Sunderland’s lengthening list of promotion rivals: Ipswich, plus Rotherham, Peterborough, Portsmouth and Doncaster (or Wycombe, Fleetwood, Blackpool and Coventry)

Another weekend without football, another weekend providing space to keep our readers – and pundits – up to date with our chosen clubs. If you think as far back as the start of the season you’ll probably recall six clubs being selected by our readership as the most likely to finish in the top six slots come the end of the season.

Sunderland made the cut but would have been selected regardless. The other five clubs were Ipswich Town, Rotherham, Peterborough Portsmouth and Doncaster. Ipswich apart, they haven’t done as well as expected. In fact, they haven’t done as well as Sunderland who, as the first two graphs show, haven’t done as well as they did last season

In terms of points, SAFC are one behind last year’s total for 11 games:

SAFC, points earned in seasons 2018 and 2019

This translates into a loss of places:

SAFC league position, 2018-19 v 2019-20 

That might only be a one point difference but we won’t be making it up any time soon; our next four games of 2018-19 were all wins, and they saw us rise to the heady heights of second.

What concerns me more, however, is that not only are we still unable to keep a clean sheet (we had one by this time last year), we are not scoring goals. After 11 games last season we had a goal difference of +10, now it’s +2.

Only one of the six teams – Portsmouth – has a worse GD and winning games in hand could overturn that.

I wonder if it’s that kind of statistic which persuaded our owner to part company with the manager.

On its own that single point less would surely not have been enough to generate a sacking; last season’s performance was enough to keep us in contention until the very end, when a disastrous loss of form left us adrift from the top two places yet still well ahead of the sixth-placed club. But couple it with some poor games and a failure to defend well or to threaten the opposition and the omens are not good, which could have been the deciding factor.

Or was the sacking aimed at appeasing newly lukewarm buyers? Conspiracy theorists will be having a field day.

Even so, I would offer, those teams, apart from Ipswich, will be looking at us with envy. Well maybe not Peterborough, one point behind and nine goals ahead in the GD stakes, or Doncaster, who could pass us if they win their game in hand. Or even Portsmouth, now recovering from a poor start and able to get within a point of us if they win their games in hand. While we’re at it, can’t Rotherham do something similar? OK, maybe not those teams. And OK, maybe not envy…

You might get a better idea of the perilous nature of our tenancy in the playoff zone from the next two graphs.

points accrued 2019-20

In the first of the graphs you can see how our  competitors are creeping up on our points total. Our inability to keep a clean sheet is a contributing factor in our inability to break free of the crowd as Ipswich have done.

League positions 2018-19

The second graph shows how turbulent the season has been to date.

As is often the case with early games teams aren’t always settled and move up and down considerably from week to week. Ipswich appear to have come out of their slow start and have achieved a very respectable level of consistency.

Sunderland’s fairly level graph shows something similar, only lower in the league, but the graph also hints at how Sunderland could soon be under attack from Posh and potentially Pompey, now on an upward trend.

However, what you can’t see is how Sunderland, Peterborough and Portsmouth stack up against the four clubs currently occupying spots 2-5 and keeping a host of other clubs, including Rotherham and Doncaster, out.

Those four clubs are Wycombe, Fleetwood, Blackpool and Coventry.

Add them up and that’s nine clubs, if Ipswich are excluded and Sunderland added in. Over the last five games seven of the nine have won two, drawn two and lost one of their last five games. Fleetwood have managed three wins and Donny have lost one more game than the others. That’s not a lot of difference between a third of the League One clubs.

Can we draw any inferences? Try this one:

This league is extremely tight. With most clubs having played 11 games – a quarter of the season – and the would-be promotion candidates struggling to break away ,even Portsmouth, well down in 16th place, can harbour hopes of catching Wycombe, currently in second.

Ipswich, adapting so well to the third tier after a disastrous season in the Championship, look a good choice but even considering the other five it’s too early to say our pundits got it wrong.

Next Post