The business end of the football season is upon us. Now more than ever teams battle for points in hope of glory or, in the case of those at the wrong end of the table, survival.
The League One relegation fight is an interesting one, with six teams still fighting against relegation to League Two. With four teams going down at the end of the season, just two of them will manage to stay afloat this season.
I will be taking a look at each team and assessing their chances of survival based on their form and their run-in.
Bury (24th) – Played 38, 10 points from safety
Bury are almost down and out, having lost three games back-to-back against Wigan, Peterborough, and fellow strugglers MK Dons. Bury have struggled for goals this season, and are the lowest scoring team in the division, meaning they have the second-worst goal difference in the league. The fact that they have failed to score in half of their games this season goes some way to explaining the dire state that the club finds itself in. For the Shakers, their away form has been what has let them down this season, with only one win on the road all season, accumulating a mere eight points away from home. Managerial instability hasn’t helped them much this season either, going through two managers already this campaign. Ryan Lowe is now at the helm, a man with plenty of playing experience, but someone who I simply cannot see digging Bury out of the hole they are in. Bury still have big games coming up against Rochdale and Northampton, both of which are at home, which will be to the relief of Lowe. They still have to travel to high flyers Shrewsbury in April, meaning they have a sizeable task. For most Bury fans, life in League Two seems inevitable. It would take a miracle to rescue them from the depths of League One. Not only would it require some good form ensuing, but it would also require the other teams around them to drop a lot of points. Bury are doomed for League Two.
Rochdale (23rd) – Played 36, 5 points from safety
Rochdale were hoping for the best when, due to their decent FA Cup run, they had a lot of games in hand over the teams around them. However, they haven’t managed to make the most of these games and will need a maximum of nine points from their remaining three games in hand over Northampton. This will not be an easy feat, with one of those games being against Wigan, and another against rivals Oldham. Dale are without a win in four, though they have only lost one of those four games. That one loss was a crucial one against Fleetwood, which incidentally fuelled their drive away from the drop zone. Dale have failed to capitalise on a chance to beat AFC Wimbledon at home, where their form has been poor this season, winning just four times at home. Their defence is their saving grace, and they have conceded the least amount of goals out of any of the bottom six, though they have played less games. Dale have a relatively difficult run-in which sees them face teams challenging for the top six and promotion to the Championship, meaning they will have to be on their game for each of their remaining ten fixtures. For the teams around them, this is encouraging, as Dale could easily slip up in a couple of these games, lessening the amount of places left in the relegation zone. Rochdale will not want to be written off yet, and certainly won’t go down without a fight.
Milton Keynes Dons (22nd) – Played 38, 1 point from safety
MK Dons have had a remarkable fall from grace. Two seasons ago they were in the Championship, and just a few weeks ago their fans were resigned to League Two football after new manager Dan Micciche failed to galvanise the squad into getting wins. However, that all changed with an unexpected win against Rotherham, followed by another against Bury and a draw against Blackpool. Seven points from nine propelled MK Dons to within one point of safety and restored some optimism. For MK Dons, it is their away form which has let them down, having won just three games on the road. In fact, they haven’t won away since September 2017, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season, considering they still have to travel to Wigan and Shrewsbury. April will be a testing month for MK Dons, but their good form of late will give fans a sense of hope as the season draws to a close. They will be encouraged by having a game in hand on Northampton who are directly above them, and a couple of consecutive wins could see them leave the relegation zone, leapfrogging Oldham and rivals AFC Wimbledon. It will be a nervy end to the season for the Dons, but they certainly aren’t out of the picture yet, and are sure to put up a good fight in their last eight games.
Northampton Town (21st) – Played 39, 15 goals from safety
Just twenty miles north of Milton Keynes are fellow strugglers Northampton, who occupy the final relegation spot, level on points with Oldham but with a far inferior goal difference. Northampton have the worst defence, and therefore the worst goal difference, in the division, having conceded 63 goals this season. What doesn’t help is their failure to score in 44% of their games this campaign. The Cobblers really weren’t looking like obvious relegation candidates in mid-February, but seven games without a win since then had resulted in them being dragged into the relegation scrap. They have managed wins against relegation rivals MK Dons and, more recently, AFC Wimbledon, but Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and his side have a tough task on their hands to escape the rut. They have some crucial games coming up in which they can pick up points. They have to play bottom side Bury, as well as a couple of mid table teams in Blackpool and Walsall. The last day of the season sees them host Oldham, in a game which could see one of those two sides relegated, so that will certainly be a game to watch. Northampton simply need to stop conceding goals and tighten up their defence, which can’t stop conceding, and has only kept six clean sheets all season. The fact that they have played the most games out of the bottom six may come back to haunt them, but they are still well and truly in the race for survival.
Oldham Athletic (20th) – Played 36, 15 goals from relegation
Oldham have a significant advantage over the other sides in the relegation scrap in that they have two or three games in hand on all of the bottom six, bar Rochdale. Oldham have scored the most goals out of any side in the bottom six by a long shot, but they have balanced this out with conceding a lot of goals too, a statistic perhaps best symbolised by a 4-4 draw with MK Dons earlier in the season. What’s more, they have only failed to score in a quarter of their games this season, an impressive statistic for the Latics. Richie Wellens managed to instill some hope in the Oldham side, and they did well recently to beat Scunthorpe away from home, though they do have a tough run-in ahead. As well as playing teams challenging for promotion like Wigan, they also have to face three of the other bottom six sides. They do, though, have chances to pick up points against mid table sides, and two of their three games in hand are at Boundary Park, where they have fared better than on the road this season. For Oldham, survival looks likely if they keep up the goalscoring and tighten up the defence. The most important games will be the ones against fellow strugglers, though they have golden chances to pick up points against mid table teams who will have little motivation for the rest of the season.
AFC Wimbledon (19th) – Played 38, 2 points from relegation
AFC Wimbledon fans will have been boosted by the announcement that the club will be able to play at Plough Lane in the future, a new stadium where they have never played before. However, on the pitch, the picture has not been as encouraging and they are still well and truly in a relegation battle. AFC Wimbledon have a pretty decent defence, and it is the second best out of the bottom six, though they have struggled for goals, scoring just 37 all season. Their recent form has not been great either, only managing two wins from ten, and they have some difficult games fast approaching. They face in form Fleetwood on Good Friday, as well as Scunthorpe, Charlton and Wigan in April, meaning the side from Kingston-upon-Thames will have to be on their game to ensure they don’t slip up. Luckily for AFC Wimbledon, their final game is a very winnable one at home to Bury, so if it goes down to the last day, they should be okay. They have managed more points at Kingsmeadow this season than they have on the road, so will be fairly happy that five of their last eight games are at home. As long as they do not slip up, they should be on course to remain in the division next season.
The ‘not quite safe’ teams
- Walsall (18th) – Played 38, 4 points from relegation
- Fleetwood Town (17th) – Played 38, 5 points from relegation
Bottom six clashes
- 3rd April – Bury v Rochdale
- 14th April – Bury v Northampton Town
- 17th April – Rochdale v Oldham Athletic
- 21st April – AFC Wimbledon v Oldham Athletic
- 5th May – AFC Wimbledon v Bury
- 5th May – Northampton Town v Oldham Athletic
Predicted bottom six
19th – Walsall
20th – Northampton Town
21st – AFC Wimbledon (R)
22nd – Milton Keynes Dons (R)
23rd – Rochdale (R)
24th – Bury (R)
What do you think the bottom six will look like? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.