Note: It’s the homestretch across the English Football League, with most teams have 10 or fewer games remaining. Throughout the week, and through the rest of the season, we’ll be taking a look at the top four tiers of English football. Up next is League One, tier three in the EFL. League Two can be found here.
While the top two leagues are on break this weekend, the lower tiers in the EFL aren’t as lucky. They’ll mostly be playing twice a week from here on out until the final day of the regular season on 4 May 2019. The bulk of the clubs have played 38 matches, though some have played fewer due to cup competitions or difficulties with water-logged pitches.
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 (17th) earned automatic promotion, while Rotherham United (22nd) defeated Shrewsbury Town for the third promotion spot.
The Top of the Table
After the matches played on 16 March, this is what the top of the table looks like:
There has been some shuffling at the top since our last look at the standings on Boxing Day, including a new top club. Luton Town has moved into the top position, thanks to averaging 2.2 per match over the past 15 (9-6-0). That stretch is part of a lounger unbeaten stretch, with the Hatters not having lost since 13 October, a 25-match streak (18-7-0). This has culminated in a march up the table, from 10th after that loss, to first place since the end of January.
Unbeaten streaks by Barnsley (11-7-0) and Sunderland (7-9-0) have not been enough to overtake the Hatters, though it has improved both clubs’ chances of a return to the Championship next season. The three teams at the top have (no surprise) the highest points-per-game average since our Boxing Day look.
The club with the lowest points-per-match since Boxing Day has found themselves fall out of the promotion zone, though they could still find themselves in the playoffs when all is said and done.* Peterborough United went 4-2-9 over the past 15 matches, averaging fewer than a point per outing. Not exactly a strong way to enter the homestretch, but we’ll see if they can turn it around over their last eight matches.
*My nitty gritty simulation has them finishing with 62 points, which would place them at least 9th depending on the actual score differential in the matches.
The top five clubs have mostly separated themselves from the rest of the league, with Charleton Athletic up by ten points over 6th place Doncaster Rovers. The Rovers are thus the gate keepers to the playoffs, and while I don’t have them holding onto the spot, a return to the Championship would be great for them and their supporters. Doncaster hasn’t had much success in their recent trips to the Championship – their best showing was a 12th-place finish in 2009-2010 – and they’ve been up and down between League One and League Two since leaving the Championship after a 22nd-place finish after the 2013-2014 season.
Coventry City has averaged 1.8 points-per-match since Boxing Day (8-3-4), moving them into contention for that final playoff spot. The Sky Blues won the League Two promotion playoffs last season (as the sixth place club), and they are currently favored according to my simulations to reach the playoffs. They haven’t been to the Championship since a 23rd-place finish after the 2011-12 season. They do play four of the top six clubs over their last eight matches, but they also play some of the worst clubs, so we’ll keep an eye on them over the next couple of weeks.
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. We have a new club at the bottom, as well as two clubs that tumbled from much higher in the table since our Boxing Day check:
Bradford City is back down on the bottom, mostly because the teams below them last time all climbed above them. They averaged a point per game over their last 15 matches (4-3-8), which is good for a bottom table team but not quite good enough to avoid the bottom.
The biggest tumble in the league, however, belongs to Walsall, who finds themselves in the relegation zone after garnering only 11 points over their past 15 matches. A 3-2-10 record just isn’t going to keep a club out of the relegation zone, though they only trail Southend United based on point differential at the moment.
Note: I have them ending the season alone in 22nd with 48 points, so goal differential may not matter.
The other club that fell into the relegation zone due to poor play over their past 14 matches is Rochdale. They were just of our chart in the last iteration of this series, in 17th place with only 27 points (7-6-10). Since then, they’ve added only 11 points (tied with Walsall) due to a 3-2-9 record. The Dale finished in 20th place last season (by one point over Oldham Athletic), so expectations were pretty low entering the season. Rochdale has spent only three of their past 10 seasons below League One, so a return to League Two for the first time since 2013-14 would definitely be a departure.
Until next time…
Through matches played on 16 March 2019