League Two Outright: How Will The Season End?13 min read
With just eight games to go for most teams in League Two, this is a good opportunity to predict the home straight. We look at who will finish top of the table, who else will achieve automatic promotion, who will triumph in the race for the play-offs, who could suffer the dreaded drop and which striker will finish top goalscorer.
Lincoln or Bury for top spot?
Quite rightly, Lincoln City and Bury consider themselves to be in a battle for automatic promotion – the title is merely a cherry to pick once the cake has been made.
From an external perspective though, it looks extremely likely that the two clubs will spend the season’s finale going head to head to attain top spot.
Lincoln are the more adaptable 4-2-3-1 outfit; contrary to the external perception of them as a long ball side, which was formed predominantly during the previous two seasons, they can now open teams up through possession play and counter-attacking as well.
Attacking midfielder Danny Rowe showed neat feet in Monday’s 1-1 draw at Mansfield while technician Tom Pett, who has embraced a deeper role this term, made a significant difference from the bench.
Bury, meanwhile, apply a possession-based 3-4-1-2 style in every game they play but like Lincoln, they also have a multitude of threats.
Rangers loanee Jordan Rossiter dictates from deep to allow dribbler Danny Mayor to combine on the left with wing-back Callum McFadzean, Jay O’Shea to break into goalscoring positions and Nicky Adams to create for striker Nicky Maynard, who is averaging one goal for every 119 minutes of league action.
Jordan Rossiter has had quite the impact in defensive midfield since joining on loan from @RangersFC:
1st most interceptions per 90 (11.05)🥇
1st most successful defensive actions per 90 (15.5)🥇
2nd most defensive duels per 90 (11.34)🥈
Shield🛡#buryfc #RangersFC pic.twitter.com/9mF1OQbsIM
— Peter Taylor (@PAJTaylorWriter) March 18, 2019
Lincoln and Bury are very evenly-matched teams with excellent coaches in Danny and Nicky Cowley and Ryan Lowe respectively, who are more than ready for League One.
Given that the Shakers have taken six more points from their last 24 games than the Imps have from their last 25, though they look good value to nick top honours at 2/1.
MK Dons or Mansfield for third?
If Lincoln and Bury’s form goes as expected, we are looking at a race for third which Tranmere Rovers might hope to be part of – but they have realistically been too poor between mid-November and early-February to make it.
Mansfield’s 1-1 draw with Lincoln on Monday night means they are third, level on 66 points with MK Dons with a Goal Difference superior by +2 but with 7 fewer goals scored.
FREEVIEW: Post match scenes at One Call Stadium following tonight’s well-fought 1-1 draw at home to league leaders Lincoln. pic.twitter.com/kWRqIqfMV5
— Mansfield Town FC (@mansfieldtownfc) March 18, 2019
Assuming we are looking at a race for a third, therefore, it would require a four-point swing in favour of either Mansfield or MK Dons for it not to be decided by the final-day showdown between those two teams at Stadium:MK.
If MK Dons can avoid falling more than two points behind Mansfield between now and May, they know they would be able to secure promotion with a home win on that fateful day.
The trouble for them is that each of their remaining opponents are likely to be fighting to stay in, or go up from, League Two – their fixture list includes an early-April hosting of a Lincoln side who will not be mathematically promoted before that game.
By contrast, Mansfield’s home clashes with Crewe, Cambridge, Morecambe and Stevenage are convenient, because each of those teams are likely to know with some clarity that they will be in League Two next season.
Northampton may well be out of the play-off race by mid-April, penultimate opponents Oldham are in horrendous form so the only real testing fixture is next week’s trip to Exeter.
The Stags have creative players like Jacob Mellis and Jorge Grant, plus pace up top in Tyler Walker and CJ Hamilton as well as a clear sense of their own playing identity.
MK Dons lost that slightly mid-season due to a series of injuries and, with their quality of passing not quite what it was, they could be forced to spend the finale resorting to early balls into Robbie Simpson.
If Mansfield boss David Flitcroft brings Nottingham Forest loanee Jordan Smith back in goal, they have the wherewithal to dominate all bar two of their forthcoming opponents and should have the edge in the race for third at 5/6.
Forest Green to make the play-offs?
Mark Cooper’s side are not without a few tricky fixtures to come – they are still to host MK Dons and Exeter as well as make the challenging trip to Prenton Park on Good Friday.
However, the Greens will not be intimidated by those clashes, having already taken a combined 18 points from the reverse fixtures with their remaining eight opponents – and seven against MK Dons, Exeter and Tranmere.
Although an unwanted run of five league defeats in six put pay to their automatic promotion hopes, the Nailsworth outfit looked back to their best in a recent 3-0 win at Colchester.
Plus, Liam Shephard has returned from injury to provide width and thrust from a right wing-back capacity, Reece Brown has enjoyed a recent resurgence and George Williams has shown plenty of quality from outside the box, too.
Forest Green look good to make the play-offs at 8/15.
Alongside MK Dons and Tranmere, Exeter at 8/13 would be our final pick; the Grecians have been too inconsistent to make the top three but, having produced very strong performances in 2019 against MK Dons and Lincoln, it is difficult to imagine them not finishing in that top seven.
Stevenage for the top half?
Over the last four games, Stevenage have posted positively on Expected Goals, averaging 1.31 For (xGF) and 1.03 Against (xGA), giving them a ratio of 55.86/p>
The Boro have kept themselves very well-motivated for the season’s finale to stay within touching distance of the play-off scramble.
Although realistically, the five-point gap to the top seven is perhaps too big, the fact they are so determined to stay in the hunt over April increases their chances of securing a top half berth.
Dino Maamria’s side possess one of the best defensive pairings in the division in the aggressive Scott Cuthbert and the aerially-commanding Ben Nugent, with the battle-hardened Michael Timlin providing excellent protection for the duo.
Going forward, they boast one of League Two’s most prodigious talents in Ilias Chair.
🔥 He doesn't do ordinary goals…
Ilias Chair – 8 games played. 4 goals scored. About 140 yards in total distance. 😤#StevenageFC #WeAreStevenage pic.twitter.com/gpjvRFUg3S
— Stevenage FC 🔴⚪ (@StevenageFC) March 18, 2019
The QPR loanee consistently conjures up magic outside the box and, because he is so agile in tight areas, opposing defenders do not want to challenge him and that allows him to make huge contributions to attacking play for Stevenage, who are an attractive 5/6 to finish 12th or higher.
Colchester and Carlisle would also come into that category if they miss out on the top seven, Swindon may edge in too along with Crewe, who represent an intriguing 6/5 shot after Saturday’s 6-1 thumping of Crawley.
Yeovil for relegation?
Yeovil Town are in a rather precarious position, after Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat to Macclesfield.
There is a reasonable proportion of Glovers fans who are not especially happy with Darren Way’s running of the club and feel, in the current circumstances, the honourable thing for him to do would be to step down.
The situation though is complicated by the fact that Way appears to want to commit to preserving his legacy by turning things around at Huish Park – and the club gave him an expensive three-year contract back in December.
Macclesfield have shown signs of potentially beating the drop with 23 points from 18 games under Sol Campbell, although the cashflow issues at Moss Rose makes matters difficult.
The biggest threat to Yeovil’s chances of retaining their EFL status could be Notts County.
The Magpies have a squad that was built with the target of promotion and, now Neal Ardley has found a starting eleven he can trust to deliver in the run-in, with ball-winner Michael Doyle and centre-back Ben Barclay making sizeable impacts in January, they could go on a strong run backed by ardent support.
The Glovers, by contrast, only have the individual skill of left-sided forward Mihai-Alexandru Dobre in their favour; aside from the Bournemouth loanee, they can be devoid of creativity as well as many other qualities and could suffer the drop at Evens.
Bury to win the title
Mansfield for a top three finish
Forest Green to make the play-offs
Exeter to make the play-offs
Stevenage to finish in the top half
Yeovil to be relegated
Read Gabriel’s Championship outright preview.