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Final day drama in Leagues 1 and 2

What a way to end the League 1 and League 2 seasons! There was plenty of action right up to the final seconds with twists and turns, tears and cheers, and that was just what happened at Griffin Park.

There was promotion and relegation to be decided in both leagues, and now that it’s over there are serious questions to be asked.

 football league

1. How do Brentford pick themselves up for the play-offs?

They had promotion within their grasp. A last minute penalty to secure promotion, missed, and then their opponents break quickly and score to secure their passage into the Championship, instead of Brentford. Nobody can really imagine how young Marcelo Trotta must feel today after yesterday’s nightmare.

It was cruel on the Brenford supporters who must have been sure their near 60 year wait for a return to the second tier was about to end. The players were left visibly crushed and demoralised by the sickening kick in the teeth. But now they must prepare themselves for the play-offs knowing they really shouldn’t be there.

Unfortunately their form has slowed in recent weeks and they are without a win in their last three games. They face Swindon, who go into play-offs on the back of a defeat against relegated Scunthorpe.

This is by far the biggest challenge of Uwe Rösler’s short managerial career, and he will have to show all his metal to get the Bees (who have a poor record in play-offs) promoted. But how often do we see the 3rd-placed club struggle in the play-offs after the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion.

2. Is Brian Flynn the man to keep Doncaster up?

Flynn was contracted as manager until the end of the season, after taking over halfway through the season following the departure of fellow Welshman Dean Saunders.

Few people would argue against Flynn being given the reins on a full-time basis.

He may look like a pensioner but Flynn is only 57-years-old and still has so much to offer. His record in charge of Wrexham, Swansea and the Welsh under-21s shows he is a natural motivator, who is adept at nurturing talent. He also has a brilliant understanding of the transfer market, and is excellent at spotting talent.

Can he keep Doncaster in the Championship? It will be a tough task because he will have one of the smallest budgets in the division. But in the topsy-turvy Championship, who’s to say the Yorkshire side can’t replicate the success they had under Sean O’Driscoll? If anybody can keep them up it’s Brian Flynn.

3. Will Bournemouth care that they weren’t crowned champions?

No. When you’ve been waiting 23 years to get back in the second tier, you’ll take it however it comes, especially since they looked like relegation candidates before Eddie Howe returned to the club.

They’re still going up, they’ve still got a heap of momentum behind them and they will still fancy their chances of doing well at a higher level. Missing out on the title is a minor disappointment.

4. Have the worst four teams been relegated from League 1?

It would be tough to argue otherwise.

Portsmouth have at times this season played like a play-off-chasing team. But no club could cope with the instability on or off the field which Pompey have had to endure. Their team has had so many changes, it’s been impossible to establish any kind of run. Even without the 10-point deduction they would have been comfortably relegated. On the plus side Portsmouth enter League 2 with better prospects than when they entered League 1.

Hartlepool’s second half of the season has been surprisingly positive, and John Hughes deserves credit for coming in at a difficult time and turning things around. Unfortunately the damage was done before the Scot took charge. Hartlepool only managed two victories before the new year and despite a plucky fight the squad wasn’t strong enough to stay up. It’s hard to argue a club who achieved just nine points from their first 23 fixtures deserve to stay in the division.

Bury have been punching above their weight in League 1, and in doing so they’ve ran up some worrying debts. Kevin Blackwell had very limited resources and it was always a huge ask for him to keep the Shakers up. The squad never looked good enough to avoid the drop and with a leaky defence and a blunt strike-force it was inevitable they would be relegated. With cost-cutting required next season could be tough for them.

Scunthorpe were the only club relegated on the final day of the season in League 1. They did all they could to stay up, beating Swindon 3-1 but just like the other three teams going down with them to League 2 they were struggling from the beginning, having lost their first four games of the season. Bringing in Brian Laws gave Scunthorpe hope but it was too much to ask but nine years after he got them promoted from League 2, he is now taking them back into the bottom division of the Football League.

So yes, the four worst teams in the division were relegated.

5. Were Rotherham the second best team in League 2 this season?

No they weren’t but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to go up. Port Vale deserve massive credit because they’ve been magnificent and probably should have finished second but they took their foot off the pedal after securing promotion.

Pulling their foot off the pedal is one thing Rotherham haven’t done this year. They showed their determination by saving their best run of the season for the final weeks. Their five wins in a row saw Steve Evans’s side clinch 3rd in the league and return to the third tier after a six year absence.

Rotherham have been tough and hard-working all season, but they’ve also played some great attacking football. They’ve scored far more goals than anybody else in the league, and with their new stadium and a wily, Machiavellian manager there’s no reason why they can’t excel in League 1.

6. Were the worst two teams in League 2 relegated?

Aldershot were the worst club in the division this season. They never looked like scoring, they lacked creativity and this put enormous pressure on the defence. They had less wins than any other team and throughout the season they didn’t look good enough to stay up. Aldershot have seen worse days, but having worked so hard to get back in the league they will find it tough to re-group and challenge in the desperately tough Blue Square Premier next season.

Barnet’s season can be split in two – the season before Edgar Davids joined on October 11 and the season after he joined the North Londoners. Looking at League 1 and League 2’s relegated clubs, poor starts are a recurring theme and you can’t get much poorer than Barnet’s start. A winless first 13 games left Barnet playing catch-up from the beginning. Davids came in and galvanised the squad and their form since his arrival has been very impressive. However their loss on the last day of the season, coupled with Wimbledon’s win, mean League 2’s greatest survivors will start life at their new stadium in the Blue Square Premier.

There are several clubs at the bottom of League 2 who have been very lucky to avoid the drop. Torquay and Plymouth didn’t expect to be battling relegation this season and they need to get their houses in order if the two Devon clubs are to avoid a repeat next year. Dagenham and Redbridge have struggled badly and escaped the drop by the skin of their teeth. Next season could be very difficult for them. Wimbledon had a brilliant final day victory to evade relegation, but they too need to improve if they are to stay up next season.

7. Is it time for a third relegation spot to be introduced in League 2?

Once again the standard of teams battling to stay in the Football League was particularly poor. And once again the standard of teams fighting for promotion in the Blue Square Premier was extremely high.

Non-league clubs are desperate for the Blue Square Premier to be given a second automatic promotion spot because they believe there currently exists a glass ceiling preventing many good clubs from competing in the league at the expense of league clubs who possibly aren’t good enough to be there.

The Blue Square Premier clubs make a very convincing argument and their frustrations are understandable. Many of the clubs in the top six of the fifth tier would have performed far better in League 2 this season than the bottom seven sides, had they been given the chance.

But in the interest of stability the status quo should be retained. The difference in funding and coverage between League 2 and non-league is enormous and so many clubs fail to adapt to the drop. This season saw Stockport County relegated to the Blue Square North after failing to acclimatise to life outside the Football League. Numerous clubs have gone bankrupt because of the culture shock. The last thing we want to see is clubs regularly going bust when they leave the league.

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The best away days (and weekends) in the Football League

Football tourism has exploded in recent years across the globe as more and more people decide to combine football with their holidays.

Last year 4% of visitors to the UK watched a football game while in the country, and Brits are regularly hopping on planes for footballing weekends on the continent. Barcelona, Amsterdam and Munich are all very popular due to the good beer, delicious cuisine, fabulous sights and of course, the entertaining football.

But many English football tourists don’t leave their homeland, choosing instead to take weekend breaks in England. There are plenty of fascinating and intriguing cities which are perfect for a relaxing weekend away, but which also offer a fantastic matchday.

If you want a bit more out of your matchday than just a long journey and 90 minutes of football, here are a few suggestions of great matchdays in the Football League. These places offer football with extras; sights, culture and nightlife.

So, where are the best matchdays in the Football League for away fans?

 

Carlisle United

Situated to the north of the Lake District and just ten miles from the Scottish border, Carlisle is probably the Football League’s most remote outpost.

Carlisle is a beautiful little city, surrounded by picturesque countryside. Brunton Park is on the outskirts of Carlisle, but there are a few good pubs around the ground. You can also walk fifteen minutes along Warwick Road into the city centre where there is an abundance of pubs and plenty to see.

The city centre has attractions such as Carlisle Castle, the Cathedral and the Citadel, but just walking around the quaint streets of this medieval city is a pleasant experience. Carlisle’s Tudor revival architecture is very impressive, and you’ll find many small shops and cafés if pubs aren’t your scene.

And if you want a bit more peace and quiet, Cumbria has some of the most beautiful scenery in England. Head off for a hike or even a scenic drive around its spectacular hills and lakes.

Carlisle fans are notoriously friendly, and are usually very talkative. Carlisle’s the perfect away day for the start or the end of the football season, when the sun’s shining.

 

York City

York’s return to the Football League was greeted joyfully by League 2 fans who knew what a great matchday it can be. Bootham Crescent, York City’s home ground, is less than a 15 minute walk from York’s main sights and the bustling city centre.

York is one of England’s oldest cities, and also one of the most beautiful. It has several historic sights worth visiting such as York Minster, York Castle and the city walls. With nearly 2,000 years of history, it’s not surprising York has a plethora of museums, the best of which is probably the Jorvik Viking Centre.

The city may seem too cultured for football supporters, but don’t worry, there are plenty of places to drink. There are a few pubs near the ground, all of which accept away fans, and the nightlife in the city centre is highly recommended.

York City fans are generally very pleasant, therefore visiting supporters never feel threatened, and can converse easily with the locals.

 

Cardiff City

Cardiff has been transformed in recent years into a modern European capital city, with plenty to see and do, other than watch the football.

The Cardiff City Stadium is located in the Canton area of Cardiff, which admittedly isn’t a great advert for the Welsh capital. Other than the newly erected shopping centre near the stadium, there’s very little for away fans to do, as none of the nearby pubs allow travelling supporters. This is due to Cardiff fans’ reputation for violence and antagonism, and though the club has taken great strides in recent years to eliminate hooliganism from the club, Cardiff fans remain generally less welcoming than most Football League fans.

The best way to see Cardiff on an away day is to arrive in the city centre and travel to the game by train after a bit of sightseeing.

Milennium stadium tours are very entertaining, while Cardiff on a rugby day is an experience.

Milennium stadium tours are very entertaining, while Cardiff on a rugby day is an experience.

Cardiff city centre is packed with good pubs, great shopping and some brilliant sights. The Millennium Stadium tour is a great use of a spare hour, and Cardiff Castle is an extremely impressive structure.

Since Welsh devolution in 1999, a fortune has been spent making Cardiff attractive to tourists. Cardiff Bay used to be an industrial wasteland, however the new Senedd (Welsh for parliament), the Millennium Centre and the array of new bars and restaurants, have made it a glamorous honey pot.

If you’re lucky enough to have an away game in Cardiff on the same day as rugby international, a night out with the boozy egg-chasers is recommended.

 

Plymouth Argyle

The Football League’s most Southerly and Westerly club, Plymouth Argyle, offers a brilliant away weekend, which caters to football fans of all tastes.

Plymouth is a naval city, and as such has a wide variety of drinking establishments. The Barbican is the perfect place to spend a hot afternoon, with plenty of pubs offering great food and drink, while North Hills is ideal for student nights out.

Near the stadium, the Britannia is the most popular place for away fans to congregate.

Home Park is a strange ground, with three modern stands and a single, classic stand running along the touchline. The Green Army are very proud of their club, and fans enjoy discussing football with visitors.

If you want to chill out (or nurse a hangover) on a Sunday, the Hoe is a fine place to sit and relax. But if the weather permits, why not head to a local beach? The coastline around Plymouth is dotted with quiet, picturesque, sandy beaches where you can lay down for a bit or sample the surf.

And if you don’t fancy watching Plymouth play, you could always jump on the ferry and head off to watch lower league football in Spain. There are ferries travelling from Plymouth to Santander, where Racing are struggling in the Segunda after last year’s relegation from La Liga.

 

Notts County and Nottingham Forest

Only 300 yards separate the Football League’s two closest grounds, and the city of Nottingham provides a great football weekend.

Though Meadow Lane and the City Ground are around a 25 minute walk from the city centre, there’s plenty to excite fans in the area around the two stadia. There are pubs and food outlets around the grounds, and the Nottingham clubs are the only ones in Britain with a nearby Hooters, where fans can enjoy good food and drink, surrounded by skimpily-dressed waitresses.

The grounds themselves have been modernised over the years, and fans of both sides are generally friendly.

The Oldest Inn in England, in Nottingham

The Oldest Inn in England, in Nottingham

Nottingham’s city centre isn’t the prettiest, but it has an instantly recognisable statue of Robin Hood, paying tribute to the area’s most famous figure. There’s also now a statue to the city’s most celebrated adopted inhabitant, the late great Brian Clough, who led Forest to two European Cups.

The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, established in 1189, is believed to be the “Oldest Inn in England,” and though this fact is disputed by some, what can’t be debated is that it’s a great historical sight, which also serves a good pint.

And if you want something a little rowdier than a medieval pub, Nottingham’s renowned nightlife should do the trick. With hundreds of bars and clubs, Nottingham has developed a reputation as one of the best nights out in the UK, so if your team has lost, there are plenty of places where you can forget about it.

 

Shrewsbury Town

Many fans would argue the away trip to Shrewsbury has lost a bit of its shine since the club relocated from the quaint, Gay Meadow, near the town centre to the modern Greenhous Meadow stadium on the outskirts of Shrewsbury.

But Shrewsbury still has plenty to offer visiting supporters. The town centre has impressively retained its charm, and the Tudor and Georgian architecture give the place real character.

The castle towers over the rest of the town, and looks mightily impressive. There’s also the church of St Chad, which is the second largest domed church in the UK. Shrewsbury has a reputation for good shopping, with many people attracted to the town at Christmas time when the streets feel particularly atmospheric.

There are a few pubs around the new stadium, although fans also have the option of drinking in the town centre before catching a bus to the ground.  Shrewsbury town centre has plenty of great pubs and restaurants, and is capable of being a good night out.

 

Blackpool

The Football League has many seaside resorts which are worth visiting like Bournemouth, Brighton and Southend. But Blackpool is Britain’s number one seaside resort for a reason.

Bloomfield Road itself is a short walk from the promenade and the beach, and the seaside is practically unavoidable for away fans, whether they’re there for a weekend, a day or simply a few hours.

Only a 20 minute walk from the ground is the famous Pleasure Beach, with its fantastic selection of rides and amusements. It’s a brilliant attraction for kids and big kids alike.

There’s also Blackpool Tower and the pier, which are both must-sees, and for younger supporters a donkey ride along the beach is essential.

The ground itself has been modernised, but the away stand still looks rickety and hastily built compared to the rest of Bloomfield Road. Home fans tend to be very welcoming and pleasant.

There are plenty of pubs around the ground which cater to all tastes, and there’s no need to travel far to look for somewhere to eat or drink. If you’re there for the weekend, Blackpool is full of pubs, bars and clubs, which guarantee an eventful night out.

Although Blackpool is normally associated with the summer, it can be enjoyed in any conditions when there’s football on. Blackpool may seem tacky to some, but most see it for what it is: an old-school resort town, which promises a good time.

League 1 half-term report

Halfway through the season and League 1’s seen a bit of everything; sackings, scandals and financial troubles, and that’s just what’s gone on off the field.

Here’s how each club has fared in the first 23 games of the season:

Sheffield United top the table at the halfway stage

Sheffield United top the table at the halfway stage

 

Sheffield UnitedA- – Recovering from last season’s agonising play-off final penalty defeat was always going to be tough. United will be content with the way their season has gone so far. Danny Wilson’s team are extremely difficult to beat, with only two league defeats so far. Man City are the only club in the top four tiers of English football with fewer losses. But United’s lack of firepower has held them back; before this weekend they were the lowest scorers in the top 10 and seven of their eleven victories have been by a single goal, which is very unusual for a team top of the league. Nick Blackman has nine goals in the league, but United’s second highest scorer is centre-back, Neil Collins, with four goals. The Blades have been great at grinding out results, but they don’t look as strong as the team which narrowly missed out on promotion last term.

TranmereA+ – Tranmere’s form this season has surprised everybody, including manager, Ronnie Moore. Whenever Moore gets interviewed these days he keeps emphasising how stunned he is to be top of the league. The Merseysiders didn’t lose any of their first twelve games, and looked to be racing away with the league. They are the league’s top-scorers with 38 goals, and the goals have been shared with Jake Cassidy, Andy Robinson and Jean-Louis Akpa-Akpro all netting regularly. But they’re currently suffering their first blip of the season, which includes Friday’s shocking 5-0 defeat against Swindon. How they react will go a long way to determining where they’ll finish this season.

BrentfordA – Uwe Rösler’s side are the form team in League 1 going into the second half of the season. After a steady but unspectacular start to the season, the Bees burst into life in late October as they embarked on a nine match unbeaten run, which includes seven wins. In recent weeks they’ve recorded extremely impressive victories against Sheffield United and the MK Dons. Strategically and organisationally, Brentford have been the best team in the division this season, but their success has been helped by the goals of Clayton Donaldson. The big striker, nicknamed Donaldinho, is the league’s second highest scorer. The Londoners are on a roll and are aiming for promotion to the second tier for the first time in over two decades.

DoncasterB – Dean Saunders has rebuilt the team after relegation, and the Yorkshiremen continue to play an aesthetically pleasing style of football. The star of the show has been David Cotterill, who’s been banging in the goals from midfield, and looks to have regained his confidence after some tumultuous times. Doncaster have more wins than any other team in League 1 and they have been very exciting to watch. However there’s still room for improvement. They remain on the lookout for a goal-poaching striker to take some of the pressure off Cotterill, and there have been some very unconvincing performances in the midst of all the great football. Automatic promotion is the aim, but a play-off spot would be a fine achievement.

SwindonA- – Last year’s League 2 champions were expected to have a huge impact on League 1, and though they’ve been inconsistent, they’ve proved they have the quality to challenge at the top end of the table. With Paolo Di Canio as manager things were never going to be boring, and there’s been plenty of excitement at Swindon games. They’ve scored 37 goals and conceded just 18, but when they concede first they tend to lose; they’ve picked up just two points from losing positions this season. Matt Richie has continued his brilliant form from last term and he’s already netted nine goals this season. The magnificent 5-0 victory against Tranmere suggests Swindon could still challenge for an automatic spot if they develop a bit more consistency, although if they get a play-off spot nobody will want to face Di Canio’s side and their beautiful football.

MK DonsB – It’s been a strange season for MK Dons fans. They’ve been used to seeing their side score freely and concede regularly in recent years, but this season the Dons have tightened things at the back at the expense of their attacking fervour. The Dons have been wasteful in front of goal at times, but perhaps that’s changing as we enter 2013. Along with every other club currently in the play-off spots, the Dons lack a top goal-scorer, and this is keeping them outside the top two. Karl Robinson’s team play some of the most beautiful football in the league, but in recent years they’ve lacked the killer instinct required to take them up. It remains to be seen if that’s changed this year, and although the Dons look a good bet for a play-off spot once again in May, they must be aiming for a top two finish.

StevenageB – After a blistering start to the season, Gary Smith’s side have lost their way slightly and have won just one game (against lowly Hartlepool) in their last six. They began the season with an incredible 11 match unbeaten run and it appeared as though the Boro were going to seriously challenge for an automatic promotion spot. Stevenage were unable to challenge healthily in last season’s play-offs because the squad was too small and tiredness had taken over, and this season the small squad once again looks to be having an adverse effect on their promotion push. Stevenage could do with a potent goal-scorer; Robin Shroot is an amiable, impactful forward, who will score a fair few goals over the course of the season, but a natural goal-scorer would go a long way towards securing another play-off for Stevenage. The aim for the season is to get back in the play-offs, but competition is fierce.

Notts CountyC+ – After narrowly missing out on 6th place last season, County were expected to make a strong push for promotion this year. But after a positive start to the season the Magpies have found wins hard to come by, with only four league victories since September. County, like so many clubs in League 1, are in need of a goal-scorer who can turn draws into wins. Keith Curle’s team are resilient and difficult to beat, but four draws in their last six games highlights County’s frustrations this season. Notts County have the makings of a good side, and at times’s they’ve looked like genuine play-off contenders, but a lack of cutting edge could cost them a place in the top 6.

BournemouthC+ – Bournemouth’s turnaround from relegation battlers to play-off challengers has been astounding to say the least, and it’s down to one man: Eddie Howe. When he returned to Bournemouth for his second stint as manager in October, the Cherries were in the bottom four having won just once in their first eleven league games. However since Howe’s arrival Bournemouth haven’t lost a game and they’ve shot up the league with 27 points from a possible 33. Howe never settled at Burnley, and it’s clear he belongs on the south coast. He understands the club and knows how to succeed at Dean Court. Former Rotherham striker Lewis Grabban has flourished under Howe, and Bournemouth look like very good candidates for the play-offs, now that the club’s regained its confidence.

CrawleyB- – It’s fair to say Crawley expected more from this season. They won promotion convincingly last season, but a transitional summer was poor preparation and they’re now suffering as a result. The promising start to the season under Richie Barker now seems a long time ago; the Red Devils have won once in the last nine games, and they’ve steadily drifted down the table. If they are to mount a serious play-off push, they need to start winning again quickly, before their downward slide goes too far. Crawley will have no problem staying up, which is every promoted club’s first priority, but sights were set a little higher. Crawley’s best player so far this season has been Hope Akpan, whose physical performances in midfield have been highly impressive. Unfortunately his indiscipline has resulted in several suspensions, which doesn’t help the Crawley cause.

YeovilC+ – The Glovers began the campaign spectacularly; winning three and drawing one of their first four games. Then they lost six games in a row, sparking fears of another season fighting relegation. Since then they’ve been on a run of inconsistency, struggling to build any kind of momentum. They have no problems scoring goals, but at the other end they’ve been porous; they have the worst defensive record in the top 16. Yeovil will be happy if they avoid getting dragged into the relegation dogfight this season, and a mid-table finish would represent progress for one of the smallest clubs in the division. They’re far too inconsistent to challenge for a play-off spot this season.

CreweA- – Crewe were a joy to watch last season as their late surge took them up via the play-offs. But their joy was short-lived as they lost two of their top performers, Nick Powell and Ashley Westwood, to Man Utd and Aston Villa respectively. Unsurprisingly they were hot favourites for relegation, but they’ve defied the odds and look set to stay up comfortably. The signing of striker Mathias Pogba (brother of Juventus’ Paul Pogba) from Wrexham has been a good one and the team play an attractive, but sturdy style of football. There’s a brilliant team ethic at Crewe and manager Steve Davis deserves a huge amount of credit for the job he’s done. It’s doubtful they’ll be able to challenge for a play-off spot, having said that they enter the second half of the season in great form with just one defeat in their last seven games. They’ve done brilliantly.

CoventryC- – Coventry fans must have thought things couldn’t get worse after their relegation from the Championship last season. But this is Coventry, and for the Sky Blues trouble always seems to be around the corner. Andy Thorne was sacked as manager just three games into the season, and Coventry went on a run of five consecutive losses before their first win of the season against Oldham on September 29. However since then, new manager Mark Robins has slowly but surely turned things around, and Coventry have now only lost once in their last nine games. With the team hitting form, and League 1 top scorer David McGoldrick (15 goals so far) continuing to impress, Coventry could compete for a play-off spot. Unfortunately off-field problems continue to cast a shadow over any on-field success. The club’s owners aren’t able to pay the hefty rent for the Ricoh Arena, and they could be forced to look elsewhere for a home ground, with non-league Hinckley United’s 4,329-capacity Greene King Stadium seen as a genuine possibility.

Leyton OrientC – An up and down season for Orient so far, where losing runs have quickly turned into winning runs, and feast has quickly turned to famine. Orient fans really have no idea whether they’re in a relegation fight or whether they have an outside chance of getting a play-off spot. Amazingly, Leyton Orient have only drawn one game this season, against Crewe in September. The Londoners have 10 wins and 11 losses so far, making them one of the league’s most unpredictable (and exciting) sides. Kevin Lisbie continues to roll back the years, but his team-mates aren’t contributing enough goals. Orient have only netted 25 goals so far this season, although in recent games they’ve been scoring far more regularly. The tendency this season is that when Orient score, they win. They’ve only lost twice when they’ve scored this term.

PrestonD+ – Graham Westley still hasn’t settled at Preston and the play-offs look an unlikely proposition by now. Westley made wholesale changes to the playing staff in the summer, but that’s resulted in the team looking dysfunctional and awkward. The style of football has been criticised by fans who want to see less of a long-ball game from their team. The Lilywhites lack a potent goalscorer, and they struggle to win games. Preston are winless in their last six games and only Sheffield United have drawn more games than the Lancashire club this season. It’s tough to see Preston go down this season, but it’s even tougher imagining them snatching a spot in the top 6. Things aren’t clicking at Deepdale and fans are frustrated. Attendances are regularly less than 10,000 and there’s an air of negativity surrounding the club.

OldhamC- – It’s another frustratingly low-scoring season for Oldham as they’ve averaged just a goal a game in their first 23 games. Paul Dickov was a tenacious striker in his playing days, but the Scot just can’t get his strikers to score, and were it not for the brilliant José Baxter, Oldham would be in severe trouble. The former Everton youngster has excelled in the Latics midfield, and he’s shown Premier League class on a regular basis, netting eight goals in the process. But Baxter’s only one player and Oldham sit just five points above the relegation zone. They’re once again scrapping for safety and with little money to spend in January, Dickov may have to make do with what he’s got. It’s going to be a long second half of the season for Oldham fans, who’ll be praying Baxter stays fit.

WalsallC – The Saddlers started the season brightly and they were 4th as recently as October. But a dramatic collapse in their form has seen them plummet down the table. Their win against Colchester on Saturday was their first in 13 games, and a vital three points for the Midlanders. Manager Dean Smith has tried to get his team playing a more aesthetically pleasing brand of football, but unfortunately the players at his disposal probably aren’t good enough to play the style he demands. Apart from Carlisle, Walsall have conceded more than any other team outside the relegation zone, and with goals in short supply, it’s a worrying statistic. Walsall have defied the odds and miraculously stayed up for the past few seasons, and they’re hoping the win against Colchester can inspire them to do likewise in May.

ShrewsburyC- – I expected more from Shrewsbury this season and I didn’t expect to see them so close to the bottom four. The Shrews were promoted last season thanks mostly to their brilliant home form, and it’s their results at New Meadow which keep them outside the drop zone this season. All 5 wins have come at home, while they’re yet to win on their travels. The team has changed little since last season, and perhaps Graham Turner should have bought more players who had experience of League 1 football. Marvin Morgan can be a real handful on his day, but he’s not consistent enough for Town. If he can get on a good scoring run, it would make a huge difference to where they finish. Safety would represent a good season for Shrewsbury after spending 15 years outside League 1. Turner has a united dressing room, with some good footballers, and I expect them to dodge the drop.

ColchesterD- – It’s been a bitterly disappointing first half of the season at Cuckoo Farm. John Ward was dismissed after failing to win any of the first eight games of the season. His assistant Joe Dunne has been in charge since then, and initially the appointment appeared to have galvanised the squad, with Colchester winning five out of their next six games to climb into the top half. But The Us have only won once since October and they’ve lost the other seven games, including a 5-1 hammering at Stadium MK. Their morale-crushing defeat against Walsall in the last game emphasised the extent of Colchester’s woes. They sit just two points and two places above 22nd placed Portsmouth. Their main problem is up front, where the strikers have found scoring difficult. Jabo Ibehre has four goals so far and Ian Henderson has three, and Colchester average just a goal a game, which is always cause for concern. Colchester are in a bad way, and if things don’t improve they could very well be heading back to League 2 after eight years away.

CarlisleD- – Greg Abbott’s side are in deep trouble, and they could easily go down this year. Last season Carlisle finished a very respectable 8th, but the sale of star player Francois Zoko to Notts County meant a repeat this time round was unlikely. But there’s no way they could have predicted such a difficult season. It was the Cumbrians’ dreadful defence which cost them a play-off spot last season, but this year Carlisle have been chronic at the back. They have the worst defensive record in the league and have kept just one clean sheet in their first 22 games. United’s back four have been truly diabolical, but they’ve received little protection from the midfield. The defensive catastrophe puts a lot of pressure on forwards to counterbalance. 28 goals is a decent return for a team fighting relegation, but when the defence is so poor, there’s only so much the forwards can do. Carlisle will go down if Abbott can’t solve the defensive crisis.

PortsmouthE- – It’s never dull at Fratton Park, and this season possibly been the craziest so far in Portsmouth’s fight for stability. After relegation from the Championship the entire professional playing staff was forced out of the club in order to keep Portsmouth FC in business. Since then Pompey have relied on academy products, short term contracts and loans from other clubs. At first the team struggled to adapt, but towards the end of September Michael Appleton got his team to function. But Appleton, fatigued by off-field matters interfering with his coaching, left Portsmouth in November to take over at Championship Blackpool. Caretaker boss, Guy Wittingham, is still waiting for a first win in charge, but the club seems doomed to another relegation. They remain in administration and a 10 point deduction seems inevitable at some point in the season. Though good players such as Scott Allen, Ákos Buzsáky, Gyepes Gábor and Luke Rodgers have represented the club this season, and Izale McLeod has netted 10 times in the league already, the team doesn’t look unified. Portsmouth’s fans are taking control of the club’s finances, and it’s the club’s existence which matters most to them at the moment. On the field, relegation appears to be unavoidable.

BuryD- – Losing manager, Richie Barker, to Crawley shortly before the first game of the season was a bitter blow and it momentarily sent the Gigg Lane club into turmoil. Former Leeds and Sheffield United manager, Kevin Blackwell, took over from caretaker manager, Peter Shirtliff, eight winless games into the season. It wasn’t until October 23 that the Shakers recorded their first victory, with goals from Tom Hooper and David Worrall enough to defeat Hartlepool. They followed up this result with three wins in five games. They haven’t won yet in December but hope has been restored after a dreadful start. Steven Schumacher is still the leader of the team and an important influence as Bury try to drag themselves out of the mire. There are some very poor sides at the foot of the table, and Bury are by no means doomed.

ScunthorpeE – After a disappointing season last year, the Iron were hoping for a much stronger campaign from Alan Knill’s boys. What they got was a dreadful set of results and a managerial change. Four straight defeats at the start of the season set alarm bells ringing and although Scunthorpe recorded two wins and two draws in their next four games, the poor form soon returned and Alan Knill was sacked with the club third from bottom. Former manager, Brian Laws, took over and when he won his first two games, it appeared as though everything would better from then on. But since then, Scunthorpe have lost three games, including a damaging defeat against relegation rivals Bury. The 1-3 victory at Leyton Orient on December 15 gives Scunthorpe slight cause for optimism, but it still looks like being a very tough season. They’ve only taken six points at Glanford Park this season, and only Carlisle have conceded more goals in the division. Brian Laws has a tough job on his hands.

HartlepoolF- – Nightmares don’t get any worse than the one Hartlepool are suffering at the moment. With just one win and nine points in their first 22 games, the Monkey Hangers must already be preparing for life in League 2. Neale Cooper lost his job towards the end of October with the club rooted to the foot of the table. His replacement was John Hughes, who has improved the style of play at Hartlepool, but if anything the results have worsened. Hughes has picked up a solitary point since his arrival; a 1-1 away at Walsall. Hartlepool have by far the worst squad in the division, with a porous defence and strikers who can’t seem to score. 15 goals in 22 games is an appalling record by anybody’s standards, and they’ve only kept two clean sheets all season. As things stand the Pools don’t look confident or spirited enough to win games. They’re almost guaranteed to go down, and they’re doing it embarrassingly.