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 first is League Two, tier four in the EFL.
While the top two leagues are on break this weekend, the lower tiers in the EFL aren’t as lucky. They’ll also be playing twice a week from here on out until the final day of the season on 4 May 2019. The bulk of the teams in League Two have played 38 matches on the season, though some have played fewer due to cup competitions or difficulties with water-logged pitches, for example. But they will all play 46 matches by the end of the season, so the clubs with a few extra matches to play might have an advantage.
As a reminder, in League Two, the top three teams are automatically promoted to League One, with the fourth- through seventh-place teams competing for promotion via a playoff. After the 2017-2018 season, Accrington Stanley (1st), Luton Town (2nd), Wycombe Wanderers (3rd) and Coventry City (playoff winner) earned promotion.
At the Top of the Table
Through matches played on 16 March, this is what the top of the table looked like:
When we last looked at the standings on Boxing Day, Lincoln City was at the top of the table. After averaging nearly two points per game since, they remain there, six points clear of second-place Bury. Bury made a climb up the table, with the largest per game points average (2.21) of any club currently in the promotion zone, moving from a playoff position to securely in the second automatic promotion spot.
The biggest fall of those still within shouting distance of the promotion zone was Colchester United. On Boxing Day, they were in third place with a 12-5-6 record, six points behind Lincoln City and two points ahead of Bury. Since then, they’ve had a less than stellar 4-4-7 record, though they’ve only been outscored by one goal over those 15 matches. Still, the remain only one point out of the playoff, though a tough schedule down the stretch – they play four of the current top five – could be tough to overcome
Note: I have them finishing with 66 points and in 9th place.
The Tranmere Rovers made the biggest move of all the clubs here, moving from 9th place on Boxing Day to their current position in 5th. They may have been aided by clubs above them falling out of position, but they also averaged the third-highest points per match (1.93) while going 8-3-3 since the end of December. They also improved their goal differential by eight goals during that stretch.
Competing for promotion via playoff would be a great achievement for the Super White Army, as they are playing in their first League Two season since a last place finish during the 2014-15 season. Prior to that, they had spent the prior 13 seasons in League One, so a return to the third tier would be met with celebration. Failing that, a top eight finish would be a nice foundation to build on for next season.
At the Bottom of the Table
As a reminder, the bottom two clubs in League Two face relegation to the National League. Three of the four clubs in the bottom four remain from the last update, with Cheltenham Town managing to play themselves out of the group (a 7-2-7 record in the meantime sure helped).
Through the matches played on 16 March, this is how the clubs at the bottom aligned:
Yeovil Town finds themselves on the safety side of the zone after being just out of the picture in December. They have had the most success of the five clubs shown here close to relegation, averaging a solid 1.5 points per match since December. However, it hasn’t all be rosy, as they’ve managed to extend their goal differential by 18 goals, which is not good should relegation come down to that tie breaker.
Macclesfield Town and Notts County have swapped spots since December, primarily because Macclesfield has averaged over a point in 14 matches since the last look. They’ve gone a respectable 4-4-6 during that stretch, and have only added four goals to their differential, while Notts County went 3-7-5 and added nine more goals in the negative to their differential. Macclesfield appears to have the hardest schedule remaining of the two – including a match at Lincoln City to close out March – but they also have an extra match to make up the difference.
Note: My simple projection says Yeovil Town and Notts County will be on their way to the National League, but it could be any two of the bottom three at this point.
Relegation for Notts County would be a shocker considering where they finished last season. They qualified for the playoffs in 5th place, losing to eventual playoff winner Coventry City in the semifinal. This season, by contrast, has been one of struggles that could result in the club’s first trip to the National League ever.
Their third manager of the season – Neal Ardley, who took over 23 November – has not really lit the world on fire during his tenure. Replacing their previous managers with one that had recently left AFC Wimbledon by “mutual agreement” isn’t always the best recipe for success, and Ardley has proven it, going 4-7-10 since taking over the club. The Magpies have some work to do, but they haven’t really shown the level of play that will result in staying up, but time will tell.
Until next time…
As of matches played through 16 March 2018