No Championship? No Problem.
The second international break of the season may be upon us, but Leagues One and Two more than stepped up to the plate with yet more pulsating games and outrageous goals, despite neither division enjoying a full complement of fixtures.
But who were the big winners of the weekend?
Barnsley backed up their hammering of Peterborough last weekend by putting on a dominant display against Luton in front of the Sky cameras at Oakwell.
Daniel Stendel’s Tykes went into the lunchtime kick-off knowing that a win would see them go second and pile the pressure on their promotion rivals, but also that their visitors would provide stern opposition looking to extend their six-game unbeaten run in all competitions.
But it didn’t take long for the hosts to break Luton down, as within five minutes they were ahead.
Wriggling away from a couple of challenges, Brad Potts – scorer of two in the 4-0 rout at London Road last time out – drove forward, and drilled a low shot across goalkeeper James Shea and into the corner from just inside the D.
James Collins thought he’d equalised for the Hatters only to be denied by the offside flag, and then things got worse with twenty minutes remaining of the half.
The ever-dangerous George Moncur broke free down the left before making his way into the box. He cut inside the sliding Glen Rea and teed up former Luton man Cameron McGeehan – a key part of the Kenilworth Road squad that earned promotion back to the Football League in 2014 – who side-footed home from fifteen yards to double the hosts’ advantage.
On loan Nottingham Forest man Jorge Grant hit the post from a free-kick as Luton searched for a route back into the game, but they did eventually get their lifeline on half-time when Harry Cornick was felled by Ben Williams in the area, and marksman Collins converted the resulting penalty with ease.
Despite the minor setback, Barnsley continued to assert their authority in the second period, and McGeehan almost made the points safe with a header from a free-kick, but he was denied his second by the post.
Mamadou Thiam did look to have finished the visitors off with just over ten minutes to play however, as a poor clearance fell straight to the substitute on the left corner of the box, before he took three deft touches and unleashed an absolute rocket into the side netting of the far post.
Nathan Jones’ Luton were determined not to go down without a fight though, and they did set up a nervy finish as Kazenga Lua-Lua’s cross cannoned back off the far and dropped for Collins who showed good technique to half-volley in his second, but it wasn’t enough as Barnsley held out for a well-deserved three points.
But would Portsmouth and Peterborough, who had been the top two in SkyBet League One for almost the entire season up to now, be able to respond in their 3pm kick-offs, just one week after suffering morale-crushing home defeats?
In a word, yes, as both enjoyed wins on the road.
Pompey remain top after inflicting a third straight defeat on AFC Wimbledon by winning 2-1 at Kingsmeadow, whilst Posh took second spot back from Barnsley with a solid 2-0 victory at Scunthorpe thanks to a brace from Matt Gooden, who becomes the joint-top scorer in the third tier.
Below the Tykes, Doncaster also responded from a loss last week with a 3-2 away win at Rochdale, whilst Sunderland retain their playoff spot despite having their game with Blackpool postponed.
Walsall also didn’t play and so did drop out of the top six, and taking their position are Accrington, who continued their fantastic start to life back in the third tier with a comfortable home win over Bradford.
Talismanic striker Billy Kee got things going with a first half penalty, before Offrande Zanzala made it two early in the second.
The Bantams pulled one back through Eoin Doyle just after the hour, but less than five minutes later, Stanley were out of sight again through Sean McConville’s strike.
David Hopkin’s Bradford remain third from bottom as a result, and there was a huge game taking place just below them.
Oxford, who became League One’s basement side last weekend, hosted a Plymouth team that leapfrogged them with their first win of the season, but this time around it was the Yellows who received the plaudits at the Kassam Stadium.
Jamie Mackie gave Karl Robinson’s men the perfect start inside four minutes, and Curtis Nelson sealed the victory with a quarter of an hour left, before Yann Songo’o was dismissed late on, compounding Argyle to yet more misery.
The win ends a run of eight without for Oxford, and they now sit two points off safety after a difficult afternoon for most of the sides in the bottom half.
Bristol Rovers remain in the relegation zone after a late 1-0 defeat to Burton which lifts them clear of danger, whilst Gillingham lost 2-0 at home to Southend, leaving them still nervously looking over their shoulders.
Wycombe and Shrewsbury also lost and stay just two points clear of the drop, after going down 1-0 at Coventry and 2-1 at Fleetwood respectively, with both their victors recording back-to-back wins.
There was an interesting match-up at Sixfields on Saturday, as lowly Northampton – on a run of seven games without a win – took on Forest Green Rovers, the last remaining unbeaten side in the EFL.
The Cobblers have struggled to the extent that manager Dean Austin was sacked after a 4-0 hammering at Mansfield and replaced by Keith Curle, but with the new boss earning his first victory at League One Oxford in the EFL trophy on Tuesday, there were perhaps reasons to be optimistic heading into this one, despite the form book being very much against them.
But Northampton were just a point above the drop zone and without a win at home all season, so it perhaps came as no surprise that Reuben Reid scored his fifth league goal of the campaign to fire Rovers in front just moments before half-time.
Forest Green, who went into the weekend in the playoffs, seemed set to cement their position, but were pegged back just after the hour.
A far post corner was headed back across goal, and on hand in the middle of the area to power in the equaliser was Aaron Pierre, to give the hosts a much-needed lift.
All of a sudden there was a feeling of belief around the place, and but for Robert Sanchez getting down low to keep out a Sam Hoskins free-kick, Northampton would have been ahead.
Despite their pressure, the home side couldn’t find that elusive goal to steal the win, until deep, deep into added time.
Substitute Kevin van Veen headed a ball forward from halfway which looked comfortable for Rovers defender Liam Shephard to deal with.
The full-back had at least ten yards on the striker, but van Veen’s persistence saw him close down his opponent – running towards his own goal – and nick the ball away inside the penalty area.
Dutch striker van Veen then had the awareness to pull it back for the man on the spot, veteran Andy Williams, who turned it in from six yards out to spark wild celebrations at Sixfields in the 97th minute.
Forest Green were floored, their unbeaten record in tatters, but a huge sense of jubilation erupted for the hosts. Fans spilled onto the pitch to celebrate a first home success of the season with their heroes of the day, and is this a sign that the slide is being stopped for a side relegated from League One last season?
The result lifts them four points clear of the drop for now, as the teams below them either lost, or didn’t play in the case of Notts County, Grimsby and Cheltenham.
Bottom of the table Macclesfield equalled an unwanted record on Friday night in their 1-0 loss at Tranmere, by becoming the second side to go 36 consecutive English league matches without a win – their last coming in 2012, when they were relegated to the Non-League.
Only Derby (2007-08) have endured as bad a run – albeit in the Premier League – and it was Harvey Gilmour of Tranmere who condemned the Silkmen to it in the battle of the promoted sides, with a result that moved them into the playoffs.
Cambridge also lost against a team in the top seven as they went down 1-0 at home to fourth place MK Dons who secured a third straight win, whilst making it four consecutive losses for the U’s who remain in the drop zone.
Joining Tranmere and the Dons in the playoffs are Colchester – who won 3-1 at home to Crawley – and Stevenage, despite the Boro’s dramatic 2-1 loss at Newport.
There were a whole 97 minutes between the Exiles’ goals, but ultimately Antoine Semenyo’s strike at the death was enough to maintain County’s three point lead over fourth spot.
They also kept pace with second place Exeter – 2-0 victors at home to Swindon – and leaders Lincoln, who hit Port Vale for six at Vale Park, winning 6-2.
Elsewhere on this international weekend, former academy graduate Nicky Maynard came back to haunt Crewe by earning a point for current side Bury at Gresty Road, and Morecambe made it three wins from five by beating Carlisle 2-0, who blow the chance to move back into the playoffs.