League One promotion: who will make top two?

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It’s tight at the top of League One with arguably eight teams in the mix for automatic promotion, so EFL connoisseur Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) gives his take on the candidates.

League One promotion: who will make top two?

Rotherham

Why they will get top two

The Millers enter mid-February as the League One leaders, having taken 24 points in a nine-game sequence.

They are a tall, aerially proficient side despite the summer loss of Semi Ajayi, they have a midfielder in Daniel Barlaser who breaks up play superbly and counter-attack very well.

Paul Warne’s side have pace out wide in Chiedozie Ogbene and Hakeeb Adelakun, while Kyle Vassell loves to drift out to the channels to support those attacks too, as Michael Smith offers the genuine focal point.

Why they might not

Home form.

The South Yorkshire outfit have dropped points when welcoming Lincoln, Tranmere, Shrewsbury and Rochdale; had they met expectations in those games, they could have an unassailable lead.

Verdict

Automatic promotion.

Wycombe

Why they will get top two

Home form.

Wycombe have won a remarkable 12 times on familiar soil and, even during this winter wobble, Buckinghamshire victories over Rochdale, Blackpool and Bristol Rovers have kept them in the mix.

The January re-signing of Jason McCarthy has given them vital pace and drive from right-back when Jack Grimmer has been sidelined, while the consistent partnership of Anthony Stewart and Darius Charles at the back has been a big plus.

The composed Dominic Gape compliments the aggressive Curtis Thompson in midfield, while in Adebayo Akinfenwa and Alex Samuel, Gareth Ainsworth has different types of strikers to pick from.

Fred Onyedinma is set to return, giving Wycombe extra quality out wide.

Why they might not

Much of Wycombe’s squad has been performing well above their accepted levels this season – and a return of 10 points from their last 10 games suggests they could struggle to maintain their current levels at the business end.

They have lost their last five games on the road, too and, if Nick Freeman is to be used carefully by Ainsworth, they are sometimes short of creativity in midfield – a trio of Bloomfield, Gape and Thompson does not exactly scream flair, although Alex Pattison could have a part to play.

Verdict

If their recent away form continues, April could be about securing a Play-Off place.

Peterborough

Why they will get top two

The Posh have hit form at the perfect time.

Since Jack Taylor, Reece Brown and Sammie Szmodics have all started simultaneously, Darren Ferguson’s side have won five in six.

Taylor does the simple things with immaculate efficiency, Brown brings creativity while Szmodics is full of running next to dribbler Siriki Dembele, who has stepped up in a side that, surprisingly, looks better balanced without Marcus Maddison.

The 3-4-3 system, with Joe Ward and Dan Butler proving stable wing-backs, is working a treat.

Why they might not

Frankie Kent’s ball-playing ability had been an important part of that system and the left-sided centre-back picked up an injury recently.

Although that may not be the season-ending lay-off that was initially feared, it could still be problematic, especially with fellow defender Nathan Thompson suspended.

Ivan Toney, himself, is one booking away from suspension and has therefore been walking on ice at times – it remains to be seen whether Mo Eisa would offer the same focal point – and there have at times been question marks over goalkeeper Christy Pym.

Verdict

Title winners.

Ipswich

Why they will get top two

Ipswich have been the league leaders more often than any other side.

The partnership of James Norwood and Kayden Jackson has shown some potential.

Flynn Downes is a talented midfielder, too and Alan Judge could still have a big part to play, while Emyr Huws could offer better protection if he were to come in for veteran Cole Skuse.

Why they might not

Town are also the most out-of-form team among the promotion contenders, with nine defeats in a 22-game sequence.

They have not beaten top nine opposition all year and have recently been thumped 4-1 by Peterborough and lost 1-0 at Sunderland, even with a reasonable first half performance.

At a time where any serious promotion contender should have a clear playing identity, Ipswich look ill-equipped to enter the run in.

Verdict

Could be in a battle with Wycombe to secure sixth spot.

Coventry

Why they will get top two

Coventry are one of the best sides in League One when it comes to executing short, possession football.

Liam Walsh can dictate with real assurance in Mark Robins’ 3-4-2-1 setup next to the more protective Liam Kelly, while the right-sided combination of Jamie Allen and Fankaty Dabo or the left-sided combination of Sam McCallum and Callum O’Hare can unhinge teams.

The Sky Blues have accrued 31 points from 14 ‘home’ games, so the stadium move has not been as problematic as the one to Northampton in 2013: it makes a difference that they are playing at a traditional, reasonably-sized ground that belongs in the upper echelons of the EFL.

Why they might not

Robins’ approach currently is to flood the central areas, which can sometimes be a disadvantage when they get penned in – as we saw in the 2-1 win over Bolton and need a diagonal ball to the wings in their locker.

Ryan Giles has signed on loan from Wolves and Jordy Hiwula is back from injury, but both were unused substitutes last time out while Gervane Kastaneer has been out of favour and Wesley Jobello remains sidelined.

One hopes Robins can find the solutions within his current crop to adapt to different circumstances.

Verdict

Should finish in the lower reaches of the Play-Off places.

Portsmouth

Why they will get top two

Best form.

Many fans wanted manager Kenny Jackett sacked after September’s 2-1 loss at Wycombe, but from that point his side took 44 points in a 21-game sequence that would see Pompey joint-top the division, six points clear of third, in a theoretical league table based on that timeframe.

That shows Jackett has honed in on his best XI after a busy summer and has devised a strategy that allows his side to manage leads as well as gain them.

A more prominent role for combative operators like Andy Cannon and Ellis Harrison, who suit the manager’s direct methods, has helped significantly while Steve Seddon has been an inspired recruit at left-back and Sean Raggett has produced some excellent displays from central defence.

Why they might not

The Hampshire outfit lead into Spring with a busy fixture list: between now and their trip to Ipswich on 21st March, there is not a week that does not see them in action on either Monday or Tuesday.

Pompey could earn a trip to Wembley with an EFL Trophy Semi-Final victory over Exeter and they entertain Arsenal in front of the nation in the FA Cup fifth round, but these glamour clashes could get in the way of their league form and Jackett will need to manage the squad sensibly.

Verdict

Portsmouth are very likely to finish in the top six – but might just miss out on automatic promotion. A threat in the Play-Offs if that’s where they end up.

Sunderland

Why they will get top two

Phil Parkinson must have put something special in Sunderland’s Christmas turkey.

Since the annual festival, the Black Cats have taken 21 points from 10 games, putting them second in the form table.

Charlie Wyke is not everyone’s cup of tea, but the striker suits Parkinson’s direct methods better than others in the group and the improvement in form has coincided with the ex-Bradford man’s return.

Plus, Sunderland’s play before this period revolved around Aiden McGeady, who dwelled on the ball a lot and the Irishman has since been dropped from the first team and allowed to leave.

Without McGeady, the play now looks sharp and incisive as the likes of Lynden Gooch and Chris Maguire have stepped up a level, while George Dobson and Max Power bring tenacity from midfield.

Why they might not

Luke O’Nien puts in an admirable shift at right wing-back but the midfielder by trade is only still playing there because Conor McLaughlin has not lived up to his billing.

Verdict

A heated Play-Off Semi-Final with Coventry?

About Author

Gabriel discovered the betting world through his passion for English football; he had a mixed start in April 2014, landing a solid treble before being let down the week after by beleaguered Torquay winning at Bristol Rovers. Although he often follows his beloved Birmingham City, he also covers other teams in the Midlands and enjoys visiting new grounds further afield now and again. Quite likes sitcom Not Going Out, too.

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