It wouldn’t be Sunderland if we didn’t make a total Sunderland of things just as the positivity and optimism had reached a crescendo. And so it came to pass that we ended a run of three tricky games - two of which were at home - with a meagre two points. The wheels aren’t off completely, but the bolts are certainly shaking loose. Against that backdrop, I want to try to predict how the season will end.
In previous weeks, I have chosen to look only at Coventry, Rotherham, Portsmouth, Peterborough and Sunderland. But in that time, the shape of the league table has changed and we now find ourselves among a group that stretches from second to eighth place with only a point between the clubs involved. Included in that tight group are Fleetwood and Oxford (who seem to be in ominous form). Wycombe are also there but I’m still predicting - as I have for a month or two - that they will fall off the pace.
This tightening of the race has prompted me to add Fleetwood and Oxford to my analysis of the remainder of the season at the top of League One.
As usual, let’s start with a look at the season as a whole.
Next we’ll have a closer look at the bottom left of the plot so the picture of the business end is a little clearer.
That condensed group in the lead containing, Coventry, Portsmouth, Oxford, Peterborough, Fleetwood and Rotherham gives an indication of just how tight things are at the top of League One. Slightly ominously if you’ve seen the latest League One table, Sunderland look a little more Ipswich than they do, say, Oxford.
As informative as the entire season plots are, what we really want to know is what run of form the teams are having in the here and now. This is where the ten-game performance plots become useful. Firstly, here is the ten-game form for the whole league.
Sunderland have slipped back alarmingly. Having led the pack just two weeks ago, they now trail well behind the top performers. I have also reduced the plot to the ranking table below.
From first to sixth in two weeks. As maddening as that is, it at least gives an indication of how quickly the picture can change. I also want to mention Rotherham and Coventry, both have actually suffered a drop off in performance. While the descent is large and obvious for Rotherham, it’s more subtle for Coventry. They have continued to get the results, but their performances are waning. I would not be at all surprised if they started dropping points soon.
Peterborough are starting to look ominous at just the right time.
Here is a closer look at the 10-game performance plot, including the change in positions since we last conducted this exercise prior to the weekend’s games.
The big winners this week are Peterborough followed by Barton’s Fleetwood. The big losers are Portsmouth who are followed by Sunderland and then Rotherham.
Regarding Fleetwood, there is a lot to admire about them. If not for the fact their manager loves to play the pantomime villain and has a questionable history, he would get a lot more credit for the fact that - as much as I hate to admit it - he is doing a tremendous job.
If you’re wondering why Fleetwood improved after a week in which they drew two games, it’s because two poor results and performances dropped out of their 10-game average.
Finally, let’s update the run ins for the automatic promotion favourites. Just as I did previously, each team’s remaining opposition have been combined to a single datapoint and plotted on the overall performance chart.
The observant among you will have noticed that I’ve finally credited Fleetwood and Oxford and added them to the mix.
The closer a teams is to the bottom-left corner of the plot, the better they are performing. The further the corresponding opponent datapoint is from the bottom-left corner, the poorer the remaining opponents.
Changes in this plot happen in several ways:
- Sides get ‘easy’ or ‘hard’ games out of the way (for example, Peterborough played one of their harder games at the weekend).
- The remaining opponents for each promotion chasing side have changes in form.
- The promotion chasing sides have their own fluctuations in form.
Consequently, due to this complexity, the positions of the datapoints for the sides and their remaining opponents constantly drift. That’s what keeps this measure of the run in interesting.
Looking at the opponents’ datapoints in isolation, it’s clear that Peterborough have the easiest end to the season, in absolute terms. Then come Oxford, followed by Sunderland then Portsmouth and Coventry are about even. The hardest ‘absolute’ run in is Fleetwood’s.
But the difficulty of a run in is also determined by how well the promotion chasing side is performing, hence it is relative rather than absolute. So ‘run in difficulty’ is determined by calculating the ‘distance’ between a team and its opponents on the performance plot.
The results are as follows.
Not only have Peterborough hit peak performance at just the right time, but their run in is also the easiest of all the promotion chasing sides.
Although Fleetwood have the toughest run in in absolute terms, relative to their own performance, they have it second easiest. Portsmouth and Rotherham, on the other hand, have some tough weeks ahead.
Coventry seem unstoppable at the moment, but at various stages of the season, so have Ipswich, Peterborough and Rotherham. There are signs that their performances (though not yet results) are starting to slip. Add to this the fact they don’t have the easiest run in and I would not be at all surprised to see them fall back. Sustaining the run they have been on for another ten games would be unlikely. But, should they do it, few could say they didn’t deserve promotion.
The change column gives information on how ‘run in difficulty’ has changed since the last time we checked. A positive number means the run in got easier and a negative number means it got harder.
I have no information for Oxford and Fleetwood because I only included them this week.
Peterborough's run in got easier. If I were a betting man, I might be tempted to put a tenner on Peterborough going up automatically. They are the best performing team, not only over the whole season, but over the most recent ten games too. And they have the easiest run in...
Coventry’s run in got a little harder but it got a lot harder for Sunderland, Portsmouth and Rotherham.
Without a doubt, there is still hope for Sunderland. But it’s going to a sudden and sustained upturn in form and results. In a season which is so tight and has seen so many twists and turns, it’s still very much up for grabs.