By Matthew Holmes, Joseph Brayne, Steven Narloch, Isaac Stronge, Callum Sutherland and Jacob Findell
It’s a tale of sliding teams this week. Bolton, Salford and Stockport are threatening to slide away from the play-offs, whilst Wigan and Rochdale have been stuck in a permanent slide out of their respective leagues. Surely there has to be a bright spot across Greater Manchester’s footballing scene…
Ipswich Town unceremoniously ended the Wanderers’ 13-match unbeaten streak at home with a comfortable 2-0 victory. A disastrous penalty miss from Dion Charles before the break, as the game lay in the balance at 1-0, proved the death knell for Ian Evatt’s side.
Bolton still enjoy a six-point cushion in the play-off positions, but fans are justifiably nervous about the rocky form of late. Securing just one win in League One in their last five matches, the Wanderer’s have struggled from a worrying mix of fatigue and creative defecits.
Vice-captain, Gethin Jones, is keen for the squad to return to the scorching form of early February that saw The Whites knock five goals past both Peterborough and MK Dons. Speaking after the Ipswich loss, Jones said: “We’ve had some really rough patches here, especially when we were in League Two in that first few months and came out of it promoted.
“We need to need to keep at it and a few of the older lads need to speak to the younger ones and keep them calm and get the confidence back into them.”
An away-day to Hillsborough Stadium awaits Bolton on this Friday before an extended break. Bolton fans are in for a treat when they visit The Owls fearsome fortress – an arena that has has boasted a season average attendance of nearly 25,000.
Darren Moore’s Sheffield Wednesday are in blistering form, sitting three points clear at the top of the table with two games in hand. Josh Windass and Michael Smith are providing the attacking spark, Moore is adeptly game-managing and the fans are playing their hand – Wednesday are a club destined for the Championship.
After slumping to defeat against table-toppers Burnley last week, Wigan produced a more positive last night against in form Coventry City.
The midlands club are now unbeaten in eight games after yesterday’s clash at the colossal DW Stadium. However, goalscoring is still a concern for the Latics, who had to rely on a late Callum McFadzean own goal to salvage a point.
It does not get any easier for Wigan this weekend either as Shaun Maloney’s men travel down to 10th place Watford. The hornets are looking to push for the play-offs after last week’s appointment of Chris Wilder at the helm.
Athletic moved up to 23rd after last night’s draw, but still sit five points from safety. Form in front of goal needs to improve if they stand a chance of survival.
It’s the hope that kills you. After an unexpected, and much-needed, victory against high-flying Stevenage, Rochdale fell back down to Earth last time out with an away defeat at Grimsby.
They weren’t outplayed, as the 1-0 scoreline suggests. But the Mariners weren’t in sparkling form heading into it, so it has to be seen as an opportunity wasted when opportunities are now at a premium.
A return to the Crown Oil Arena represents a small ray of hope, as Rochdale prepare themselves for the visit of Swindon, a team sitting slap bang in the middle of the table.
Swindon haven’t won in three games, so you can put your money on them returning to form against League Two’s bottom side, but Rochdale need to use everyone (mainly me) writing them off as the fuel for an unlikely great escape.
Stockport County finally found their scoring boots once more last weekend, through current top scorer Kyle Wootton, but could still only manage a 1-0 victory against a struggling Colchester side.
The opposition is likely to put up a much fiercer challenge this weekend, as the Hatters welcome promotion pushers Mansfield to Edgeley Park.
Sitting just four points behind County with two games in-hand, they will be eager to plug the gap and breach the play-off places.
With Mansfield having travelled to 4th placed Northampton on Tuesday (Mar 14), in a game they lost and had a man sent off, County will fancy their chances entering the game the fresher side after having a fixture-free midweek.
There is no doubt that County will need to improve on their recent attacking form if they’re to capitalise on what could turn out to be a depleted Mansfield team.
One of Salford’s ownership group, Gary Neville found himself roundly mocked by Crewe Alexandria’s fans last week as the Ammies allowed a 3-2 lead in the 85th minute of the game to become a 4-3 defeat by the full time whistle.
The two sides put on a real show on Friday night, though Salford certainly had the better of the chances and will count themselves unlucky to have returned empty handed.
This was however yet another game in which they have failed to follow up a positive result with another. This inconsistency means Salford now look certain to drop out of the play-off places, especially with Mansfield lurking in eighth, a single point behind and with two games in hand.
Fortunately though for Salford, the teams around them in the play-offs also seem incapable of putting runs of form together. Stockport and Bradford are still just three points ahead so even if the Ammies’ form does not improve they may snag a play-off spot almost by default.
Next weekend will see Neil Wood’s men hosting Doncaster, a tough test but a game that they will be hopeful of winning, especially at the Peninsula Stadium.
It is very much Altrincham on tour at the moment as the Robins are away once again for the sixth match in a row, the seventh time in eight matches.
Following two victories in four days at York, one in the FA Trophy and the other in the league, Altrincham now travel to Hampshire for a match at Eastleigh.
It has been a mixed bag of results for Alty of late with them struggling to put a run of victories together, a familiar theme for their season.
They will be buoyed by the fact that on-loan striker Joe Hugill contributed with a goal on Tuesday night against tough opposition.
Eastleigh come into the fixture sitting just inside the playoff positions. They lost this week to high-flying Notts County.