***In this series of blogs, the OptaJoke team will be taking a look at the teams in contention for promotion throughout the Football League. Yesterday we brought you our preview of the race to get out of the Championship and into the Premier League. Today, Dan Bunker looks at the contenders for promotion into the Championship from League One.***
CURRENT POSITION – 1st, 80 points
MANAGER – Gus Poyet
LAST SEASON – 13th
PROMOTION ODDS – 1/500 Bet 365, No longer taking bets on Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – WWWWW
By far and away the stand out performers this season, Brighton have run away with the League One; They’ve been top since September 25th and they’re 13 points clear of Huddersfield Town in second. A fact that itself is fairly impressive given that when Huddersfield Town played the Seagulls at the beginning of last season they defeated them 7-1. You cannot question what Gus Poyet has achieved with this Brighton squad; not only has he got them scoring goals, 68 this season, but he has also shaped them into a ruthless defensive unit; Marcos Painter has been commanding at the back whilst Indigo Calderon has put in some superb performances at right back. Captain Gordon Greer has led by example and even on the rare occasion where defenders have been found wanting, Ankergren has only conceded 27 goals.
KEY PLAYER – Elliott Bennett
Not necessarily the player who has been attracting all the headlines this season, given that Glenn Murray has 19 goals, but he’s a speedy 22 year old who’s been putting in an incredible shift. Bennett has created 11 goals this season and linked up superbly with Calderon at right back. He’s come a long way since starting at Wolves and going on loan to Crewe and Bury. There was even talk of him going to Norwich in the January transfer window but he’s stuck around and to the benefit of the seagulls. If they are to continue their form, Bennett is going to be key.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Rochdale (A), Sheffield Wednesday (H), Dagenham & Redbridge (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 2nd, 70 points
MANAGER – Lee Clark
LAST SEASON – 6th
PROMOTION ODDS – 11/10 Bet 365, 7/4 Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – WDWWW
After faltering in the playoffs to Millwall last season, the Terriers are looking to bounce back this year by finishing in an automatic promotion spot. Much like Brighton, Huddersfield are a superb force who’ve built their reputation on playing attractive, attacking football. This was something that Arsenal came to find out when they took them on in the FA Cup and Town took the fight to them. The team are made up of some great young player; Tom Clarke, Lee Peltier, Anthony Pilkington, England under-19 goalkeeper Alex Smithies. In addition to those there’s also some much needed experience from Kevin Kilbane, Joey Gudjonsson and Danny Cadamarteri. They will be vying for second place at the end of the season and they may just make it.
KEY PLAYER – Jordan Rhodes
Another one of the young players from the Terriers; Rhodes is a 21 year old striker who has carried on with his form from last season. After being sold by Ipswich last season, the Scottish under-21 international scored 19 league goals for town, and has 14 so far in this one. If it wasn’t for Anthony Pilkington’s horrific injury earlier in the season, Rhodes may not have found himself so key to Huddersfield’s successes in their remaining games. But with 2 goals against Notts County and Rhodes great link up play with Arsenal loanee Benik Afobe; it’s clear that he will be the one the lead the charge.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Tranmere (A), Peterborough (H), Sheffield Wednesday (A)
CURRENT POSITION – 3rd, 66 points
MANAGER – Darren Ferguson
LAST SEASON – 24th in Championship
PROMOTION ODDS – 6/4 Bet 365, 7/4 Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – DLWWW
The story of Peterborough’s season has been well documented so let’s not tread old ground. They find themselves in the mix for promotion this season after being dumped out of the Championship, and with Darren Ferguson back at the helm it is certainly a possibility that they will find themselves back there. Peterborough have won nine of the sixteen games that Ferguson has been in charge of; taking them from 9th in the league to 3rd. There is no doubting that he has an unbelievable affect on the team but much of their success must be placed at the feet of their attackers; Craig Mackail-Smith has 22 league goals, George Boyd 14, Aaron Mclean 10 and Grant McCann has set up an impressive 16 goals. The last thing Posh need are for these attackers to have a dip in form because they face the difficult task of taking on five of the top eight teams in the league over the coming weeks.
KEY PLAYER – Craig Mackail-Smith
As mentioned above, Craig Mackail-Smith has been an unstoppable scoring force this season. Not only has he scored 22 goals though, he has also set up 10 on his own. It’s all fairly impressive given the fact that he began his career at St Albans City, then onto Arlesey Town, then Dagenham & Redbridge and finally ending up at Posh; he really is a player who has worked his way through the leagues. It all seemed to pay off for him last weekend as well when he came on for his first Scotland debut against Brazil. Mackail-Smith is a quality player and his influence combined with Ferguson’s tactics may just give Posh a shot a promotion.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Bournemouth (H), Dagenham & Redbridge (A), Huddersfield (A)
CURRENT POSITION – 4th,65 points
MANAGER – Nigel Adkins
LAST SEASON – 7th
PROMOTION ODDS – 2/7 Bet 365, 1/5 Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – DWWWW
Nigel Adkins has done great things with this Southampton squad, he may look like a geography teacher but he has certainly got his players playing well. Geography teachers know their rocks and Adkins certainly knows his as he has two at the centre of the Southampton defence in the form of Jose Fonte and Radhi Jaidi; Southampton have only conceded 10 goals at home this season (31 overall). In this sense Southampton are the team who have come closest to rivalling Brighton this season…but they do find themselves in 4th place, 18 points behind the Seagulls. Bookies have them as second favourite for automatic promotion as they’ve games in hand on the teams above them, but they do find the coming weeks a challenge; 10 games in 35 days is a lot for any team.
KEY PLAYER – Adam Lallana
Southampton have produced a lot of talented youngsters in recent years and Lallana is one the latest set. A footballer who can use either foot and is capable of tearing defences in two; he’s scored 7 goals from Midfield this seasons, whilst setting up 8 for his teammates. When they faced Man United in the FA Cup earlier this year, Lallana was missed; it may have been a tightly fought contest as it was but Lallana showed his quality the previous round against Blackpool and undoubtedly could’ve again. If Southampton are to capitalise on their games in hand as the season comes to a close then it’s going to take Lallana to step up and make plays when it really counts.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – MK Dons (H), Charlton (H), Leyton Orient (A)
CURRENT POSITION – 5th, 65 Points
MANAGER – Karl Robinson
LAST SEASON – 12th
PROMOTION ODDS – 7/2 Bet 365, 10/3 Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – DWWWW
Other than Brighton, MK Dons are the in form team in League One; this is form is something that will definitely help in their push for promotion. MK’s formation has meant that the team have not scored tonnes of goals this season; they play a 4-2-3-1 formation and have netted 56 times this season. They have the worst goal difference of the teams currently occupying the play off places (+7) but do not doubt their ability to grind out wins; 10 of the 19 games they have won have been by the margin of 1 goal. MK face a massive test this weekend as they go up against Southampton who rarely concede at home and have goal scoring potential. After Southampton they face three teams over the next six games who are all competing for promotion, not to mention another two who are fighting for survival. Although they may be on great form, I fear the MK Dons may buckle as they face tricky opposition.
KEY PLAYER – David Martin
Having already noted the significance of MK’s formation, it cannot be underestimated the role that ‘Keeper David Martin has also played, especially recently. The MK Dons have not lost a game since mid-February and more importantly haven’t lost more than one on the bounce since the end of November/beginning of December. A large reason behind this superb form has been the work of goalkeeper David Martin who has put in some superb performances. Since that loss to Leyton Orient in February, Martin has had 5 clean sheets, including one against Brighton where he kept the Seagulls at bay even when MK went down to 10 men. If this team has a chance of getting promoted then this man is going to have to keep his form up.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Southampton (H), Carlisle (H), Swindon (A)
CURRENT POSITION – 6th, 62 points
MANAGER – Lee Bradbury
LAST SEASON – 2nd in League Two
PROMOTION ODDS – 7/2 Bet 365, 10/3 Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – DLLLW
New manager Lee Bradbury has a massive task in front of him; since taking over from Eddie Howe he has won six of fourteen games. Crucially only three of games have been lost; but unfortunately for their playoff push those three were recently. There is a real threat that the wheels have fallen off the cart but given that the Cherries play four of the bottom eight teams, then they really have a chance. The game against Peterborough is going to be massive for Bournemouth; a win could give them a major boost after the recent results, but another loss would leave them vulnerable.
KEY PLAYER – Marc Pugh
The man who has 12 goals and 11 assists this season has been vital for Bournemouth. He certainly hit the ground running; signing for them this summer and putting in some superb performances to propel them up the league. It’s fairly surprising that he’s only 23 and has already been at six different clubs, but it’s clear that he is developing into a quality player for the future. He will play at a higher level, whether that’s with Bournemouth remains to be seen.–
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Peterborough (A), Bristol Rovers (A), Tranmere (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 7th, 57 points
MANAGER – Russell Slade
LAST SEASON – 17th
PROMOTION ODDS – 10/1 Bet365, 7/1 Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – LDLWW
Russell Slade has transformed Orient into a superb team this season; with him at the helm they’ve gone from 17th last seasons to currently 7th. On top of that Slade engineered an incredible cup run which included beating in-form Championship sides Norwich, Swansea and a home draw against Arsenal. Currently in the league Orient aren’t in the greatest form lately; but with five more games at home this season they have a superb chance. One area that the O’s are going to have improve in is their away games; they’ve only won 5 all season. With their best chance of promotion being via a play off place, the away issue is going to have to be addressed.
KEY PLAYER – Dean Cox
Another young player who is doing wonders for his club; Dean Cox is a nippy winger who’s set up 20 goals this season. Having made his way through the Brighton academy, Cox then went on to play 179 times over five years for the Seagulls. Having played under Russell Slade before, this move appears to have been a superb one for both player and club. Ultimately Dean Cox’s influence in the end of season run will be crucial to the play off push.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Charlton (A), Plymouth (H), Southampton (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 8th, 54 points
MANAGER – Keith Hill
LAST SEASON – 3rd in League Two
FORM (LAST 5) – WWWLL
PROMOTION ODDS – 25/1 Bet365, 25/1 Sky Bet
In many ways Rochdale are a great team to contrast with Bournemouth; they both came up at the same time from League Two and have both had success this season. But where Bournemouth have flourished is they have a team also capable of scoring goals; Keith Hill has made Rochdale solid defensively but they have struggled to score. Bournemouth and Rochdale have both conceded 41 goals, but Bournemouth have bagged a dozen more (to their credit Dale’s top goal scorer Gary Jones does have 16 this season). They may be on a good form over the last three games, but against fellow promotion rivals they’ve struggled (losing 2-1 to Huddersfield and 4-1 to MK Dons) and of their next nine games, seven are against other rivals. Rochdale are going to struggle, but they have a game in hand over others around them and by facing their rivals over the coming weeks; their fate is in their hands.
KEY PLAYER – Craig Dawson
A great, young defender who got his big break at Rochdale; playing for them last season and being vital in their promotion to League One. Dawson was then sold who West Brom who agreed to loan him straight back to Rochdale and he’s picked up where he left off last season. He has been solid and the back and is clearly a major reason why they are one of the teams who’ve conceded so few goals this season. Dawson has also been incredibly at the other end of the pitch as well; he got nine league goals last season and has eight for this one. Last year he was awarded League Two Player of the Year and you shouldn’t be surprised if he figures in a team of the year for this season. At nearly 21 he clearly has a very bright future ahead of him, but don’t be shocked if you see him playing for the Baggies in either the Premier League or Championship next season; Rochdale will do well to get him for another season.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Brighton (H), Notts County (A), Colchester (A)
CURRENT POSITION – 9th, 54 points
MANAGER – John Ward
LAST SEASON – 8th
PROMOTION ODDS – 125/1 Bet365, 16/1 Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – WWLLL
Colchester have been in and around the playoff places for the last few seasons; they ultimately believe they are a team who belong in the Championship. Unfortunately for Colchester they are yet to produce a team who have been capable of the task. They’re last game against Exeter City saw them put five past them but this free scoring ability has been missing all season with them only notching up 48 goals. What is even more worrying for Colchester’s promotion chances is that they have one won four games away from home this season and scored fourteen goals in the process; five of their last seven games are away from home.
KEY PLAYER – Kemal Izzet
Colchester have been unlucky in recent seasons as their captains have left for other clubs; Dean Hammond to Southampton and Patrick Baldwin to Bristol Rovers. In Kemal Izzet though they have a man who has proved he is not going anywhere; he has appeared for the club well over 300 times. Although he may not be the most dynamic and exciting player he is tenacious and works incredibly hard. Izzet is a man who has performed well under pressure and leads his team when it counts; in the next seven games they really need him.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Sheffield Wednesday (A), Rochdale (H), Carlisle (A)
POSITION – 10th, 52 points
MANAGER – Greg Abbott
LAST SEASON – 14th
PROMOTION ODDS – 100/1 Bet365, 33/1 Sky Bet
FORM (LAST 5) – LWDLW
Having been manager of the club since 2008 Abbott has steadily transformed them into a good team. When he took over the club were 20th in League One but through some dogged determination he has given the Cumbrians a chance of reaching the playoffs. They have a better goal scoring record than some above them, and a fairly decent home record to match. The only issue is they have dire away form; only scoring 21 goals and losing 9 games all season. Much like Colchester above them, they’re run in involves more away fixtures than home; 4 of 7. Plus they are only playing two teams from outside the top 10 in the league. This weekend sees them take on Brentford in the JPT final; that is probably the best chance they have of success this season.
KEY PLAYER – James Berrett
An ex Huddersfield Town midfielder who has proved to be vital to Carlisle’s hopes this season. He has set up 17 of their 51 goals as well as scoring 8 goals himself. Berrett is a Republic of Ireland under 21 international who has played every single league game for Carlisle this season. He has great passing ability and has bossed the games for the Cumbrians this season. If they still have a chance at getting into the playoffs, then James Berrett is going to have to get the team there.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – MK Dons (A), Leyton Orient (A), Colchester (H)
TEAM TO WATCH – BRENTFORD
CURRENT POSITION – 11th, 52 points
MANAGER – Nicky Forster
LAST SEASON – 9th
PROMOTION ODDS – No current odds on promotion BUT they were 50/1 at the beginning of the week to reach the play-offs, now they’re 16/1 on Bet365
FORM (LAST 5) – WWLWL
Brentford are a team who have had fits and starts this season; they’ve put together runs where they haven’t been beaten in five games, to not winning in seven. They have struggled with consistency. They’ve been relatively solid at the back; shipping 59 goals this season, but have really struggled going forward; netting just 56 times. Having said this though, they have the chance to sneak into the playoffs. Looking at the teams above them, they all have tricky games over the next few weeks and Brentford could pick up points. The Bees have got Swindon, Walsall, Rochdale, Colchester, Notts County, Southampton and Huddersfield. Looking at those games, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could pick up 15 points. With 7 points currently separating them and a playoff position then if they get a run together, they could sneak in.
KEY PLAYER – Jeffery Schlupp
Having said that Brentford have struggled with goals this season, Jeffery Schluup may be the answer to their prayers. He’s a Germany under 18 international player who was only signed on a month loan by Brentford; he’s scored 3 goals in the 4 games he’s played since signing from Leicester. If he keeps on turning in the performances like he has done against Carlisle and Sheffield Wednesday then expect Brentford to fight to keep him for one more month. He really could hold the key to them clinching a playoff spot.
NEXT THREE FIXTURES – Swindon (H), Walsall (A), Rochdale (A)