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:
…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:
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:
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:
…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.
*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: