League One Run-In: Who’s Going Down?

Credit Graham Burrell

As we wander into the final eight games of the Imps’ season, we’re beginning to feel a little less pressure in terms of relegation.

Nine points separate us from the bottom four, and there’s a strong feeling amongst people I talk to that 48 is going to be the benchmark for survival this season. If that’s the case, then we could take a giant step forward this weekend against Shrewsbury Town, who are three points ahead of us with a better goal difference.

Will 48 points be enough? I’ve said 50, a total I think would at least give us a bit of pride as well as safety. Which is it? I’ve decided to have a look at the remaining games for each team in the relegation battle, and (hopefully) predict how the division will end up.

Crewe – 29 Points (Relegated)

MK Dons (A) L, Fleetwood (H) L, Doncaster (A) D, Wimbledon (H) L, Sheff Weds (A) L, Ipswich (H) L, Lincoln (A) W – 4 Points

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In my eyes, it is a source of acute embarrassment that Crewe took three points from us, although a non-penalty started the defeat and in truth, had that not been awarded, I think it had draw written all over it. Crewe are nine points from safety at the time of writing, and they’ve taken just seven since the turn of the year. They’ve lost 12 of their last 13, and I cannot see any way out of the mire for them. With us still to play, as well as Fleetwood, Doncaster and Wimbledon, I think they’re going to have a big say in who does go down.

I’ve got them picking up four points, and you’ll be surprised to see three of those are on the final day. I’ll explain why in the section on us, but frankly, Crewe are gone.

Doncaster – 35 Points (Relegated)

Charlton (A) L, Wycombe (H) L, Crewe (H) D, Bolton (H) L, Shrewsbury (A) D, Burton (H) W, Oxford (A) L – 5 Points

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In my eyes, it is a source of acute embarrassment that Doncaster took four points from us this season. For reference, 13% of their points this season have come against us. We should have put them away at their place, but drew 0-0 (clean sheet a positive), and at our place it was just embarrassing as we dominated every stat except the goals. They’re only four points from safety now, and they’ll still believe they can stay up. However, their run-in is tough; Wycombe and Oxford are all likely to have something to play for, whilst Charlton and Burton will seek to end their season on a high. I can see some points for Doncaster, but recent games against Wimbledon (2-2), Gillingham (0-1), Cheltenham (4-0) and Fleetwood (0-0) were their chance to save themselves. I think that chance has gone.

Morecambe – 34 Points (Relegated)

Oxford (H) L, Burton (H) D, Cambridge (A) D, Charlton (A) L, Portsmouth (H) L, MK Dons (A) L, Sunderland (H) L – 2 points

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Morecambe have won two in their last 17 matches, taking five points from a possible 36 since the end of January. Having lost their manager, Steven Robinson, I think they’re the final cert to go down, despite only being two points shy of the drop. All of their games are challenging, they have no six-pointers which could turn things around, and three of their final seven games are against teams needing to win to stay in the top six. I can see as few as two points for them, leaving them well adrift of safety.

Gillingham – 41 Points (GD Estimated – 34) (Relegated)

Accrington (A) D, Sunderland (A) L, Wycombe (H) D, Cheltenham (A) D, Fleetwood (H) W, Portsmouth (A) D, Rotherham (H), L – 7 Points

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In my eyes, it is a source of acute embarrassment that Gillingham took four points from us this season, although back in August it felt like the draw there was between two sides who might be around the top ten. Instead, we’re scrapping at the bottom. I can see them being part of a three-way tie, and it really could go either way. Gillingham have been in decent form; they’ve won two of their last eight. However, when you strip that back, they beat us (on an afternoon where neither side deserved a point), and they beat Doncaster (which everyone except us seems capable of doing). They drew with Morecambe and Wimbledon, as well as losing to Charlton.

There might be a bit of heart-ruling-head here, because my belly wants Wimbledon to stay up. The Gills have a tough run-in; their winnable games are likely to be Accrington, Cheltenham and Fleetwood. I’ve given them five points from the possible nine there, a decent return, but Wycombe, Sunderland, Pompey and Rotherham should have too much for them. It could come down to goal difference, and that thumping against Oxford could cost them dear.

Wimbledon – 41 Points (GD Estimated -27)

Cambridge (H) D, Sheff Weds (A) L, Charlton (H) D, MK Dons (H) L, Crewe (A) W, Wycombe (H) L, Fleetwood (A) L, Accrington (H) W – 8 Points

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I really want Wimbledon to stay up, but I do fear for them. They are without a win in 20 matches, they’ve taken three points from a possible 30, and they perhaps need eight to stay up. Do they have what it takes to get them?

I think it comes down to the final day of the season. They do take the odd point here and there; Cambridge and Charlton are certainly ones they could draw; there’s Fleetwood too, a crucial game April 23rd. They’ve got a game in hand as well, but I suspect it could come down to them needing to beat Accrington on the final day, with Fleetwood at Bolton and Gillingham at home to Rotherham. I’m giving the Wombles the benefit of the doubt on this one, but they need a big effort.

Fleetwood – 41 Points (GD Estimated – 23)

Crewe (A) W, Lincoln (H), L, Accrington (H) D, Oxford (H) L, Gillingham (A) L, Wimbledon (H) W, Sheff Weds (H) L, Bolton (A), L – 7 points

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It all seems such a long time ago now; the warm summer sun shining on the Bank as we returned to the ground. Still, that was the last time we met Fleetwood, and we will do so again shortly; that’s the game where I think we’ll pick up the necessary win to settle any nerves some of the really pessimistic fans have. Will the Cod Army have enough in their locker to stay in the division? They haven’t won in 13 matches, but of the struggling sides they have the more favourable run-in. They control their own destiny; Crewe, Gillingham, and Wimbledon are all up before the curtain comes down, as well as us. If they take seven points from those four matches, they’ll finish on 41 – which could almost be enough in a really poor league.

Lincoln City – 51 Points (SAFE)

Shrewsbury (A) D, Charlton (A) L, Fleetwood (A) W, Wigan (H) L, Portsmouth (A) D, Cheltenham (H) D, Accrington (A) W, Crewe (H) L – 9 points

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My predictions are rarely accurate; I had Plymouth as relegated this season, but if they are in this instance we could feasibly stay up without picking up another point. I don’t think we need worry, I can see nine points for us, taking us well over the 51 points mark. I think by the time we welcome Cheltenham to the Bank on Easter Monday, well be safe, although (ironically) we did play Cheltenham on Easter Monday in 2010/11 and I felt we’d be safe then as well. That’s even more parallels between that awful season and this; just beware!

My gut tells me the inconsistent Lincoln City, the team capable of beating the best and losing to the worst, will continue to do just that. We’ve averaged 1.1 points per game this season and the same return between now and the end of April would give us 51 points; I can see it. This weekend will be tough, and I suspect we’ll get the same from Charlton as we did last season (nowt), leaving Fleetwood away as a big game. Win that, and we can afford to play for draws against Wigan and Pompey (there’s a point in there somewhere). As I said, it think well be safe by the time we play the Robins, and free of pressure there might be four points from two matches before the final day visit of Crewe.

Tha’s got defeat written all over it, by the way. It’s been 15 years since we won on the final day of a completed Football League season, and if we are safe by then, I can see Michael giving some of these young graduates a chance in a dead rubber. Remember, we haven’t seen MA in charge of such a game before; the 2019/20 season didn’t finish properly, last season went down to the final game at Wembley, so he’s never played a meaningless game. With so many youngsters given contracts, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a few on a celebratory final day at the Bank, hence Crewe’s predicted win!