Gillingham v Walsall
There’s no denying that points dropped in draws against Scunthorpe (0-0), Southend (1-1), Coventry (0-0) and Sheffield United (0-0) could prove costly but their renewed solidity could yet prove to be the foundation for a final dash towards the finishing tape. And if they come up short, then the Gills should at least be in decent nick for the play-offs.
Contrast this with Walsall, who cannot seem to predict what they’re going to get from one week to the next at the moment. There’s plenty to admire about Jon Whitney and his desire to keep the mood positive, but the Saddlers have been beaten to nil in successive away games at Sheffield United and Oldham, and they appear to be short of ideas in the final third.
Notts County v Hartlepool
While the apathy around them in the lower reaches of League Two is palpable, Pools are playing with renewed vigour and don’t really want the season to end. The last nine games have yielded 20 points and it’s notable how much Hignett has been stamping on any signs of complacency in the past week, doing everything in his power to keep the mood competitive.
The arrival of Mark Cooper has brought a predictably determined response out of Notts County, alebit only after a dismal 4-0 defeat at Portsmouth in his first game. The Magpies are currently three matches unbeaten but victory over Stevenage at the weekend - their first win in 11 attempts, and first on home soil since Christmas - might well have taken the edge off their hunger.
There are several reasons to believe the honeymoon will be shortlived: Cooper is on a short-term contract until the end of the season, the club is expected to be taken over in the next few days and most players are out of contract in the summer. So there’s no real incentive, at least not for a team that has stayed four matches unbeaten only once previously this term.
My 16-match ratings make Hartlepool clear favourites and, combined with a high goals expectancy, there’s also value in the 11/2 available on Hartlepool to clear the -1 handicap. Four of their six victories under Hignett have been achieved in this manner, while Bristol Rovers and Exeter have both won by two clear goals at this venue in the past six weeks.