***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 League One and into The Championship. Today, David Cameron Walker looks at the contenders for promotion from League Two.***
CURRENT POSITION – 1st, 75 points
MANAGER – John Sheridan
LAST SEASON – 8th
PROMOTION ODDS –1/25 (SkyBet) 1/25 (Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WWLWD
In their first season at the B2net Stadium Chesterfield have been head and shoulders above the competition in League Two. Many a team has failed to adjust when moving to a shiny new stadium; just ask Coventry and Southampton fans, but The Spireites have revelled in their new-found surroundings by entertaining the crowd with a massive 50 goals in 19 home games so far. John Sheridan’s men can boast 4 players with double figures in the league goalscoring chart and at any level of football that sort of firepower is likely to see you challenging for honours. With promotion all but confirmed, thoughts will surely have already turned to next season. If they can keep hold of 23 goal hitman Craig Davies and hit the ground running next term don’t bet against Chesterfield featuring in the League One promotion race in 12 months time.
KEY PLAYER – Craig Davies
The one time Hellas Verona front-man has been one of the stand-out players in League Two this season with 21 goals in 34 starts. After years hopping from club to club Davies finally looks settled at the B2net Stadium and his partnership with veteran Jack Lester has kept Chesterfield at the top of the table virtually all season. With Lester fast approaching 36 years of age, Davies’ goals will be crucial if Chesterfield have hopes of making an impact in League One next season once they inevitably seal promotion.
Next 3 fixtures – Port Vale (H), Hereford (A), Macclesfield (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 2nd, 64 points
MANAGER – Gary Waddock
LAST SEASON – 22nd (League One)
PROMOTION ODDS –1/3(SkyBet) 1/3(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WDLWD
Relegated from League One last season, Wycombe took a little while to get going this season but since the turn of the year they’ve looked ever more likely to clinch a place in the top 3. A few recent stutters saw them drop out of the automatic promotion spots but Saturday’s 3-0 win over Morecambe sees them back to 2nd. Gary Waddock’s men will be confident going into the last 8 games as they only meet 3 of their fellow promotion chasing sides and it could all hinge on the penultimate game of the season away to high-flying Bury.
KEY PLAYER – Gareth Ainsworth
Still going strong at 37 years young, club captain Gareth Ainsworth is vital to Wycombe’s automatic promotion hopes. The long-haired winger has established himself as a firm fans favourite due to his tireless performances, 9 league goals and an energy that belies his age. Although he’s struggled with injuries throughout his long career, Ainsworth has made 33 league starts this season and The Chairboys will be hoping he can use every bit of his experience in the run-in to haul them over the finish line.
Next 3 fixtures – Stockport (H), Hereford (A), Oxford Utd (A)
CURRENT POSITION – 3rd, 63 points
MANAGER – Graham Turner
LAST SEASON – 12th
PROMOTION ODDS –11/10(SkyBet) evens(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WWDLD
Shrewsbury Town; often amongst the bookies favourites for promotion in recent years, will be hoping they can at last clear the final hurdle and achieve automatic promotion after losing out in the play-off finals of 2006 and 2009. Graham Turner’s arrival at Greenhous Meadow last summer was the catalyst for what has been a fine season, but should the Shrews miss out on the top 3 then they may rue drawing 8 games at home this season. Shrewsbury avoid playing any of the top 7 in the remaining league fixtures and will be confident of picking up maximum points against the likes of Macclesfield, Aldershot and Cheltenham who are staring mid-table mediocrity in the face.
KEY PLAYER – James Collins
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the focus should be on 12 goal midfielder Mark Wright, but 8 of those 12 came in a 8 game hot streak during November. I believe that forward James Collins, signed from Aston Villa in January, will be key to Shrewsbury’s chances of promotion. With 7 goals in 15 starts including a brace against promotion hopefuls Rotherham, Collins is approaching top form at just the right time for The Shrews and could be the man who finally fires Graham Turner’s men into League One.
Next 3 fixtures – Macclesfield (H), Aldershot (A), Stockport County (A)
CURRENT POSITION – 4th, 62 points
MANAGER – vacant
LAST SEASON – 9th
PROMOTION ODDS –4/6(SkyBet) 4/6(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – DLLDW
Now there are times when all football fans would be happy to change their manager, however when you’re sitting a point off automatic promotion with 8 games to go is most certainly not one of those times. Alan Knill departed for Championship strugglers Scunthorpe United this week and with him many believe go Bury’s chances of a first League One appearance in 9 years. A tricky run-in sees them play 4 of their promotion rivals and 5 games at home will not be a welcome sight for a side with the best away record in the league. In the face of unexpected adversity eyes will fall on the experience of bandana wearing defensive lynchpin Efe Sodje to keep the troops together and focused.
KEY PLAYER – Ryan Lowe
Despite me painting a less than rosy picture of Bury’s chances, they’ve still got English football’s joint top scorer in 23 goal Ryan Lowe. Recently voted the best player in League Two, the Liverpudlian is unquestionably in the best form of his career and his goals remain the best hope Bury have of avoiding a tenth season in League Two.
Next 3 fixtures – Oxford Utd (H), Northampton Town (A), Burton Albion (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 5th, 60 points
MANAGER – Graham Westley
LAST SEASON – 1st (Blue Square Bet Premier)
PROMOTION ODDS –9/4(SkyBet) 13/5(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WWWWW
A blistering run of 5 wins on the spin has catapulted Stevenage into the thick of the promotion hunt in their first season back in league football. Graham Westley’s side have struggled for goals this term but their strong defence has been the bedrock of their success. Many would think that consolidation and a high-profile FA Cup victory over Newcastle United would be an acceptable season for Stevenage but to get so close with 7 games left, the club formally known as Stevenage Borough will not want to throw it away now. Momentum is vital at this stage of the season and Stevenage are the form side in the division, they take on Bury at home on the last day and who would bet against that being an automatic promotion play-off?
KEY PLAYER – Mark Roberts
Skipper Mark Roberts has been a big part of the tight defensive unit that has conceded only 34 times this season. He’s also weighed in with 5 goals himself, and in a side not blessed with natural goalscorers that could be crucial come the end of the season. The ex-Crewe Alexandra man is in great form and if Stevenage are the team that come from deep to snatch promotion then he will be a big part of their success.
Next 3 fixtures – Bradford (H), Stockport (A), Aldershot (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 6th, 60 points
MANAGER – Andy Hessenthaler
LAST SEASON – 21st (League One)
PROMOTION ODDS – 5/2(SkyBet) 2/1(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WDWDW
Gillingham have been hovering around the edge of the play-off places for the last few months and their form looks solid enough to suggest that they will grab one of the four places available, but results don’t tell the whole story. Boss Andy Hessenthaler has spoken with frustration at his sides performances in recent weeks, citing a propensity for starting matches slowly as a concern. A return to League One at the first time of asking is still a real possibility but Gills fans will worry that lacklustre displays, masked by the goals of Cody McDonald will eventually catch up with them. The run in looks favourable, with none of the teams the Gills face in the next 6 games being in any sort of form. They’ll need to pick up points in those fixtures if they are to avoid needing to spoil Chesterfield’s promotion party on the last day of the season to secure a play-off spot.
KEY PLAYER – Cody McDonald
Joining The Gills on loan from Norwich as part of the deal which saw Simeon Jackson move the other way, Cody McDonald has been a more than adequate replacement for last seasons top scorer. After scoring 22 league goals in 34 starts the young striker has expressed his desire to stay put at The Priestfield Stadium. Although if his goals aren’t enough to take Gillingham up you have to ask the question, will a team higher up swoop in to take him off Norwich’s hands? That’s a question that Gillingham fans will hope remains purely hypothetical.
Next 3 fixtures – Hereford (H), Lincoln City (A), Morecambe (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 7th, 60 points
MANAGER – Mark Grew (Caretaker)
LAST SEASON – 10th
PROMOTION ODDS – 7/2(SkyBet) 7/2(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WDDLL
What a difference 5 months can make. On the 30th of November 2010 Port Vale sat atop League Two with Micky Adams as manager and they looked genuine title contenders. We all know what happened next. Adams answered the call of his boyhood heroes, Jim Gannon took over, Gannon got thrown off the team bus by Geoff Horsfield, the fans revolted, Gannon departed acrimoniously and Mark Grew assumed temporary charge. The club remain in protracted takeover talks with local businessman Mo Chaudry and Vale find themselves clinging onto a play-off place by a solitary point. Shambles is an understatement.
KEY PLAYER – Marc Richards
Captain, top scorer, talisman. Marc Richards has scored 15 in 30 starts this season, and recently achieved the landmark of 100 career goals. It’s fair to say that he’s the only real hope Port Vale have got of rising above the off pitch uncertainty to secure an increasingly unlikely promotion.
Next 3 fixtures – Chesterfield (A), Southend (H), Torquay (A)
CURRENT POSITION – 8th, 59 points
MANAGER – Paul Buckle
LAST SEASON – 17th
PROMOTION ODDS – 4/1(SkyBet) 9/2(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WWDWW
A run of only 1 defeat in 8 will give Torquay real hopes of crashing the play-off party and return to the third tier for the first time since 2004. However, Torquay have lost 25 points from whilst being in winning positions this season so a failure to shut out games could cost them. A play-off place would be a great achievement for a club which has one of the lower average attendances in the league and would be made even more impressive when you consider they sold top scorer Elliot Benyon to Swindon in the January transfer window. One of the division’s form sides, games against promotion rivals Port Vale, Wycombe and Rotherham will not phase The Gulls.
KEY PLAYER– Guy Branston
The centre-half known affectionately as ‘Pickler’ has had such a fine season at Plainmoor that it almost seems unfair to call him a journeyman. He’s been a part of 5 promotion winning sides during his lengthy career and that experience will prove invaluable in helping others keep their calm as the pressure of the promotion race racks up in the coming weeks.
Next 3 fixtures – Lincoln City (H), Bradford (A), Port Vale(H)
CURRENT POSITION – 9th, 59 points
MANAGER – Andy Lidell (caretaker)
LAST SEASON – 5th
PROMOTION ODDS – 4/1(SkyBet) 9/2(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – LWLDL
With a new stadium on the horizon Rotherham are an ambitious club and the directors made it clear that they weren’t content to settle for a play-off place when they dismissed club legend Ronnie Moore in late March. Now sitting in 9th place the board wouldn’t just settle for a play-off place, I think they’d bite your hand off if you offered them one. 2 wins in 8 suggest that caretaker Andy Lidell will have a tough time in finding any momentum. The hope created by the 6-0 win over Lincoln was quickly distinguished by a midweek loss to Shrewsbury. Ironically the goals of Ian Storey-Moore, son of former boss Ronnie, could prove crucial to the promotion bid and we could yet see a day of mixed emotions for father and son if The Millers do manage to make it out of League Two.
KEY PLAYER – Adam Le Fondre
Le Fondre has long been touted as a player who could cut it at a much higher level, and the 21 league goals this term back that notion up emphatically. After stating back in January that he had no intention of signing a new deal at the club, caretaker Andy Lidell made his feelings clear by dropping Le Fondre for his first two games in charge. However with his side sliding down the table, he might be wise to try to persuade his star player to give his all to the cause for the last 7 games before seeking pastures new in the summer. If he wants to then Le Fondre has the ability to save Rotherham’s promotion bid, needless to say that is a very big if.
Next 3 fixtures – Morecambe (H), Cheltenham (A), Hereford (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 10th, 57 points
MANAGER – John Coleman
LAST SEASON – 15th
PROMOTION ODDS – 5/1(SkyBet) 11/2(Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WDDWW
Stanley find themselves in contention for the play-offs largely down to their exceptional home record. Losing only 3 times all year at The Crown Ground and in a rich vein of form they are yet another club who will have their sights on the teams in the top 7 and with 5 of their remaining 8 games at home they have a good chance. Oxford and Shrewsbury represent the biggest tests in their run-in. If John Coleman manages to get Stanley into the third tier then he deserves a knighthood. Considering they have an average attendance of just 1734 and the clubs future had been called into question until a boardroom restructure was completed yesterday by chairman Ilyas Khan, the fact that they are in the hunt for promotion is nothing short of remarkable.
KEY PLAYER – Sean McConville
After being given licence to roam in a recent tactical shift by John Coleman, Sean McConville has hit his target of 10 goals this season. If he can add a few more between now and the end of the season then he could banish memories of last years late season collapse which saw Stanley finish 15th after being in a similar position to the one they find themselves in now. McConville speaks of learning from that experience and the fans will hope to see him sucking his thumb a lot more in the next 8 games.
Next 3 fixtures – Morecambe (H), Cheltenham (A), Hereford (H)
CURRENT POSITION – 11th, 56 points
MANAGER – Chris Wilder
LAST SEASON – 3rd (Blue Square Bet Premier)
PROMOTION ODDS – 12/1 (SkyBet) 15/2 (Paddy Power)
FORM (LAST 5) – WWLWL
In stark contrast to Accrington, Oxford United are a club on sound financial footing after announcing a profit of £403,000 and having the second highest average attendance in the league. With that in mind they are certainly a club that are set up for League One football, their quest to get there is made significantly harder by a horrible run in that sees them play 5 of their promotion rivals plus a visit to Barnet who’ll be fighting for their lives. That said, Chris Wilder’s men have performed well against the top sides this season and will be confident knowing that positive results in those games will surely see them finish in the top 7 if not higher? At 12/1 they might just be worth a cheeky tenner.
KEY PLAYER – Tom Craddock
A £50,000 signing from Luton Town in the summer, Craddock is a product of the hugely successful Middleborough academy. Coming through with the likes of Stewart Downing, Adam Johnson, Lee Cattermole and Danny Graham is a mark of his ability and 42 goals in the last two seasons underlines that fact. His 27 goal partnership with James Constable has been key this season and they’ll need to be at their best with the tough fixtures that lie ahead. Craddock will want to get back to playing at a higher level and if he keeps scoring then there is a chance he’ll take Oxford United with him.
Next 3 fixtures – Bury (A), Wycombe (H), Accrington (A)
***So those are your runners and riders in the League Two promotion race, it’s incredibly tight and all 11 teams will think they are in with a genuine chance.***
Now I couldn’t write all this without telling you who I think will make it could I?
I think Wycombe and Shrewsbury will prove too strong for the others and I expect them to join Chesterfield in the automatic places.
As for the play-offs, I think Ryan Lowe’s goals will help Bury hang on and Stevenage have got the momentum that will see them through. Sorry Gillingham and Port Vale fans, I think you’ll both drop out to be replaced by Torquay and Accrington Stanley.
Automatic Promotion – Chesterfield, Wycombe, Shrewsbury
Play-offs – Stevenage, Bury, Torquay, Accrington Stanley
So I’ve stuck my neck out and those are my predictions, let’s hear yours in the comments below…