News and Views from the Football League - Newcastle in the driving seat as pressure begins to mount
Thursday 25 February 2010
The fight for the promotion places is really beginning to heat up in all three divisions of the football league, and the battles to avoid the drop are looking just as tense. This is the end of the season where footballers really earn their money, as the form book and league standings are thrown out of the window. On any given day, a team seemingly destined for the drop will turn over a title-chasing side, as the mad dash for points rears its head. All that remains to be seen now is which sides will be celebrating come May, and who will be drowning their sorrows.
The Championship has begun to fragment itself into a number of interesting battles and there are no certainties with regards to winners or losers just yet. At the happy end of the table, Newcastle, Forest and West Brom are battling for just two automatic spots and of course the league title itself. Newcastle appear to be the favourites to top the pile but it is far too early for them to rest on their laurels, especially given the fine run of form that Billy Davies’ Forest are experiencing. However, what does seem a fairly safe bet is that whichever of these sides does miss out on a top two spot will be able to fall back on a playoff berth.
After these three comes the fight for the playoff positions and realistically, this looks set to be contested by the next six or seven sides, with Swansea and Leicester looking particularly strong. In truth, it is too early to draw any conclusions as we have so often seen a side come from nowhere to make it into the lottery that is the playoffs at the very last moment. It’s no coincidence either that the form team is often the one to watch.
The bottom end of the table makes unhappy reading for Posh fans, although two wins from four since Jim Gannon’s arrival has given the London Road club hope of survival. Presently 10 points adrift however, they may find this too much of a mountain to climb. Plymouth also have an uphill battle ahead of them and with three sides facing the drop, the final place could well be decided on the final day of the season. Even some of the teams looking at a push for the playoffs should exercise caution, as the gap between them and the danger zone is far from insurmountable.
League One sees even fewer dead certainties although there are perhaps some wise bets. Norwich have hit form at just the right time and despite a blip at home to Southampton last weekend, they will go up automatically. As for who will join them, Leeds look well placed but have struggled to kill games off recently and the likes of Colchester, Charlton and even the unfancied Swindon and Huddersfield look well placed to pounce.
The relegation battle in League One will undoubtedly go to the wire, with few points separating a whole host of sides. Four clubs will be relegated to the basement division, with only Stockport thus far looking set to fall, this in spite of a positive result at Exeter. The gap to make up seems too great for a club who have had their problems well documented. It would be a fantastic achievement to remain in the division, but perhaps a period of rebuilding in League Two is not only likely, but also essential. Wycombe also look well placed to drop, but Gary Waddock has brought in a whole host of new faces and has started to turn their fortunes around. The Chairboys’ season is far from over yet.
The League Two table paints a very bleak picture for Darlington. The Quakers have endured a year of turmoil and it’s no real surprise to see them languishing 14 points from safety, rock bottom of the football league. Survival, although not mathematically impossible, would be an almighty ask. The football community will be praying that their seemingly inevitable exit from the football league runs more smoothly than Chester’s did last season. Grimsby appear the best bet to join them, although clubs like Torquay and Cheltenham among others won’t consider themselves out of the woods just yet.
Rochdale lead the way at the top end of the division and look well placed to enjoy promotion after 35 years at this level. Bournemouth and Bury currently occupy the other automatic places, but there are several teams who could still make the top three, especially when we consider the number of games in hand some sides have due to the harsh winter. Notts County have just appointed Steve Cotterill as their new boss and with a new owner hoping to bring some stability to Meadow Lane, they could still challenge. Of course it’s better to have already got the points on the board, but with an incredible five games in hand over Bournemouth and a fair number over others, the Magpies are well placed and have many points to play for.
There will be plenty of ups and downs between now and May but the quest for points is really getting tense as each club sets new targets for the number of points they require. Some of our sides look nailed on for promotion, but to quote a worn-out cliché - anything can happen in football. The stage is set for a fascinating run-in to the season.