Continuing my League Two focus from earlier, I was drawn in by the promotion race being effectively finished over the weekend. Yes, there’s some shuffling of the pack to do, but the seven cards in the shake-up will be the same at the end of the season (particularly as Southend, see below, seem to have thrown in the towel/their toys out of the pram/a massive curve ball/up in their own mouths – delete as appropriate – eighth place).
So, here we go. I’ll start off with a little gentle extrapolation, then a bit of fixture analysis, then finally a bit more in-depth work.
Using my trusty method of multiplying points per game earned thus far against each band of 8 teams v. the number of fixtures left against each band of 8 teams, I get final table that looks a little, if not more, like this after the final day; black points already accrued, gold ones are forecast. (I used this method in my post about Wycombe – its not a hard and fast prediction, but if teams are performing on a level its quite useful)
I can imagine you being non-plussed by that lack of guard-changing, (basically, Rotherham have a game in hand, and Cheltenham got a point less than you’d expect) so there’s not a lot to read into it. That’s not all we’ve got to work with. Here’s the final fixtures broken down into 8-team bands of the table. Now that’s a lot more interesting. Suddenly Cheltenham getting that point fewer makes a bit more sense, no? They’ve got to play four of the top eight yet.
There’s some interesting games coming up at this end of the table – where people will sort out one way or another. Here’s a complete list (plus prediction/guess).
29/03 – Port Vale v. Cheltenham T (x)
30/03 – Fleetwood T v. Gillingham (2)
01/04 – Gillingham v. Rotherham U (1)
01/04 – Northampton T v. Cheltenham T (1)
05/04 – Port Vale v. Burton Alb (1)
13/04 – Cheltenham T v. Gillingham (x)
20/04 – Cheltenham T v. Exeter C (1)
20/04 – Port Vale v. Northampton T (1)
27/04 – Burton Alb v. Gillingham (1)
TBA – Rotherham U v. Exeter C (x)
Those two fixtures on 01/04 look crucial in terms of Gillingham’s intention of winning the division, I would reckon, whereas the Port Vale v. Burton game is massive for the second and third spot four days later.
That’s not all, though. League Two keeps on giving. The top end of the division is full of teams who are either better a little away than at home (Port Vale, Gillingham, Exeter) or utterly dominant at home and a bit crappy away (Burton, Northampton, Cheltenham) or Rotherham, who are a bit hit and miss but at least don’t draw a lot.
Here’s a quick graph of home v. away percentage of points won by each team. Note how those three in the middle are so dramatically better at home than away, whereas its more even at the top and bottom of the pack. That does, as it happens, make an impact on what is to come.
Northampton, for example, have three of the bottom eight to play at home yet. Gillingham, meanwhile, have three of the top eight to play away from home (that will be very interesting – the game at Cheltenham on 13th April may well take on an added significance for both teams; tasty enough with Martin Allen’s standing in that neck of the woods, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Taking all that into account, I’ve balanced the extrapolation out in terms of points won against each 8-team band at home and away, as you can see above. Add those to the current points tally, and we get a completely different table to before. This one is different, though.
Look how Burton and Northampton’s impressive home records have managed to usurp Port Vale – indeed, look also at how the playoff contenders are spread between 76 and 74 points. That race is looking to be momentously tight, and I wouldn’t like to call it.
All in all, the top seven in League Two seem to be pretty evenly matched – for there to be ten games left between the seven of them means there’s plenty of twists and turns left – maybe as many as there is at the bottom.