February kicked off with decidedly mixed fortunes for the clubs at the top of League Two following back-to-back wins for Port Vale and a Saturday victory for Cheltenham, while there was a surprise defeat Monday night for early season pacemakers Gillingham at a resurgent Wycombe.
Lee Hughes made his home debut at Vale Park and promptly opened his account with a brace. The afternoon started badly for Accrington, who were a man down within four minutes – Charlie Barnett the offender. The visitors did well to hold on, as the first half ended goalless, but three goals in 16 minutes killed the game off for the hosts. Hughes opened the scoring on 50 minutes, volleying in from Ryan Burge’s assist. Burge was also the provider for the Valiants’ second, his free kick being turned in by another of Mickey Adams’ January signings: veteran Darren Purse, newly arrived from Plymouth Argyle. Hughes wrapped things up with just over 20 minutes left to play with a cool finish – the win sees Vale go top while Stanley remain 20th.
Cheltenham move back into the automatic promotion places following their victory over Torquay. The deadlock was broken after the half hour mark, when defender Keith Lowe headed home for his fifth goal of the season. The Rubies doubled their lead early in the second half when Shaun Harrad slotted the ball past Michael Poke in the Gulls’ net. Rene Howe got his name on the score sheet late on, but it was no more than a consolation and Torquay slip to 16th.
Meanwhile on Monday, Martin Allen’s Gills missed out on an opportunity to regain top spot and slumped to defeat against Wycombe. The only goal came in the 85th minute as Matt McClure snatched a win for the Chairboys from 10 yards out. The victory was marred however, by an incident involving goalkeeper Jordan Archer who was attacked by a home supporter.
Back to the weekend’s action and Friday night saw a six-pointer as Bristol Rovers and Barnet met at the Memorial Stadium. Victory for the Gas saw them move out of the drop zone and although the Bees finished the evening in 21st, by the end of the weekend they found themselves back in the bottom two. Fabian Broghammer put the home side ahead 12 minutes from time. Harry Crawford set up a tense finish as he netted his first Bees’ goal since joining from Non-League Dartford but two minutes into stoppage time Ryan Burge drilled the ball past Graham Stack and secured an important three points for Rovers.
There were also huge wins for Rotherham against Northampton and Morecambe who travelled to York. Victory for the Millers saw them end their three-match losing streak and leapfrog their playoff rivals. Daniel Nardiello gave Rotherham the lead before the break and he converted from the spot after Ben Harding tripped Mark Bradley. Following the interval, Steve Evans’ side extended their lead with two goals in four minutes: Ben Pringle’s curler was followed by an effort from David Noble. Defender Clarke Carlisle pulled one back for the Cobblers but it was too little too late.
Morecambe also ran out resounding winners on their first league meeting at York City’s Bootham Crescent. Lewis Alessandra fired the away side in front midway through the opening period but minutes later the Minstermen equalised – Nick Fenton felled Chris Smith and Jason Walker duly dispatched the awarded penalty. Kevin Ellison tapped in to restore the Shrimps’ lead late in the second half and two goals in the final three minute from Jack Redshaw wrapped up the win. Redshaw’s double saw him enter double figures for the season and helped Morecambe climb to 12th in the table.
Southend left it late to secure maximum points against Oxford, substitute Ryan Leonard netting five minutes from time having been on the pitch for just four minutes. His header from Michael Tomlin’s centre separated the sides.
Elsewhere in League Two, four goals were shared between play-off contenders Fleetwood and Bradford. Alan Goodall headed the home side in front before Nahki Wells levelled for the Bantams, all ahead of the half time whistle. The League Cup finalists then took the lead early in the second half but Ryan Dickson’s effort was cancelled out by John Parkin’s late penalty. A point each was probably a fair result.
Two goals in the first half left AFC Wimbledon and Burton with a point apiece. The Wombles were leading for all of nine minutes and Gary Alexander’s goal – his first since joining from Crawley – was followed by an equaliser from Michael Symes, another January window signing. Brewers’ defender Zander Diamond saw red with 15 minutes remaining but neither side could force a winner and Wimbledon remain bottom.
Rochdale and Chesterfield also played out a 1-1 draw and it was the away side who drew first blood in this one. Jay O’Shea’s side-foot on 55 minutes put the Spireites ahead before Bobby Grant levelled 11 minutes later. His 25-yard curler earned Dale a point but it wasn’t plain sailing and Grant was later dismissed for his challenge on Sam Togwell.
Exeter and Aldershot sit at opposite ends of the table and their stalemate did neither side a favour, as both teams need points for differing reasons. Plymouth and Dagenham & Redbridge also played out a goalless draw but a point for Argyle was enough to see them move to the safety of 22nd – albeit on goal difference.
Yesterday evening saw two games with teams still playing catch-up. A late strike for Bristol Rovers’ Oliver Norburn helped them snatch a point at high-flying Cheltenham. The Rubies had been ahead through Shaun Harrad’s 12-yard effort and although his goal separated the sides at half time and looked like proving the winner, Norburn equalised four minutes into added time. It was also top v bottom as Port Vale hosted AFC Wimbledon and the match at Vale Park was nothing short of a demolition. Lee Hughes continued his goal-scoring run to give Vale an early lead. A double from Ashley Vincent rounded up the comfortable victory – his first went in via a deflection with 35 minutes played; his second was drilled home in the final quarter.
There’s a full complement of fixtures on Saturday and while league leaders Port Vale will hope to extend the gap at the top against lowly Barnet, Gillingham will look to reduce the deficit despite their tough trip to Bradford. Also at the top, it’s 4th meets 6th as Burton host Rotherham while at the wrong end of the table, Aldershot and Plymouth (21st and 22nd respectively) will play out another six-pointer!