As we head into the final seven days of the season, it is fair to say everything is still up for grabs at the top of League One.
Wigan are almost home and dry, so here we will look at the teams who can still be promoted automatically down to those looking to scrape into sixth position, and I’ll try to come to some sort of rational judgement about what we might expect to happen.
Rotherham United – (Currently 2nd - 83 Points, 3 games to play)
A team currently sitting bottom of the form table the Millers have lost 4 of their last 5 league games, scoring only once in that time and only winning 2 since the start of March, Rotherham have an extremely tough week ahead, with all the teams they face still fighting for something.
They start by hosting Oxford at the New York Stadium against a side still in the running for the playoffs. With very contrasting weeks for these teams, Rotherham may be looking to snatch a small victory here but with the Rotherham unable to score and leaking goals, there is a distinct possibility they don’t get anything from this match.
Then travelling up to the stadium of light on Tuesday, a long trip to face a team in great form, there Is a chance that Rotherham could finish this game joint on points with Sunderland going into the final day if things carry on how they are for Paul Warne’s side.
Finally, they must then travel back down to Gillingham for the final day of the season with the Gills fighting for survival. None of these can be considered easy games. They have, in recent games lost multiple players to injury including Mikkel Miller, with Shane Ferguson and Jordan Osei-Tutu both coming off with Injuries in their midweek loss at Burton.
Considered by many to be the best all-around team and all but promoted in mid-February, times have changed as even with their game in hand over MK Dons, and four points ahead of Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham have it all to lose.
FINAL POSITION PREDICTION: 3rd
MK Dons – (Currently 3rd - 83 Points, 2 games to play)
A team currently missing out on second place by goal difference having surged up the table in 2022, MK must outscore Rotherham’s points total with a game less to play to go up automatically.
After one point in their last three games, MK will be hoping that they can pull off a routine win at home to a fighting Morecambe side who themselves are three points above the drop but have the fourth-best points tally in the league from the last five games winning three of them in their bid for survival. I am sure the Shrimps will come fighting in search of anything, hoping to all but guarantee safety if other results go their way.
On the final day MK travel down to the lately notorious Home Park. Plymouth have made this ground an absolute fortress, not conceding in their last seven there and winning six of them. Plymouth will be fighting for that place in the top six, a game that could dictate who makes the playoffs and who gets automatic promotion.
I believe these will both be very close games, both opposition in good form and have something at stake. MK have had a blip, but even with confidence flailing, should still have the quality to take them over the line, especially due to Rotherham’s incredible fall from grace.
FINAL POSITION PREDICTION: 2nd
Sheffield Wednesday – (Currently 4th - 79 points, 3 games to play)
Four points behind the two teams already mentioned are the team who could, if they ascertain all nine possible points, usurp the final automatic promotion place.
That may sound audacious, given the number of points they must make up, and it is, however that possibility is more down to the teams above them becoming the new Chuckle Brothers passing up chances for second place.
This possibility and everyone’s outlook on who will ultimately make the playoffs could be altered as a result of their visit to Wycombe on Saturday. This will be the result mostly watched by Sunderland, Plymouth and Oxford fans as a Wednesday loss will make it much tighter within that pack, with sixth sitting on 79 or 80 points depending on Plymouth's result, with 1 game to go for both Wycombe and Plymouth.
For context, last season, sixth-placed Oxford amounted to 74 points to marginally make the playoffs. You could end up needing to be six to eight points better off to make the playoffs this time around.
However, a Wednesday win will put them in a great position to take advantage if MK and Rotherham both drop points and could result in a three-way race for second going into the final week of league football.
After Wycombe, the Owls travel to Highbury to face Fleetwood, who as it stands are a point from safety with a game in hand. If Wednesday's game against Crewe midweek is anything to go by, it is going to be another very closely contested affair with Fleetwood wanting even a point and will defend their goal with everything they have got. If Wednesday fails to beat Wycombe, then this game is an absolute must-win.
On the final day Wednesday host a Pompey side with nothing to play for and the Cowleys could choose a squad favouring those they will have in their squad next season. I believe this should be a simple win for the hosts, but I wouldn’t rule out Pompey coming to try and spoil the party.
I believe they will push close to second and third place, but ultimately stay as they are.
FINAL POSITION PREDICTION: 4th
Plymouth Argyle – (Currently 5th - 79 Points, 2 games to play)
A month ago, if somebody said that Plymouth would be the team to fall out of the playoffs come the end of the season, they would have been laughed out of the room. Coming out of 10 wins from 13 games they looked like a certain playoff contender, making it 4 teams looking in at 2 places.
Now, however, as they head into their final two games, they are two points ahead of seventh having played a game more and have the hardest run-in of the bunch. Their first game is away to Wigan, who themselves have had a recent blip, not unlike everyone else in the running for the automatic places.
Wigan still need points to get over the line, and to be named champions and will not want it to go down to the final day. If Plymouth are without Camara, having been taken off injured on Monday, I believe Wigan should be able to push aside Plymouth in their bid for promotion. However, anything less than a win for Plymouth puts them in a very precarious position with one game left.
Their final game is at the fortress of Home Park as they face MK Dons, who should, if Rotherham drop points to Oxford and/or Sunderland, be a shoo-in for second place. This will be a completely different game to many of the previous games Plymouth have hosted and not conceded as both teams have it all to gain from a win, but all to lose with a defeat.
There is the possibility that both go into this needing a win to ascertain their respective desired positions, and this will create a tense atmosphere and an incredibly lively game. Definitely, the one to watch on the final day.
The race to stay in the top six is going to be close, and I was torn between three teams for the final place. Unfortunately, after such a great season, I am not going with Argyle.
FINAL POSITION PREDICTION: 8th
Wycombe Wanderers – (Currently 6th - 77 Points 2 games to play)
The team to scrape into the playoffs over Plymouth on the final day here is Wycombe Wanderers. Currently sat in sixth, ahead of Sunderland on goal difference, have one less game to play and currently rely on results to go in their favour to make the playoffs.
Their opening game as previously mentioned is huge, at home to Sheffield Wednesday. From a Wycombe perspective, it is a must-win game. If they lose, and Sunderland and Oxford Win, they will be sitting eighth going into the final day and will ultimately need other results to help them out.
If they draw, then they still require Sunderland and Oxford to both drop points to be in the top six come the final day. The home advantage with the fans backing them all the way and ten unbeaten will be huge this weekend for Wycombe, they will have the same points as Sheff Wed and the chance to overtake Plymouth.
The most likely scenario is that they will go into the final day two points from sixth (Plymouth) and heading to Burton needing a win and a Plymouth loss to MK Dons with Oxford one point behind them. Burton should have nothing to play for and a walk in the park for Wycombe, but as seen on Tuesday night, nothing is ever that simple and Burton sent Rotherham packing taking a win and a clean sheet in the process.
I can see Wycombe getting four points, ending on 81, and with me not predicting much for Plymouth, anything over 80 should get them just in.
FINAL POSITION PREDICTION: 6th
Sunderland – (Currently 7th - 77 Points, 3 games to play)
The first team currently on the outside looking in is Sunderland, albeit also having a game in hand on the teams around them. Also, in going ten games unbeaten, Sunderland have shown themselves that they can keep clean sheets and score late on, which, if it comes down to it on the final day, will have their and their rivals’ fans nail-biting like never before.
They open the back to back home games with a visit from Cambridge, a team who has performed well above where they were believed to be and has comfortably secured their stay in the 3rd tier for another season. With Sunderland having the best home form in the league this season, having back to back home games will give them the edge they may need just to make sure it doesn’t go down to the final day.
I believe this should be a calm and easy win for the hosts with the visitors already having their feet up, but Cambridge showed what they can do by going two-nil up against Wigan at the DW on the Saturday prior. A win here will put Sunderland in a playoff position with two games to play as a result of Wycombe and Wednesday playing each other at the same time.
They then host Rotherham, who seem to be there for the taking. Sunderland will also be looking to avenge their loss in the reverse fixture earlier this season, and with both sides at opposite ends of the form table, and at home, this could be a night to remember for Sunderland fans, and maybe even a playoff prequel.
The final game for Sunderland is against a maybe already safe Morecambe away from home. There is a good chance Morecambe are already safe by this point and may choose to play some young talent with eyes on next season, however, there is also the distinct possibility that they play to upset the script to help Cole Stockton pip Ross Stewart to the golden boot.
I believe this should be the safest bet of the bottom four, provided the script is adhered to. An extra game and a simpler run in should do Sunderland’s form the world of good if/when they make the playoffs, which could be mathematically possible (or thereabouts) should Sunderland beat Cambridge and Rotherham and Plymouth lose to Wigan.
FINAL POSITION PREDICTION: 5th
Oxford United (Currently 8th - 75 Points, 2 games to play)
The final club we must have a look at is Oxford. Another, alongside Plymouth and Rotherham, that in the not-too-distant past you would have thought were a top-six side guaranteed. Then came a run of one point from four games and they are now two points from sixth but will have to outscore two of the four teams above to get into the playoffs.
They start with a trip to Rotherham this weekend where Oxford will be going in on back-to-back wins. Having just beaten MK, they will see the Millers as there for the taking. This will be season-defining for Oxford, with many teams around them playing each other, there is a chance to move up places and be in the mix come the final day. A loss, however, will most likely see their season over. I believe, as Rotherham have something to fight for, albeit seemingly on their last legs, they may cancel each other out.
If they are to be in the mix, then what better team to play than a Doncaster side almost definitely relegated by then. With their goal difference slightly higher than Wycombe and Sunderland and almost identical to Plymouth and Wednesday, Oxford receiving six points in the final two games means they will be on what I presumed Wycombe will end up on, but with a higher goal difference and I believe grabs them sixth. Anything less, however, renders them outside by an extremely small margin. I believe they will win on the final day, but not quite get the win against Rotherham and grab four points, joining Plymouth on 79 but slightly beating them on goal difference.
FINAL POSITION PREDICTION: 7th
Therefore, if what I have predicted comes to fruition the plays-offs then Wycombe will host Rotherham on Thursday 5th May in the first leg of their semi-final whilst Sunderland will Host Sheffield Wednesday the following evening.