Well that was an interesting weekend of League One football. All four teams at the bottom of the table at 3pm on Saturday won, and just 11 points now separate the league’s bottom 13 teams. With all but two of them having 10 games left and 30 points to play for, it’s entirely possible that anyone from 12th place downwards could find themselves facing the drop at the end of the season.
Here are some of the key facts from last weekend, and important fixtures in the immediate future:
- On Saturday, Rochdale and Wimbledon both secured their first home wins since Boxing Day. Rochdale’s win came a few days after firing the most successful manager in the club’s history. Wimbledon, who looked dead and buried a few weeks ago, have picked up 10 points from their last five games and on current form you wouldn’t bet against them turning over a stuttering Peterborough side in south London on Tuesday.
- Accrington Stanley, with three games in hand over Argyle at one point, are doing their best to blow that advantage. Saturday’s loss at Barnsley made it three straight defeats in a row. With Luton, Portsmouth and Sunderland looming before the season’s end, it could be a rocky ride from here.
- Bristol Rovers’ recent surge (they’ve only lost once in the last six) and the fact that they also still have a game in hand means their position has improved significantly. Their visit to Home Park in 11 days will be interesting.
- Oxford dropped back into the relegation zone on Saturday. They now face two of the three teams below them – Rochdale and Bradford – in the next five days in what could prove to be a pivotal time at the bottom of the table.
- Wycombe Wanderers may be in 12th place but their appalling recent form – two points from the last six games – means they are bottom of the form table over that period and just five points clear of the relegation zone. I’m sure no Argyle fan would take any pleasure in seeing Gareth Ainsworth’s men continuing to slide…
Looking at those 13 potential relegation candidates, Gillingham and Wimbledon have the easiest run-in based on the average position of their remaining opponents (15th) while Walsall have the toughest (10th) and face a nightmare run of games against the 2, 3rd, 4th and 6th placed teams between now and the end of March. They could easily find themselves in the drop zone in the next two and a half weeks.
Returning to matters at Home Park, Saturday’s point against Luton was a very welcome – and fully deserved – surprise. And you’d have to believe that the Greens could add another three points to their tally with the visit of Shrewsbury on Tuesday night as the visitors have only won one of their last eight games on the road. It will be critical to get some points on the board in the next few games since the beginning of April brings a run of games for Argyle against three top eight teams.
Of course, events off the pitch higher up in the division could still throw a large spanner in the League One relegation works.
Blackpool fans were, understandably, celebrating the departure of the Oyston family on Saturday and it was great to see a bumper crowd at Bloomfield Road after years of boycotts. However, there is still the small matter of a potential 12-point deduction as a penalty for the club entering administration, which would drop the club down to 18th place and into the relegation dogfight. The general sentiment is that such a sanction would be unfair on the fans, and really who could argue with that.
However, you have to ask whether that should play any part in the EFL’s decision. The rules are the rules and there’s no provision for deployment of a ‘Fan Sufferometer’ in the decision-making process. If Blackpool are spared the deduction because ‘the fans have suffered enough’ what happens the next time a club goes into administration? You could envisage all kinds of legal action if in future another club in a similar position was docked points after Blackpool were let off. I have a sneaking feeling that ‘pool may not be out of the woods just yet.
Elsewhere, the Coventry City saga rumbles on with the Sky Blues yet to secure a venue for next season’s home games. The club needs to either sign a new deal on the Ricoh Arena with stadium owners Wasps, or to find an alternative. Last week, the EFL gave Coventry until April 2nd to confirm tenure at the Ricoh for 2019-20 and should thy fail to do that, clubs will vote at an EGM on 25th on whether they should be kicked out of the league. That would presumably mean only three clubs would be relegated from League One in May.
All of which means that no sane person would feel confident in predicting the names of any of the teams who will be falling into League Two next season. One thing’s for sure, the race to avoid the drop will likely go right down to the wire.