Competition is intensifying in League One. We look at who will finish top of the table, who else will achieve automatic promotion, whether the race for the play-offs could open up, which striker will finish top goalscorer and – most intriguingly of all – which four teams out of a possible 13 will go down.

Hats off to the Hatters

Luton Town are five points clear at the top of League One and nine ahead in terms of the race for automatic promotion – albeit having played two more than Sunderland.

By current projections, the Hatters will require approximately 11 points from their final eight games to finish in the top two, a tally they are more than capable of attaining, having taken 18 points from the previous eight.

Granted, Mick Harford’s side have been functional rather than exceptional in recent weeks, having been held to a 2-2 draw by Gillingham recently.

In a team 25 games unbeaten, it has only taken one clinical finish from Danny Hylton, one moment of magic from Kazenga Lua Lua off the bench or one surging goalscoring exploit from right-back Jack Stacey for them to pick up the points when not at their best.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that the Bedfordshire boys would get our pick for the title at 2/9 quotes.


Reds or Mackems?

It is likely to be a question of who will go up automatically with Luton – Barnsley and Sunderland look the main contenders.

In terms of Expected Goals, the Tykes have performed as a top two side all season with a Ratio (xGR) of 63.78ab7f58c50f0e39ac2a}, the best in the division; there is a lot of coherence about the passing and movement in their build-up play, so much of which being down to Daniel Stendel and his coaching team.

In Ethan Pinnock, who has a real presence about him and Liam Lindsay, an intelligent operator, Barnsley boast two of the division’s best centre-backs.

Sunderland at 51.05ab7f58c50f0e39ac2a} xGR – only the 10th-best in League One – have not quite got to that level and rely on moments of individual quality from outside the box from Aiden McGeady, arguably the division’s most naturally gifted player.

In fairness to the Black Cats though, they have improved since bringing in Championship-level operators like Grant Leadbitter and Will Grigg, with 23 points from 10 games since Deadline Day.

However, we see Barnsley getting automatic promotion at 1/5.


The Play-Off Scramble


Portsmouth’s 2-0 win over Scunthorpe last time out keeps them just about in the conversation for the top two, but more realistically their May will involve a Play-Off Semi-Final with Charlton.

Kenny Jackett knows the drill in those clashes, having gone up via that system in this division as a manager with Millwall in 2010, as well as reaching the final with Swansea in 2006.

Lee Bowyer though got a taste of the action last season, when his Charlton side lost 2-0 on aggregate to Shrewsbury in the Semi-Final.

With so many off-field issues affecting the Addicks, who have a very small, young squad, Bowyer has done superbly to steer them comfortably into the top six in his first full season in management.

Coventry have also been affected by ongoing ownership problems but, after a 2-1 away win last time out knocked opponents Peterborough further away from the play-off picture, they look the biggest threat to Doncaster.

Grant McCann’s side are currently sixth, one place and point better off with a game in hand; they are six games without a win and have only scored three goals in that time, but Friday’s positive first half performance in a 0-0 draw with Barnsley suggests they should be stronger once they start being more clinical in front of goal.

Rovers are playing tidy football and at a higher tempo than we saw last season – the South Yorkshire outfit are 1/3 to reach the play-offs.


The 13-team relegation battle


The League One relegation battle is one of the most extraordinary stories in English football this season.

Between 21st-placed Walsall – improving despite unlucky back-to-back defeats to prime promotion contenders – 12th-placed Gillingham, is an incredibly small gap of just five points.

We are therefore in the unique situation of having a top half team – as well as every side in the bottom half – entering late-March in a serious relegation dogfight.

One of those teams is Southend United, who have been hugely destabilised this season by injuries and, aside from left-back Sam Hart, are not posing much of a threat going forward; they recently lost 3-0 at home to 10-man opposition in Barnsley.

With question marks over Chris Powell, it is possible that they will go into these final eight games either with a new manager who does not fully know the squad, or with the current manager who a lot of fans feel should step down – neither scenario is especially desirable.

The Shrimpers would be our pick at 13/8 for the drop along with Shrewsbury, who have scored just six goals in open play in their last 14 League One encounters, Rochdale and Bradford.

Had the bottom-placed Bantams appointed Gary Bowyer earlier, they might have had a stronger chance of staying up because their squad is strong on paper.

However, it is a very big ask for the Yorkshire club to overcome a six-point gulf with eight games to play without yet having discovered a strategy they can rely on going into the run in.

By contrast, AFC Wimbledon have discovered that ‘momentum’ at the perfect time.

With high-pressing wing-backs in Toby Sibbick and Steve Seddon, an athletic striker in Michael Folivi who can do severe damage in both halves and an excellent centre-back in Terell Thomas, Wally Downes has found a winning formula at just the right time.

A run of five wins from their last seven league games has elevated them from being 10 points adrift of safety to being top of the form table, with the gap narrowed to a very surmountable three points.

Gills goalscorer to grab glory

BetVictor offer the best odds out of all the bookmakers on Tom Eaves at 2/1 – Gillingham’s marksman is currently joint-second with John Marquis on 19, one behind James Collins.

The Gills play six of the 12 teams that have conceded 50 or more goals this season in their final eight games; plus, Eaves has scored three goals in his last six games, three times the tally Marquis and Collins have amassed between them in the same time frame.

Plus, although Doncaster and Luton are more creative sides, their build-up play does not revolve around their top scorer, whereas at Gillingham, the likes of Luke O’Neill and Barry Fuller are frequently getting forward to put crosses in, almost all of which being aimed at Eaves.

Seven of the last 11 players to complete a League One season with 20 goals or more represented a club that finished outside the top six, which shows that the fact Eaves plays for a bottom half team is not necessarily a disadvantage in terms of his chances of claiming the individual award.



Luton to win the title

Barnsley to make the top two

Doncaster to reach the play-offs

Southend to be relegated

Tom Eaves to be top scorer

Read Gabriel’s League 2 outright preview.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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