Play-Off Prediction: Who Will Finish Top Six?

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If you’d asked me two months ago whether I’d be writing this article, I’d have said ‘sure, for The Real EFL‘. It would not need to be on a Lincoln City site.

I don’t make predictions if I can help it. If you ask me on a matchday, the likelihood is I’ve already given three or four different outcomes to different people. That way, I’m right with someone at least I got a bit of a reputation back in 2020/21 for being on the nose on the old Match Day Live programme, but I noted that when I did get it wrong, people were eager to point it out. That’s the issue with predictions; they’re fun, but if you come from a supposed place of authority, people revel in your downfall. Let’s face it: most predictions are just guesses anyway.

That said, people love to read a prediction, and I’ve had a few Patreons asking what I think, so it’s only fair to wade into the prediction swamp, and see if I can come out on the other side. Looking at the table, I’m predicting two play-off spots, starting with Barnsley and dropping to Stevenage. Without further fuss, here’s how I think it might pan out.

9th – Stevenage 74 points

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Stevenage have put themselves back in the frame with a big win last night, closing the gap between us and them to a point, albeit them having played a game more. As much as I loathe Evans and his style of play, they’re going to take it right down to the wire.

Their 74 points might look a bit close for comfort, but with three matches to go, I think they’re just going to run out of games. They’ll beat Burton this weekend in a miserable game that nobody will want to watch back, meaning when they play Oxford, there’s something on the table. I can see a draw there, and a win in their final fixture of the season against Cheltenham.

That means they could go into the last day on 71 points, knowing someone else slipping up will open the door. However, only two teams have what I’d regard as challenging final days, and they’re not the ones Evans will need to slip up.

8th – Blackpool 74 points

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I thought the Tangerines were our main threat for sixth place, but with us having one game more in the locker, it feels like they may have left it too late. However, they have a decent run-in here, and Carlisle should be a gimme this weekend. Their big clash is with Barnsley a week later, and I can see them getting all three points from that. That means a big final day for them.

Indeed, as I’ll explain in a bit, that would make them someone we have to fear on the final day. All eyes, in my opinion, will be on them and Reading on the final day, and I’ve got them down for a point, not all three, in Berkshire. We could be toasting the Royals on that final weekend in April.


7th – Oxford Utd 75 points

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By now, you’ll know I’ve got us in the play-offs, but everything hinges on our clash with Oxford, as we feared. They’ve got Posh this weekend, themselves harbouring an outside chance of the top two, and I think that’s still going to be possible come the weekend. My money is on an Oxford defeat, then back-to-back draws against us and Stevenage.

Oxford are on their best run of form under Des Buckingham, but having played two woeful sides in Fleetwood and Burton, where big wins were expected. However, since the new manager came in, they haven’t beaten another side in the current top ten – they’ve lost to Peterborough, Bolton, Portsmouth, Derby, Orient and Barnsley, and drawn with Portsmouth, Bolton and Blackpool.  That’s three points from 27 against the division’s best teams.

I think that record could be their downfall because avoiding defeat at their place is, in my opinion, key to us being in the top six.

6th – Lincoln City 75 points

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I’m going for us in the top six, but certainly not the easy way. In the end, we’ll be checking our phones nervously, as you’ll see.

I’ve got us to beat Wigan this weekend; a packed Sincil Bank is a great place to be, and the Latics have nothing to play for. They’ve lost ten away from home, and only one side in the bottom four have conceded more. If Reading’s position isn’t reflective of how strong they are home, Wigan’s lofty placing hides how average they are away.

I’m going for a draw in Oxfordshire, which will see us go to Cheltenham wanting a win. We’ll  (hopefully) get it, and that means by the final day, we’ll be (in my opinion) on 75 points. I think we’ll go into the final day in fifth, with Barnsley in sixth on 75 but with a worse goal difference, Blackpool on 73, Oxford on 72, and Stevenage on 71. Our goal difference will mean Oxford and Stevenage cannot catch us despite them being able to match our points. Us, Blackpool and Barnsley will still be able to get fifth, with the others hoping for sixth. However, the others won’t be out of it – Oxford’s goal difference is closer to Barnsley’s, so they could pip the Tykes.

5th – Barnsley 78 points

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However, I think the last day will be a nervy affair. Barnsley host Northampton, and I can see them taking three points there to step up to 78. Oxford are at Exeter, there’s three points for them. While Stevenage should beat Cheltenham, who will likely be down at that point, their inferior goal difference will mean they’ve got little to play for but pride on the last day. That means it could be between us and Blackpool.

I can see us losing against Portsmouth in the warm April sunshine. They’re a top side, flying high and doubtless wanting to go out in style. It will be tense around the stadium, which isn’t something we’ve seen lately. Even against Orient, it wasn’t tense, and that will likely transfer to the crowd.

When the whistle goes at the Bank, it will be all eyes on Berkshire, where a good Reading side will (hopefully) hold Blackpool to a draw, meaning we’ll be heading on into the play-offs.



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Most likely, Bolton will be the opponent, a team we failed to score against this season, who have amassed an aggregate score of 11-2 against us across six encounters, and who we have beaten once in league action since February 1985. Obviously, we’ll win across two legs, although 1985 was the last time our combined league matches would have produced an aggregate win.



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After that, Posh will have despatched a weak Barnsley side, and they’ll be waiting in an actual cup final, which is handy as both sides have had the chance to learn how to celebrate a cup final win this season. Our last four games against them have not produced an Imps goal, and the aggregate score across the last six encounters has been 13-4. Naturally, we’ll win that as well.

Disclaimer: Obviously, the semi-finals and final predictions are a little tongue-in-cheek. You’ll notice this is illustrated by the headings getting smaller as the likelihood of the prediction being right diminishes. It’s clever editing, but perhaps too clever to spot unless it’s pointed out.