League One Playoff Preview 2018/19

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.

League One Round Up

Champions: Luton Town

Promoted: Barnsley

Playoffs: Charlton Athletic, Portsmouth, Sunderland, Doncaster Rovers

Relegated: Plymouth Argyle, Walsall, Scunthorpe United, Bradford City.

Relegated from the Championship: Rotherham United, Bolton Wanderers, Ipswich Town.

Promoted From League Two: Lincoln City (champions), Bury, MK Dons and one from Mansfield Town, Forest Green Rovers, Tranmere Rovers and Newport County.

I’m going to try to publish a full playoff preview on either Thursday or Friday.

GOTW: Bradford City v Doncaster Rovers

Last weekend was pretty typical of the direction League One has been going in over the past few seasons.

In the game of the week, 6818 watched Shrewsbury beat Southend at Roots Hall on Saturday:

The following day, Portsmouth won the EFL Trophy on penalties in front of a crowd of 85,021.

Now consider this: two of the top three clubs at this point in the season were relegated from the Championship at the end of the last campaign. Five of the top current top six have played in the second tier over the last decade and four of that group have played in the Premier League since it was created. As for Luton, they’ve had their wilderness years in the Conference but as recently as 2007 they were in the Championship.

At the bottom six, only Bradford City have played in the Premier League; Scunthorpe were last in the Championship more recently than Luton, while it’s been some time since either Southend (relegated with Luton in 2007) or Walsall (2004) played in the second tier. There are no less than eight teams who could drop into the bottom four this weekend if results don’t go there way – an exciting end to the season without a doubt, but nonetheless an indication that the polarisation of English senior football begins in League One rather than the Championship.

Bradford City v Doncaster Rovers

There was a faint glimpse of optimism at Valley Parade at the end of last year but the Bantams have only won three times in eight games in front of their own fans this year and it didn’t come as a great surprise when Jeff Hopkin left at the start of March and was replaced by former Blackpool boss Gary Bowyer – who might be regretting his decision to quit at the start of the season now that the Tangerines’ ownership problems are over. City are six points adrift at the bottom of the table and the bookies have practically taken them off the board in the relegation market.

43 miles to the South East, Donny seem to have overcome their seven game streak without a win, but despite being in the last playoff place they’ve yet to win on the road in 2019 and have lost three of their last four away matches including defeats at both Shrewsbury and Wimbledon. Manager Grant McCann is probably delighted that he’s got a five point cushion over his previous club (the perennially disappointing Peterborough United) but a Rovers win is vital this weekend if they’re to have any chance of automatic promotion.

There hasn’t been a draw between the clubs at Bradford since 1980 (!) and since the turn of the century Doncaster have only won once in six games, by the odd goal in three in November 2014. As it stands, this is Rovers’ last game against a team in the current bottom six this season and they’ve only dropped four points from 33 in those encounters. Bradford have lost all of their eleven games against the current top six this season.

Verdict: in the 33 games between the current top six and the current bottom six where the bottom team has been at home, the strugglers have won four and drawn six. I’d be very surprised if Doncaster lost.

One of the managerial changes I missed while I was away during March was the departure of Keith Hill after just over six years at Rochdale. After beating Blackpool on Boxing Day, Dale won only once in eleven games before Hill was dismissed: under new manager Brian Barry-Murphy their fortunes have improved, but they’re still in big trouble. Hardly the ideal time to play Sunderland then…

I’ll be back next week – although there’s a chance that I might be on another extended absence…

GOTW: Southend v Shrewsbury

Welcome to the second – and last! – post of the month.

I should be back on a more regular basis until the end of the season, but if a week is a long time in politics, a month is a long time in football. Here’s how things currently stand:

At the top Luton now nine points clear of third placed Portsmouth with seven games left to play. As things stand, Barnsley are most likely to join the Hatters in the Championship via the direct route.

It’s still possible for almost all of the teams in the top half of the table to win promotion via the playoffs, but at the very least it looks likely that Portsmouth and Sunderland have cemented playoff places.

At the bottom AFC Wimbledon and Bradford look doomed as they have done for some time. The recent awful run of form that caused Chris Powell to be sacked  has propelled Southend into a relegation battle that looked unlikely a month ago but with only nine points separating the bottom ten teams anything could happen over the next few weeks. Scunthorpe are also looking for yet another new boss after Stuart McCall was dumped after the Iron went on another bad run.

With Portsnouth and Sunderland facing off in the EFL Trophy on Sunday (2:30pm,Sky Sports Football – might actually be worth watching), it’s down to the bottom of the table this weekend’s game of the week.

Southend v Shrewsbury

I haven’t written much about Southend at all over the last year: they’ve studiously avoided either the top or the bottom six for much of the time they’ve been back at this level – but there’s always one team that seems to pick the worst time to have a catastrophic run of form and this season it’s them.

After beating Gillingham at Roots Hall on New Years Day, the Shrimpers have lost six of their last seven at home and have gone eleven games without a win. As things currently stand, this is their last home game of the season against any of the teams in the bottom six but their trips to Rochdale and Walsall next month could be just as important as they attempt to avoid relegation.

Shrewsbury have only won twice away from home all season but despite having the worst away record in the competition, the Shrews had been on a five game undefeated streak until the start of the month. They’ve performed relatively poorly against their fellow relegation strugglers – so far they’re the only team to have lost twice to Bradford – but they don’t have a daunting run in and should have every chance of retaining their status in the third tier.

Southend’s record at Roots Hall against the Shrews doesn’t make comfortable reading for Shrimpers fans. Since January 2001 the sides have met in ten league contests in Essex and Southend have only won three of those games, the most recent victory was by a single goal in September 2014.

Also in contention for this week’s game of the week are two games between playoff contenders and relegation battlers. Charlton host Bradford whilst Walsall visit Doncaster: to be fair the latter has more riding on it as both clubs still have control over their destinies whilst Bradford have to rely on snookers.

I should be back next weekend, but if there are any issues I’ll let you know ASAP.

GOTW: Doncaster v Charlton

To start this week’s post, the same announcement I’ve posted on Buzzin’ Championship Football this week.

Due to a major change in my professional life, for the next few weeks I’ll be posting on an ‘as and when’ basis due to being a lot busier than normal. I’m going to aim to post something at least once a fortnight, so please bear with me.

Doncaster v Charlton

Something of a rarity, this. Three of the five visits that Charlton have made to Doncaster since the mid 1930s have been since September 2008 and they’ve resulted in one win each and a draw.

On Tuesday Rovers blew their chance of reducing the gap between them and the Addicks when they lost at Shrewsbury. It remains to be seen if their ‘short’ week will catch up with them at the Keepmoat tomorrow, but they’re currently on an eight game home unbeaten run: the problem is that in their three previous home games against the teams above them this season they’ve only recorded one win – against Luton way back in September.

Since Christmas Charlton have only won two of their six roadtrips (against Shrewsbury and Wimbledon), but they’ve only lost once in 2019. They could still make a run at automatic promotion but another season of not being t.good enough is on the cards. Combined with yet another twist in the ownership saga that came this week, Addicks fans may have resign themselves to the old adage that there’s always next year.

There are two other games tomorrow that will feature teams at opposite ends of the table: Luton host Rochdale, whilst Bradford travel to Portsmouth. with a seven point lead and twelve games left it’s possible that Luton’s apparently inexorable march back to the second tier could still fall flat, but I doubt that Rochdale are the team to cause an upset. Bradford travel to Fratton Park with Martin Drury in charge on a caretaker basis after David Hopkin resigned after six months in the post; Pompey haven’t won since New Year’s Day and you need to go back to the season they were last relegated from League One to find the last time that happened. If this run continues they could drop our of the playoff places before the end of the season.

If you’re near a TV set at lunchtime tomorrow, Southend v Barnsley is being televised on Sky Sports Football/Main event at 12:30pm GMT. Southend’s last win at Roots Hall was on New Years day whilst the Tykes are on a fourteen game unbeaten run, having not lost an away game since a 1-0 defeat at Wycombe in mid-December. Since the turn of the century – and despite having six attempts to do so – Southend have only beaten Barnsley once in Essex.

See you soon!

FA Cup Fifth Round Preview

We’ve reached that time of year where I have to split the posts between the League and the FA Cup.

The best scenario for both of the remaining League One clubs is earning a shot at the semi finals – a tall order, but at least they both have home ties this weekend.

AFC Wimbledon v Millwall (tomorrow, 3pm, no TV coverage)

Only other meeting in the FA Cup was just over nine years ago, when Millwall won 4-1 at the New Den and current Lions boss Neil Harris was on the scoresheet. AFC Wimbledon have never beaten Millwall in four previous attempts. Haven’t won at home in League One since Boxing Day and have scored just once in their last four home league games: it’s almost four hours since Joe Pigott scored against Barnsley. Having reached the Fourth Round or better in half of the last ten seasons, Millwall are no mugs when it comes to the FA Cup even though they’ve not won an away tie for almost six years and have recorded just one away win in the Championship this season.

Doncaster v Crystal Palace (Sunday, 4pm, BBC 1)

First meeting in the FA Cup, but the story here is how bad Palace have been at Doncaster over the years. The last time they beat Rovers in South Yorkshire was almost 60 years ago and even though it’s just over seven years since they last met, Doncaster have won four of the last six games against Palace when they’ve had home advantage. Rovers have had a four game home unbeaten streak and have had a relatively straightforward route to this round, although it’s the first time the hosts have played PL opposition since they lost 3-1 to Stoke three years ago.

Verdict: I wouldn’t be surprised of both of these games end all square, but I think there’s more chance of that happening at the Keepmoat Stadium. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Millwall win convincingly.

There are ten league games this weekend: Sky Sports are clearly feeling left out of the FA Cup because there are two televised League One games this weekend: Sunderland v Accrington Stanley this evening (7:45pm Sky Sports Football/Main Event) and Southend v Portsmouth (tomorrow, 12:30, Sky Sports Football/Main Event). None of the remaining matches would have been in the running for game of the week, but there are a couple of interesting ones: Charlton can put more pressure on Portsmouth and Sunderland by beating Blackpool at The Valley, I’ve got a feeling that Luton might not find Fleetwood in the mood to roll over and even though there are sixteen points dividing them, Oxford might fancy their chances against Peterborough.

Back next week, if there are any surprises I’ll update this post over the weekend. 

All Change At The Top

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things can turn round in a few weeks?

Liverpool and Leeds have both been caught from behind in the Premier League and the Championship, but arguably the biggest transformation has been at the top of League One.

Exactly a month ago Luton were five points behind Portsmouth with Barnsley in fifth place: now the Hatters are six points clear of the Tykes with Pompey now in the first of the playoff spots.

Portsmouth’s recent decline in form needn’t be fatal but considering something similar happened to them last season – they were in the playoffs in January but were mid-table in mid-March – it remains to be seen if Kenny Jackett’s team has learned from that experience. Having been knocked out of the FA Cup earlier this week, the only other competition they’re involved in is the EFL Trophy but with the semi finals at the end of the month, should Pompey be concentrating on the league?

Barnsley and Luton have been on fire recently – the Hatters unbeaten streak goes back to October when (ironically) they lost at Barnsley – and the Tykes haven’t lost since before Christmas and haven’t been beaten at Oakwell in the league since last March.

There aren’t any obvious candidates for the Game of the Week this weekend, but there are three where the outcome could change the landscape at the the bottom of the table. Bristol Rovers host Shrewsbury: the Gas have only lost twice since Darrell Clarke left in December but haven’t won at home since Graham Coughlan took over. Despite their recent FA Cup heroics, Shrewsbury haven’t won a game since beating Coventry before Christmas.

Barnsley travel to Gillingham, where they’ve only lost twice in seven visits since 1980 – knowing that both Portsmouth and Sunderland could overtake them with wins at Plymouth and Oxford respectively. Gillingham haven’t won a league match at Priestfield since  beating Portsmouth on Boxing Day – the only time so far this season that they’ve beaten any of the top six at home. Oxford are currently on a run of four games without defeat but are still paying for a poor start to the season and they haven’t beaten Sunderland at home since December 1991.

Following the FA Cup replays earlier this week, AFC Wimbledon and Doncaster will be the only clubs from League One left in the competition and although I’ll return to the competition in next weekend’s post, it’s fair to say that home ties in the Fifth Round would have been something that both sides would have probably been happy with when they entered the competition back in November.

Back next week!

Back To The Future For Posh

A lot to get through this week, so let’s start with an old fashioned FA Cup shock:

Wimbledon’s reward in the Fifth Round: a home tie against Millwall. Let’s not forget Doncaster, who beat Oldham and have been drawn against Crystal Palace in their first Fifth Round tie since 1956.

Next week’s replays should be interesting: Wolves v Shrewsbury (the winner will travel to Bristol City) and QPR v Portsmouth, with the prospect of a home tie against Watford.

Away from the FA Cup, the big news was that Steve Evans was replaced as manager of Peterborough by Darren Ferguson. Evans had been in the job for just under a year and although the timing was a surprise, it’s not hard to see why Darragh MacAnthony made the decision. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I think the expectation at London Road was that Evans should have been pushing for automatic promotion at this point in the season but the fact that Posh don’t seem to have made any noticeable progress under Evans since he was appointed hadn’t gone unnoticed.

The decision to appoint Ferguson for the third time in the last dozen years seems to have been driven by nostalgia rather than ability. Fergie Junior left Peterborough almost exactly four years ago with the club in 15th place but only four points off the playoff spots; it’s been six years since Peterborough were relegated from the Championship and since then they’ve finished no higher than sixth. Added to that is his record at Doncaster, whom he left last summer: on his appointment there he was supposed to have turned Donny into ‘a sustainable Championship club’, which presumably didn’t include a spell in League Two.

Overall, this looks a lot like clutching at straws to me. I’ll give it until Christmas.

Just a couple of games to monitor this weekend: Shrewsbury host leaders Luton at the New Meadow. Under any other circumstances the Shrews could be forgiven for having one eye on their FA Cup replay at Wolves next week, but it’s only goal difference that’s keeping them out of the bottom four at the moment and with matches against Doncaster and Peterborough to come this month they really do need to concentrate on the league.

AFC Wimbledon’s win last weekend is even more remarkable when you consider that they’re eight points away from safety and hadn’t won at home since Boxing Day. The win at Wycombe just before Christmas snapped a seven consecutive game streak without an away victory, but they’ve lost three of their four away matches against the sides currently in the top six whilst Sunderland haven’t lost at home in the league this season.

FA Cup Fourth Round Preview

Another eventful game of the week last weekend – will red cards in Luton’s games become a theme:

That’s Peterborough’s third defeat in their last five games and currently leaves them in a kind of no-man’s land competing for the last playoff position with Doncaster. Portsmouth surprisingly lost at Oxford, which means Luton are just two points away from overtaking Pompey.

Due to participation by  League One clubs in games in two different competitions this weekend, I’ve split the post into two sections this week – starting with the FA Cup. The preview for Gillingham‘s game at Swansea will appear on Buzzin’ Championship Football: all games are 3pm kick offs on Saturday afternoon unless stated.

Accrington Stanley v Derby County (12:30pm, BT Sport 2)

Reaching this round equals Accrington’s best performance in the competition: Stanley have reached the Fourth Round twice before, most recently in 2017. The last time Derby played a competitive game in Accrington was against the previous version of Stanley in November 1956 – a goalless draw in the old Third Division South during the period where ‘The Owd Reds’ were arguably at their best, narrowly missing out on promotion to the old Second Division on a couple of occasions.

Unsurprisingly given the comparative records of the teams since then, this is their first meeting in any competition since then.

Shrewsbury v Wolves

First meeting at the Meadow in the FA Cup for 40 years, but the most recent game between the clubs in Shropshire was in September 2013 when Wolves won 1-0. Shrews reached the Fifth Round a couple of seasons ago, but before that you’ve got to go back to 1991 for a similar feat – they lost 1-0 at home to Arsenal – and I think they’ll have to be satisfied with a similar result in this one.

Doncaster Rovers v Oldham Athletic

This is probably Rovers’ best chance of reaching the Fifth Round since 1956! This game will be their sixth meeting in the FA Cup in the last 12 years, the last contest was in Yorkshire was in November 2007 when Oldham won a replay.

Portsmouth v QPR

This game suddenly represents a dilemma for the hosts: with their lead cut to a point, what should Kenny Jackett’s side concentrate on for the rest of the season? The last time Pompey got past this round they were beaten finalists, but it’s been over 20 years sine they last beat QPR in any competition at Fratton Park. I still think there’s a potential surprise here: QPR have only won one of their last six away games in the Championship and one of their last seven road trips in the FA Cup over the past decade.

AFC Wimbledon v West Ham (Saturday. 7:45pm BT Sport 1)

It’s the first ever appearance in the Fourth Round for the Wombles; The only previous meeting between the teams was last August in the League Cup. West Ham won 3-1 and that sort of result looks as if it could be repeated.

It’s probably just as well that this is an FA Cup weekend because otherwise Peterborough v Charlton would have been game of the week and that would have been the Peterbough’s fifth appearance in that category this season. I’m going to ignore the Posh angle this week as I’ve not mentioned The Addicks for a while: they’ve lost half of their last ten aways but they’re currently on a nine game unbeaten streak at the Valley that’s kept them in playoff contention. Over the last nine years the clubs have met four times in the league: both teams have won twice, but Charlton haven’t won at London Road since November 2010.

If anything surprising happens in the cup, I’ll update ASAP otherwise I’ll be back next Friday.

GOTW: Luton v Peterborough

Last weekend’s game of the week was an eventful one…

Chris Maguire’s red card was overturned after the Netflix crew making a documentary about Sunderland was able to provide evidence that the punishment was unnecessary. So that’s alright then.

The outcome didn’t have that much bearing on the top of the table – Charlton and Peterborough both won, but the biggest surprise was Portsmouth‘s home defeat by Blackpool. Pompey’s lead is now down to four points.

At the bottom it was more or less a case of ‘as you were’ although Wimbledon cannot escape the bottom four this weekend, partly due to Plymouth‘s unexpected win at Southend.

On to this weekend’s game of the week.

Luton v Peterborough

‘Oh not them again’ I thought when I flagged this game up, but although this is the fourth time Peterborough have been selected this season, it’s only the second time – including last week – that Luton have been chosen.

The Hatters’ home form has been impressive – they haven’t conceded a goal at Kenilworth Road since Joel Grant managed a consolation strike for Plymouth in mid November! The draw with Barnsley on New Year’s Day ended a seven game wining streak, but despite those stats there’s also a very obvious issue that could undermine their promotion bid: they’ve not won any of the games they’ve played against the teams currently in the top seven. Ten days after this game, they host Portsmouth.

Until their recent resounding win at Accrington, Peterborough hadn’t won on the road since the end of October and have played five games without keeping an away clean sheet. The Posh have only lost one of their three away games against the teams above them – so why are they ten points behind Portsmouth? The simple answer is that their home form hasn’t been up to scratch – they’ve only won three of their eight home games against teams in the bottom half of the table whereas Pompey have won five of the seven games against the same opponents at Fratton Park.

Luton haven’t beaten Peterborough at home since Boxing Day 2000: that  was one of only nine games the Hatters won that season, so it won’t come as any surprise to hear they were relegated at the end of 2000/2001. The most recent meeting between the clubs in Bedfordshire was a year ago, in a goalless draw in the EFL Cup. Speaking of cups, Luton were knocked out of the FA Cup by Sheffield Wednesday earlier this week, meaning that they’ve had a day’s less rest and that factor may have a significant impact on their chances of winning this.

Honourable mentions: Wimbledon v Barnsley and Oxford v Portsmouth. Both matches are hosted by teams in the bottom six who are facing opponents with ambitions of playing in the Championship next season; in fourteen of the sixteen previous games where the teams currently in the bottom six entertained teams currently in the top six, the visitors have won. So it should be plain sailing for the Tykes and Pompey…shouldn’t it?

I’ll be back next week, when the Fourth Round of the FA Cup will be in the spotlight.