The best of the rest:
7th– Accrington Stanley
The side with one of the lowest budgets in the whole of the football league continue to defy expectations. I spoke about the remarkable story of Accrington in my programme piece for the game between the sides last month. Stanley’s progress has hit the buffers though in recent weeks as they haven’t won back to back since November. But compared with other promotion hopefuls they don’t lose very often, just three defeats in twelve. Whatever the final 15 games holds for John Coleman and his Accrington side they can hold their heads high. Should they do the unthinkable and finish inside the top six then it will be one of the greatest underdog stories ever told in football league history.
8th– Ipswich Town
The news that the majority of the Town fanbase had been calling for finally arrived on the final day of February when Paul Lambert was given his marching orders. It had been a long time coming but the timing of it was peculiar given that Lambert had beaten Hull and Doncaster in the two games before being relieved of his duties. Paul Cook has come in having had success at Chesterfield, taking them from League Two to the cusp of the Championship. He won the League Two title again with Portsmouth in 2017 and took Wigan back to League One during his spell with The Latics. Cook watched from the stands as their recent good run continued with victory over Accrington but his first game in official charge saw them lose at Gillingham. The gap to the top six is down to two points meaning a Play-Off push isn’t out of the question.
9th– Charlton Athletic
The Addicts have bounced between the second and third tiers in recent years and will look to continue that trend this year. Another top flight side as recent as 2007, Charlton have too had their fair share of off the field issues in the years that have followed. Promotion via the Play-Offs was achieved in 2018/19 in the most dramatic of ways. Taking a 2-1 lead back to The Valley from the first leg, Doncaster restored parity in the tie in the last moments of normal time. Both sides traded blows during extra-time to rack up a sensational 4-4 aggregate scoreline. Penalties it was to decide the tie and by the narrowest of margins the Addicts prevailed to face Sunderland in the final. They gave The Black Cats a helping hand early on but won it in the 94th minute to secure promotion. But they couldn’t retain their Championship status. A winless run of six in their final games saw them relegated on the final day. Six wins on the bounce as Lee Bowyer’s men up to third in early November but a lack of consistency has cost them a real tilt at promotion.
10th– Oxford United
The expectation that followed last season’s Play-Off Final defeat to Wycombe had in the early parts of the season overwhelmed this Oxford side. After a draw against Hull on December 5th Oxford slipped into the relegation zone with just four wins from fifteen. Since then, only Peterborough and Sunderland have picked up more points. An incredible seven wins in a row lifted Oxford well clear of the drop and turned their attentions to another attempt at the top six. Only 2 defeats in 18 league games leaves Oxford five points adrift of the top six with a game in hand.
The Others In Contention
In terms of the sides outside the top ten, a case could still be made for Blackpool. They are only 5 points adrift of Portsmouth and have three games in hand having played the fewest games in the division. Gillingham, Crewe and Plymouth have all played a game more than Portsmouth and the gap is at least five points for those three sides. Unless those sides go on a storming run of form they are looking at another season in the third tier.
The Final Say
I had The Imps to finish in 11th spot before a ball was kicked with anything above that being an added bonus. Now that we are pushing for promotion and given the situation we are in anything below a Play-Off spot would be considered by some as a ‘failure’ at this point. Let’s just remember our journey and how far we have come in the last 5 years. Because we are witnessing something very special at the moment.
Come on You Imps!