Portsmouth, Luton, Barnsley and Sunderland, plus Charlton – the League One breakaway group?

Part one of  our mid-season review looked forward to the Christmas games.

Part two looked at what had happened up to New Year’s Day.

Part three was meant to go out after the Luton game. Repetitive strain injury decided otherwise and I still have to take care so here’s what I’ve managed, with a focus on a couple of comments I made towards the end of that second part:

Comment one
…Our manager frequently mentions averaging two points per game. We’ve been doing that since October and still are, despite those dropped points.

At New Year only Portsmouth and Sunderland had averages above 2 points per game.

I have to report that the draw against Scunthorpe dropped us below 2 for the first time since our away win at Shrewsbury:

                                                           SAFC, ave points per game

During the intervening months Luton were crossing and recrossing the two point line, and their fine win against Peterborough left them sitting on it. By the end of today Luton could be completely back on the right side (for them) of the 2 point barrier. Were we to win next week we’d be back to exactly 2 points per game. Draw or lose and we would drop below our current 1.96 into Charlton (averaging 1.83 goals per game) territory.

Even so, Luton aren’t as far ahead of us as they might seem, as the graph below shows.

It provides an alternative way of comparing the clubs on our original watch list* (Portsmouth, Peterborough, Charlton, Barnsley and Coventry**). I’ve set Sunderland’s points as the baseline and am showing the other clubs in relation to them. When Doncaster were doing well, some while ago now,  they were added to the chart and some eight games ago, when it became obvious Luton weren’t going away, I added them as well. You’ll find Luton in the circled area to the top right of the chart.

You can see that Portsmouth (purplish) have more or less always had more points than Sunderland, that Peterborough’s (green) decline began before we really appreciated it and that Barnsley (yellow) slugged out the start of the season with us, then droppped around game 13 only to rise again. Charlton (black) seem a bit of a yo-yo and have not been able to catch us after we beat them in game one although they have matched and even passed Barnsley at times:

                                points differences between chosen* clubs and Sunderland

Adding the extra lines for Luton and Donny makes my graphs a bit messy, so I’ve enlarged that top right corner.

While the League One table has had Luton ahead of us for the last eight games it works on points accumulated and effectively ignores the number of games clubs have played. The starting point for my graph is the number of games played, not points at any particular time. It shows that Luton have never had more points than Sunderland when they are compared on a game by game basis. Our game(s) in hand, and we know we can’t bank on it (them), has always given us the possibility of catching up. That possibility still exists but our propensity to draw means it’s now extremely tight and Luton’s propensity to score means their goal difference has improved, whereas ours hasn’t. That gives Luton the edge but neither team can afford to slip up.

In fact, it’s not a forgone conclusion that either team will make automatic promotion. With so many games left it’s not even a three horse race for the top two slots, which brings me back to part two of the mid-season review:

Comment two
…this Christmas saw the beginnings of a breakaway group. It comprises Portsmouth, Luton and Sunderland, with Barnsley (who have a game in hand over Charlton) looking to recover enough ground to join them.

Looking at the current League table (left) a gap appears to seperate the top five from Peterborough and Donny, which means not only that Barnsley did catch up but that Charlton also did enough to stay with the breakaway group. However, Portsmouth, Luton and Doncaster each have a game in hand over Charlton while Barnsley and Sunderland have two. Remember Charlton’s points per game ratio of 1.83? That’s quite a bit below the top four, making it a tough call as to whether the breakaway really does comprise five clubs rather than four.

That said, it’s really too early to write Charlton off for even one of the top two slots and their result at Peterborough this afternoon will be one to look for. Win and they are truly with us. Lose and Posh could also claim membership of that breakaway group. Doncaster aren’t playing and would finish the day on the wrong side of a four point gap. Would that be too much?

Peterborough – Charlton isn’t the only interesting game coming up. Tuesday 29th sees Luton take on Portsmouth and Barnsley travelling to resurgent Oxford United (perhaps I’m hoping too hard). Then, as Sunderland entertain Wimbledon, Portsmouth entertain Doncaster. The table could look different when those results (and don’t forget there are other games involving top clubs) come in.

It’s not only results that are interesting. Luton have lost a manager while gaining a decent player from Barnsley and Sunderland’s top scorer has done a bunk. How much will that shake things up? Luton’s good run has continued since Nathan Jones left but will it continue? Josh Maja’s departure is problematic, given Sunderland’s inability to close out games, but will a replacement bring new life to the front line?

My overall feeling is that February will see the breakaway group I identified consolidate. There are some double headers (Portsmouth – Barnsley on 23rd Feb looks tasty) but not as many as the past month has seen and most of the top clubs should pick up points. Feel free to differ

I might come back in early March and have another look at what’s happening but before I go I must revisit Coventry City**. Currently 10th after a poor January, and with a negative GD and no games in hand, their fans must be disappointed after an earlier decent run raised hopes. On the other hand, they are a full nine points and ten places above the bottom three. Would they have accepted that at the start of the season? I think so. Perhaps they’ll let us know; it’s time we heard from them. I do think, however, that if things continue as they are I’ll have to remove Coventry City from my charts to make them clearer.

Click the banner to land on the Salut! Sunderland home page

*If you want to find out how the clubs came to be chosen these might help:

The bookies say Sunderland, Barnsley, Charlton, Portsmouth, Luton and Scunthorpe. What about you?

Barnsley drop, Burton and Posh replace Luton and Scunthorpe, Walsall get off the bottom in our promotion poll.

Burton, Scunthorpe or Peterborough – who’ll join Sunderland, Barnsley, Charlton and Portsmouth?

Coventry are base as Peterborough join Charlton, Barnsley and Portsmouth (and SAFC) on our watch list

**if you want to find out how Coventry joined them try these:

How our Coventry friends hijacked Salut! Sunderland’s League One promotion poll.


Aye, Aye, Aye Aye, Sky Blues prefer us to the Ricoh


5 thoughts on “Portsmouth, Luton, Barnsley and Sunderland, plus Charlton – the League One breakaway group?”

  1. Massive number of visits to this item, rightly so given all the work John puts into such calculations. I donlt mind slipping to fifth because we are still capable of catching Luton and especially Pompey provided, well, you know that comes next.

    Probably too late to welcome all the those supporters of the other clubs in the top five who have come here today, but they’re welcome anyway.

  2. Saturday 5.25, and I’m wondering what a2c is thinking. Was it a point gained or two lost as Barnsley staged a late comeback and went further ahead? I’ll try to update the table amd my thoughts tomorrow.

    And how important have Tuesday’s games become?

    and I’ve just heard on the radio that Posh have sacked manager + assistant.

    The plot thickens!


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