League Two Betting: Back Valiants on a roll

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Askey has a range of striking options

Walsall [2.6] v Port Vale [3.1]; the draw [3.4]

There’s a bit of excitement suddenly at Port Vale, now they have flown into the play-off places with a dramatic 3-0 win over Colchester.

Mark Cullen has upped the ante after scoring twice – his first goals since mid-November. He has a proven record of scoring, for Luton and Blackpool, earning various promotions with both of them. If he can be as prolific as he was with both those sides, the Valiants have a real chance of achieving success.

Their four wins and a draw in five have ensured their ticket allocation for the Walsall game sold out quickly and they had to ask for more, but the upward curve has been there a while – given that they are now in the top seven. In their past 14 games, John Askey‘s men have lost just twice, drawing five and winning seven. They only failed to score twice in that time, keeping six clean sheets including two in the past three games.

Not only have they kept out Colchester, they kept Northampton quiet when winning at Sixfields away from home, plus beat Forest Green on their last away trip.

The Valiants achieved their big win last weekend without top scorers Tom Pope, who has scored lots over the years, and Richard Bennett who played a bit part from the bench. That’s competition for places for you. Askey says players don’t just walk straight back in after absence.

They seem a good price to win, being bigger than the Saddlers, whose form goes in fits and starts. Likewise, they have beaten Forest Green and the increasingly difficult to fathom Northampton and will fancy their own chances here.

Stand up and be counted is Darrell Clarke‘s message to his players for the rest of the season, not wishing it to peter out. He said the management team gave the squad a lot of stick for losing at Carlisle six games ago, when they should have won, but there followed a 2-0 defeat at Morecambe.

Elijah Adebayo has been challenged to show his man of the match performance against Northampton was no fluke. The side showed a never say die attitude, he said. Walsall are the third lowest scorers at home and have no right to expect to reach the play-offs, while the Valiants are making a stringent effort to keep in them. The visitors haven’t won four games in a row since November 2015 say Opta. If they are serious about their promotion challenge they should extend their current run.

Northern sides have draw in Stock

Carlisle [2.4] v Morecambe [3.3]; the draw [3.6]

It will take a miracle for Stevenage to pull themselves out of the eight-point difference at the foot of the table. But if they do, Morecambe are at present the most vulnerable club.

Manager Derek Adams admonished them for not taking their chances in defeat at Grimsby, but the Mariners have been on an upward curve under Ian Holloway. And he should note that a draw would have been an injustice: Grimsby had about two and a half times the number of shots.

The trip to Brunton Park offers a chance for points, or at least one, just like in the early December game between the sides, which finished 1-1.

This derby is just another game for Cole Stockton, he says, despite it being against one of his former clubs. The 25-year-old wasn’t there long. But is says everything about Moreacambe’s season that his four goals place him joint top of the Shrimps scoring stakes, after Lewis Alessandra (on five) switched to Saturday’s opposition in January. He has yet to score for them.

On the positive side, the visitors have scored in each of their last 10 games, 12 in total, but have conceded exactly the same number despite two clean sheets.

I won’t be expecting a high scoring game, courtesy of Carlisle’s 13 goals for and 15 against over the same period, with only one clean sheet.

They have actually been on a decent run, winning two and drawing four of their past seven games, Joshua Kayode proving a lively addition to the forward line alongside Nathan Thomas and the supplier Harry McKirdy. Omari Patrick could get an extended run if Kayode and McKirdy continue to be absent.

Agitation with each other in the dressing room after their goalless draw at Crawley was a good sign, insisted boss Chris Beech. It shows passion. They might find Morecambe just as hard to break down.

Iron can be robust against Rovers

Scunthorpe [2.78] v Forest Green [2.9]; the draw [3.4]

A warning via Scunthorpe’s local media that Forest Green look back to their best seems premature. Especially when it quotes Rovers boss Mark Cooper as saying they dominated possession at Oldham, they just to finish their chances when they came along.

He’s been saying that most of the season. And the fact is when you are behind chasing a game, you are likely to be the team in possession. Their statistics of 17 shots and six on target were the same as their 3-2 defeat at Port Vale, in which they were always behind. They also had 10 and five when defeated by Walsall and 13 and four when drawing 2-2 at Grimsby, where they led at once stage. All of those statistics were bigger than their opponents’, but a tally of two wins in 16 games, and six draws, shows they have problems at the back as well as up front.

Four Forest Green players are said to be training away from the first team, Cooper pruning his options perhaps as Rovers try to resurrect their faltering play-off hopes.

The manager seems to be rotating his striking options Aaron Collins, Jack Aitchison now with Josh March, a January signing from Leamington, making his mark with two strikes.

Injuries to defenders the Mills, Matt and Joseph (who is top scorer with seven goals) has been a headache – Opta point out they haven’t kept a clean sheet in 10 – while Carl Winchester has done more than his fair share from midfield by netting five times.

What chance they can win away, for the first time in four attempts? The layers have this game as an even one between the two.

After Russ Wilcox was appointed Scunthorpe’s eighth manager in six years – and only until the end of the season – fans are rightly questioning the club’s long-term planning.

In 2014 he took the club on a 28-game unbeaten streak and back to League One in his first season. That ambition seems a long way off, despite chairman Peter Swann insisting at the turn of the year that he didn’t see player options out there improving the squad. It turned out to be the dreaded vote of confidence for Paul Hurst, who was shown the door as the Iron slid from a decent position.

With only one team to be relegated and Stevenage well off the pace, there is little pressure on several clubs. Wilcox wants to add “gloss” to the season with some victories. John McAtee, Kevin van Veen and Lee Novak remain capable of helping to at least score to maintain that aim. It is perhaps surprising that the Iron have gained their best results against high-flying Cheltenham (win), Bradford and Crewe (draws) in their last eight. If they can show anything like that fight, they can secure a draw.

Grecians must find battling qualities

Northampton [2.56] v Exeter [3.1]; the draw [3.5]

With several short home prices offering no value, especially with some of them against teams who could easily pinch a point or three, Exeter’s price seems to offer something special, at [3.1].

A negative goal difference on their travels (21-23) belies a strong points return of 28 from 17 games, joint best in League Two with leaders Swindon.

In their past 16 games, Matt Taylor‘s men have lost just twice, winning 10 including the reverse match, 3-2 leading from when Randell Williams scored on 32 minutes. Scoring in all but two of those games really helps, as well. Recent away defeats to Port Vale – in form – and Swindon can be forgiven as they head to Northampton, where the shine on a season needs a bit of buffing.

Having seen one Wembley dream ended by Portsmouth in midweek, Taylor has urged his charges to use the last-minute defeat as motivation for defeat. They will have no wish to risk going up via the play-offs after knock-out stage defeats in recent years.

Promotions and success are always put down to a team effort and Taylor was quick to praise a nudge from his backroom staff for a late tactical change from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3 for the win at Macclesfield, after the Silkmen came back from 2-2. It was a bold decision to take off Nicky Ajose, who had scored the first goal, and replace him with right-back Jayden Richardson. The formation changed worked, with Ryan Bowman scoring the late winner – his 12th of the season.

Cobblers’ boss Keith Curle will be questioning his back three tactic after accusing the team of “lazy” defending as Walsall came from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against them last week.

Michael Harriman, Lloyd James and Joe Martin have filled in variously, but Curle will surely now rely on the fit against Charlie Goode, Scott Wharton and Jordan Turnbull for the pivotal roles once more. Up front Andy Williams seems unlikely to feature, having been sent for a scan this week.

The hosts have suffered three straight defeats, again, arguably forgivably, to Port Vale and Swindon before Walsall, but the collapse in the latest game will concern the manager. Ryan Watson says they will “discuss as a group” why they let a 2-0 lead slip for a fourth time this season, the others turning only into draws. Exeter’s attackers will relish that statistic if they go behind.

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