Having contributed to our companion site over the past three years, it’s become increasingly obvious to me that in terms of how the final table might look, Christmas is actually more important than Easter in the Sky Bet Championship. As this is the first time I’ve written about the Christmas period in Sky Bet League One, I thought it might be interesting to see if there are any similarities.
The conclusion: although not as remarkable as the one in the Championship over the past nine seasons, there’s a definite correlation between league positions on Boxing Day and the end of the season in League One.
In seven of last nine seasons – basically since the ‘third tier’ was renamed League One – the team that’s been top of the table at the end of Boxing Day has been promoted, with five of those sides going on to win the title. Last season Sheffield United became the first team since Nottingham Forest (2006) to lead the table after the Boxing Day games but not win promotion.
After that, it gets a little more unpredictable. Although seven of the eventual runners up were in the top six on December 26th, both Bournemouth (last season) and Southampton (2010) were outside that group – although only the Saints were outside the top ten.
As for the playoffs…well, as long as you’re outside the top three but in the top half you’ve got a chance. If you’re looking for patterns, arguably the safest bet is not to back the team in third place on Boxing Day: since 2004 only one team in that position (Norwich in 2009) went on to win automatic promotion.
The bottom of the table is slightly more straightforward. In eight of the last nine season the 24th placed team at the end of Boxing Day has eventually been relegated: the only one that wasn’t – Yeovil in 2010 – were promoted as playoff winners last season. Five of the nine clubs that occupied 23rd place accompanied the bottom side into League Two, but since Christmas 2004 there have only been three occasions where all four relegated clubs were already in the bottom six. A combination of either points deductions or bad form in the second half of the season normally means that at least one team outside of the bottom six will find themselves in trouble in May: my guess is that Coventry will be safe so it might be worth looking back at my pre-season overview to see if any suitable candidate emerges.
Looking at the fixture list over the next ten days, one thing is for certain: there are a lot of very important games for teams that are either hoping they won’t be in League One this time next season and those hoping they still will be. No matter what happens on Saturday, the top six cannot change as Rotherham are four points ahead of seventh placed Bradford and Brentford would have to win by a big margin at Preston to overtake Wolves, who would also need to lose at Rotherham. If Wolves win at Rotherham and Leyton Orient lose at home to Crawley, then Wolves would be top of the table at the start of Boxing Day and so on…
However, I won’t get too far ahead of myself though because there are four games this Saturday that could make Boxing Day afternoon into an exciting one. With four of the top six playing each other, the games at Deepdale and the New York Stadium are those to keep an eye on if you’re passing any large electrical retailers whilst doing some last minute Christmas shopping. Remarkably, the last time Preston and Rotherham both lost at home was on the same day in October but whilst Brentford have only won twice in their last ten visits to Preston, Rotherham’s only home league victory against Wolves happened 48 years ago.
At the bottom the game of the day is Notts County v Bristol City. The Magpies’ victory against Gillingham a couple of weeks ago was their first home win since the end of October but they’ve only been able to win consecutive home games once this season and that was before Sean Derry took over from Chris Kiwomya. It’s fair to say that Bristol City are bottom of the table due to their extremely poor home form, but although the Somerset Robins aren’t terrible on the road this season, they have struggled at Meadow Lane over the years – one win in the last 20 years is proof of that.
The other match that could have an impact on the bottom of the table is at the Lamex Stadium, where Sheffield United are the visitors. Having blown a lead at Port Vale last weekend, hosts Stevenage dropped back into the relegation zone after a run of one win in six and they’ve not picked up maximum points in front of their own fans since the end of October. Sheffield United seem to have turned the corner recently – the Blades have only lost two of their last nine and are currently on a four game unbeaten run – but have never beaten their opponents in Hertfordshire so it’ll be interesting to see how that pans out.
At this point in time the only Boxing Day game that might affect either end of the table is the rather one sided looking match at Molineux between Wolves and Crewe so all being well the next post should be next Friday – and will feature one of the potential highlights of the entire season. So on behalf of Buzzin’ Media and myself I’d like to thank you for reading and wish you a Merry Christmas.