League Two automatic promotion: the five-horse race

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THE race for automatic promotion in League Two had recently looked like a case of three from four, but Cheltenham’s surge adds extra spice to the market for EFL connoisseur Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) to examine.

Swindon

Why they will go up

Swindon are top of the league, one point above Crewe with a game in hand – and this is despite struggling to keep their season’s best XI together.

Key defender Mathieu Baudry has spent time on the sidelines, as has versatile forward Keshi Anderson, while Richie Wellens side also spent time without goalscorers Jerry Yates and Eoin Doyle, who were recalled by their parent clubs.

The likes of defender Rarmani Edmonds-Green and attacking midfielder Diallang Jaiyesimi have done well to fill in gaps, which shows two things: that Swindon have depth and that their system is more important than the individuals within it.

Why they might not

Swindon could perhaps be lacking match sharpness amid a run of just one game in 21 days.

Verdict

Title-winners – and any success that comes their way will be thoroughly deserved.

Exeter

Why they will go up

Nicky Law’s return to fitness brings a new dimension of intelligent movement and passing between lines to the midfield, even if Matt Jay did well in the interim period.

Randell Williams poses a direct threat, too, with his bold runs down the right, where Pierce Sweeney loves to overlap, as shown by the winner in the 1-0 victory at Salford.

Why they might not

Talking of 1-0 wins, half Exeter’s victories have come by that scoreline and another four have also come by a one-goal margin.

Their goalkeeper, at times Johnny Maxted but most recently Lewis Ward with the former sidelined, has been heavily relied upon.

They played well recently against Crawley, yet mustered just two shots on target in a 1-1 draw – so is the fortune they have benefited from at certain points this season beginning to even itself out?

Verdict

Automatic promotion.

Crewe

Why they will go up

Controller Ryan Wintle and creative maestro Tommy Lowery, when fit, are too good for this level.

The recent resurgence of James Jones means Crewe now have six midfielders – including Paul Green, Oli Finney and Callum Ainley – who would get into most other League Two sides.

Charlie Kirk’s left-sided partnership with Harry Pickering has beautiful symmetry while in Perry Ng, Crewe boast the most intelligent right-back below the Championship.

Why they might not

Concerns over the centre-back position have been somewhat quelled by the speed at which academy graduate Luke Offord has adjusted to senior football as well as how January recruit Michael Nottingham has added power and aerial prowess.

Still, if Offord were to struggle at a high-pressure stage of the season, as would be understandable, or if Nottingham were to get injured, they could find themselves short on options, depending on how well Eddie Nolan recovers from his back injury.

Verdict

Automatic promotion.

Plymouth

Why they will go up

For much of the first half of the season, Argyle were exerting some control on their games but looked overly reliant on the individualism of Danny Mayor, short of a reliable finisher up top.

In January, though, Ryan Lowe recalled Luke Jephcott, tutored by Green legend Paul Wotton at Truro, to bring poaching qualities while Ryan Hardie has also made an instant impact since joining on loan from Blackpool.

Jephcott and Hardie have been the game-changers.

Why they might not

Lowe was able to put together a consistent rear-guard at Bury, but he has not been quite so lucky in Devon, where injuries and suspensions have held his side back.

Argyle have previously struggled to cope without Gary Sawyer and the left-sided centre-back is suspended for another four games after a dismissal in the 2-1 loss at Bradford, which led to a three-game winless run.

They also look short of somebody to reliably anchor the midfield without Josh Grant, who is now back at parent club Chelsea due to injury; that issue is hardly helped by the two-match suspension for Antoni Sarcevic.

Verdict

Could be a serious threat in the play-offs, if they can put together something close to their best XI.

Cheltenham

Why they will go up

Hit form at the right time.

Michael Duff was critical of his side’s performance in the 1-0 loss at Scunthorpe, but to their credit, they have responded emphatically with five consecutive league wins.

Alfie May has been an inspired signing from Doncaster while defensively, Charlie Raglan, Ben Tozer and Will Boyle have forged a strong understanding.

Why they might not

Cheltenham average just 10.7 shots per game, the fewest in League Two.

The Robins struggle to create a high-volume of goalscoring opportunities which could hinder them, if they lose some of their defensive solidity.

Their chief creator is Ryan Broom, whose game is about athleticism rather than spatial awareness and with Tom Nichols yet to hit top form, they look short of central creativity, with most of their key chances recently coming from crosses.

Verdict

Reaching the play-offs would be an excellent achievement – anything more is a bonus.

Best Bets

League Two – Swindon to win the title (19/25 Marathon)

League Two – Exeter to finish in the top three (4/6 BetVictor)

League Two – Cheltenham to make the play-offs (4/6 BetVictor)

League Two – Plymouth to win the play-offs (5/1 Betfair)

About Author

Gabriel discovered the betting world through his passion for English football; he had a mixed start in April 2014, landing a solid treble before being let down the week after by beleaguered Torquay winning at Bristol Rovers. Although he often follows his beloved Birmingham City, he also covers other teams in the Midlands and enjoys visiting new grounds further afield now and again. Quite likes sitcom Not Going Out, too.

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