The League One promotion race – who’s going up?

The Premier League has hardly scaled the levels of excitement it achieved last year in terms of the race for first place, as with just nine games remaining in the season, Manchester United lead bitter rivals (and current title holders) Manchester City by fifteen points.

It could be similarly argued that the teams currently occupying first place in the Championship and League Two have their promotion spot all but signed and sealed, as Cardiff lead England’s second tier by seven points with nine games to play and a game in hand on second placed Hull, whilst high flying Gillingham top the basement division with 75 points, ten clear of fourth placed Northampton with six to play.

In League One, however, the race is all but over. Doncaster may be five points clear of Swindon in first, but the top nine, from Rovers down to Leyton Orient, are separated by just eleven points.

As the excitement builds up ahead of what is sure to be a tense, thrilling finale, I take a look at the remaining fixtures for each of the sides in the promotion race, and attempt to predict who will finish in the top 6.

Doncaster Rovers

Current position: 1st
Points: 72
Fixtures remaining: 7 games, including Swindon and Tranmere at home and Brentford away

Form showed signs of relenting when Dean Saunders left for Wolves in January, but currently in pole position to go up after picking up four wins in their last six matches to move five points clear of Swindon.

However, five game winless streak in February coincided with run of home fixtures against promotion rivals and possibly a sign of things to come.

Having beaten just one of the current top 8 at the Keepmoat Stadium, they have the poorest home record in the top 5 and with Tranmere and Swindon still to visit Yorkshire, this could be their downfall.

Prediction: Play-offs

Swindon

Current position: 2nd
Points: 67
Fixtures remaining: 7 games, including Sheffield United, MK Dons and Doncaster away

Have struggled for form since Paolo Di Canio resigned in February, winning just three of their last eight matches, but fragile nature of teams around them in League One has seen them maintain a strong position in the promotion race.

Those three wins have all come away from home, but with big hitters Sheffield United, MK Dons and Doncaster all set to host the Robins in a busy April, Kevin MacDonald’s side could come unstuck.

Four remaining home games are all against sides in the bottom half of the table, but form at the County Ground has been worrying of late and that could see them miss out on the top two.

Prediction: Play-offs

Bournemouth

Current position: 3rd
Points: 67
Fixtures remaining: 6 games, including Tranmere away

One of three teams on 67 points who’s form has once again picked up after a run of five successive defeats which included three home defeats.

Lost little ground in the promotion race though and now back up to third, whilst a 4-1 win over Bury last weekend will have raised confidence levels.

Of all the teams in the promotion run in, Eddie Howe’s side comfortably have the “easiest” run in, facing four sides who are currently in the bottom half of the table.

All the sides around them bar Tranmere, who they face on the final day of the season, have games in hand, but hard to look beyond them to win the division now strikers Brett Pitman and Matt Tubbs have started scoring.

Prediction: 1st

Brentford

Current position: 4th
Points: 67
Fixtures remaining: 8 games, including Sheffield United and MK Dons and Doncaster at home

Three successive away games, starting on Easter Monday, against MK Dons, Coventry and Crewe, could shape their season, whilst Uwe Rosler’s side are also yet to visit Sheffield United and face Doncaster Rovers on the final day of the season.

Have by far the best home record in League One, with only two defeats and twelve wins, but also have worst away record in the top half of the table and unfortunately for the London club, five of their remaining eight games are on the road.

Three points clear of seventh placed Yeovil though, so three wins could be enough to secure a play-off place, and that should be achievable at Griffin Park.

Prediction: Play-offs

Tranmere

Current position: 5th
Points: 66
Fixtures remaining: 6 games, including Sheffield United and Bournemouth at home and Doncaster away

Injuries have hit Ronnie Moore’s side hard all season, and they have struggled for form since January, with a run of two wins in ten matches seeing the long time League One leaders slip out of the play-off places.

However, they showed signs of a revival when beating Stevenage 3-1 on Sunday, and will have a big say in the promotion run in with three of the top six teams still to face.

Teams around them having games in hand could be crucial, but with a good goal difference and two point advantage over seventh placed Yeovil, it is hard to look beyond them for a top six finish.

Prediction: Play-offs

Sheffield United

Current position: 6th
Points: 65
Fixtures remaining: 9 games, including Brentford and Swindon at home and Tranmere and Walsall away

Danny Wilson’s side are set for a very busy April – they have played the fewest games in League One and nine games in a month could take its toll on the squad.

But it’s hard to say whether their games in hand will be an advantage or disadvantage. Some would prefer to be higher up the league with the points on the board, whilst others could argue that United are in a position to catch and overtake their rivals with great momentum.

Likewise, whilst the fixture congestion could take a lot out of the squad, if they get on a winning run the Blades will be hard to stop – yet if they lose a few games, it may be tough to get out of the rut.

One thing’s for sure – five of the remaining nine games are at home and the League One draw specialists could do with gathering a few wins at Bramall Lane, given that they picked up fewer points on home soil than any of the top nine.

Memories of losing out on promotion to rivals Wednesday and then eventual play-off final heartbreak from last season may well linger in the Steel City, and I think that could spur them on to an automatic promotion spot.

Prediction: 2nd

Yeovil

Current position: 7th
Points: 64
Fixtures remaining: 6 games, including Walsall at home and four away matches

Propelled into the top six by the goalscoring exploits of striker Paddy Madden, Yeovil went on a stunning run of eight wins from nine matches earlier this season.

However, that form has subsided of late and they’ve won just one of their last seven, dropping points against a number of sides in the bottom half.

Have a reasonably small squad, and although Gary Johnson is very capable of getting teams promoted (he’s done it with Yeovil on more than one occasions), it’s difficult to see that form being turned around and their run in isn’t easy, with plenty of games against teams fighting for survival coming up who will be equally as hungry for points.

Two points outside the top six and goal difference of +12 is poorer than any of the teams above them and that could be crucial. Probably the biggest threat to Tranmere and Brentford, but will just miss out.

Prediction: Just outside top six

Walsall

Current position: 8th
Points: 61
Fixtures remaining: 6 games, including Sheffield United and Coventry at home and Yeovil away

Have had a big say in the promotion race, taking points off Swindon, Tranmere, Doncaster and Brentford in a run of ten games without defeat, whilst they’ve lost just two of their last nineteen in all.

Therefore on a fantastic run, but too many drawn matches (5 of last 10) might just be their downfall, whilst worth pointing out all those above them bar Tranmere and Bournemouth have games in hand.

However, Dean Smith’s side do have a nice run in whilst Febian Brandy and his striker partner Will Grigg are in fantastic form, with the latter having scored nine goals in his last seven matches.

They could well sneak a top six finish, but my better judgement says Brentford and Tranmere should just about have enough to see them off, especially given the Sadders’ goal difference of just +5.

Prediction: Just outside top six

Leyton Orient

Current position: 9th
Points: 61
Fixtures remaining: 6, including MK Dons at home and Coventry away

Like Walsall, the O’s are on 61 points and are currently seven unbeaten, but goal difference of +4 again means they’re effectively a further point worse off than the teams currently in the top six.

But having won four of their last six, it’s hard to discount Russell Slade’s side, especially given then goalscoring exploits of evergreen striker Kevin Lisbie and loanee Shaun Batt, who is beginning to find the back of the net.

However, just 47 goals scored (lowest in top half) shows they possibly don’t have enough coming from elsewhere on the pitch, and although a top six finish isn’t insurmountable, especially given their run in (they now face three successive teams in the relegation zone), that goal difference is a big negative.

Prediction: Outside top six

So, there you have it, my predictions for the top six this season. Nothing ground breaking, given that I think those currently occupying the places in the top quarter of the table will finish there, but it will be interesting to see how the remainder of the season pans out.

If you agree or disagree with the above selections, please leave your comments below.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s