With Sheffield United having won the league a while back, the only thing for them to worry about is whether they can reach a century of points. Standing in their way are MK Dons and the already relegated Chesterfield. For the next four teams though it’s fighting for that final automatic promotion place.
Bolton Wanderers missed a chance to make things a little less nervy as they were surprisingly held to a goalless draw at home to Bury. They should in theory be favourites for second, given that they play Port Vale this weekend, who not only are battling for League One survival but have failed to win in their last four games. If they fail that hurdle then they will hope that Gillingham who have been playing relegation chicken, will fail to add to their one win in the last seven. Fleetwood though might want to be aware that the only win in the barren run has come against playoff chasing Bristol Rovers, whose dreams of Wembley promotion are crushed. Fleetwood then on the final game of the season host Port Vale. You have to feel for the Vale in that two of the three remaining games come against Promotion chasing teams.
Either way Bolton and Fleetwood are at least assured of a playoff place if they don’t achieve automatic promotion. The only other team with a guaranteed playoff place are Scunthorpe Utd. Their 3-1 win over relegated Chesterfield meant that they could not drop out. For Bradford they in theory only need a point from their home game against Wimbledon. Southend are the only club that could reach 75 points but seeing that they have hit a one win in four game run, even though Southend travel to relegation threatened Shrewsbury, Bradford should be there. Bradford though face Rochdale who are within three points of Millwall who are in the fourth play off spot.
Whilst other teams can probably secure their playoff place with a point, Millwall unfortunately dont have that luxury, regardless of a struggling Southend below them. Both their remaining two opponents Oxford Utd and Bristol Rovers wont be pushovers although in the previous fixtures, they won both games. Things would be easy if that were the case, but at the same time the London club had lost to Port Vale, who as previously mentioned find themselves languishing at the wrong end of the table. Victory for Millwall and defeat for Southend will all but confirm their play off spot. Should Millwall drop points then not only will Southend still have a chance, but if Rochdale beat Oldham, then it could be an uncomfortable final 90 minutes in the last game of the season.
With Brighton winning away in London on the Friday and Newcastle United losing on the Saturday, it saw the two teams swap places as they aim for glory. It was the seagulls third win in six days and looks enough to keep them in the automatic promotion spots, but as we have seen, nothing is quite guaranteed. For Friday’s game it looked like it could fizzle out in to a draw that would have quite suited their rivals Newcastle.
Glenn Murray had bagged his 21st of the season and his goals going on in the final few games will prove crucial to the South Coast outfit’s promotion chances. Chances were few and far between either of the clubs (eight out of twenty eight combined) but sometimes you just need to convert the ones you take and two out of three for Brighton was enough.
For Newcastle United, their day was the opposite. They were up against it playing Sheffield Wednesday who themselves aiming for a play off spot. It didn’t get any better after 29 minutes when they lost their star striker Dwight Gayle. Despite having the more shots and possession, Rafa Benitez’s men showed that stats don’t count for nothing. Like the game at Loftus Road, it was one of second half showing. A goal on hour and one ten minutes later had most certainly secured the points for the Owls, even though Jonjo Shelvey had netted for Newcastle close to the end.
Huddersfield who are currently third, may have a game in hand but they have a ten point deficit and it could very well be the Easter weekend fixtures that seal the automatic promotion or see oportunities still open. Huddersfield host Preston on Friday and travel to Derby County on the Monday. Two top ten teams battling for position more than anything as they seem too far back in hoping for a playoff spot but for Huddersfield automatic promotion is the feint hope they have whilst they look to cement their playoff spot. Seven points separate Huddersfield and Derby County so points will be crucial come this weekend.
Brighton face Wolves on Good Friday and host Wigan on Easter Monday whilst Newcastle host another promotion chaser in the form of Leeds United and struggling Ipswich. Brighton should be the happier of the two clubs come Tuesday morning as they should take six points, whilst Newcastle United may find themselves only picking up four, especially if they are without their top scorer Dwight Gayle.
Reading, who are a point behind Huddersfield will be hoping to reclaim third spot, which for a number of weeks was their home. Their last game was one to forget as they went crashing to a 7-1 defeat away to Norwich City. Their run in though gives them hope for securing a playoff spot, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest break up the two games against relegation favourites Wigan and doomed Rotherham. Whilst Nottingham Forest find themselves at the wrong end of the table, they should be safe from the drop.
Having had a bad start to the season, Leeds United are doing their bit to make sure they have a playoff hope and a return to the top flight once more. They though have a marginally easier run in. Apart from the trip to Newcastle on Good Friday and a home game against promotion rivals Norwich City at the end of April, it’s a case of the strugglers. Of course though never understimate the strugglers. They will have all to play for and will no doubt not have a care in the world with regards to who is challenging for the title or chasing a play off place.
Fulham who lie just outside the playoff spots by two points will be hoping that their recent good form will keep them moving higher and into the playoff spots although for the West London club, it will be a little more trickier journey. Fulham travel to Norwich on Good Friday whilst hosting Villa on the Monday. Fellow promotion chasers Huddersfield, who will have their own place to secure host Fulham in the penultimate game whilst a game against midtable Brentford brings their season to a close.
It’s going to be quite close and exciting for fans of the top six seven although for Brighton given their position, they will be the more happier. A top two spot for them is definitely going to happen, it’s just down to whether they or Newcastle have the bottle to go the stay the course. Newcastle with the experience and leadership of Rafa Benitez should guide them to another championship trophy and return to the Premier League.
Playoffs? well that’s where the fun starts and although the current spot takers are Huddersfield, Reading Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday, I think one of the later could find themselves losing out to Fulham.