The post-season is upon us once again.
It’s possible that this season’s edition of the League One playoffs might well be the most entertaining we’ve had for a while.
There are a few reasons for that: the three teams that already have a season in League One under their belts were the most improved clubs during 2018/19, although at one point I thought Portsmouth were prime candidates for an automatic spot. On the other hand, neither Charlton nor Sunderland ever made convincing arguments for automatic promotion and I think it’s fair to say that Doncaster finished too far behind the top five.
Of course, that may mean absolutely nothing. Four of the last finals have been won by teams that finished in either fourth or sixth place – good news for Portsmouth and Doncaster. That’s bad news for Sunderland though: losing at Southend last Saturday may have been the kiss of death – the last fifth placed winner was over a decade ago. As for Charlton, Addicks fans need to be somewhat concerned as teams that finished third have only won the Playoff final twice over the last decade.
Sunderland v Portsmouth (Saturday 7:30pm, Sky Sports Football and Main Event)
Who’s daft idea was this? It’s about a 600 mile round trip from Portsmouth up to Wearside for a mid-evening kickoff.
Sunderland’s only home defeat this season was in a remarkable nine goal thriller against Coventry a couple of weeks ago, but the fact remains that this season the Black Cats have only three of their eleven home games against the teams that finished in the top half of the table. Compared with Luton’s six wins and no defeats at home against the same opponents, that looks like a weakness, as does only five clean sheets at home.
Then there’s their home record against Portsmouth to contend with. Since the turn of the century, they’ve beaten Pompey once in five meetings, a 2-0 win in a Premier League game in January 2008.
It’s fair to say that Pompey’s chances of automatic promotion were dashed when they only won once in ten games in the period from mid January to the start of March. They’ve now gone five games on the road without defeat – including a draw at Sunderland a couple of weeks ago – but they haven’t been convincing on their travels against the top six, against whom they’ve not won any matches this season.
Verdict: if Portsmouth score, they’ll have the advantage going into the second leg. Sunderland may have to wait until next season for a promotion push.
Doncaster v Charlton (Sunday 12:15, Sky Sports Football only)
This is still a comparative rarity and the head to head record in South Yorkshire doesn’t give us many clues: four of the six meetings between the clubs have taken place since 2008 and those games have been equally divided between each possible outcome.
Rovers were very strong at home this season – only three defeats all season, including one in the last 15 – and a win at the Keepmoat looks like their best chance of getting to Wembley at the end of the month. Only Sunderland and Luton scored more goals at home than Doncaster and they’ve only failed to score once at the Keepmoat in a home league game since Christmas.
Charlton have only lost two away games in 2018 and have been impressive defensively away from the Valley: only Barnsley conceded fewer goals this season and the Addicks have kept clean sheets in four of their last five away games. There’s a problem there though – they’ve conceded in eight of the nine games they’ve played against other teams that finished in the top ten.
Verdict: Rovers have to win to stand any chance of promotion. Their away record is poor (one win in ten) and they’ve lost five of their last six league games at Charlton: hardly promotion material and hardly helped by the fact that Charlton haven’t lost at home since the start of October.
Update: the final will be between Charlton and Sunderland.