Eng League 1: the automatic promotion dog fight
The League One automatic promotion race is in full swing, with a trio of contenders leading the charge for the coveted second spot.
Leaders Sheffield Wednesday are unlikely to be caught, in the middle of a record-breaking unbeaten league run that now stretches to 23 games. Darren Moore’s side are already seen as the champions-elect, and continue to grind out results with no sign of letting up. (They also have two games in hand on the chasing pack.)
That leaves Plymouth, Ipswich and Barnsley to fight it out for the remaining automatic promotion spot in League One. Who is most likely to finish second behind Sheffield Wednesday after 46 games?
Plymouth has a strong chance of automatic promotion according to bookmakers. The side has the best home form in the league, which has helped to keep them there or thereabouts while chasing Sheffield Wednesday. 49 of their 74 league points have come at Home Park.
However, Ipswich are beginning to close in, and The Pilgrims also have to contend with a Football League Trophy final appearance against Bolton in Wembley on April 2nd. (The Trotters only conceded defeat in the race for automatic promotion in mid-March themselves following a loss against Ipswich Town.)
As for Plymouth, a 3-0 loss to Barnsley is a major wobble, and the side needs to respond well against Forest Green this weekend. They also need to improve their horrific away form, as the side has only picked up five points out of a possible 18 in recent months. Star goalkeeper Michael Cooper has been out with injury since February, which hasn’t helped.
Home matches against Cambridge United, Bristol Rovers and Burton Albion are extremely winnable, and might prove to be the difference when looking at the final standings. Next up is a home clash against Forest Green, who are rooted to the bottom of the table.
Ipswich isn’t too far behind Plymouth in third, and the league win over Bolton was their fifth in a row. They’re a team in form, and they’ve picked the perfect time to start firing on all cylinders.
The most difficult remaining tie on paper is a trip to Barnsley, giving the team another chance to ruin the automatic promotion hopes of a League One rival. However, the match has been postponed following a trio of international call-ups for Ipswich. This means the players will get a short break after their next game at home to Shrewsbury.
It’s worth mentioning that Ipswich are currently the bookies favourites to finish second, and they’ve scored the most goals in the league this season. Their winning run has also seen the team keep six successive clean sheets, although captain Sam Morsy is only one booking away from a two-game ban.
Having scored 16 goals with no response in the last six games, Nathan Broadhead, George Hirst, Massimo Luongo and Harry Clarke have made a massive impact since January.
Ipswich are up against Shrewsbury Town next, and are unbeaten in their last 10 league meetings.
A couple of games in hand are the reason why Barnsley are still in with a shout. The win against Plymouth was a real statement of intent, and they are currently on a 10-match unbeaten run, including eight victories along the way.
Games in hand aren’t as good as actual points, but two wins would see Barnsley draw level with Ipswich, keeping them in the mix for automatic promotion.
However, the first of those catchup games is against none other than South Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, with a clash against Ipswich also ahead of them. Barnsley’s run-in is arguably the toughest of the trio.
Manager Michael Duff told The Barnsley Chronicle that the team is focused following the 3-0 victory at Oakwell;
“The noise changes outside but we keep it out. When we couldn’t score in October or lost three back to back in January we kept it out, so we can’t let it in now. If you believe only good things you’re kidding yourself.”
Barnsley face Wycombe Wanderers this weekend, having lost 3-0 in August when the sides first met.
A spot in the Championship is a worthwhile prize, and four teams are still in the hunt for the top two places.
Despite losing to Barnsley, Plymouth have it all to play for, and are currently the masters of their own destiny. Ipswich are still favourites to finish second, while it would be inadvisable to count out The Tykes just yet.
Sheffield Wednesday might be the obvious pick to win the title, but they’re only four points ahead of Plymouth, even if they have one game in hand.
The play-offs are going to be a tough test, with Bolton and Derby County likely to be in the mix.
Click here for our Discounted Account Offer. Access updated previews and analysis on up to 5 tournaments for 30 days.