It might be a new year, but that doesn’t mean that the League Two season slows down anytime soon. Clubs up and down the country will be relieved that the gruelling festive fixtures are coming to an end.
New Year’s Day saw plenty of excitement while the action rolled on three days later with a slightly reduced programme with Newport, Carlisle, Crewe, Northampton, and Port Vale in FA Cup third-round action. Let’s have a look at the key talking points from the first set of fixtures in 2020.
Mariners begin life under Holloway with narrow win
Ian Holloway was surprisingly appointed Grimsby Town manager on New Year’s Eve, ending his 18-month stint away from the dugout. The 56-year-old replaces Michael Jolley who was sacked on 15 November following a publicised row with BBC Radio Humberside.
Holloway watched from the stands on New Year’s Day as Grimsby ended their 15-game winless run against Salford City in Anthony Limbrick’s final game in temporary charge. Akheem Rose scored the only goal of the game on 83 minutes.
Holloway took charge three days later away at Mansfield Town. The game started in nightmare fashion for the visitors as Luke Waterfall was shown a straight red card in 10 minutes for a late challenge on Jacob Mellis. Despite the numerical disadvantage, it would be the Mariners that would take the spoils courtesy of an own goal from Mal Benning midway through the second half.
Victory in Holloway’s first game in charge moves Grimsby up to 17th in the table and 11 points clear of the relegation zone. A sudden change in form will encourage Holloway as he looks to guide the Mariners further up the division in the coming weeks.
Holloway will be hoping for consecutive away victories when Grimsby travel to fellow strugglers Leyton Orient on Saturday.
Managerless Macclesfield end long winless run
Macclesfield Town can never seem to escape the news, whether that be on or off the pitch. Silkmen fans who were hoping for a quiet 2020 were given the news that manager Daryl McMahon had handed in his resignation.
McMahon’s final game in charge was an encouraging 2-2 draw away at Port Vale on New Year’s Day. The hosts took the lead on 18 minutes after David Worrall’s cross evaded everyone including goalkeeper Owen Evans. The second half saw three goals in six minutes as Jay Harris and Joe Ironside completed a quick-fire comeback for the Silkmen only for David Amoo to equalise for Vale as the game finished all-square.
McMahon’s reign ended the following day and has since taken the vacant managerial position at non-league Dagenham & Redbridge. The first game in caretaker charge for Danny Whittaker was a 1-0 win at home to Cambridge United courtesy of Arthur Gnahoua’s early strike.
Macclesfield’s first victory since October sees them move five points clear of the relegation zone. The Silkmen would currently be in 16th place if their six-point deduction for failing to fulfil their fixture against Crewe wasn’t in effect.
Whittaker’s next game in temporary charge is at home to Oldham Athletic in a relegation six-pointer.
Recalled by Pilgrims on Friday – scores first professional goals on Saturday
The big talking point from Plymouth Argyle’s 2-1 loss at home to Swindon Town on New Year’s Day was the Pilgrims’ inability to convert chances. Argyle have used six strikers this season with all of them scoring less than five goals. With Dominic Telford picking up an injury against Swindon, manager Ryan Lowe had to take a risk ahead of their trip to Scunthorpe United.
The risk was recalling Luke Jephcott from a loan spell at non-league Truro City just 24 hours before their visit to Glanford Park. The 19-year-old was thrown into the starting line-up alongside Byron Moore who was playing as a right wing-back against Swindon. Jephcott repaid Lowe’s faith with his first professional goal on 12 minutes with a close-range effort.
Argyle doubled their lead five minutes into the second half after George Cooper’s cross was met with an exquisite volley from Moore. The Pilgrims sealed the victory on 56 minutes after Jephcott capitalised on a goalkeeping error by tapping into an empty net. Striker Kevin van Veen scored a consolation on 65 minutes, but the day belonged to the returning Jephcott.
The Pilgrims move into the playoff places after their fourth win in their last five league games. Scunthorpe’s third defeat in four games sees them drop back into the bottom half of the table.
Argyle’s next game sees them travel to Carlisle United in the longest away journey in the EFL. Scunthorpe will be hoping to put their poor festive results behind them when they host free-falling Newport County.
Swindon miss chance to extend gap to chasing pack
Eoin Doyle was on the scoresheet once again on New Year’s Day as Swindon edged past Plymouth in a hard-fought encounter. With Crewe and Exeter in FA Cup and EFL Trophy action respectively, Swindon had the opportunity to extend their lead. However, they would have to go at it without Doyle as the Robins were playing his parent club, Bradford City.
In a game which saw both teams wear their away strips, it would be Swindon that broke the deadlock after 11 minutes. Striker Jerry Yates converted from the penalty spot after Connor Wood handled Lloyd Isgrove’s cross. The visitors rarely threatened in the first half, with Anthony O’Connor coming closest after his close-range effort hit the post.
The game was lacking in any real quality despite the league positions of the two teams. Swindon looked set to claim all three points, only for Shay McCartan’s late free-kick to rescue a point for the visitors. Swindon’s frustrations continued in added time when Jordan Lyden was sent off for a reckless lunge on Adam Henley.
Swindon extend their lead to three points, but they have played at least one game more than most of the teams below them. Bradford are one of those teams with a game in hand and they move level on points with third-place Crewe.
The tough games continue for Swindon as they host Crewe in arguably the pick of next weekend’s games. Bradford will look to take advantage of at least one of those teams dropping points when they visit Crawley Town.
Consecutive victories move Walsall in top-half
Walsall have had an indifferent start to their League Two campaign under the leadership of Darrell Clarke. The Saddlers have been closer to the relegation zone for most of the season when many predicted an immediate return to League One. The first two results of 2020 suggest that Walsall look set to move further up the division.
A solitary goal proved to be the difference when the Saddlers hosted Leyton Orient on New Year’s Day. The winning goal came just before the interval courtesy of Josh Gordon who did well to fool the goalkeeper before slotting the ball into an empty net. The hosts would hold on despite Cameron Pring being dismissed for a late tackle on George Marsh.
Walsall secured their second win over promoted opposition in three days with a 2-1 victory at Salford City. Gordon scored the decisive second goal early in the second half after Caolan Lavery broke the deadlock on 27 minutes. Brandon Thomas-Asante halved the deficit to provide a tense finish, but the visitors held on to overtake Salford in the table.
Clarke’s side have lost just one of their last nine games and move into 11th place. Continuing their good form could see them mount a playoff challenge with the gap currently at eight points.
The Saddlers face a tough task in their next game as they visit promotion chasing Cheltenham Town.
Matchday 25 results – New Year’s Day:
Bradford City 1-0 Morecambe
Cambridge United 2-3 Mansfield Town
Colchester United 1-1 Crawley Town
Crewe Alexandra 4-1 Carlisle United
Forest Green Rovers 0-1 Exeter City
Grimsby Town 1-0 Salford City
Newport County 1-1 Cheltenham Town
Northampton Town 1-0 Stevenage
Oldham Athletic 0-2 Scunthorpe United
Plymouth Argyle 1-2 Swindon Town
Port Vale 2-2 Macclesfield Town
Walsall 1-0 Leyton Orient
Matchday 26 results – Saturday 4th January:
Cheltenham Town 3-0 Oldham Athletic
Crawley Town 1-1 Forest Green Rovers
Macclesfield Town 1-0 Cambridge United
Mansfield Town 0-1 Grimsby Town
Salford City 1-2 Walsall
Scunthorpe United 1-3 Plymouth Argyle
Stevenage 0-0 Colchester United
Swindon Town 1-1 Bradford City