I’ve decided today to look at some of the teams we could be playing next season, starting out with this blog looking at potential League Two teams next season, and then later on today looking at some of the sides that could be in the National League next season.
Essentially I’m looking at the League One relegation race first, and then the ups and downs that feed in to our league secondly. Yup, it’s another two-part series. So to kick us off, let’s look at the teams we could be facing if we reclaim a coveted spot in the Football League.
With just 18 points up for grabs, bottom place Coventry City look to be in a dire position as they’re already 11 points from safety. The EFL Trophy final against Oxford this weekend will do little to lift the spirits of the long-suffering Cov fans, and I’m afraid their relegation is all-but assured. It marks a significant collapse for the Sky Blues, relegated from the top flight in 2001 after a 34 year run.
It makes me a little sad to see them languishing where they do, I have several friends who are Cov fans, and as a youngster they won the first FA Cup final I can recall watching. Former Imp Trevor Peake was amongst their ranks that day, and since then I’ve always had a soft spot for them. As a football fan it is incredibly hard not too feel sympathy for Cov fans, they’ve been through a terrible time and at present that shows no signs of easing up.
If we do go up though it will be another ground to tick off the list, if they remain in the Ricoh Arena that is. After ground sharing with Northampton for a while their much-heralded return home has been something of a damp squib. They’re in free fall, the fans and the board are at loggerheads and former Manchester United striker Mark Robins seems highly unlikely to be able to keep them up.
That said they have won two games in a row now, and they do have a reputation for pulling off great escapes. Their fans will talk about the exploits of 1984/85 and of 1996/97 where wins over Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea saw them scrape another season in the Premier League. They do still have Sheffield United, Charlton and Scunthorpe to play though, and it is highly likely they’ll be waiting for whoever goes up from our league.
The Spireites are most likely to be accompanying Coventry on the short trip down to League Two, but they are no stranger to the basement division and of course they’re no strangers to Lincoln City either. They’ve managed just two wins in 19 games, and those came away at fellow strugglers Swindon Town and at home to Coventry. They’re ten points from safety with just six games to play, and any betting man would be foolish to put money on anything other than a bottom two finish.
They are another club in crisis, manager Gary Caldwell recently suggested fans who wished to be negative shouldn’t bother going to games at the Proact Stadium at all. When there is division between manager and fans that can only mean one thing: trouble. That led to club director Ashley Carson posting on social media that the managers comments were inappropriate.
Crowds are down, confidence is down and I suspect come the end of the season, Chesterfield will be down as well. Should we be promoted it will allow us to resume the tasty local derbies we’ve had with them over the years.
Play-off finalists just two years ago, the Robins now look precariously perched just inside the drop zone. They’re four points from safety with just six games to play, and they too will need a significant turnaround if they’re to retain their League One status. They’ve lost nine of their last thirteen games to plummet into the relegation spots, and with Scunthorpe, Fleetwood and AFC Wimbledon still to play, I fear for their chances.
This wouldn’t be an attractive fixture for City, we’ve only met them twice in the last 34 years and it is a long drive from Lincolnshire down to Wiltshire. On the one occasion we have travelled there in recent memory we came away with a fine 1-0 win courtesy of Jamie Forrester. Their solitary visit to Sincil Bank resulted in a 3-2 defeat which effectively ended our automatic promotion hopes under John Schofield.
However unattractive it might look though, it will certainly have more of a draw than say, AFC Fylde away.
Another team teetering on the brink of relegation are Port Vale, a team I will always associate with being unable to beat Barnet and save our skins in 2011. I don’t blame them for our relegation, but a bit of a favour wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Vale do have a game or two in hand of their relegation rivals though, and I can see them pulling themselves away from the drop zone. They do still have promotion chasing sides such as Fleetwood, Sheff United and Bolton to play, but crucially two of those games are at home. As much as I’d like some sort of perverse revenge over them, I think they’ll stay up.
Shrewsbury, Gillingham, Oldham, Bury
These four sides all occupy the places just above the drop zone, and I suspect one of those will join Chesterfield, Swindon and Coventry in League Two next season. Shrewsbury have a couple of games in hand, as well as a favourable looking run-in, and I think they have enough to stay up. That’s a shame from my point of view, I have connections in the Shrewsbury area and I’d love to visit there again.
Gillingham haven’t had the greatest form recently either, but when they do win it is invariably against promotion chasing sides such as Scunthorpe and Southend. With a game in hand of Bury, and matches against mid-table also-rans such as Northampton, MK Dons and Charlton to come, I don’t think we’ll be visiting there next season either (should we go up).
Oldham have lost just once in ten games, and they’re a much more resilient and resolute side than the one that we saw at Sincil Bank back in December. Their next three matches are tough, Fleetwood, Southend and Bolton, but that game in hand over Bury will be crucial for them.
I think the fourth side awaiting the National League champions in League Two next season will be Bury. They’ve only got five games left to play, with promotion chasing Bradford, Bolton and Southend amongst the opponents. They have won just one in six since the beginning of March, and they suffered a demoralising 5-1 reverse at Oxford this weekend just gone. Their opponents will be scraping the odd point here and there, but having played one more game I can see them being fourth from bottom by the time they travel to Theo Robinson and Southend on the final day of the season.
Of all the team poised to drop down to League Two the most mouth watering from an Imps fan’s perspective are Coventry and Chesterfield. The Spireites are local rivals and matches against them are always well attended and frenetic. We haven’t taken points from them since December 2009 when Jack Lester missed a penalty, and they beat us twice in he sad season we were relegated.
As for Coventry, they offer an opportunity to go somewhere new and face unfamiliar opposition. We’ve only played them five times since the end of the Second World War, winning once, drawing once and losing on three occasions, the most recent being a 1963 FA Cup defeat (5-1) at Sincil Bank.
All of this speculation means very little if we don’t get the job done in the National League though, and later on I’ll be taking a look at some of the sides we could be facing if we don’t manage to regain our league status.