The final day of the season almost certainly throws up surprises. Whether it is sneaking into the playoffs or being saved from relegation by a last minute equaliser, there is usually a dramatic – and often cruel – twist.
This season is slightly different. Not only because, well, this season has been vastly different, but also because an unusual amount has already been decided. With that in mind, let us take a look at what is to play for in the football league as it draws to a close this weekend.
Done and dusted. Southend are four points from Scunthorpe and they will be heading into the National League after over 100 years as a league club. Back-to-back relegations have condemned the Shrimpers and their hideous mascot/manager non-league football.
Joining them will be Grimsby Town after five years in the football league. The Lincolnshire outfit will be hoping for a quicker return than their previous six-year stay in the National League having been as high ass the second-tier as recently as 2003.
League Two is one of the more open leagues as far as promotion is concerned. By close of play, three of the four teams sitting in the playoffs could be outside it one way or another. Morecambe will be hoping one of Bolton or Cambridge slip up and they can secure automatic promotion; Exeter, sat in eighth with a better goal difference than the three teams ahead of them, will be hoping a win against lowly Barrow will be enough to propel them above one of Newport County, Tranmere Rovers, or Forest Green Rovers into a payoff spot. Should they win, a draw will be enough for Newport at already relegated Southend, and Tranmere at home to Colchester, whilst Forest Green will need a victory against Oldham to keep them in the mix.
The other team looking at Forest Green’s result will be Salford City. A win for them against Leyton Orient would put them a point ahead of Forest Green by a point and, with a much superior goal difference, a draw would not be enough for the Green Devils. Unfortunately, for Salford, they cannot catch Tranmere or Newport so they are relying on both Exeter and Forest Green to slip up in order for them to make it.
To simplify, Morecambe are guaranteed a playoff spot but could still go up automatically; Exeter can catch any one of Newport, Tranmere, or Forest Green; and Salford can only catch Forest Green but would need both Exeter and Forest Green to slip up in order to do so. Simple.
Cheltenham Town are the only team guaranteed to go up heading into the final round of fixtures. They do not have the title secured as both of Cambridge and Bolton can still overtake them. The latter would need a 13 goal swing but a win for Cambridge would mean a draw is not good enough for Cheltenham. One of those three teams will walk away as champions.
Neither Bolton nor Cambridge have secured promotion. A draw would be enough for Cambridge who have squandered the chance to secure their promotion with losses in their last two games. They are at home to basement side, Grimsby, and should fancy their chances to avoid defeat. Should they fall to defeat, they would need Bolton to win away at Crawley and Morecambe to beat Bradford at home in order to drop into the playoffs.
Done and dusted. A 97th minute equaliser against Crewe was not enough to keep Rochdale in the hunt for League One survival. It would have been harsh on Wigan who are really only in this position because of the horrific conduct by their former owner, Au Yeung Wai Kay, and the Latics will use this opportunity to rebuild.
Also done and dusted. Peterborough threatened to make a game of it by going 2-0 down to fifth placed Lincoln. A defeat there would have put them four ahead of Lincoln with the Imps having a game in hand (they lost it but what may have been…). Jonson-Clarke Harris ensured the party could start early with a 96th minute equaliser from the spot.
Hull have the league wrapped up with a five point gap and credit should be paid to every one of the Tigers’ players, management, and back-room staff for bouncing back at the first opportunity; they picked up six points from a possible 60 as they plummeted to relegation last season.
There is one spot up for grabs but three teams are vying for it. Charlton sit in eight, level on points with Oxford and one behind Portsmouth, thanks to a 3-1 victory over already-qualified Lincoln. It was a heroic effort just to keep them in the race and they will need to go again against champions elect, Hull.
Should the Tigers have an off day, the Addicks will need to hope Portsmouth and Oxford both fail to win against Accrington Stanley and Burton, respectively. Charlton will also make the playoffs should Portsmouth fail to win, and Oxford win by four goas fewer than Charlton beat Hull. The two teams currently outside of the playoffs have scored exactly the same number of goals so it could easily come down to goal difference.
Oxford could finish above Portsmouth with a draw (providing Charlton do not win). They are one point behind Portsmouth with a better goal-difference so, if the pair were to finish on level points, Oxford would finish higher.
The only other thing to play for is home advantage in the second leg. Blackpool currently have point on Sunderland and Lincoln; they have a worse goal difference than Sunderland but a better one, by four, than Lincoln. Any one of the three could end up in the top two playoff spots: Blackpool if they better or equal Sunderland or Lincoln’s results, Sunderland, if they better Blackpool or Lincoln’s result, and Lincoln if they better Sunderland’s result, or win whilst Blackpool fail to do so; should they draw, they would need Blackpool to lose by four goals to finish above them.
Following Watford’s defeats to Brentford and Luton in two of their last three games, the title race is over (congratulations Norwich). Watford and Norwich have bounced back at the first time of asking and with most of their assets held onto, they will be confident that they will remain up next season.
The playoff places are all decided so al that is left to play for is home advantage in the second leg. Brentford have secured third and Swansea will secure fourth with a point against nothing-to-play-for Watford. Should the Hornets win, a win for Bournemouth will see them take fourth. Barnsley can still technically finish fourth as they are level with Bournemouth three points behind Swansea, but it would require an 11 goal swing in their favour with Bournemouth dropping points and Swansea losing; If it were not hard already, enough, they are playing Norwich.
This is where all eyes will be on as technically three from four will go down. Derby are the team sat outside the relegation zone so a win for them guarantees safety regardless of what goes on elsewhere. A point will be enough if Rotherham fail to beat Cardiff but should they lose, they will be down. That is because they happen to be playing Sheffield Wednesday who will overtake them if they win.
All the teams currently in the relegation zone are on woeful form. Derby have lost six on the spin, Rotherham have two points from a possible 21, and Sheffield Wednesday have one win in six. Wycombe are the only team with any sort of semblance of form with four wins in their last seven but it appears to be too little too late for them. They need to hope Sheffield Wednesday win, Rotherham fail to, and they overcome the 12 goals Wednesday have on them before the weekend.
Wednesday are the favourites for their matchup with Derby and it is worth noting that, had they not had a six point deduction, they would be safe right now. It has not been a good season for them with seven straight defeats at one point in the season: it would probably be fair to say that all four deserve to go down.
Should Sheffield Wednesday win, they will be nervously checking the Rotherham game as the Millers will stay up should Derby fail to win and they overcome Cardiff. The Welsh outfit sit in eighth with nothing to play for and Rotherham fans will be hoping that they are already on the beach come 12.30 on Saturday.
So, there we have it. 72 football league teams and only 16 with anything to play for (22 if you count positions within the playoffs).
In the Championship, Watford and Norwich will be playing top-flight football next season and they will be joined by one of Brentford, Swansea, Bournemouth, or Barnsley. At the other end, with Wycombe’s impending doom, two of Derby, Rotherham or Sheffield Wednesday will be going down.
They will be replaced by Hull and Peterborough from League One with Portsmouth, Oxford, and Charlton battle to join Blackpool, Sunderland, and Lincoln in the playoffs. The four teams leaving the division will be Rochdale, Northampton, Swindon, and Bristol Rovers.
Cheltenham are the only team guaranteed a promotion place in League Two. They will be joined by two of Cambridge, Bolton or Morecambe and will win the title if they match Cambridge’s result with Bolton’s goal difference too poor to really affect things in that area.
Morecambe are the only team in the playoffs that can gain automatic promotion but below them Newport, Tranmere, and Forest Green can all be overtaken by Exeter; Forest Green can still be overtaken by Salford should they fail to win.
Grimsby and Southend are going down and will be replaced automatically by one of Torquay, Sutton, Stockport, or Hartlepool. Realistically, only three of Halifax, Wrexham, Bromley, Notts County, Chesterfield, Eastleigh, Dagenham and Redbridge, or Maidenhead will join them (the National League’s playoff system has a quarterfinal stage with two teams automatically qualifying for the semi-finals).