As the season draws to a close for our local team’s we preview today’s fixtures.
Stoke City play their final home game of the season today when they host Queen’s Park Rangers. It will be a tough test for Stoke who haven’t recorded a league victory since Good Friday, but they will be looking to finish the season on a high. It is a game that will have very little impact on the final league standings of both clubs and could serve as an opportunity for Martin O’Neill to rotate his squad. Their opposition have been in good form winning three of their last five games but losing last Saturday to the already promoted Norwich City.
In his pre-match press conference for the club website , O’Neill said: “They’ve had a bit of a reverse from what we’ve had in the second half of the season, it’s been very strong for them. Since the turn of the year they’re in a top four position in the league, which shows the progress they’ve made.
“We will face a team that are in a good run of form, that’s what we want in the last two games”.
The Potters will be boosted by the return of their leading scorer Nick Powell after his recovery from and Achilles tendon injury which ruled him out of last weekends game. However, disappointing news for City fans also came from O’Neill’s press conference as he revealed that none of the other players currently out due to injury will play again this season. Angus Gunn and Morgan Fox have both faced a long stint in the injury room this season while James Chester will undergo an operation to his knee at the end of the season.
Port Vale travel to Blundell Park to take on Grimsby Town where they will be trying to extend their unbeaten run to ten games. Vale’s turn around in form has seen them win four and draw one of their last 5 games, most recently beating Bradford City last Saturday.
A win for Darrell Clarke’s side could see them climb to as high as tenth and they will go into the game full of confidence due to their recent form. The Valiants last played Grimsby at Vale Park in January and came away 3-0 winners, a result they will be hoping to replicate today. Clarke could potentially make changes to his starting eleven for a game of very little consequence in order to test his squad ahead of the end of season contract talks.
Speaking to Stoke on Trent Live, Clarke said: “The players are all enjoying this run of games at the minute, there are a lot of smiling people at the football club.
“The players are happy, the management and staff are happy. You have to enjoy these occasions, but the focus for me yet again is to win the game”.
Today’s opposition have already been relegated to the National League after they suffered a 3-2 defeat to Exeter City on Tuesday night. Speaking on the Mariner’s relegation, Clarke said: “It is sad to see they have been relegated. I have history with Grimsby and the supporters but all I can say is I think they have a very fantastic, loyal fanbase and I’m not pleased they have got relegated.
“I get on fantastically with their manager (Paul Hurst) who I believe will lead them back pretty soon. So, it is difficult circumstances for themselves, but we have to go there and be very professional about our job and that is what we intend to be.”
Crewe make their way to the Memorial Stadium this afternoon as they face already relegated Bristol Rovers. Crewe’s play-off hopes did not come to fruition, however, David Artell’s men will be looking to finish the season on a high. Despite already being relegated Rovers will not be push overs for Artell’s men as they now have professional pride to play for.
The Alex will be hoping to continue their impressive form on the road, having picked up three wins and a draw from their last five away games. Ryan Wintle has returned to the squad after missing their recent games against Wigan and Fleetwood. Speaking to the Crewe Alexandra website, Wintle said: “With the amount of games we have, you are going to get those little niggles and that is what happened with me.
“Now I am free of it and want to end the season on a positive note. We have two games to go and we want to win them both and see how high we can finish”.
For Shrewsbury they will go into today’s game in great spirits as manager Steve Cotterill has been deemed fit to attend their fixture against Oxford United today. Cotterill was discharged from hospital six weeks ago after being admitted twice due to coronavirus and most recently Covid-19 pneumonia. It will be his first game back at the Montgomery Water’s Meadow since their 1-0 win over Blackpool on the 29th of December.
It has only been two weeks since the Shrew’s last played Oxford and it was the U’s who came away 4-1 winners. After being awarded Player of the Month Josh Vela will play a pivotal role for the Shrew’s who will be looking to bounce back from Tuesday night’s defeat to Lincoln City.
Oxford come into the game needing to win to keep their play-off hopes alive. The U’s currently sit just one point out of the play-off places, making this game one of the more interesting games for our local clubs.
Burton Albion go in to today’s game with Gillingham buoyed in the knowledge that they have already secured their League One safety. Last time the Brewers took on Steve Evans men they were rooted to the bottom of League One, eight points adrift from safety. That game was, however, Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink’s first game back in charge on Burton. A one-nil win started Burton’s path to safety and the team now sit comfortably in 16thafter ensuring they were mathematically safe from relegation with last Saturday’s draw away to Wigan athletic.
Hasslebaink will want to ensure his team finish the season in style, a point personified by Tuesday night’s 5-2 victory over Fleetwood Town. The Dutch man made several changes to the team on Tuesday night and it is likely that he will do that again today, experimenting with the squad now their survival is confirmed.
The Gills fell just short of the play-offs this season but will still be aiming to finish the season as high as possible and Steve Evan’s has a fully fit squad to choose from.