EFL League One 2018/19 Preview

Something unusual happened in League One in 2017/18.

All three clubs that had been relegated from the Championship at the end of the previous season were promoted immediately.

Although over the last decade there have only been two campaigns where none of the relegated sides went back up at the first time of asking, but the last time more than one former Championship struggler won immediate promotion was at the end of 2008/09, when both Leicester and Scunthorpe returned to the Championship one season after being demoted.

I think there’s a pretty obvious reason for why that happened in 2017/18. The only clubs that had been in League One in August 2016 (ie the season before last) that improved in 2017/18 were Charlton, Gillingham (yes, you read that correctly), Peterborough and Shrewsbury: the rest regressed. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s no surprise that Blackburn and Wigan returned to the Championship: Rotherham finished 21 points adrift at the bottom of the second tier having almost conceded 100 goals in 2016/17, but they were also promoted.

Or to put it bluntly, League One wasn’t very good last season.

PROMOTION CANDIDATES

On the face of it, being relegated from the Championship looks like good news for at least one of either Barnsley, Burton and Sunderland but I’d say it’s probably The Black Cats that have the edge. Looking back at the teams that have bounced straight back over the last ten years, Leicester, Norwich, Wigan (twice) and Wolves arguably shouldn’t have found themselves in the Third Tier in the first place and Sunderland probably shouldn’t be there this season. However, before anyone gets carried away, before 2017/18 began, Sunderland were 14/1 for relegation from the Championship.

The undeniable fact here is that in six of the last ten seasons, the League One title has been won by a team that was relegated at the end of the previous season. In the remaining four campaigns, the title was won by a club that had finished almost exactly in mid table: that’s the sort of improvement that Shrewsbury had last season, but with the clear decline in League One standards last season I’m not sure if we’re going to see that in 2018/19.

That brings us on to automatic promotion: and that’s no clearer either.

In six of the last ten seasons, teams that had spent at least one campaign in League One were promoted in second place and that includes two clubs (Brentford in 2014 and Leeds in 2010) that had reached the playoffs at the end of the previous season. The remaining four sides were split evenly between clubs that had been relegated from the Championship or promoted from League Two: I’d expect Coventry and Luton to peform better than Accrington and Wycombe, but I’d be surprised if any of the quartet of new arrivals won promotion. Using that criteria Burton seem like a logical choice, but this is also where Charlton might be worth following when the season starts. I’d also add Portsmouth and Plymouth into the mix, but there’s too much potential for yet another Peterborough implosion for me to take them seriously as potential promotion candidates.

As for the playoffs, right now your guess is as good as mine. Check back at Christmas ūüôā

RELEGATION

A little bit easier to predict. Half of the forty clubs relegated over the last decade had finished in the bottom half of the League One table at the end of the previous season with ten of those clubs having finished below 18th. AFC Wimbledon, Walsall and Rochdale all fall into that category: in 2017/18 The Saddlers went backwards at a rate of knots and could face a season long struggle against the drop. It’s also striking that eight of the sides that won promotion were relegated immediately: Wycombe Wanderers have achieved that twice since August 2008 ‚Äď on both occasions they’d finished third in League Two, just like they did last season.

A few observations to conclude with:

Shrewsbury were a massive- and pleasant – surprise last season, but I’d be amazed if they can reach the playoffs again. They overachieved last season and with the departures of key staff and players I think they’re facing a season of mid table anonymity.

Appointing Joey Barton as boss was a big decision by the powers that be at Fleetwood and I’d give The Cod Army at least ten league games before making any decisions about Barton’s managerial prowess. I think they’ll be better than last season, but not good enough for promotion.

Plymouth to Sunderland is a six and a half hour drive: Hamburg to Brussels is a shorter distance.

I don’t think Steve Evans will be Peterborough manager at Christmas.

Scunthorpe will finish in the top eight again, but won’t win promotion. Again.

Sunderland v Charlton (Sky Sports Football, Saturday 12:30pm kick off) is the televised curtain raiser for the League One season: don’t forget that the Saturday evening highlights package is now on Quest TV.

2018 Playoff Final Preview

Only one game left and it’s to decide who will play Aston Villa in the 2018/19 edition of the Championship.

The consolation prize is two games against Sunderland next season.

Rotherham v Shrewsbury

(3pm, Sky Sports Football)

I treat these games as an away game for both teams, although Rotherham are the home team and are slight favourites.

Rotherham United

Last ten aways: 4-2-4, F13 A13. Clean sheets: four. Failed to score: twice

The Merry Millers have recent playoff experience – they won the playoffs in 2014 – and were only relegated from the Championship last season. Only three players (Joe Mattock, Will Vaulks and Richard Wood) started in this season’s semi final second leg against Scunthorpe after having played in the last match of the catastrophic Championship of 2016/17, an indication of how much impact Paul Warne has had at the club since he was appointed in November 2016. No less than 13 players made at least 20 appearances for Rotherham this season, including joint leading scorers Joe Newell and former Fleetwood midfielder David Ball.

United were clearly best team outside of the top three but were stuck in fourth place from January onwards and have only won one of their last six away games. It’s not entirely clear if that slump in form has anything to do with being marooned in the playoff spots, although it’s worth mentioning that Rotherham were on a six game away unbeaten streak between mid-December and mid-February and – after winning at Shrewsbury – have only won two road trips since then. They also failed to beat Wigan, Blackburn and Charlton this season, only winning four away games against teams in the top half of the table.

Shrewsbury Town

Last ten aways: 6-3-1 F13 A8. Clean sheets: four. Failed to score: once

The Shrews have playoff experience at this level apart from the two semi finals against Charlton, the first of which was settled by an absolute screamer from John Nolan:

2017/18 was Town’s best performance in the third tier for over 20 years but they’ve not played in the second tier since 1989.

Shrewsbury had a much better away record against the other clubs in the top six than Rotherham but surprisingly failed to beat Bury and MK Dons, who were both relegated. In some respects you have to wonder if having been in second place for more or less all of the season (they dropped out of the top two for good at the start of April) might count against them, although considering they finished third behind two teams that have played in the Premier League within the last decade that’s a tribute to Paul Hurst and his management team.

The Shrews are yet another outstanding example of a settled side: five players have appeared in 40 games or more in 17/18 even though former Everton defender Aristote Nsiala has been the only ever present. Barnsley loanee Stefan Payne is the leading scorer although it’ll be interesting to see who he’ll be playing for next season if The Shrews go up and he returns to his parent club – who might need his services next season.

Head to head

Bad news for Rotherham depending on how far back you want to go. The Millers have won two of the last three encounters but those are their only victories in ten meetings since February 2010.

Various random stats

Half of last ten finals have been between the clubs that finished third and fourth, but the lower finishers have won four of the last five games.

Only one team has scored in six of the last ten League One playoff finals but there have been over 2.5 goals in six of the last ten matches – last season’s game between Bradford and Millwall was the first time since the 2012 final where there’d been less than two goals.

Over the last decade, six clubs who won 80 points or more but weren’t promoted automatically lost their finals.¬† In 2011 Huddersfield¬†had finished eight points clear of Peterborough and after 75 minutes it looked as if the game was heading for extra time. Peterborough scored three times in eight minutes and that was that. However, Huddersfield are currently playing in the Premier League – as are the team that they beat in the semi final, AFC Bournemouth.

Verdict:¬†today’s game is unlikely to go to penalties and extra time, but this is a game where recent form can and often does go out of the window – the higher ranked club has only won three of the last ten finals and only one of the last seven. It’s a much tougher game to call than yesterday’s Championship final so I’m going to cautiously back Rotherham to upset Shrewsbury and return to the second tier at the first time of asking.

Update: it did go to extra time – and Rotherham returned to the Championship after winning 2-1. On Monday afternoon Coventry City were promoted back to League One after beating Exeter City 3-1 in the League Two playoff final.

 

EFL League 1 Playoff Semis Preview

An interesting pair of semi finals.

The games feature three sides that have played in the Championship within the last decade and the most improved team of 2017/18, but based on the league position of the eventual winners it already looks as if Scunthorpe are up against it.

First this week, there was a dramatic finish to the regular season programme: Rochdale beat Charlton at Spotland, a result that relegated both Northampton and Oldham.

Charlton v Shrewsbury (7:45pm this evening, Sky Sports Football)

Shrews finished 16 points ahead of the Addicks, the largest margin between third and sixth place since Preston finished 20 points ahead of Chesterfield at the end of 2014/15. That was only three years ago: Preston almost made the Championship playoffs this season whilst Chesterfield have just been relegated from League Two.

Charlton have been in the playoff spots for most of the season but with the benefit of hindsight the poor run of form between Boxing Day and Valentine’s Day effectively ended their chances of automatic promotion. The Addicks have won half of their last ten games at the Valley including three¬† of the last four, but won only two of their five contests at home against the teams that finished above them.

Shrewsbury were by far and away the most improved side in League One in 2017/18 but despite having spent almost the entire season in the automatic places they only won two of their last seven games and were overtaken by Blackburn in the middle of last month. There are a couple of question marks against them: will the disappointment of having missed out on automatic promotion manifest itself and are they capable of winning at The Valley? The Shrews haven’t won on the road since the middle of March and although they don’t have to win this game to reach the final, it would help tremendously.

The clubs have only met twice at The Valley since the turn of the century, with both sides have recorded one win – Shrewsbury won 2-0 back in February with goals from Alex Rodman and Omar Beckles. Charlton won at The New Meadow by the same score in April: Jason Pearce and Josh Magennis scored for The Addicks.

Verdict: with the exception of Scunthorpe, Charlton’s home record this season is modest compared with the other clubs in the top six and this is a must win for Lee Bowyer’s side. Only Blackburn and Wigan earned more points than Shrewsbury did away from home this season and I think that’s going to be the difference over the two legs. I’ll be very surprised if The Shrews lose.

 Scunthorpe v Rotherham (Saturday 12:30, Sky Sports Football/Main Event)

Only five points separated the sides at the end of the campaign, but Scunthorpe would do well to remember that it’s been over a decade since a fifth placed side has been promoted after winning the playoffs.

It’s probably fair to say that automatic promotion this season was the expectation after playoff disappointment at the end of 2016/17, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone in being surprised when¬†Graham Alexander was sacked in March when the Iron were still in fifth. With eight games left they looked as if they’d blown any chance of returning to the Championship but Nick Daws – in his second spell as caretaker manager at Glanford Park – has steadied the ship just at the right time. However, The Iron have only recorded two home wins since mid January and if Daws gets the job full time if The Iron are promoted, his lack of experience could be crucial.

Rotherham won a dramatic final against Leyton Orient four years ago and are looking to return to the Championship at the first attempt.¬† The Millers have been in fourth place since the middle of January and have only lost four games since then – yet three of those four defeats have been on the road since the middle of March, which could be interpreted as a sign that they’d accepted that they were not going to win automatic promotion. Even accounting for the drop in quality, The Millers have conceded 45 fewer goals than last season and only the promoted duo scored more than Rotherham – and that was despite David Ball being the top scorer with just eight goals.

Head to head: this is where it might go wrong for Scunthorpe. They’ve only won four of their last ten home league games against Rotherham (the last victory was in February 2007), but have only lost one of the last half dozen encounters. The Millers won both games this season.

Verdict: there are arguably more question marks concerning Scunthorpe’s home record than Rotherham’s away performance. Blackpool – who finished twelfth – had a better home record than the Iron- and the Millers earned five more points on the road than Scunthorpe won at Glanford Park. If Rotherham don’t lose this one, they’ve got one foot in the final.

I’ll be back at some point before the second legs, but it’s my wife’s birthday this weekend…

Shrewsbury won 1-0 at The Valley on Thursday evening thanks to an incredible strike from Jon Nolan with ten minutes left: two days later Scunthorpe had to come from behind twice to earn a draw at home with Rotherham.

Update 2: Shrewsbury will be playing at Wembley in a couple of weeks after beating Charlton 1-0 at The New Meadow on Sunday.

GOTW: Walsall v Northampton

Just like that, the automatic promotion places have been settled.

Blackburn’s victory at Doncaster on Tuesday evening means that Rovers return to the Championship after one season in League One:

Shrewsbury and Rotherham will finish third and fourth regardless of what happens over the next fortnight, so for the rest of the regular season it’s the last remaining playoff and relegation places that will command our attention. This weekend, the big games are at the bottom of the table:

MK Dons v Scunthorpe

If The Dons lose, they will be relegated: simple as that. Considering they’ve only won twice at home in 2018 and have only beaten The Iron twice in six regular season games in Buckinghamshire, the task in front of them looks well nigh impossible.

This is the start of a busy period for Scunthorpe, who have to play Plymouth on Tuesday before finishing the season with a visit from Bradford next weekend. They’ve only lost two games since Graham Alexander was surprisingly fired last month, but have only won twice – fortunately for them, that’s been the last two matches and those victories have propelled Scunthorpe back into playoff contention.

Walsall v Northampton

Since Dean Keates took over from Jon Whitney last month, The Saddlers have picked up four points from eighteen available. Having been in the top half of the table as recently as Christmas, Walsall might be one of those teams that are relegated having seemed safe for most of the season: they’ve beaten all of the teams below them at the Bescot and this is their best chance of saving themselves – they have a game in hand at Bradford on Tuesday and travel to Fleetwood next weekend.

After a dreadful start to the season, Northampton escaped the bottom four in January but ten games without a win saw Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink depart and the spectre of relegation looming large once more. To be fair to caretaker manager Dean Austin, having won two of the four matches that he’s overseen has given the Cobblers a fighting chance of avoiding the drop. They’ve only lost once in away games with the other teams in the bottom six: if Walsall are nervous, a gung ho approach by the Cobblers might be the best policy especially as the hosts have only won once in their last six home matches.

Walsall have won three of the last four league meetings between the clubs in the West Midlands but those are their only victories in the last ten. This could go either way but I’d be surprised if Northampton can win at Walsall for the first time in over ten years.

If there’s anything to report I’ll update this post as soon as possible, otherwise I’ll be back next week with a look at the final regular season game of the season but I’ll sign off with congratulations to Luton Town, who became the second club to win promotion from League Two last weekend.

GOTW: Bury v Northampton

Last week’s GOTW was as one sided as I thought it might be:

Will Grigg’s hat-trick did his former club absolutely no favours and further cemented his reputation as a striker who can score goals against poor teams in League One but doesn’t seem to be able to get the job done in the Championship.

However, there’s now a four point gap between the top two and Shrewsbury: the Shrews surprisingly lost at Wembley last weekend and drew with Bradford last night so although the ‘three into two’ scenario is still relevant, I think Shrewsbury may have to be content with a playoff place.

This weekend there are two games that are crucial for the teams involved – the first is a huge match at the bottom of the table.

Bury v Northampton 

This is a must win for The Shakers if they’re to have any chance of staying up, but that also depends on Oldham’s result against Gillingham. If that goes against them, they’re toast.

The problem is that Bury not won at Gigg Lane since the end of February and they’ve not scored at home for over five hours. Their home record against the other strugglers is poor: four points from twelve. They drew 0-0 at Northampton at the end of November but they’ve only lost once in the last ten encounters with the Cobblers when they’ve had home advantage. That was 12 years ago – current Burnley manager Sean Dyche was in the Northampton side that day.

Northampton can still save themselves, but their away record is about as awful as Bury’s home form. Without a win on the road since February, remarkably they’ve also failed to find the back of the net in almost five hours of football since then. The Cobblers have earned five points from twelve in away games against the other clubs in the bottom six, but you’ve got to be a special kind of terrible if you lose 5-1 at Oldham.

It seems extraordinary that there are 17 points between the clubs in first and fourth places but that’s the situation when Rotherham travel to Wigan tomorrow. On paper this is both Wigan’s toughest remaining home game but Rotherham still have to visit Plymouth in a fixture that could be vital in terms of home advantage in the playoffs.¬† The key is whether The Millers will score: Wigan have not conceded a goal at the DW Stadium to any of the teams currently in the top six.

I’ll be back next Friday, although if Bury are relegated tomorrow I’ll update the post as and when.

Update: a late goal from Ash Taylor gave Northampton all three points in the game of the week, so Bury are relegated to League Two after three seasons.

GOTW: Wigan v MK Dons

I’l begin this week with even more managerial departures to report.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink didn’t even last a whole season at Northampton Town – after the defeat at Peterborough on Monday he was given his marching orders. More surprisingly, before I left I didn’t have time to comment on Scunthorpe sacking Graham Alexander, despite the Iron still being in the playoff spots at that point.

Since the start of 2018, almost half of the clubs in League One have changed their managers – Bury and Northampton have made two changes this season – but although it’s the changes at Bradford and Scunthorpe that have raised the most eyebrows.

However, it’s true to say that the overall standard of football in League One has probably deteriorated since last season and although both clubs made changes when they occupied playoff places, only three of the seventeen clubs that played in last season’s competition have actually made any discernible progress – and all three are challenging for promotion.

Talking of promotion, this weekend the ‘three into two’ scenario has become even more complicated by Shrewsbury’s involvement in the Football League Trophy final on Sunday. Here’s a quick run down of the remaining games that could decide the automatic promotion places: a couple of them might also have an impact on playoff and relegation issues.

Tuesday 10th April

Rochdale v Wigan

Saturday 14th April

Wigan v Rotherham

Tuesday 17th April

Shrewsbury v Charlton

Thursday 19th April

Blackburn v Peterborough (Sky Sports Football, 7:45pm)

Saturday 21st April

Shrewsbury v MK Dons

Tuesday 24th April

Shrewsbury v Peterborough

Saturday 28th April 

Charlton v Blackburn

Saturday 5th May (last game of the season)

Shrewsbury v MK Dons

Back to this weekend  and the game of the week is Wigan v MK Dons. My spreadsheet fancies The Latics to win the League One title in a few weeks time while the Dons return to League Two for the first time in a decade.

Wigan have only lost one of their last ten games at the DW Stadium and have only conceded five times in that sequence, so at the risk of sounding like a master of the bleedin’ obvious, MK Dons have to score to stand any chance of earning even a point. Milton Keynes have lost six of their last ten road trips but haven’t been beaten away from home since mid-February and have scored in six of those ten matches – but they’ve only gained one point from twelve in their away games against the current top six. That was courtesy of an extremely late equaliser from Keiran Agard at Charlton back in November.

Head to head: first ever league meeting in Lancashire although they met in the FA Cup four years ago. Wigan have yet to lose a game to MK Dons. I think that’s a strong an indication as any that this might be a very one sided game but with so much at stake for both teams you never know.

I’ll be back next weekend.

Easter Preview 2018

Two recent managerial changes to report.

Jon Whitney left Walsall and was replaced by former Saddler Dean Keates; Karl Robinson left Charlton for Oxford and was replaced almost immediately by a caretaker team of Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson.

Robinson’s departure from The Valley was the most intriguing: it would appear he’d attempted to resign twice before he’d left and reading between the lines it seems that Oxford were in no hurry to appoint a new boss after Pep Clotet left in January because they knew Robinson would be available.

As this is my last post until after Easter, I’m going to take a look into the old crystal ball and see what I think might happen over the last few weeks of the season.

At the top, it’s still a case of three into two won’t go. There’s nothing between Blackburn, Shrewsbury and Wigan so it may come down to the Latics having a number of games in hand and how they fare in those matches.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess which clubs will fill. the remaining three playoff places. Rotherham occupy a similar position as Preston did a couple of seasons ago: the Millers won’t win automatic promotion but they’ll have to be pretty awful to miss the playoffs. Then it’s a case of throwing darts blindfolded – even Oldham have a mathematical chance of qualifying for the post season, albeit a tiny one. At the moment Peterborough, Plymouth and Scunthorpe are on course to earn the last playoff place – as you’ll read in a moment, the Posh have a tough looking run in.

At the bottom, I think it’s fair to say that Bury have had it, but Rochdale‘s FA Cup heroics mean they’ve also got games in hand over the other strugglers. Both¬†MK Dons and Northampton are in serious danger of being relegated but there’s still a chance that any team in the bottom third could find themselves in a battle to stay in League One.

There’s no outstanding choice for game of the week, but there are two clashes that will have a direct impact on either end of the table. Shrewsbury entertain AFC Wimbledon whilst Rochdale travel to Scunthorpe. The Wombles have managed one away win since November and with two more games against promotion contenders yet to come they could easily drop into the bottom four. Dale have only lost once since being battered by Spurs in the FA Cup at Wembley but they have a horrible looking run in and may find salvation beyond them.

We have one televised game this weekend: Portsmouth v Oxford United (Sunday, 4:00pm Sky Sports Main Event/Football). Blackburn v Bradford is live at 7:45pm on Thursday evening (Sky Sports Main Event/Football) but that looks like one of those games that would have looked good on paper earlier this season.

Here are some games to look out for over Easter: I’ll be trying to follow them from abroad but the next scheduled post is Friday 6th April.

Friday 30th March:

Oxford v Scunthorpe (12:45pm, Sky Sports Football), Fleetwood v AFC Wimbledon, Rochdale v Shrewsbury, Rotherham v Peterborough and Wigan v Oldham.

The big one is at the New York Stadium – Rotherham were on an eight game undefeated streak at home before losing to Rochdale but they’ve only won two of their seven home games against team currently in the top ten. The Posh have only lost twice in their last six aways but still have to travel to Plymouth, Shrewsbury and Blackburn before the end of the season.

Monday 2nd April

MK Dons v Blackburn, Peterborough v Northampton and Scunthorpe v Plymouth – that last one looks like a crucial game for both teams.

At time of posting Scunthorpe haven’t won at home since New Year’s Day (!) while Plymouth have been phenomenal since the end of November: a run of one defeat in seventeen games has seen the Pilgrims move from relegation certainties to playoff contenders. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember what Barnsley did a couple of seasons ago.

Tuesday 3rd April

Bury v Rochdale

A must win for Bury.

See you in a couple of weeks!

GOTW: Blackburn v Wigan

Here’s the first post for a couple of weeks, so obviously there’s a lot to catch up on.

Wigan knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup and although Rochdale held Spurs to a draw at Spotland, they were beaten 6-1 at Wembley in this week’s replay. Still,¬† that’s one more club in the quarter finals than the Championship has.

There’s also been one more managerial change: I’d suspected that Grant McCann’s tenure at Peterborough wasn’t going to last much longer and he was sacked last weekend. Posh have a reasonable chance of qualifying for the playoffs, but that clearly didn’t match the expectations of Darragh MacAnthony for this season. Steve Evans replaces McCann, so it’ll be interesting to see how that particular clash of egos turns out: on Friday, MacAnthony sold half of his share of the club to a pair of Canadian-based businessmen.

Bradford appointed Simon Grayson and Fleetwood turned to John Sheridan after dispensing with Stuart McCall and Uwe Rosler respectively: both of those moves look sound to me.

At the top, it’s still two from three to go up automatically, although Wigan’s games in hand will make the last few weeks of the season interesting. Rotherham and Scunthorpe are in a sort of playoff limbo while Plymouth‘s progression from relegation candidates to promotion hopefuls is something I’m going to be covering at a later date.

The trio of MK Dons, Bury and Rochdale can’t escape the bottom three this weekend, so it’s time to look at the Lancashire Derby that is this week’s game of the week…

Blackburn v Wigan (Sunday, noon, Sky Sports Football)

I probably don’t need to emphasise how rare a televised League One game of the week actually is…

This is a repeat of the game that saw Blackburn relegated from the Premier League just under six years ago: since then, Rovers have won the following three encounters at Ewood Park and a win on Sunday could see Tony Mowbray’s side consolidate their lead at the top of League One.

Rovers are currently on a 14 game unbeaten streak but they’ve not actually won consecutive league games at Ewood Park since December, drawing half of their last six matches – including coming from two goals down against Oldham to earn a point. The recent clean sheet against Bury was the first time Blackburn had kept a clean sheet at home since Boxing Day.

Wigan’s impressive away record was shattered at Southend last month but considering they’ve not lost consecutive away games in League One since August 2015 I’d be surprised if they are defeated on Sunday. Whether the Latics can beat Blackburn is another matter entirely: they’ve played three times against the teams above them so far and have picked up one point and failed to score.

Verdict: given the pattern of Blackburn’s recent home games, I’d not be at all surprised if this finished all square. Historically speaking, Rovers have won eight of the ten previous meetings in the league at their patch but with both teams seeking promotion and the Latics having so many games in hand, this is a game the hosts cannot afford to lose.

The weather has decimated the League One programme this weekend: only the games at Milton Keynes, Scunthorpe and Southend are taking place tomorrow. I’ll be back next weekend when hopefully the snow will have gone.

GOTW: Scunthorpe v Rotherham

Two main stories this week.

Stuart McCall and Bradford City decided to call it quits on Monday – his second managerial stint at the club began in June 2016, but it’s been obvious for some time that although the Bantams are one of the better teams in the division, they are not automatic promotion material. Their home form in 2017/18 has been noteworthy for all the wrong reasons: they’ve only won two home games since the middle of October after going undefeated at Valley Parade for all of last season.

The other big story was Rochdale progressing to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup for the first time since 2003. Dale won at Northampton last week to record their first away win of 2017/18, but three days later this happened:

If you need to watch it again, keep an eye on the right hand side of the screen! The win over Championship opposition sets up a classic FA Cup tie at Spotland in the next round, when Spurs are the visitors.

Last weekend’s league games provided a couple of surprises: Blackburn lost at Plymouth, which meant Shrewsbury’s win at Bristol Rovers¬†moved the Shrews back into second place. At the bottom, neither Rochdale nor Bury can overtake MK Dons this weekend but I’d argue none of the teams currently in the bottom ten can be comfortable with their position.

The obvious candidate for game of the week is¬†Scunthorpe v Rotherham: if the season ended this weekend, this would be a playoff semi final. There could be a few goals in this one: the Iron have only lost twice since Christmas but haven’t won at Glanford Park since New Years Day and have only recorded one victory this season against their rivals in the top six – a 2-1 win at Bradford in mid November. Scunthorpe have scored in all of their home games since the end of September – remember that you’re reading the next paragraph – with Josh Morris scoring four times.

Ominously, Rotherham are unbeaten in their last ten games in League One, including four in a row on the road. They’ve also struggled against the teams around them: one win in five attempts against clubs currently in the top ten and that was in September. On the other hand, they’ve scored in all of their away games since the start of October with former Fleetwood striker David Ball scoring five of the 14 goals in that period.

Head to head: Rotherham haven’t won at Scunthorpe in a league match since The Iron were playing at The Old Showground. Six of the last ten meetings in Lincolnshire have resulted in more than 2.5 goals being scored – something that any punters amongst you might want to take into account.

Other games to look out for this weekend: Wimbledon v Northampton is the only match between the teams in the bottom six, but with Oldham and Bury travelling to Blackburn and Bradford respectively there’s some potential for change at both ends of the table.

It’ll be an FA Cup special next weekend, although it might be a little bit later than usual due to work commitments.

GOTW: Blackburn v Shrewsbury

A quick FA Cup round up to begin with.

Three League One clubs are definitely through, three need to replay (Fleetwood, Shrewsbury and Wigan all drew against Premier League teams) and the accolades go to Peterborough for a 3-1 win at Aston Villa. 

Monday’s draw means there’s a possibility – albeit an unlikely one – that there might be two ties between League One sides but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. For now, the only two confirmed Fourth Round games are Millwall v Rochdale and MK Dons v Coventry. More about MK later.

At the end of Boxing Day, Wigan had a four point lead over Shrewsbury but if the trends are to be believed, the title is a three horse race between those two and Blackburn. Blackburn and Shrewsbury have both been far more impressive in their performances against the other clubs currently in the top six than Wigan have: over the next couple of months, the Latics travel to Bradford, Blackburn and Portsmouth.

If you’re looking for a playoff winner, Portsmouth were seventh at the close of play on 26th December but have moved into the playoff places: the downside for Pompey is that they’ve failed to win any of their five games against the teams currently above them and the goal difference in those matches is -8. Charlton, Peterborough and Rotherham might be worth keeping an eye on.

At the bottom, I think Bury are probably done for but if Rochdale start winning games rather than drawing them, things could get interesting quickly. The penny seems to have finally dropped with Plymouth – but not for either Wimbledon or Northampton.

Game of the week: Blackburn v Shrewsbury

I’ve always had a hunch that any team that’s on their ninth game without winning or losing is in prime position for that streak to end: Rovers lost at home to Hull in the FA Cup last weekend but they’ve not been beaten at Ewood Park in a league game since mid September. Shrewsbury’s performance against West Ham last Sunday showed why their record this season needs to be respected: they’ve only lost two away games since mid-September.

As you may have suspected, it’s been a while since the Shrews travelled to Blackburn: this is the first league meeting between the clubs at Ewood Park since November 1988, which is the only time Shrewsbury have ever won there in any competition. Earlier this season the teams played a 1-1 draw at the New Meadow.

Other games to monitor: Portsmouth v Scunthorpe, Bradford v Northampton and MK Dons v Wimbledon. The first was almost game of the week until I researched Pompey’s record against the other clubs in the top six and Bradford/Northampton is a classic top six v bottom six game that I’d normally pick for game of the week if no other games were contenders.

However, this time there’s a different edge to the MK Dons/Wimbledon game. Both are in the bottom six with only two points separating them and although I’ve mentioned Wimbledon’s woes recently: despite winning at QPR in the FA Cup last weekend, MK have only won twice in the league since the end of September. Losing this one might be the end of the road for Robbie Neilson…