This will be my last visit to our “ones to watch* series before the end of the season.
You’ll have to judge for yourself whether or not our readership, ably assisted by the Coventry Ninjas**, got it right at the beginning. For my part, with three of the five – Portsmouth, Charlton and Barnsley – fighting for second place and another two still with a chance of the playoffs I’m inclined to think they didn’t do too badly.
The problem is that the sixth club is Sunderland, and that’s who they are all fighting with.
We’ll begin with an update of the table I set up at the end of my last post in the series, detailing when these clubs and others with an interest in a top six spot played each other. At the time I wrote “I don’t think they will all be going to form. I see shocks ahead”. I got that one right, didn’t I? Anyway, here it is:
|Sat 23rd March||Luton 4 Doncaster 0||Barnsley, Posh, Portsmouth, Blackpool also won. Coventry lost.|
|Sat 30th March||Barnsley 2 Coventry 2||Blackpool drew. Luton, Charlton, Doncaster and Fleetwood won|
|Sat 6th April||Luton 2 Blackpool 2||Sunderland, Portsmouth, Charlton, Doncaster and Peterborough won. Barnsley lost|
|Tuesday 9 April||SAFC drew (v Burton) and went 2nd||Charlton won (v Wycombe)
|Sat 13th April
Results, league table and maximium points possible for clubs still in contention.
|Barnsley 4 Fleetwood 2
Sunderland 4 Coventry 5
Blackpool 0 Peterborough 1
Charlton 3 Luton 1
Portsmouth & Doncaster won.
It looks highly likely, but not automatic, that Luton, with a five point gap and some very winnable games coming, will remain top for the duration and it’s definite that they, Barnsley, Sunderland and Portsmouth will finish in the top six. Charlton look likely to join these four as a single point will move them out of reach of Peterborough and no one else below 6th place can catch them.
That realistically leaves Doncaster and Peterborough vying for sixth place, with Doncaster favourites on account of their superior points tally and goal difference. Coventry, Blackpool, Burton and Fleetwood still have a mathematical chance but Fleetwood and Burton need to win all of their games and have Doncaster lose three times, while Blackpool must win four out of their five remaining games (one’s against Fleetwood) and have Donny drop eleven of twelve potential points. Coventry can only finish sixth by winning their next three games and then outdoing Doncaster on the final day of the season, but only if Doncaster lose two games before then.
I doubt whether Donny v Coventry will be a decider, although it might still be important to Peterborough. They are rediscovering their early season form but have not only that points deficit but also some tough games in April, including a trip to Portsmouth. Who knows what May will bring if they win them? (The answer, by the way, is Burton at home).
Which brings me to that battle for 2nd. While Barnsley are currently occupying that spot Portsmouth’s five wins on the bounce have brought them dead level with 3rd place Sunderland and, like them, control of their own destiny, something Barnsley and Charlton don’t have. Over the last six games Barnsley have the poorest form of the four challenging clubs and Charlton have the best form over the same period but still have ground to make up.
You can see how changing form has affected clubs in the graph below.
This shows points, not position, on a game by game basis and compares the other clubs with Sunderland, who are represented by the red horizontal line at zero points. The other clubs are plotted according to how many points they were better or worse off than Sunderland at each game:
The chart only goes up to game 41 but does offer a perspective which you won’t necessarily get from a league table, where games in hand can distort the picture. The top right corner of the graph shows that from about game 35 Sunderland began to reel in and then pass Barnsley, with Portsmouth matching Sunderland step by step but remaining points adrift of both clubs. Then draws and losses by both Barnsley and Sunderland allowed Portsmouth to catch up, thanks to their terrific winning streak. The enlargement on the right shows this in a little more detail.
The reason why Barnsley now occupy that second spot and Charlton look so close to the three above is that they both have played and won game 42, which means that both Sunderland or Portsmouth could improve their position by doing the same. Will it happen? It’s a big if, and not only do Sunderland and Portsmouth need to win that game they also have to play each other at the Stadium of Light (on 27th April), while Barnsley and Charlton have – on paper – far easier run-ins. You can see this in the table below, which shows the remaining top-ten clashes:
Key fixtures remaining:
|Good Friday 19th April||Fleetwood 1 Peterborough 1||Sunderland 2 Doncaster 0|
|Burton 1 Portsmouth 2||Luton, Coventry and Barnsley won. Blackpool drew. Charlton lost|
|Easter Monday 22nd April||Portsmouth v Coventry||Blackpool v Fleetwood|
|Peterborough v Sunderland|
|Sat 27th April||Barnsley v Blackpool||Sunderland v Portsmouth|
|Burton v Luton|
|Tues 30th April||Fleetwood v Sunderland||Portsmouth v Peterborough|
|Sat 4th May||Doncaster v Coventry||Peterborough v Burton|
And that’s about as far as I can take things. I can’t fill in the scores, but I’ve done all of the hard work for you. All you have to do is get those scores right yourself, then take account of the games I haven’t listed, and you’ll know who’s coming in second. You might even be able to forecast the playoff finalists. Then again, like me, you might just be wondering how it’s going to turn out.
Myself, I’m a Sunderland supporter, so I’m keeping the faith. You might have a different opinion.
*If you want to find out how the clubs came to be chosen these might help:
**if you want to find out how Coventry joined them try these:
MCCORMICK’S DODGY NUMBERS: THE ARITHMETIC’S CORRECT, IT’S JUST THE REST COULD BE A BIT WONKY. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: ORIGINAL CARTOON COURTESY OF WPCLIPART, GRAPHICS BY JAKE, graphs by me