After all the excitement in the various cup competitions, it’s back to the bread and butter of the league this weekend…even though I think we’ve got a pretty good idea of what the final top four teams are going to be. Here’s a quick run down of the situations at the top and bottom:
At The Top
Three teams could be top at 5:00pm on Sunday evening. Both Swindon and MK Dons are away tomorrow, whilst Bristol City are at home against Fleetwood on Sunday afternoon. The Dons blew their chance to take over pole position during the week when they were held to a 1-1 draw by a rapidly improving Scunthorpe side.
Preston are in the same kind of no-man’s land they were in last season: five points behind the top three but nine points in front of fifth placed Chesterfield. More of the Lillywhites later.
Any of the teams currently in the top half of the table could sneak into the last two play off spots.
At The Bottom
Yeovil and Crawley are stuck in the bottom four even if they win. Leyton Orient can escape the relegation zone if they beat Scunthorpe and Barnsley lose at home to Port Vale by more than one goal. Despite having the second worst goal difference in the competition, Crewe have only lost one of their last five games but are still far from safe and Coventry could drop into the bottom four if they lose at home to Rochdale, who currently occupy the last playoff place.
Don’t worry if you haven’t. There are going to be multiple twists and turns before May and there could be a few this weekend.
Chesterfield v Doncaster Rovers, Crawley v Preston, Crewe v MK Dons, Sheffield United v Swindon
I wouldn’t normally look outside the top or bottom six for potential games the week but with almost all League One fixtures having some importance this weekend it’s hard to choose one. Only three points separate Donny from Chesterfield and Rovers have a game in hand on the Spirerites; only one of the ten most recent league clashes between these two has produced more than two goals and half of those matches have finished all square – considering Donny have a better away record than they do at the Keepmoat right now, another draw wouldn’t be a surprise.
The current table indicates that the trip to Crawley is Preston’s easiest remaining away game: half of their remaining away days are against clubs currently in the top ten but although Crawley are currently on a fourteen game winless streak, they have only lost once at home this season to a team in the current top six, a 4-0 reverse against Rochdale in September. This is the third meeting between the sides in Sussex and Preston have yet to win.
Crewe’s home record against the top six is almost exactly the same as Crawley’s: the Alex lost 5-2 at home against Rochdale back in August, but have apparently launched a relegation escape bid at the right time, having only lost one of their last half dozen league games. MK Dons haven’t lost away from home since losing at Bristol City in September, but they’ve only won two of their eight games since then and have scored half as many goals on their travels as they have at home. This is the fifth meeting between Crewe and MK Dons in all competitions at Gresty Road and the Dons have yet to win.
At Bramall Lane, a lot depends on how Sheffield United react to their narrow midweek defeat in the Capital One cup semi final: their cup exploits have obscured the fact that they’ve only won twice at home in League 1 since October and to be honest, if Nigel Clough is serious about promotion then early exits from all three cup competitions next season might be the Blades’ best chance of getting back to the Championship. Swindon have had a fortnight off and haven’t lost an away game since the start of November but having written that, Swindon’s record against the Blades is awful: their last league win in South Yorkshire was in February 1970 even though they’ve had thirteen opportunities to put that right since then.
Bristol City v Fleetwood
Believe it or not, it’s possible that Bristol City could actually go back to the top of the pile without playing tomorrow but what’s more likely is that the Robins will know exactly what they have to do to regain top spot. Fleetwood have had a week off and only played four games in January, whereas City played seven times in various competitions and will have had two days rest after the JPT semi final. This is the first time that the sides have ever met at the building site formerly known as Ashton Gate and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s only one goal in it: the Cod Army have already lost by one goal at Swindon, MK Dons and Preston this season.
I’ll update the results as we go along and there’ll be a brief FA Cup post next week, but I can tell you now that there will be a single game of the week next weekend and it may very well be a season defining match for both sides…