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With only around 15 games remaining of the season, we are now entering what is known as the business end of the season, where time begins to run out and every game becomes a cup final. With another round of League One fixtures to be played on Tuesday 13th February at 7.45pm, Football League Scout picks out and previews the 5 fixtures to look out for, with all having severe implications at both ends of the table.
Charlton vs Bradford
Probably the stand-out fixture is the game between Charlton Athletic and Bradford City, two of the divisions biggest sides. Charlton currently lay in 7th place, just 2 points outside of the playoffs. They also have 2 games in hand on the team positioned just above them in 6th place, having played 30 games compared to 32. That team just above them? Bradford City, who are winless in their last 7 games. This dismal run of form for Bradford means that on one hand it could be the best time for Charlton to face the Bantams, however on the other hand, with Simon Grayson appointed as the new Bradford manager just yesterday, an immediate impact could be made. Victory for Charlton will see them leapfrog the Bantams into the play-off positions, whilst having two games in hand, whereas Bradford could open up a 5 point lead over the Addicks with victory. Throw in the small matter of this being Simon Grayson’s first game in charge of Bradford, this one looks to be a cracker.
Portsmouth vs Blackburn Rovers
Another stand out fixture at the top of the table is Portsmouth at home to Blackburn Rovers. This fixture epitomises how the mighty have fallen, as go back just 10 years and this fixture was a solid Premier League fixture. Now, Portsmouth sit just 3 points below Bradford in the table in 8th place, also with a game in hand on the Bantams, so will be keeping one eye on the outcome of the game at The Valley. Should Portsmouth beat Blackburn, they will put themselves right up in the mix of the play-offs, and prove a few doubters wrong in the process. Pompey ended a dip in form at the weekend by coming from behind and scoring two late goals to beat MK Dons, and the momentum from that heroic victory will be carried over. Blackburn on the other hand have suffered a slight dip in form, picking up just 4 points from their last 4 games, in which run they dropped points to Oldham, Plymouth and Northampton. They still remain firmly in the promotion mix, sitting in third place just three points off the top of the table, but the sooner they arrested this poor run and started winning games frequently, the better. Again, two of the biggest sides in the league go head to head, so expect Fratton Park to be packed to the rafters.
Peterborough vs Scunthorpe
Another game featuring members of the promotion-chasing pack going head to head is 9th placed Peterborough United at home to 4th place Scunthorpe. Both of these sides have picked up just one win in their last five games, and with sides like Rotherham and Plymouth hitting form and breathing down their necks, both Peterborough and Scunthorpe will see this as a must win game. A Peterborough victory could see them close the gap on the play-offs to 4 points, with 2 games in hand, however defeat for Peterborough could see them fall 8 points below the play-offs depending on other results. Likewise victory for Scunthorpe could cement their position with the play-offs, whereas defeat could see their lead over 7th place cut to just 4 points. Peterborough manager Grant McCann has been heavily linked to the vacant Barnsley job in the week, so he will be desperate to prove he is a Championship standard manager by guiding The Posh to the play-offs, starting here with a victory over one of the nearest rivals.
At 10pm on Tuesday night, the top of the League One table could look a whole lot different, and the race for the play-offs looks set to go down to the wire.
Another battle which looks set to continue until the last day of the season is the relegation battle, with Tuesday’s fixtures containing a huge game in the battle for survival: 21st place Oldham Athletic hosting 22nd place MK Dons.
Oldham vs MK Dons
Oldham went away and gained a heroic point at high-flying Blackburn at the weekend, and having led the Rovers 2-0 at half time, the Latics probably should have taken all three points. This inability to hold on to a lead is shared by the Dons, who threw away a 1-0 lead over Portmsouth to lose 2-1 with just 6 minutes to go. This snapshot provides evidence as to why these two teams feature where they do in the league. With Blackpool, Fleetwood and Wimbledon in dismal form and getting further dragged into trouble, there is a chance for these sides to pull away from trouble. When Richie Wellens first took over, Oldham proved that they can put a run of results together, so they are the more likely of the two to survive. MK Dons have turned to Dan Miccichie as their new manager, and he hasn’t had the instant impact the Dons would have hoped just yet, so will desperate to turn things around. A huge game. Expect it be scrappy. Expect it to be a slog, but one with huge implications in the relegation battle.
Bury vs Southend
Finally, the last stand out fixture comes from Bury, who host Southend. Since taking over the Shakers, Ryan Lowe has but together a bit of a string of results, going four games unbeaten. Bury do still remain 9 points from safety, with many people saying they have left their run too late, but, they are starting to get things going in the right direction, and stranger things have happened. Chris Powell has had a similar impact at Southend, winning the last three games and turning around the clubs fortunes, as the Shrimpers were starting to get dragged into a relegation battle. With a draw against Bradford on Saturday, and Blackburn to come next week, Bury will see Southend as a must win game. Southend find themselves in an odd position, just 7 points clear of safety, so 3 successive defeats will see them right back into trouble, but also only 9 points off the playoffs, so 3 successive wins will put them right in the mix, so they hard work has only just begun for Chris Powell.
Only in League One is their such fine margins. With excitement like this provided by the third tier, why bother tuning into the riches of the Champions League tie between Juventus and Tottenham on Tuesday night?