Wow, what a win! And coupled with Plymouth losing at Northampton; just a pity about Scunthorpe. I can’t comment on the performance (and didn’t get to see the home game against Scunthorpe) but it seems that under Lee Bowyer/Johnnie Jackson we are getting used to spurts of the good and the bad. Starts with three wins in a row and all was suddenly looking good again for the play-offs, perhaps with some real momentum behind us. Then the away draw at Bristol Rovers, the defeat at Wimbledon, and home loss against Scunthorpe, with all the reports outlining a marked dip in performance. With four games then left we were suddenly staring at possibly having to win them all – and so far it’s two in the bag.
We have reached the stage of the season where the mathematical possibilities are narrowing significantly. Wigan are up, Blackburn all but promoted with them, Shrewsbury and Rotherham in the play-offs. Then it’s really two from three to join them: us, Scunthorpe and Plymouth. Mathematically Portsmouth, Peterborough and Bradford could still make it; but that would require some very strange results from those above them.
We may sit fifth but making the play-offs still isn’t quite back in our own hands. We could win our two remaining games, end with 74 points, and miss out – but the odds would be heavily in our favour. Scunthorpe have a maximum potential points total of 76 with three wins, so do Plymouth with four to play. But perhaps crucially they will play each other, so 76 is the maximum possible for only one of them – and if either wins their game, 74 points would be enough. Of course Scunthorpe and Plymouth could draw their game, leaving them both with a potential maximum of 74 also. In that event, Scunthorpe currently hold the whip hand with a goal difference of 11, ours stands at seven, Plymouth’s just three. But if we’re assuming that Plymouth win three of their final four we could still be edged out.
What seems reasonable to say is that if we win our final two games it is highly probable we will be in the play-offs. Fail to win one of them and it’s likely we will miss out – although no doubt there will be twists and turns. Home to Blackburn, who need one win from their final three games to guarantee automatic promotion, and away to Rochdale, who need every point they can get if they are to avoid relegation – they would have been out of the bottom four today if they hadn’t conceded an injury-time equaliser at home to Bradford.
Of our two rivals, Plymouth are up next with a game at Rochdale on Tuesday evening. If Rochdale win, we will know that winning our final two will be enough; if Plymouth win, they will join Scunthorpe on 67 points. While we entertain Blackburn next Saturday, Scunthorpe will be away at MK Dons, which you have to say is entirely winnable for them, while Plymouth are at home to Rotherham, who must now be preparing for the play-offs. Then on Tuesday May 1 we have the Scunthorpe versus Plymouth game. And on the last day of the season, while we travel to Rochdale, Scunthorpe will be at home to Bradford, who by then will surely be on their holidays, while Plymouth are away at Gillingham. Not often we get favours from them.
So it’s highly likely to go to the wire, but looking at what’s ahead you’d favour Scunthorpe to win at least two of their final three, giving them 73 points leaving aside the Plymouth game. Plymouth’s defeat today at Northampton was, for us, massive; and you suspect that with four games to play and three of them tough on paper just possibly they will fall away. But that would still leave it up to us. Fail to beat Blackburn and a maximum of 71 points will probably not be enough.
At this stage of the season every team is pretty much where they deserve to be. Some may say we’ve been far too erratic, sometimes too downright poor to merit a play-off spot. Who cares? There is of course the overriding issue of seeing the back of Duchatelet, but new owners and promotion is still a possible combination.