The Battle for Promotion in League 1

February 26, 2013 in League 1

Wait! Don’t just flick past this article because the title says League 1. Stay. Sit down. Grab a drink and marvel at the utter mindf*ck that is the League 1 promotion race. After this weekend’s game, the current top 6 are separated by just two points and, with the exception of Swindon, have very similar goal differences. Next weekend is the first weekend in March, and there is no denying the fact that this is one hell of a close promotion race.

League 1 is sometimes a league of bizarre runs of form. Some teams have a decent budget and fan base, but a lot do not. Most teams are put together without paying any transfer fees (or any of note), and wage budgets are low. Players often work on one or two year contracts, and teams can change dramatically over the summer. Given all these facts, I believe, that League 1 really is a manager’s league, where it really is down to the top man to attempt to extract the best out of a decent group of players. So let’s take a look at the contenders and make some wildly inaccurate predictions.

Sheffield United

Currently top of the pile are pre-season favourites Sheffield United. There is a fair case to say that United would’ve gone up last year had it not been for losing their entire strike force for various reason in the final months of the season. Despite their reasonably good form this season, this weekend is only the second time they’ve hit top spot all season, the last being at Christmas. Although they lost top scorer Nick Blackman to Reading in January, United went to fellow promotion chasers Bournemouth this weekend and ground out a 1-0 win. Will that win galvanize the team and help them push on? Possibly, and with 4 wins in a row now it looks like the Blades are finding form at the right end of the season.

Swindon Town

Currently in 2nd place are Swindon. Paulo Di Canio’s recent walk-out has left the team without the man who has basically dragged them kicking and screaming out of League 2 and up League 1. Di Canio’s attitude at the start of the season was that back-to-back promotions were achievable, but as bigger clubs started picking off his better players, the true nature of lower league management didn’t sit well with the fiery Italian. Swindon have taken the ‘Huddersfield Town under Lee Clark’ route to promotion, in that they have a long unbeaten run but are drawing too many games. Having been in the play-off places since December, they’d hate to miss out now, but will Di Canio’s walk out affect the team?

Tranmere Rovers

The surprise leaders for the first half of the season were Ronnie Moore’s Tranmere. The team who have a tiny squad and budget just seemed to keep winning, and although Moore did say it would be tough to keep it up to the end of the season, he will be disappointed to now be in third place after a run of four defeats on the spin. Luckily, the team got back on track this weekend by blasting five goals away from home past a woeful looking Colchester team. Tranmere’s promotion hopes probably rest on keeping their first XI fit. If Ronnie Moore can take them up, it will be a fantastic achievement.

Doncaster Rovers

After a slow start to the season and the loss of their manager, Doncaster picked up after Christmas and looked ready to make 2nd spot their home. However, they too are a team struggling for form. No win in their last five has dropped them down to 4th, and they need to bounce back quickly or forget about a top two spot. They do, however, have the best away record in the top six, with 10 wins so far coming away from the Keepmoat. Three of their next four games are away from home, and if they can keep up the impressive form, they could still be in the mix come April.

Yeovil Town

Yes, that’s right. Little Yeovil are currently sitting 5th in League 1, after an incredible run of eight straight wins. Gary Johnson is working his magic once again in the South West, and fellow promotion rivals Doncaster stopped them from recording a ninth win this weekend, eventually holding them to a 1-1 draw. Yeovil have rocketed up the table, and in Paddy Madden, they have the league’s top scorer, which is always useful. The team are also benefiting from a strong defence, conceding only three goals in that eight-game winning run. Gary Johnson has all the experience of promotion before, and Yeovil are no longer dark horses, but real contenders!

Bournemouth

Bournemouth bring up the rear of the top six. When Eddie Howe rejoined Bournemouth, they were 21st. Predictably, they are now in real contention for promotion. I say ‘predictably’, because Eddie Howe is a very very good manager. For whatever reason, it didn’t quite work at Burnley but it was easy to see that it would very much work back down on the South Coast. Bournemouth also brought former striker Brett Pitman back from Bristol City, and his nine-goal contribution has helped push the team up the table. A run of five straight wins has been curtailed with two straight defeats, including the most recent one to Sheffield United; however, I’m still backing Bournemouth for promotion. They have a decent budget, get a good crowd and have one of the best managers in the league. I think they’ll nudge their way into the top two.

So there you have it. All six contenders separated by just two points. Personally, I think Sheffield United and Bournemouth will grab the top two spots, then the play-offs are a lottery. Either way, if you want drama and tension, take a look at League 1 over the next few weeks.

Comments