Saturday’s results saw some shockers, but for two managers they meant it was time to move on to pastures new and all of those other old cliches I know and love.
Darren Ferguson’s second tenure at Peterborough saw the Posh achieve their best position in the league since 1993. Although 18th in the Championship doesn’t sound like much, Peterborough earned a reputation for their swashbuckling (and occasionally over physical) attacking style. After winning the JPT and reaching the playoffs last season and being second in the table as recently as October, a run of twelve defeats in 19 games more or less finish ended the season for Posh, who are currently in their lowest position at this level since they were relegated in 2005.
Coventry parted company with Steven Pressley after dropping into the bottom four after failing to beat ten man Sheffield United despite having a man advantage for most of the game and a two goal lead after 78 minutes. Pressley did an outstanding job after the Sky Blues were hit with a points deduction at the beginning of last season, but it’s fair to say that things had been going downhill for the best part of a year and despite returning to the Ricoh Arena, Coventry are now in the bottom four and face a relegation battle for the rest of the season.
If tomorrow’s programme was at the weekend, Swindon versus Bradford would be game of the week. Having surprisingly lost at home to Crawley on Saturday, the Wiltshire Robins have lost further ground to Bristol City (who lost at Colchester) and MK Dons (who beat Peterborough); Town are now only one point ahead of Preston having played one more game and having to entertain Bradford after three consecutive defeats is a nasty looking prospect. The Bantams have only lost one of their last six away matches in League One and sneaked into the last playoff place after earning a point at Walsall.
However, Bristol City, Preston and Sheffield United are also in action tomorrow. Bristol City were three goals down at Colchester in less than half an hour and have now lost two of their last three games: they’ve only won two of their last trips to Doncaster in the league with nine of those matches featuring less than two goals. The clubs have already faced each other at the Keepmoat in the FA Cup this season and that finished 1-1 and a win for the hosts could see them leapfrog into the playoff spots if Bradford lose at Swindon. Preston entertain Walsall knowing that if they win and Swindon don’t then the Lillywhites will climb to third place and be within three points of MK Dons by the weekend: it’s an uphill task for the Saddlers as North End have only lost once at Deepdale in League One since New Year’s Day 2014. The Blades visit Rochdale for only their third ever meeting and United have won both their previous encounters at Spotland; Dale’s indifferent recent form has seen them drop down the table but a third consecutive win at home looks beyond them.
I’ve just updated my spreadsheet and although there’s a touch of the obvious about it, I don’t think we’re likely to see any surprise contenders make a late run for promotion. Sheffield United are still eight points behind Swindon and so I think that the top five now will be the top five at the end of the season – although there could be a lot of changes in which order they finish. Here are some diary dates for you:
Saturday 7th March: MK Dons v Preston
Friday 3rd April: Swindon v MK Dons
Monday 6th April: (Easter Monday) Bristol City v Swindon
Saurday 11th April: Preston v Bristol City
Saturday 25th April (penultimate weekend of the season): Preston v Swindon
So Swindon and Preston still have three games to play against their immediate competitors for promotion; significantly Sheffield United don’t have any games left against the current top five even though they have the best record against the others. Of the fifteen games the current top five have played against one another, eight have been home wins with three draws: from that point of view, things don’t look good for Swindon, especially with consecutive games over the easter weekend against MK Dons and at Bristol City. I’ve already mentioned Preston’s formidable home record and their remaining games at Deepdale could be vital if they want to win automatic promotion.
For what it’s worth right now, I have Bristol City winning the title by five points, with MK Dons finishing four points ahead of Preston. North End, Swindon, Sheffield United and Bradford will be in the playoffs and Colchester, Leyton Orient, Crawley and Yeovil will go down. As ever, we’ll see: and I’m absolutely sure we’re going to see some surprising results in what looks likely to be another grandstand finish to the season.