The promotion and relegation races are heating up in League One.
Which sides will be enjoying the sweet taste of promotion in May and which sets of fans will be looking up new away trips as they contemplate life in a lower division?
Here’s our look at the current state of play in League One.
The race for promotion
Kenny Jackett’s Portsmouth currently find themselves in the box-seat at the top of League One. Could they be about to end their extended exile from the top two divisions?
In Jackett, they certainly have the right man to help drag them over the line when the season enters the final straight, with Jackett’s CV boasting two promotions at this level. Pompey also look to have the most settled squad among the pacesetters – and that can’t be underestimated in a promotion race of fine margins. Expect them to continue quietly going about their business and rubber-stamp one of the two automatic slots.
The departure of Nathan Jones could be a hammer blow to Luton Town as they look to seal back-to-back promotions and the Welshman will be an almost impossible act to follow for his eventual successor with Jones’ points-per-game ratio the best in the club’s history. That said, Luton have more than enough in their armour to power through the remainder of the season if the new man tries not to change too much. Will instability thwart their hopes?
Sunderland are in unfamiliar waters mounting a promotion challenge, but Jack Ross has finally helped the Black Cats turn a corner after years of decline. An inability to see off opponents is currently hampering their attempts to land an automatic spot, and they will need to start turning draws into wins to bring the good times back to Wearside. Luton’s recent upheaval will give them a chance to pounce.
Finally, Charlton and Barnsley can’t be ruled out with the Tykes currently looking particularly ruthless in their quest to close the gap.
Verdict: Portsmouth have shown no signs of losing their nerve and have the perfect manager to help them keep a cool head. Jones’ departure is a gamechanger that could hand Sunderland the perfect finale to their Netflix second series.
The play-off picture
In comparison to the tight-knit nature of this year’s Championship, the play-off race in League One looks surprisingly lean with only three sides outside the Top Six looking capable of making a breakthrough. Steve Evans’ Peterborough side currently occupy the final berth, primarily as a result of their impressive away form with eight wins from 13 games. If Evans can find that winning formula at London Road, they should lock up sixth spot.
Former Posh boss Grant McCann might come back to haunt his old side however, with his Doncaster team arguably this season’s surprise package in the division. Donny’s consistency should keep them there or thereabouts in the final reckoning. Finally, you can’t rule out a Coventry side that continues to impress under Mark Robins with the Sky Blues acclimatising nicely to life back in League One, while Blackpool continue to defy the odds under Terry McPhillips.
Verdict: They haven’t fully convinced at times this season, but Steve Evans is a man who knows how to get a team over the line – which should hand Peterborough the final play-off spot with the other three spots looking fairly secure.
The relegation dogfight
The bottom of the table looks like it will be serving up most of the drama come May in League One, with as many as 10 teams looking vulnerable. Wally Downes has helped breathe some new life into rock-bottom AFC Wimbledon but they still look like they have too much of a mountain to climb to avoid dropping back down into the fourth tier.
The other relegation places are all occupied by clubs who probably wouldn’t have expected to be there pre-season in Plymouth Argyle, Bradford City and Oxford Utd – of those three, it’s the Bantams who look like they are starting to pick up form at just the right time after their rocky start. Both Oxford Utd and Rochdale badly need to find some momentum from somewhere, while new Bristol Rovers boss Graham Coughlan has steadied the ship at the Memorial Stadium.
Gillingham will be hoping a potential cup run doesn’t act as a distraction, while Shrewsbury and Walsall look vulnerable if any of the bottom cluster of clubs suddenly click into gear. Finally, Stuart McCall finally looks to have found a winning formula at Scunthorpe Utd who should have enough to keep moving towards mid-table.
Verdict: Time looks to be running out for AFC Wimbledon. Oxford Utd, Rochdale and Walsall currently look the most likely candidates to join them in League Two.
All image sources from PA Images
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