After Saturday’s results the battle for the title and the automatic promotion places couldn’t get any tighter: Wolves 3-0 win at Brentford was the Bees first home defeat since early October and the first time the Middlesex side had conceded three goals in a regular season game at Griffin Park since August 2012.
However, the win wasn’t enough to propel Wolves back to top spot for the first time since the end of November as two Lloyd James penalties earned Leyton Orient maximum points against Swindon. However, the Os are only top because they’ve scored more goals than their Black Country rivals: additionally, Wolves have two games in hand.
One interesting stat to look out for: in the four games so far between the front runners, there have been no home wins. The only games left in the series are Orient’s games against Brentford (15th March) and Wolves (Easter Monday) – the former is going to be televised and I wouldn’t be surprised if the latter is, especially as it could be a ‘winner takes all’ game.
There are some catch up games tomorrow – the pick is Preston v Rotherham but I’ll come to that in a moment, so as it’s the end of the month it’s time to look back at how closely the table at the end of February reflects what happened at the end of the season.
It’s still good news for Leyton Orient: all of the teams that lead League One at the end of February were promoted as Champions. However, it becomes very murky for the rest of the top six after that. Four of the last five runners up were in the top six at the end of the shortest month (Bournemouth were seventh this time last year), but only one of the teams in second place at the end of February (Leeds, 2010) went on to win automatic promotion.
If that scenario pans out again, the following is possible: Orient win League One but Wolves have to make do with the playoffs and may lose out but at the moment any of the current top seven could find themselves playing in the Championship in August. The odds may be against both Rotherham and Peterborough whilst Walsall could be the side to watch if you’re looking for an outsider.
At the bottom, it’s bad news for the current bottom two. Notts County and Stevenage both lost at home at the weekend and since February 2009 all ten of those clubs occupying those positions were relegated. In the last three campaigns, the 22nd placed club at the end of February has also been relegated, so Shrewsbury – who won at Notts at the weekend – need to start digging deep. Oddly enough, despite losing 3-0 at Sheffield United on Saturday, Bristol City should escape consecutive relegations as the club that’s finished 21st at the end of February hasn’t been relegated in the last five seasons but generally speaking though, it’s a case of picking four from the bottom six for relegation.
Tomorrow night half of the bottom six are in action: Crawley travel to Swindon with the knowledge of having only lost one of their five away games against teams in the top half of the table. However, Crawley face a brutal run in due to the poor weather: they’ve got to place twice a week for pretty much the rest of the season. Swindon would have been a playoff contender if their away form hadn’t been so bad: they could still achieve that if they win tomorrow.
Stevenage entertain Crewe knowing that even if they win they’ll be bottom: they’ve only won twice at home against teams in the bottom half of the table and they’ve lost half of their last ten games in League One at Broadhall Way. Crewe won at Port Vale on Saturday, but the Alex haven’t won consecutive away games at this level since February 2009 and this is the first of four road trips against their fellow strugglers before the end of the season.
Preston v Rotherham would have been game of the week under other circumstances: a win for either side would put some additional pressure on the top three but after Saturday’s result at Brentford meaning that only six of the 21 games between the current top six have resulted in home wins, it’s Preston who need to step up. They had to come from behind again to earn a point against Leyton Orient in their last game at Deepdale: Rotherham have won seven of their last ten aways but have lost four of their last six trips to Preston in all competitions and a draw looks likely.