Whilst the Premier League and Championship enter a brief hiatus as the World Cup takes centre stage, the fourth tier of English Football rolls on as a busy month of December looms.
With each team playing five games throughout the course of the month, it could be a crucial and pivotal time for clubs to turn their season around or maintain good form as we enter the New Year.
The most notable fixture on the calendar is the top of the table clash between Leyton Orient and Stevenage at Brisbane Road, previously on Boxing Day, but now moved to the 27th at 12:30pm. The spotlight game will be live on Sky Sports and provides the two sides an opportunity to impress a wider audience than usual as many will be sat at home finishing Christmas leftovers on the sofa.
The move initiates a rare occurrence as League Two is hardly ever showcased on live television but the break in the top two leagues’ schedule may lead to increased attendance at lower league games as well as viewership.
This previous weekend saw just three games where both teams were able to score and nearly half of the sides in the league failed to find the net (11); including two nil-nil’s.
Leaders Orient were able to take advantage of an out of form Harrogate to return to winning ways as Richie Wellens’ men eased past the North Yorkshire side.
Key playmakers Smyth and Moncur were both involved in both goals. It was Moncur’s corner which found the head of the Irishman. And it was Smyth’s run in behind which led to him being brought down by Peter Jameson before Moncur despatched the spot kick into the bottom left hand corner, sending the Town keeper the wrong way. Business was done and dusted inside 24 minutes ensuring the O’s kept their three point margin at the top of the table.
Stevenage scraped past second-bottom Hartlepool with a controversial but legitimate goal from Danny Rose with just over ten minutes to play. As Pool keeper Killip prepared to kick the ball downfield, Rose ran up behind him, stole the ball, and slotted into an empty net to give the home side all three points. The result was harsh on the away side who matched the Hertfordshire outfit for the majority of the game. But a goalkeeper howler handed the hosts the win as Stevenage keep the gap to the top at three.
The top three stayed the same as Northampton, like Orient, grabbed a 2-0 away win, at the expense of Gillingham. A 13th goal of the season from top scorer Sam Hoskins as well as a goal from Kieron Bowie meant the Cobblers returned home with a win. The hosts were coming off the back of an unlikely win away at Brentford in the Carabao cup in the week but were unable to translate that performance to Saturday’s game as they were beaten comfortably by Jon Brady’s side.
The most important change in the table from Saturday was Bradford overtaking Barrow as Mark Hughes’ side ran out 2-0 winners at Sutton while Barrow lost 1-0 at Crawley. Bradford are now only two points behind Northampton and are two points above Barrow, who slip down to fifth. The loss ended the Bluebirds three game winning run, whereas Bradford’s win was their second in succession following three draws in a row prior. The West Yorkshire side claimed their sixth win in seven unbeaten games away from Valley Parade with Andy Cook also bagging his 12th of the campaign.
Swindon and Mansfield round off the playoff places as the Robbins only managed a draw at home to Tranmere who are now without a win in five. On the contrary, Swindon are now unbeaten in five with three wins and two draws. The Stags edged past Rochdale at Spotland to end their four game winless run which included three losses.
The gap between 4th placed Bradford and 12th placed Stockport is only eight points as the table remains extremely tight, even after 18 games. No playoff place is strongly secured but leaders Orient enjoy a 13 point gap to 8th place.
Carlisle sit one point outside the playoffs after a 0-0 draw with Walsall in a contest which had only three shots on target for both sides combined. Salford also drew 0-0 at home to AFC Wimbledon who continue their unbeaten run to five games and are now reassuringly 11 points above the relegation zone.
Doncaster beat Grimsby 3-1 away from home to notch back-to-back wins after a superb attacking display, which included a George Miller brace. Crewe picked up a much needed win at home to bottom side Colchester with an 80th minute Dan Agyei winner.
To round off, Newport hosted in-form Stockport with the visitors winning the game 2-1 and have now taken 13 points from their last five games. The Welsh side went in front on 45 minutes, but Chris Hussey equalised in the 54th minute before Paddy Madden completed the turnaround 20 minutes later. The win sees the Hatters enter the top half of the league while Newport sit 19th, just four points above the drop zone.