By Joseph Brayne, Matthew Holmes, Steven Narloch, Isaac Stronge, Callum Sutherland and Jacob Findell
Where to start with this weekend’s Greater Manchester Football Wrap? Rochdale continue to leave Matthew speechless, Stockport and Salford eek back towards play-off spots, and Altrincham steady the ship in their first season as a professional club.
Fear not Wigan and Bolton fans, we have included previews of their far-away matches despite the break this weekend. Papa Johns’ glory awaits Wanderers’ fans while Latics fans wallow in a 3-point deduction misery.
If anything could sum up Rochdale’s season, it was last weekend’s encounter with Swindon Town. 2-0 down. 3-2 up. 4-3 down. And a 94th minute equaliser to salvage what could be a crucial point.
A topsy-turvy game with significant low points, a brief period of elation, only to return to the doldrums and render any last-minute goal point-worthy instead of match-winning.
Ultimately, it was the sort of gutsy, ‘never-say-die’ performance that has been sorely lacking from the Dale for most of the season, and fans will be wondering why it hasn’t been more present.
Next up, it’s potentially the biggest game of the campaign, as Rochdale make the trip to Crawley, who are the side just above the relegation zone in League Two. Win, and the Dale would only be four points adrift of safety.
Lose…well they definitely would be in the doldrums then.
There was heartbreak for Stockport County fans last weekend, as the Hatters spent two thirds of the game leading the scoring before Mansfield Town’s Lucas Atkins salvaged a draw with a headed effort inside the six-yard box.
The Hatters now head into the weekend looking to take all three points from mid-table Swindon Town, who drew 4-4 with bottom of the league Rochdale.
County have managed to retain their spot in the play-off places for now, thanks to similarly shaky form from those teams around them rather than any consistent run of form.
A win could take County within three points of the automatic promotion places, but only if other results in the league go their favour.
Salford ran out deserved winners against Doncaster, with a 3-1 victory at the Peninsula Stadium which saw the Ammies close the gap on promotion rivals Stockport and Bradford.
They remain in the seventh and final play-off spot, but they now sit just a point behind Stockport and two points behind Bradford.
Neil Wood will be pleased to see the side return to winning ways after a sloppy final 10 minutes cost them three points against Crewe last time out.
Next up however is a tough away game, making the long trip down south to face a Stevenage side sitting in second place and looking likely to be promoted to League One for next season. They are however only eight points clear of the Ammies, so a win here could really open up the promotion race.
The Hertfordshire-based side have been struggling somewhat of late, with only three wins in their last 10 League Two matches. Unfortunately for Salford, all three of these wins have come in their last five games, so they have turned a corner to an extent over the last month. If they can escape with a point, they will doubtless consider that a successful weekend.
Unless there is a surprising turn of league form, there is not much for Altrincham to play for in their remaining ten matches other than positioning.
However, a good performance for the Alty faithful will be required in their first home fixture in a month. Phil Parkinson’s men will be wanting to bounce back from the previous league defeat at Eastleigh.
This is the first of three home matches in a week. The last of which will be the FA Trophy semi-final against Halifax next Saturday. Altrincham will want to go into that match with as much momentum as possible.
The opposition this weekend is a Southend side who have lost their last five league matches, but are still in with a slim chance of making the playoff places. Southend are currently 10th in the league, 8 points away from those playoff positions.
Southend have had a remarkable season to be where they are in the league, despite the off-field financial struggles they have faced.
Defying all expectations, Bolton secured a hard-earned point at Hillsborough against a Sheffield Wednesday side that seems destined for promotion. An early goal from Lee Gregory was cancelled out by Victor Adeboyejo, with the Wanderers’ enjoying the lions share of possession but struggling to break down The Owls’ staunch defence.
A lengthy spell of rest and recuperation awaits The Whites. The Papa Johns Trophy final looms large just a fortnight away on April 2. League One leaders, Plymouth Argyle, stand in the way.
The Pilgrims will be desperate to get their hands on their first piece of cup silverware. Although confidence will be high for Plymouth, owing to the two cleans sheets against Bolton this season, a cup final acts as the great equalizer.
On the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium, Bolton have the chance to replicate the heroics of the 1989 Football League Trophy winners. Then known as the Sherpa Van Trophy, Bolton pumped Torquay United 4-1 in front of 46,000 spectators. With the Wanderers’ having sold over 32,000 tickets ahead of the final, the magic of 1989 can be felt with Ian Evatt’s side.
Wigan are also gameless this week due to international fixtures, but head into the break after a turbulent week.
After a crucial draw at Watford last weekend, it was announced on Monday that the Latics would face a three point deduction.
The penalty has come after the club failed to pay player wages this month. Late payment also occurred earlier in the season during June, July and October of last year.
As a result, Athletic are now eight points from safety, with only nine games left of the season. Wigan will need to hit their stride straight away and pick up points in their next game against QPR on April 1.
Despite Wigan’s poor goalscoring form and a lack of wins in recent games, Rangers have lost seven of their last nine games.
Most notably, the West London outfit lost 6-1 to Blackpool earlier this month. Can the Latics take inspiration from their fellow North Westerners and pull off a result?
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