah had the final say, turning nicely on the edge of the box before firing a shot towards goal that flicked off Norman and crept under the arm of goalkeeper Liam Roberts to secure a memorable victory.
The Walsall players were visibly distraught at conceding such a soft late goal, and the afternoon only got worse for them when midfielder Alfie Bates was shown a second yellow card in injury-time for a needless foul in the middle of the park.
Molesley looked understandably delighted in his post-match interview but his side do remain rock-bottom of the football league despite the win, although they are now only three points from safety.
Darrell Clarke’s Walsall slipped to 13th after this disappointing defeat and look unlikely to mount a promotion push unless they can start winning tight games like this.