League Two Play-Off scramble: who will make the top seven?

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IT'S safe to say that none of League Two’s top four teams will miss out on the top seven, but what about the rest? Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) talks us through eight candidates for a Play-Off berth.

League Two Play-Off scramble: who will make the top seven?

Cheltenham

Why they will make it

Stability.

Michael Duff rarely changes the starting XI and has barely changed the 3-4-1-2 setup, if at all this season.

Cheltenham have two or three clearly defined passages of play which works for the team, who boast both the division’s best home goalscoring record and the best away defensive return.

Midfield dynamo Ryan Broom has been a revelation while in Sean Long and Chris Hussey, they boost two of the division’s best wing-backs.

Why they might not

Cheltenham struggle to create a high-volume of chances – they average 1.32 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game which is the 11th-most in the division.

Could struggle to maintain current results if the goalscorers cease to be ruthless in front of goal.

Verdict

Should make the top seven.

Port Vale

Why they will make it

Vale’s 3-0 win over Colchester was a sign of their top seven credentials.

John Askey’s side were without three key players through suspension yet still comfortably beat a fellow Play-Off competitor.

Centre-back Nathan Smith and energetic midfielder Manny Oyeleke have been key men for the Burslem-based outfit at various points over the last 18 months, but now they can be eased into a team that is already winning.

Why they might not

Askey is undertaking a huge re-building project so they are overachieving to be in this position.

13 points from eight home games against bottom half opposition is a less than desirable tally for a Play-Off contender, especially with draws at home to beleaguered strugglers Stevenage and Macclesfield.

Verdict

Might have enough to retain their place – it’s been a fantastic season, whatever happens.

Colchester

Why they will make it

The U’s possess arguably their best squad since the early part of the previous decade.

Players like Tom Lapslie and Courtney Senior, regarded as key men at times last season, can miss large portions of the season without it affecting the team.

Cohen Bramall is an excellent left-back who could be playing in the Premier League by now but for injuries, while Callum Harriott brings drive and thrust in the trio behind the main striker in John McGreal’s 4-2-3-1 setup.

Why they might not

McGreal’s side recently lost 3-0 at Vale and that away defeat, combined with the one at Cambridge previously, has banished any sense of invincibility that might have come from a somewhat deceptive 17-game unbeaten run, which included a lot of draws.

Verdict

Might edge their way in.

Northampton

Why they will make it

Efficiency.

The Cobblers get the ball into forward areas quickly from deep which, at their best, allows Vadaine Oliver to hold the ball up selflessly, initiating swift combination play involving Paul Anderson, Nicky Adams and Sam Hoskins.

Why they might not

Keith Curle’s direct methods are not to everyone’s tastes, so it becomes harder for fans to tolerate the airborne style when results turn sour, as they have recently with three straight defeats.

Verdict

Could miss out, which would leave the club needing to rejuvenate an aging squad this summer, when Curle’s existing contract is set to run out.

Bradford

Why they will make it

Returning to Valley Parade for his third managerial stint, Stuart McCall can connect with natives on an emotional level – he was arguably let down by poor ownership in the previous two reigns.

Striker Lee Novak has proved a good piece of business and, optimistically, there is some untapped creativity in this team.

McCall will hope to get more than his predecessor out of midfielder Callum Cooke and fit again playmaker Jamie Devitt.

Why they might not

Bradford have mustered just one win from their last 10 league games and have had huge difficulty imposing themselves on the road, winning three times in 17 jaunts from West Yorkshire.

Verdict

It’s not all over for them, but equally it’s hard to imagine them kicking off in League One in six months time – may need a substantial re-build at this level.

Forest Green

Why they will make it

Ebou Adams proved in his pre-Christmas form that he can be one of the best midfielders in League Two, while Rangers loanee Jack Aitchison is a huge talent.

George Williams is back fit too which is a huge plus, as his sumptuous strike in the 1-1 draw at Oldham proved.

Why they might not

The goalkeeping situation has proved problematic but most pertinently, chairman Dale Vince has been especially loyal to Mark Cooper.

The manager’s relationship with supporters has never exactly been cosy – even during the good periods of his reign – but it has deteriorated in recent weeks due to his conduct combined with negative results.

Verdict

If Cooper stays in charge, it is hard to see the Greens finding the unity they need to get back in the top seven – a change though could jolt them into life.

Salford

Why they will make it

Mid-season investment.

Tom Elliott has provided a much-needed focal point to facilitate Graham Alexander’s direct methods and the Ammies get quality balls into their target man, with recruits Ashley Hunter, Bruno Andrade and Craig Conway all capable of accurate deliveries.

Their other forwards, Brandon Thomas-Asante and James Wilson, bring pace.

Why they might not

Salford have been playing catch-up all season with regards to the Play-Off places – and even when performances have picked up, they have not been able to get the results.

Dominant home displays against Northampton and Crawley went unrewarded – six points from those games rather than one would have put them right in the picture.

Verdict

Could be a huge threat… next season.

Cambridge

Why they will make it

Mark Bonner has done an outstanding job as caretaker manager, winning all of his first four games in charge.

This is without Luke Hannant and Jack Roles, who would have been regarded as key players in the first half of the campaign.

Liam O’Neil and Paul Lewis get through a lot of graft in midfield while Samir Carruthers, too good for this level from a technical perspective, is back to aid a squad that now seems to have strength in depth.

Why they might not

For context, Joe Dunne won his first three games in charge as caretaker and his eventual managerial regime proved underwhelming.

Four games do not mean much in the context of the season – let’s not forget that a month ago, Cambridge hit their lowest nadir with a 4-0 loss at home to Stevenage.

Verdict

Well done Bonner, but Play-Offs would be a tall order.

Best Bets

League Two – Port Vale to reach the Play-Offs (1/1 BetVictor)

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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