You can tell it’s the end of the season now can’t you? Aside from the fact that it’s currently mid-April and the English football calendar generally ends in the early part of May, all the signs are there and it looks as if the final run in will be as exciting as ever. Certain promotion and relegation issues have already been settled, the likes of Newcastle, Peterborough and Darlington amongst others have already had their fate determined. These sides have all featured in this column over the course of the season for one reason or another and they will all look forward to the summer for different reasons.
Others however, still have massive tasks ahead of them and much to fight for. This leads us on nicely to one of those end of season moments. At the top of League Two, Rochdale are still waiting to have their automatic promotion confirmed following successive defeats in their last two fixtures. The Spotland club have been rooted to the league’s bottom tier since the 1970’s, with no promotion or relegation since. The long wait for an escape looks certain to come to an end this year but having looked a comfortable bet for the league title, defeats against strugglers Torquay and on Tuesday night against Darlington have seen the promotion party put on hold. At any other point in the season, Rochdale would have rightly been labelled heavy favourites for these fixtures. However, although Darlo’s victory was ultimately not enough to keep their survival hopes alive, both victors had an extra special reason to put in a performance in these games and unfortunately for Dale, they were on the receiving end of two spirited displays. Torquay’s surprise thumping of the pace-setters was followed up by another three points at Aldershot (another of the division’s promotion hopefuls). Victory at Grimsby on Saturday would confirm their League Two status for next year, whilst potentially ensuring the Mariners’ demise.
The unexpected was also served up in League One, where leaders Norwich were defeated at Leyton Orient on Tuesday. The London club are facing the very real threat of relegation, whilst Norwich have been seen by many as Champions-elect for the last few months. Yet a surprising three points for Orient on Tuesday, coupled with defeat for Tranmere at home to fellow strugglers Wycombe, has seen Russell Slade’s side move closer to safety. There is still work to be done but no doubt Orient fans will be breathing a little easier at the moment.
These results are typical of fixtures played at the end of a campaign. Few would have given Torquay, Darlington or Leyton Orient a chance in the matches detailed here, and yet they all took three points from their supposedly superior opponents. Most will rightly put results like this down to a combination of factors. Most importantly however, whilst the likes of Norwich and Rochdale are playing for vital points, the points on offer for those at the bottom of the table are just as precious, if not more so. It would of course be disappointing to miss out on promotion, but in the unlikely event of that happening, both clubs will be well placed to succeed next season. This writer doesn’t wish to make light of such a fact, but surely relegation is a far more serious issue? It’s a case of nervous tension versus fighting for their lives (for want of a better phrase). Such a battle mentality has clearly won the day recently.
So what of the rest of the season for these clubs? With the sad exception of Darlington, they could all yet be enjoying a happy ending. Norwich still look a safe bet for the League One title and although winning the division might not be the end result for Rochdale, promotion is still only one positive performance away. As for our strugglers, we have already alluded to Torquay’s survival chances. There is now plenty of breathing space (as well as three teams) separating them and Grimsby. Having a far superior goal difference than their opponents on Saturday, a draw would all but guarantee their survival. As for Leyton Orient, their fate is still far from clear but Tuesday’s win has seen them move that bit closer to safety. Quite who will join Stockport in the League One relegation places come the end of the season is anyone’s guess right now, and so perhaps this will be the setting for some final day drama.