A mixed bag for the six East Midlands football league teams this weekend with 2 wins, 3 draws and a solitary Notts County defeat. Mansfield returned to Field Mill to take on a Wycombe side in poor form themselves with the Stags hoping to find a win, be it any way they possibly could. Only 2 wins in the last 2 months have seen Mansfield plummet down the League Two table and risk becoming involved in the already watertight battle to avoid dropping out of the Football League. This match started in typically frustrating fashion with Wanderers taking a 2 goal league before the Stags summoned all their powers of recovery to stage a thrilling comeback in the 86th minute with the first from Lee Stevenson and then Oli Palmer. This late comeback could paper over some cracks. They need quality to exit this rut and they may need certainly need it fast.
Chesterfield sit at the opposite end of the scale. They are flying high in 2nd place in the Sky Bet League Two. The win over bottom side Northampton on Saturday puts Chesterfield firmly back into the automatic promotion picture. With just 2 defeats since the beginning of December, both coming against promotion rivals Southend, the future looks promising at the Proact Stadium. As is the case with many teams at this level, financial restraints may influence the acquisition rate during the transfer window. However, the loan market may prove vital in giving this already talented Chesterfield squad an injection of freshness and impetus to see them over the line come May.
It was another weekend to forget for Notts County, who after recent good results and performances, including their narrow loss to a very strong Peterborough during the week, went into a home match with play-off chasing Walsall full of optimism. The quicker Shaun Derry tells his players to put this match behind them, the better. The crushing 5-1 defeat came after the Magpies were undefeated in 4 at home. This perhaps shows the job Derry faces to change the fortunes of County. A promising start to his tenure threatens to come undone if he does not reinforce his squad in the coming days.
Nottingham Forest were the only East Midlands team remaining in the F.A Cup coming into the weekend. They faced a home tie against high flying League One side Preston North End. Forest knew that despite the divisional gap between them and North End, this was no easy contest. Preston are flying in the league and are hoping for a hasty return to the Championship. A game that in all honesty will not live long in the memory finished 0-0 meaning the League One side get another chance at home in the next couple of weeks. Billy Davies has still not managed to get a single transfer target in over the transfer window and he has repeatedly demonstrated his desire to bolster his squad. With less than a week left, Forest need to be making inroads to ensure this already thin squad does not become further ravaged by injury and suspension. A striker will be the main priority. Over the past few weeks the defensive unit has seemed to gel and start to become one of the most fearsome in the division. The other end of the pitch is concern. You need to score goals to win matches consistently and Forest simply haven’t been doing this enough.
Most pundits are running out of superlatives for Leicester City. They are showing absolutely no sign of relenting any time soon. They are out of the F.A. Cup and this could be a blessing. Whilst other teams at the top of the division are struggling with thin squads and fixture congestion, Leicester are steadily going about their business. A 2-0 home win over an improving Middlesbrough again gave them an 8 point cushion at the top. Jamie Vardy and David Nugent have been a lethal strike combination all season and their goal scoring prowess has given Leicester the edge most other teams simply do not possess. This surely seems to be the season for Leicester. No more excuses, no more play-off heartbreaks, this has to be the season they end their Premier League exile.
Derby County are another team that have been receiving much praise since the beginning of the season. They are now starting to look like a certainty for at least a top 6 finish and are without doubt still in the automatic promotion race. This weekend saw them travel to Blackburn, who themselves still harbour play-off hopes. The match ended 1-1 after Blackburn took the lead early in the second half through Rudy Gestede. Derby’s dominance eventually told and they equalised 6 minutes from time through substitute Patrick Bamford. The young Chelsea striker has been an inspired addition to a squad already full of confidence. This is a make or break season for Derby and whilst they continue to pick up points, the dream of a Premier League return continues to become more of a reality.
~ Matt Jones