The Easter weekend has come and gone and some of the issues of promotion have been settled. Charlton’s defeat at Oxford on Good Friday meant they would now focus on the Play-Offs as a means for reaching the Championship. An emphatic 4-0 win over Scunthorpe means they can start to gain some momentum to take into the lottery of fixtures in May. Another win tomorrow at mid-table Gillingham would help further.
Four teams vying for second place became three. On Easter Monday we wondered if Coventry could put a dent in Portsmouth’s promotion push, and we speculated that a draw would put them on 84 points and perhaps turn one eye towards the Play-Offs. In the event Pompey came from a goal down to win 2-1 at Fratton Park.
It was Sunderland who slipped up in the end. A draw at Peterborough, despite taking a late lead, meant it was the Wearsiders who slipped two points behind their rivals in second.
Barnsley’s expected win at Plymouth meant the gap to second widened to four points, and, despite a game in hand, took automatic promotion out of our own hands.
Luton’s surprise 2-2 draw with relegation-threatened AFC Wimbledon means promotion is not yet secure; they require at least three more points to go up.
With two games to go for Barnsley and three for Portsmouth and Sunderland, we preview the games affecting the top four.
SATURDAY 27TH APRIL
15:00: Burton Albion vs Luton Town
Luton travel to Burton knowing three points almost certainly gains promotion. 94 points could be matched by Barnsley, but with a goal difference of +47 over Barnsley’s +41, it would take a large swing to prevent Mick Harford’s side securing one of the top two spots on goal difference, at least.
Portsmouth could still achieve 95 points if they win their remaining three games, but any slip-ups along the way would mean, with victory tomorrow, Luton’s total could not be overtaken.
On the back of successive defeats, Burton’s hopes of a late surge into the Play-Offs are over - Nigel Clough will be looking ahead to next season now. Can the Brewers spoil the Luton party in their final home game of the season, though? It’s highly doubtful.
PREDICTION: Away Win
15:00: Barnsley vs Blackpool
Barnsley have recovered from a wobble earlier in the month and now entertain Blackpool in their final home game of the season. Three wins on the bounce leave them only a win behind Luton and Daniel Stendel’s side may yet dream of winning the title. Luton would have to slip up badly, but Barnsley can only aim to win their last two games, secure promotion and see what happens.
Of their two remaining games, Blackpool present the tougher challenge, sitting in 9th and 12 points ahead of 16th place Bristol Rovers who entertain Barnsley next week. However, the Tangerines have little to play for. They remain seven points adrift of the Play-Offs and have only won one of their last five.
Blackpool did draw at Luton in that period and beat Fleetwood Town last time out, but this may be a home banker in the making. Barnsley have already beaten Terry McPhillips’ team, 1-0 back in December, and it looks like the double is on this afternoon.
If Sunderland are to have any lingering hopes of securing second spot it must surely be tomorrow Barnsley slip-up. What is the likelihood? Slim, but who knows...
PREDICTION: Home Win
15:00 Sunderland vs Portsmouth
And so to the game of the day. Two sides that have battled their way to the fringe of the promotion race, competed in a cup-final at Wembley, and sit a mere two points apart.
Portsmouth have climbed to third on the back of seven league wins on the trot. Along the way there have been some close shaves, not least at Burton the other week. But for the officials missing an offside and an even more blatant handball, Portsmouth would be on the same points total as Sunderland tomorrow.
Head-to-head results have shown little between the sides. Having been the better side at Fratton Park going into the break, Portsmouth received a huge boost when Glenn Loovens was sent off early in the second period. The referee punished Sunderland twice by awarding a penalty too. That certainly turned the game and, a goal up against ten-men, Pompey went on to secure the points that day. But who knows what would have happened if the scoreline had remained 0-0, even with a Loovens red card?
Similarly, a hard fought 2-2 draw at Wembley came down to a single penalty kick. Such is the lottery at that stage that it could have fallen either way. Portsmouth’s luck held over Sunderland and Lee Cattermole’s saved spot kick separated the sides last month.
Jack Ross’ men have an opportunity to redress the balance. A win would mean Sunderland regain third spot by a point, going into the final week. Of course that would hand Barnsley the full advantage to secure automatic promotion as of these two sides only Portsmouth could overtake them with their game in hand on Tuesday.
A home win, or even a draw, would not mathematically rule out the three-way battle for second spot coming down to the final game of the season, whilst an away win would render it a two-horse race and consign Sunderland to the Play-Offs.
In their last home game of the regular season, Sunderland simply have to secure three points to stand any chance of realistically taking it into the final day... and I think we can do just that.
PREDICTION: Home win
Do you agree with our predictions or do you see things panning out another way?
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