Giles Mooney examines the ten games we have to play and explains why we must get nine points from our next three games, against Gillingham, Bristol Rovers and Blackpool…
The last two results are frustrating. One point from six sets us back to fifth place (and with Fleetwood’s game in hand effectively 6th place). But all is not lost. They are, if we’re honest, not the worst results against those two teams in the form they’ve been in. The results that have left us fifth rather than in the top two date back to earlier in the season – four points dropped against Bolton, three already dropped against a poor Burton side etc, etc. But there’s no point looking backwards, we are where we are.
But it’s always worth a look forwards…
And while most people are looking at the last ten games as a whole, I think we should look no further than the next three games. And the worrying conclusion is we need to win all three of them to stand a chance of automatic promotion. But if we do… we’re right in the mix.
One of the quirks of this season is when your Bury weeks fall. Our second Bury week falls on the weekend of the 21st March. In itself, no big deal, but when you realise that the week after is an international week and suddenly Sunderland go from the 14th March to 4th April with no game.
But where are we likely to be in the table going into that game against Shrewsbury at the start of the Easter holidays?
Coventry P38 Pts 75
Rotherham P38 Pts 71
Portsmouth P39 Pts 69
Fleetwood P38 Pts 68
Sunderland P37 Pts 67
Or to put that differently, four points off automatic but with a game in hand heading towards the busy Easter fixtures well rested and going into the squeaky bum part of the season with a relatively decent series of games before the promotion decider on the last day at Rotherham. But, as I say, we need to win the next three against Gillingham, Bristol Rovers and Blackpool.
Coventry are, I think, going to do it. They’re by far the closest team to the magical 2 point average and have games coming up between now and end of the international break including Ipswich (who have fallen off a cliff), Shrewsbury, Accrington and poor old Wycombe who, you’ll see from my future table, I don’t fancy to feature in the play offs never mind automatic from here.
Coventry showed on Sunday that they have strength at both ends of the pitch and, while they’re not the prettiest team in the division, I think they’ve enough to win it from here. So, we’re after one automatic spot.
Portsmouth seem invincible at home so I’m predicting they’ll beat Fleetwood, Accrington and Doncaster at Fratton. But what about away? They start this weekend with a Peterborough trip (I have them as my final play-off side) and they’ve turned a corner in recent weeks and I don’t see Pompey getting anything on the day. Their other two away fixtures (Oxford and Ipswich) are harder to call but, with their annual trip to Wembley on the horizon, their form may well dip and points could easily be dropped. They also have more games than anyone in the next month so tiredness could creep in.
Fleetwood are, to me, the surprise package of the top six. They should, by all sensible calculations and analysis be nowhere but they’re right in it. Of course, I can’t admit that their manager might have any talent, so we’ll go with pure dumb luck.
They have a tricky month with North West derbies against Blackpool and Bolton at home and an impossible trip to Portsmouth. They also welcome Rotherham to the Highbury Stadium and I fancy their home form (combined with Rotherham’s away form) to be enough to get them over the line.
And I think we’d like them to take those points because I think it’s us or Rotherham for the last place. Fleetwood still have too many tricky fixtures before we get to May, but Rotherham don’t (quite).
Their next month is, Fleetwood aside, painfully easy with Rochdale, Southend and Gillingham causing them no likely problems. But then they hit their harder run with Wycombe (in their house), Portsmouth, Doncaster and us still to play. It’ll be very close all the way from here.
I think we need to get to our pre-season at the end of March as close as we can to Fleetwood and Rotherham (and hopefully Coventry) and view what follows as a seven-game season. Seven games including five against teams in the bottom half, Peterborough at home and that final game away at Rotherham. We could go into those games knowing one more point than anyone else until the end of the season and we’d be promoted, I’d take that!
It’s ours for the taking. But we need the three pre-pre-mini-season games to bring us nine points or I fear the gaps will be just that bit too big. Get to it Parky.