League Two 2019/20: Five key talking points from Matchday 21

Christmas is edging closer which means games in League Two are coming thick and fast. This week saw a managerial departure three hours after a game while Macclesfield returned to league action following their financial issues. There is lots to talk about at both ends of the table, so let’s have a look at what unfolded.

Mansfield to speak to Bristol Rovers boss following sacking of Dempster

Mansfield Town earned what appeared to be a valuable point at Crewe Alexandra, but it wasn’t enough for John Dempster to keep his job as he was sacked three hours later.

The hosts took the lead after just eight minutes when Chuma Anene tapped in Charlie Kirk’s cross. Mansfield equalised on 27 minutes when Andy Cook capitalised on a defensive error to lift the ball over Will Jaaskelainen. Both teams created chances to get the elusive winner but ultimately had to settle for a point which proved costly for Dempster’s reign.

Dempster was promoted from academy manager after David Flitcroft left the club in May. The aim was at least the playoffs, but he leaves them with the club floundering in 18th and without a win since October.

Reports immediately circulated that Bristol Rovers manager Graham Coughlan was the number one target to replace Dempster. Rovers have released a statement confirming that Mansfield had been given permission to speak to Coughlan. Rovers travel to Plymouth Argyle in an FA Cup replay on Tuesday, but it is now unclear who will be in charge.

If Coughlan does become the new Mansfield manager, then his first game in charge will be at home to in-form Northampton Town. Crewe’s next game is away at Stevenage who have appointed a new manager themselves.

Graham Westley returns for fourth spell in charge of Stevenage

Stevenage appear destined for a relegation shoot-out with Morecambe after late heartbreak away at Newport County. Mark Sampson had been in caretaker charge since September, but Saturday’s 1-1 draw was his last following the arrival of Graham Westley.

The visitors took the lead on 11 minutes when Emmanuel Sonupe pounced on a mistake from Josh Sheehan to slot the ball low into the far corner. Kurtis Guthrie almost doubled the lead but his effort was parried away by Nick Townsend.

Sheehan almost made amends in the second half but his curling effort was saved by Paul Farman. Newport were seconds away from a fifth successive league defeat but Jamille Matt salvaged a draw in added time with a towering header. The visitors have now drawn four consecutive games, but the result sees them move a point clear of Morecambe.

Sampson reverts to his role as first-team coach following Westley’s arrival. His first reign ended in 2006 after three years in charge, with Stevenage in non-league mediocrity. Less than two years later Westley returned and guided Stevenage to successive promotions. Westley would leave midway through their first-ever season in the third tier to join Preston North End in 2012. Less than a month after losing his job at Preston, Westley would return to Stevenage but he couldn’t prevent relegation before leaving in 2015.

Westley’s first game back at Stevenage is at home to Crewe while Newport travel to Morecambe.

Macclesfield held at Walsall in return to league action

Financial issues have overshadowed Macclesfield Town so far this season. The issues reached a breaking point last week when players refused to play in the home fixture against Crewe due to unpaid wages. The fixture was suspended by the EFL and will now take place in January.

Despite worries of their game at Walsall being postponed, Macclesfield announced that the game would be going ahead as planned. Fans were hoping for a positive performance, and they would leave with mixed feelings after conceding a late equaliser.

Macclesfield broke the deadlock after eight minutes as Miles Welch-Hayes scored his first professional goal with a low, driven effort. The visitors had chances in either half to double their lead, but they had to settle for a point after Wes McDonald’s 74th-minute equaliser.

The result extends Macclesfield’s winless run to six games as they remain in 15th place. Walsall stay 17th but are slowly improving having picked up two wins and two draws in their last four league games.

Macclesfield return to Moss Rose for their next game when they host Plymouth Argyle. The Saddlers also face opposition from Devon when they visit Exeter City.

Swindon & Exeter continue to pull away from chasing pack

Swindon Town and Exeter City are pulling away from the chasing pack after victories over Oldham Athletic and Salford City respectively.

The Robins weren’t at their best, but they did enough to beat struggling Oldham at the County Ground. Swindon took the lead in first-half injury time after Kaiyne Woolery’s powerful strike from a tight angle. Eoin Doyle scored for the ninth consecutive game to seal the victory in the final five minutes.

One goal proved to be enough in a first ever competitive meeting between Exeter and Salford. Ryan Bowman rose highest to head the ball past Chris Neal on 33 minutes to seal Exeter’s third consecutive league win.

Swindon remain three points clear of the Grecians, who are a further four points ahead of a group of teams on 35 points.

Swindon are in arguably the pick of next weekend’s games when they host Forest Green Rovers. Exeter’s next game is at home to Walsall.

Three points separate six teams in battle for final automatic promotion place

With Swindon and Exeter in fine form, there was further pressure on their promotion rivals to keep winning games. For most of those teams, they would drop points in games that they should be winning on paper.

Crewe and Cheltenham dropped points in 1-1 draws at home to Mansfield and Cambridge respectively. Bradford City missed the opportunity to move into third after a goalless draw at Leyton Orient.

The big game of the weekend saw third placed Forest Green Rovers travel to seventh place Northampton Town. Both teams suffered defeats last weekend and needed to bounce back, and it was a solitary goal that separated the pair. Sam Hoskins scored the winner in first-half injury time to give Northampton their third win in four games.

Plymouth Argyle remain outside the playoff places but are three points off an automatic promotion place after beating Morecambe. Goals from George Cooper, Antoni Sarcevic and Conor Grant secured a 3-0 win to move Argyle up to eighth.

Three points separate third to eighth as the season reaches the half-way point. Any slip-ups next week could open the door for Colchester United and Port Vale to put their names in the mix.

Matchday 21 results:

Carlisle United 0-0 Grimsby Town

Cheltenham Town 1-1 Cambridge United

Crawley Town 0-0 Port Vale

Crewe Alexandra 1-1 Mansfield Town

Leyton Orient 0-0 Bradford City

Newport County 1-1 Stevenage

Northampton Town 1-0 Forest Green Rovers

Plymouth Argyle 3-0 Morecambe

Salford City 0-1 Exeter City

Scunthorpe United 2-2 Colchester United

Swindon Town 2-0 Oldham Athletic

Walsall 1-1 Macclesfield Town