The Christmas and New Year period is an extremely busy one for the clubs of the Football League culminating in FA Cup weekend. How, though will the league leaders push on, which team will be making a late push for the play-offs and ultimately who will end up getting relegated?
In the Championship only two points separate the top four of Southampton, West Ham, Cardiff and Middlesbrough. The Saints and The Hammers have led the way since the start of the season and although they have thrown away points recently (Southampton at Brighton and at home to Bristol City and West Ham at Derby) these two have the strongest squads in the league and I would be surprised if come May they didn’t occupy the top two spots. As for the play-offs, Birmingham will be hoping that their games in hand will provide the platform for them to jump up the table. However, this is a good sign of the league’s competitiveness that they are in 14thand anyone above them can make a claim for a play-off spot. Meanwhile it will be extremely interesting to see how well Leeds cope without the inspirational Patrick Kisnorbo as the Australian is out again long term. It will also be good to see how Simon Grayson uses this transfer window as it could be a big factor to The Whites’ chances of promotion. At the other end of the table, the team I really fear for is Doncaster.
Despite their wonderful free signings, if top scorer Billy Sharp moves to Leicester then it’s a struggle to see where their goals are going to come from. Coventry are facing a real uphill climb in order to stay in this league but Forest will certainly believe they can get out of this relegation scrap. From Watford downwards every team will have one eye over their shoulder in a battle which could well be settled on the final day of the season.
When League 1 is mentioned there is only one man that springs to mind and that is Huddersfield’s Jordan Rhodes.
His closest rival for the division’s top scorer is Bradley Wright-Phillips, brother of QPR’s Shaun who has scored 14 this season and his club Charlton are currently sitting at the top of the table. Chris Powell has done a fantastic job with the club and I feel that only Rhodes and Huddersfield can stop Powell securing the League 1 title. The two Sheffield clubs make up the top four and along with the MK Dons these clubs look like they will probably secure the top five places. The final play-off spot is up for grabs and as with the Championship 14th upwards will hold some hope of securing that place. Preston have not coped too well with dropping down a division but they’ll hope to have a strong finish to the season that could propel them up the table. As for the relegation candidates I think that if Yeovil can bring Gary Johnson back in he could be the man to keep them up. He’s a good manager and last time he was there he won the Conference and the old Division 3 title. Sadly Chesterfield haven’t managed to adjust to the step up in standard which is a shame because they were a very exciting team last year but now it looks inevitable they will drop back down to League 2.
In his latest outing at Wycombe the 21 year old bagged 5 taking his league tally to 25 for the season and leaving trailing forwards in his wake.
In League 2 money bags Crawley Town currently lead the pack but they are being pursued by Southend, Cheltenham and Swindon amongst others. The latter of that group caused the upset of Round Three by taking out Premier League Wigan and Paolo Di Canio has done a tremendous job in trying to take The Robins back up to League 1.
Rotherham could have been expected to struggle after losing talisman Adam Le Fondre to Championship Reading but Lewis Grabban has stepped up to the plate and has 12 in the league this season. Due to his performances, Rotherham fans could be forgiven for expecting a push for a play-off place in 2012. One team that must be touched on in this league is Crewe Alexandra. Club legend Dario Gradi retired from management this year but he still remains a very influential part of the club and has overseen the progression into the first team of the next in a long line of talented youngsters to come out of the club’s academy. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Danny Murphy and Dean Ashton are Nick Powell and Max Clayton. The former is seen as an extremely bright hope for the future and has already been linked to big guns Chelsea and Arsenal. Amongst those threatened with relegation out of the Football League are Plymouth. Nothing seems to go right for The Pilgrims who are in a colossal amount of debt and are now firmly rooted to the foot of the Football League. There are around six clubs in this particular relegation battle though I’d back AFC Wimbledon to retain their league status for another year.
The Football League will always throw up a surprise or two and shocks are getting harder and harder to predict this year but I wouldn’t rule out Ian Holloway taking Blackpool back up to the Premiership at the first time of asking. Also watch out for a last gasp escape from relegation from Nottingham Forest and good luck to Wrexham and Fleetwood my tip for the two clubs who will enter the Football League next season.