LEAGUE TWO PLAY-OFFS: WHO WILL MAKE IT TO WEMBLEY?
NEWPORT COUNTY VS FOREST GREEN
1st Leg: 18th May – KO 8:15pm
2nd Leg: 23rd May – KO 6:30pm
Newport County emerged from a disappointing 19/20 season to one of the main contenders for an automatic promotion spot after a strong start to the season. Unfortunately for Michael Flynn, his side could not keep up their form, as they ran into some hit and miss form around the Christmas break, and that was something they struggled to shake off until the last few games of the season. When play-offs were the only thing left for Newport to achieve, they solidified their position with three wins out of five, including a win against the league leaders Cheltenham Town. Flynn has not deviated from the three at the back this season, so we will more than likely see Newport continue that shape for these two games, and that solid defensive trio has led the Exiles to be the third best defensive side in the league. The fitness of midfielder Joss Labadie will be important to their chance of play-off success, as the midfielder limped off in their last game of the season, but Newport have a thing for turning up in the big games as previous cup runs have shown, and Flynn will be desperate to avenge their Wembley heartache from two years ago.
One of this season’s promotion favourites, many may feel that this season has been a slight disappointment for the Nailsworth-based side, but a play-off place enables the team to still reach their goals in terms of getting that much desired promotion. In a similar vein to Newport, Forest Green had a long spell of inconsistent form, and this led to long term manager Mark Cooper being sacked with just seven games to spare. In came Jimmy Ball as the interim manager, and he has managed to keep his team in the play-off spots, with two wins in their last two games securing sixth place. Having also played with a three at the back for most of the season, Ball has not been afraid to make tactical changes, switching to a four at the back for some games, and with that, switching between a 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and a midfield diamond. With Jamille Matt still out, the form of Aaron Collins and on-loan striker Josh Davison will be crucial to FGR’s play-off chances, but they will be confident, as they hold a recent 2-1 win over potential final opponents Tranmere Rovers.
Both sides have struggled with inconsistency this season, but both have managed to score big wins and put on big performances, so this is bound to be an entertaining affair.
TRANMERE ROVERS VS MORECAMBE
1st Leg: 20th May – KO 6pm
2nd Leg: 23rd May – KO 12:30pm
Tranmere Rovers struggled to adjust to League Two after their relegation from League One and found themselves in mid-table for a long period of the season. However, after letting go of manager Mike Jackson, Rovers hit form under caretaker boss Ian Dawes before the arrival of Keith Hill. Orignally, this move looked like it was not going to work out, as the honeymoon period came crashing down with two big losses to Exeter and Walsall, but Hill managed to get his team up into the play-off picture, and that is where they stayed for the rest of the season. Despite this, Hill was sacked at the end of the season, and Ian Dawes will be back in charge for the play-off games. This is a huge risk for Tranmere, but their form was unconvincing and Hill’s relationship with the fans was not great, so the risk was taken. Tranmere have struggled to score goals recently, with only five goals in their last 10 games, which is very poor. They have fared much better in terms of defending, as they have only conceded four goals in their last eight games, and considering their lack of goals, a lot of Tranmere’s games towards the end of the season have been relatively dull affairs. If Dawes can keep the defensive solidity, and add some attacking firepower back into the team, Tranmere may be able to repeat the play-off heroics that saw them go up two years ago.
Morecambe have been so unexpectedly good this season, their chairman had to release a statement exclusively saying, ‘Goodbye Little Old Morecambe’. This change of ambition from the club has seen what was once a dormant League Two side turn themselves into genuine automatic promotion contenders, finishing just a point away from third place Bolton. Derek Adams has a track record for getting teams promoted, and it seems he has been able to get the best out of the Shrimps. His side have managed to win five out of their last six games, with their only loss being to promotion winning Bolton Wanderers. Mainly going with either a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-2-3-1, the form of winger Carlos Mendes Gomes has been pivotal to Morecambe’s rise, and he will be a player that stays with the Shrimps with a promotion to League One, whereas he may leave if his team aren’t promoted. Players like Cole Stockton, Liam Mcalinden and Brad Lyons deserve a mention as well, as Morecambe have scored the second highest number of goals in League Two this season with 69, just behind Exeter with 71. If Adams side can keep that form in front of goal going, there is no reason that they can’t go on and get themselves promoted, therefore ushering in the new era Morecambe fans have been craving.
Tranmere have taken a huge risk sacking their manager just before a play-off campaign, but if Dawes can keep his team in the form they were first in under his stewardship, then Morecambe will have to dig deep to secure a trip to Wembley for the first time since 2007.