Promotion & Relegation Watch – League One – Midpoint

Ahead of a full Boxing Day slate, we’ve reached the midpoint of the English Football League season across the various levels in the system. This is true of League One, where the majority of clubs have reached the halfway point, though there are some clubs that had matches postponed or abandoned for various reasons.

Similar to the Championship, the top two clubs in League One automatically qualify for promotion, with the next four clubs vying for promotion via a playoff. Last season, Wigan Athletic (currently 19th in the Championship) and Blackburn Rovers (14th) earned automatic promotion, while Rotherham United (21st) defeated Shrewsbury Town for the third promotion spot.

The Top of the Table

Prior to the first matches of the second half on Wednesday, the top of the league table looked like this:

League One Promotion 20181226

The top six clubs are the same from the last time we looked at this, though the order has been shuffled a bit. Portsmouth remains in the lead from the last time we looked at the standings, and they’ve actually widened their gap over the club that was in second position last time. However, Luton Town has climbed from fifth to second on the strength of a 6-0-0 stretch since that last report, which is part of a now 11-match unbeaten streak (10-1-0) through Wednesday’s match.

The club that was second last time – the recently relegated Sunderland – has not yet made up the match deficit on the other clubs; they’ve only played 21 matches after having a match postponed[1] and another abandoned,[2] so they have the opportunity to make up that deficit once those games are actually completed.

Joining Luton Town in a climb up the rankings is Charleton Athletic, who has gone 5-0-1 to leap over Peterborough and Barnsley to move into fourth place. They are currently tied with Sunderland in points, though with Sunderland’s deficit in matches played it’s really not as close as that would indicate. Either way, they are currently solidly in the playoff, though opening the second half with a loss is not the strongest way to stay there.

Historical Performance

The clubs currently leading League One are relative newcomers to the league, at least during recent seasons. During the 2017-18 season, Portsmouth finished with 66 points, five points behind Charleton Athletic for the final playoff spot. It was Portsmouth first season back in League One after they had won League Two the previous season. This success has been directly correlated with the club’s ownership by the Tornante Company, an investment company owned by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. They purchased the club just prior to the 2017-18 season, with plans to invest further in the club, investment that has paid off thus far.

Luton Town, on the other hand, is finding success in their first League One season since 2007-2008. During that season, the Hatters finished in 24th place, ending in relegation to League Two. After another 24th place season in that one season in League Two, Luton Town found themselves in non-league football, spending five seasons in what is now known as the National League.

After averaging around a 4th-place finish in those five seasons, they won the league title in 2014, earning promotion back to League Two. Four more seasons in League Two ended in a second place finish last season, resulting in their return to League One. If it is a short stay for them in League One, they would return to the Championship for the first time since the 2006-2007 season.

At the Bottom of the Table

At the bottom of the league, the bottom four clubs face relegation to League Two, with Oldham Athletic, Northampton Town, Milton Keynes Dons, and Bury facing the music last season. Only two clubs remained in the “red zone” from the last version, though all eight clubs at the bottom are the same as before (Shrewsbury Town is just above the clubs shown here):

League One Relegation 20181226

Bradford City climbed off the bottom of the table with a 3-2-1 record in the last six matches, an amazing record considering the other clubs at the bottom of the table. They are still technically tied for the fourth-worst record in the league, only ahead of Scunthorpe United based on goal differential (-15 versus -20). In fact, Bradford City is ahead because of a win against Scunthorpe on Matchday 23.

AFC Wimbledon is the new bottom club in the league, dropping a spot since last time. They’ve actually done okay considering, garnering seven points (2-1-3) in the six matches since that last report. It could be a result of a new manager; Wally Downes took over for Neal Ardley to begin action in December, and he’s led the club to a 2-1-1 record for the month (including its Boxing Day match against Plymouth Argyle).

Historical Performance

Scunthorpe United has perhaps fallen the furthest from prior results. Last season, they finished in fifth position, losing in the semifinal of the promotion playoffs to eventual promotee Rotherham United. In 2016-17, they did even better, finishing in third place and losing to Millwall in the semifinal. Finally, in 2015-16, they had finished 7th, out of the playoffs only based on goal differential. So the club’s fall to the relegation zone is quite shocking.

Plymouth Argyle is also far off of last season’s results. They finished in seventh place, three points out of the playoffs in their first season in League One since 2010-11. Their fall isn’t all that shocking based on their recent history; while they have a pretty long history in the Championship (41 total seasons), they’ve only played six seasons above Tier 3 since 1993 with the bulk of the time spent in League Two. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them end up back in League Two after the season.

Until next time…


[1] 13 October versus Blackpool due to international call-ups.

[2] 8 December at Accrington Stanley due to severe weather (lightning storms).

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