Athough we’ve arrived at the penultimate weekend of the season, I suspect we’re not going to find out much tomorrow. Either Preston or MK Dons will be promoted automatically, Rochdale could still reach the playoffs and I’ve now got no idea who will be joining Yeovil in League Two come August.
Before the game of the week preview, it’s worth mentioning that there are two other games that could be worth following. Chesterfield host champions Bristol City; the Robins have only won twice in their last ten visits in the league but the Spirerites need a win to make absolutely certain of their playoff place. Despite having won four straight at the Proact without conceding, Chesterfield have lost at home to Preston, MK Dons and Swindon without scoring so this is a big test for the Derbyshire club.
Leyton Orient entertain Sheffield United. The O’s have failed to beat any of the teams in the top half of the division at home this season (they had four wins against last season’s top twelve at the matchroom stadium in 2013/14) and so a win is vital if they want to avoid relegation, especially as they travel to Swindon for the last game of the season. It’s still possible for the Blades to miss out on the playoffs; it’s unlikely though, especially as they’ve not lost to Orient since September 1983 and would need some pretty weird results elsewhere.
The game of the week is possibly slightly less significant than it was at about 7:00pm on Tuesday evening. By 8:50pm Preston were 2-0 up at Notts County and Swindon were 2-0 down at home to Walsall; despite ultimately earning a share of the points, Town can only be promoted automatically if both PNE and MKD lose both of their remaining matches…which in Preston’s case means losing for the first time at home since mid November to a team that has only won at Deepdale once. and that was 30 years ago. If you can remember that far back, Billy Ocean was number one with ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’ and Sharon Stone was boiling bunnies and not wearing underwear in ‘9 1/2 Weeks’.
As I mentioned during the week, the Lillywhites should have been much closer to automatic promotion but their long unbeaten record at Deepdale has been offset by an inability to finish games off. Additionally, although they’re a match for anyone on their day, they’ve been hampered by their inability to beat the better teams in the division for a couple of seasons. Even more astonishing is the fact that North End have played at this level for four seasons but have never once been top of the table. Joe Garner and Jermain Beckford have scored 44% of their goals this season – despite Garner missing part of the season through injury – and only the champions have conceded fewer goals. If they go up, Preston should be OK in the Championship but Garner may turn out to be one of those strikers like Sam Baldock who can’t make the transition from League One to the Championship.
Swindon have been in the top five for most of the season but when they look back at 2014/15, five defeats in eight games between the end of January and the start of March pretty much put paid to their automatic promotion hopes. back to back 3-0 defeats to MK Dons and Bristol City emphasised that although Swindon may have somewhat outperformed the expectations of their own fans, Town needed to be far more consistent over the season in order to get back to the second tier for the first time in 15 years. They might still do that, but they’ll have to go the long way round. Once again, it’s a two man strike force that have done the damage this season (Andy Williams and Michael Smith) but Mark Cooper’s apparent preference for a more physical style of play has drawn widespread criticism and resulted in Raphael Branco Rossi being banned for a total of five games for various reasons.
If anything noteworthy happens I’ll update ASAP.
Update: only Preston and MK Dons can finish second, after North End beat a weakened Swindon XI 3-0. Swindon, Sheffield United and Chesterfield are confirmed as playoff teams, whilst at the bottom it’s an ‘any two from eight’ permutation. Sunday’s live televised game with be Colchester v Preston and all being well I’ll be back on Saturday. Shrewsbury Town will be returning to League One next season after being relegated at the end of 2013/14.