The football season is coming to a close. After months of effort, the end is nigh. The Premier League has a few games left, of course. And we’ve still got the crescendo of the Champions League and FA Cup Final to look forward to. Not to mention the World Cup in the summer. But for fans of the lower-tiered English game – the big finish is here.
Some clubs have already sealed their fate. Many teams are mired in mid-table obscurity and mediocrity. But plenty are going into this last round of games on Saturday with nerves. Those sweaty-palmed fans and players will approach this weekend with trepidation. Will they seal a dream automatic place to the Premier League, Championship or League One? Will they plummet to League One, League Two or even face the indignity of non-league football?
This weekend is massive for football all across England. Here’s what could go down…
The Championship has been effectively dominated this year. With a fresh injection of cash, many fancied that Wolves would do well this season, but few saw them being quite this good. Pretty much working as a Championship version of Man City, the Midlands mob swept everyone aside and secured their promotion and even title win a couple of weeks back.
Wolves may reign supreme, but for large parts of the season, the unfancied Cardiff City ran them close. Wily Neil Warnock may still make very few friends on the touchline but he’s organised his squad brilliantly and fights Slaviša Jokanović’s Fulham for that all-important second promotion spot. Beat Reading on Saturday and Cardiff get it. Fail to beat the Royals while Fulham beat Garry Monk’s Birmingham City and it’ll be the West Londoners back in the Prem without the trouble of the play-offs.
Some more ex-Prem types in Middlesbrough and Aston Villa have already secured their play-off spots. For the other place, it’ll be Derby County. Provided they can get at least a point against Barnsley. Lose, though andPreston could sneak in with a win at home against struggling Burton Albion.
We say Burton are struggling but for a team that looked dead and buried a few weeks ago, they’ve started showing real signs of life of late. Nigel Clough’s men consigned Sunderland to League One on April 21st. But they’re still in danger of the drop themselves. Alongside the other ‘B’s of Bolton, Barnsley and Birmingham (along with Reading).
For Burton or Barnsley to stay up they need to better the other’s result. Reading and Birmingham have their fate in own hands should they win. Should they not, however – and the teams below them all win – they’re in trouble. Reading are better placed with a better goal difference. Second from bottom Bolton can escape with a win over Forest and both Barnsley and Burton not being able to grab the three points they need.
League One Promotion
Wigan Athletic secured their return to the Championship on April 21st when they thrashed Fleetwood. They blew the chance to win the title in their next game but should finally seal it on Saturday, provided they don’t take a big hiding from Doncaster. Blackburn are also up, but lost to Charlton on Saturday, dashing any realistic hopes of them snatching the title. They’ll have to settle for second place.
As for the play-offs, Shrewsbury will be unlucky to finish in them after being top two all season. They will be joined by Rotherham United who have enjoying an excellent second half of the season. Scunthorpe United confirmed their place in the top six on Tuesday night, beating fellow play-off hopefuls Ploymouth 2-0 at home. That leaves the Pligrims needing to beat Gillingham handsomely on the final day and hope Charlton end their devastating recent form and lose by some margin away at Rochdale. Plymouth need a seven goal swing to usurp Lee Bowyer’s Addicks in that all-important top six.
League One Relegation
In League One, four teams get booted down a division come the final day. Bury have had a woeful season and are already down, making it official on April 14th. Things didn’t go much better for the MK Dons and they followed a fortnight later.
To avoid relegation on the final day, Northampton Town require a miracle that would make Jesus blush. That just leaves one place left for the drop. It’ll be either Oldham or Rochdale that slips down a division. Oldham beat Northampton – they survive. Rochdale need Oldham not to win and to better the Latics’ result to stay up.
League Two Promotion
With four dropping down from League One, four must replace them from League Two. Accrington Stanley have defied the odds and won the league already, beating off stiff competition from Luton Town and Wycombe Wanderers, who will join them.
The fourth spot will be decided by the play-offs. Paul Tisdale’s Exeter City and the Magpies of Notts County have already booked their spots. Lincoln City and Coventry City should also feature. But if either loses – and Mansfield Town win – The Stags will pinch the losing team’s place. If both lose and Mansfield win – goal difference will come into play.
League Two Relegation
Only two teams drop out into non-league, with Chesterfield seemingly only too keen to take up the first place by securing bottom spot some time ago. Martin Allen’s Barnet look to be joining the Spireites in the National League. The only way they can avoid that fate is by beating the already-relegated Derbyshire mob at home and hoping Morecambe lose to play-off hopefuls Coventry. A draw is enough for Morecambe, no matter what happens at The Hive.
We’ll be showing all the action as it happens, so you can join us on Saturday down your nearest Rileys and watch all the drama as it unfolds. There’ll be jeers, there’ll be tears, there’ll be beers. Come down and follow all the action with us from Midday.