League One promotion race is wide open... A look at the contenders’ form, fixtures and what each manager is saying

PUBLISHED: 16:59 20 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:53 21 February 2020

Paul Lambert's Ipswich Town, Paul Warne's Rotherham United (top left), Darren Ferguson's Peterborough (bottom left), Phil Parkinson's Sunderland (top right) and Mark Robins' Coventry (bottom right) are all in promotion contention. Picture: ARCHANT/PA

Paul Lambert's Ipswich Town, Paul Warne's Rotherham United (top left), Darren Ferguson's Peterborough (bottom left), Phil Parkinson's Sunderland (top right) and Mark Robins' Coventry (bottom right) are all in promotion contention. Picture: ARCHANT/PA

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The League One promotion race is beginning to hot up with 11 teams all looking to still be in the mix as we head for the final run-un. STUART WATSON takes a look at the contenders’ recent form, fixtures ahead and what each manager has been saying.

ROTHERHAM UNITED

League form: DWWWL WWWWW (25pts)

League games left: 13 (5 home, 8 away)

Games left v top (8) teams: 5

Games left v middle (7) teams: 3

Games left v bottom (8) teams: 5

The Millers surged to the top of the table during a run of eight league wins in nine (the only dropped points a narrow defeat at Peterborough when some key men were missing).

They drew 2-2 at home to lowly AFC Wimbledon last weekend after conceding a last minute penalty. Boss Paul Warne said: "On another day, we might have romped away with it and it might have been four or 5-1, but it was not to be. In fairness to Wimbledon, they stuck to their task and made it really difficult for us. They came to frustrate us, I understand that.

"It's a quiet dressing room but I was pleased with our performance. You never know, at the end of the season, this just might turn out to be the point that gets us promoted.

"We played as well as we could but we just didn't take our chances. It's going to go down to the wire and there are going to be setbacks.​

"There are going to be twists and turns. It was nice thinking if we would have won then everything would still be in our hands."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Accrington (a) M

Tues Feb 25: Coventry (a) T

Sat Feb 29: MK Dons (h) B

Sat Mar 7: Rochdale (a) B

Sat Mar 14: Southend (h) B

Sat Mar 21: Fleetwood (a) T

Sun Mar 29: Gillingham (h) M

Sat Apr 4: Wycombe (a) T

Fri Apr 10: Portsmouth (h) T

Mon Apr 13: Tranmere (a) B

Sat Apr 18: Doncaster (a) M

Sat Apr 25: Bolton (a) B

Sun May 3: Sunderland (h) T

*T = Top eight team, M = Middle seven team, B = Bottom eight team*

- - - - -

COVENTRY CITY

League form: WWWWD WDWWW (26pts)

League games left: 14 (7 home, 7 away)

Games left v top teams: 5

Games left v middle teams: 5

Games left v bottom teams: 4

The Sky Blues have only lost three league games all season - Rotherham (4-0 away in October), Tranmere (1-0 at home in October) and Shrewsbury (2-1 away in December). Their only loss in the last 14 matches across all competitions is a penalty shootout defeat at Championship club Birmingham in an FA Cup replay.

Successive games against Rotherham, Sunderland and Ipswich will really put their credentials to the test.

Speaking after Saturday's 2-0 win at Southend, boss Mark Robins said: "They have been brilliant but I don't want people to get too carried away because if they do they won't be with me too long. I have just spoken to them in there and the result is fantastic but they have to keep doing the things they are doing but do not get carried away. Any sign of that and they'll get their backsides kicked.

"The league position doesn't do anything for anyone at this stage of the season. There's still loads of football to be played and we have yet to play teams like Rotherham and Sunderland and the teams that have got to come to us are all in that top end of the table.

"We know we have got tough games and it just promises to be an exciting period, which is brilliant for us."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Rochdale (a) B

Tues Feb 25: Rotherham (h) T

Sun Mar 1: Sunderland (h) T

Sat Mar 7: Ipswich (a) T

Sat Mar 14: Shrewsbury (h) B

Sat Mar 21: Lincoln (a) M

Tues Mar 24: Wycombe (h) T

Sat Mar 28: Accrington (a) M

Sat Apr 4: Peterborough (h) T

Fri Apr 10: Gillingham (a) M

Mon Apr 13: Oxford (h) M

Sat Apr 18: Blackpool (a) B

Sat Apr 25: Burton (h) M

Sun May 3: AFC Wimbledon (a) B

- - - - -

WYCOMBE WANDERERS

League form: WLWLW LWLDL (13pts)

League games left: 12 (5 home, 7 away)

Games left v top teams: 2

Games left v middle teams: 6

Games left v bottom teams: 4

The Chairboys started the season among the relegation favourites, but have spent much of the campaign in the top two. One point from five games over the festive period looked like it would be the start of the slide for the underdogs, but the Buckinghamshire side are refusing to go away quietly. The last four defeats have all been followed by victories.

Speaking after Saturday's 2-0 win at Bolton, manager Gareth Ainsowrth said: "It's brilliant to see Wycombe Wanderers among the big boys. With 12 games to go we are excited to see what we can do.

"There will be plenty of twists and turns yet. But if we win and lose every game alternately between now and the end of the season we will end up in the play-offs. That will be an unbelievable achievement.

"The remit has never ever been to get into the Championship. It has never even been to get into the play-offs or the top half. The remit has been to improve on last season.

"We have done that. I have been informed this is our highest points tally at this stage of the season for 18 years. It is a proud moment and hopefully we can kick on from here."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Tranmere (h) B

Sat Feb 29: Doncaster (a) M

Sat Mar 14: Burton (a) M

Sat Mar 21: Oxford (h) M

Tues Mar 24: Coventry (a) T

Sat Mar 28: Shrewsbury (a) B

Sat Apr 4: Rotherham (h) T

Fri Apr 10: Southend (a) B

Mon Apr 13: AFC Wimbledon (h) B

Sat Apr 18: Lincoln (a) M

Sat Apr 25: Gillingham (h) M

Sun May 3: Accrington (a) M

- - - - -

PETERBOROUGH UNITED

League form: LWWWW WWLDL (19pts)

League games left: 11 (6 home, 5 away)

Games left v top teams: 3

Games left v middle teams: 2

Games left v bottom teams: 6

In Ivan Toney, Siriki Dembele, Sammie Szmodics and Mo Eisa, Posh have the most firepower for the promotion fight. During a recent six-game winning streak, they bagged an incredible 20 goals as the likes of Wycombe, Ipswich and Oxford were swept aside. On paper, their run-in looks kind with only three of their promotion rivals left to play.

A prolonged sticky spell between the start of December and middle of January (one win in 10 all competitions) showed they do have weaknesses though. And Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Fleetwood was a major setback given they've played more games than anyone else.

Manager Darren Ferguson said: "We needed to win at Fleetwood. That would have put us in a great position for the final 11 games and made it much harder for other teams to get past us.

"I fancied the teams around us would win their games and most of them did so it was disappointing to perform the way we did. It was a winnable game so it was a bad day for us.

"Obviously teams can overtake us when playing their games in hand, but we can't affect those matches. All we can do is make sure we get back to winning ways at Burton.

"We have no more scope for error as far as automatic promotion is concerned, but we have just shown we are capable of a long winning run so we will try and win as many games as we can and see where it takes us."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 29: Burton (a) M

Sat Mar 7: Portsmouth (h) T

Sat Mar 14: Bolton (a) B

Sat Mar 21: Bristol Rovers (h) M

Sun Mar 29: Blackpool (h) B

Sat Apr 4: Coventry (a) T

Fri Apr 10: MK Dons (h) B

Mon Apr 13: Sunderland (a) T

Sat Apr 18: Shrewsbury (h) B

Sat Apr 25: Rochdale (a) B

Sun May 3: Tranmere (h) B

- - - - -

AFC SUNDERLAND

League form: WWWLW DWWWD (23pts)

League games left: 13 (6 home, 7 away)

Games left v top teams: 4

Games left v middle teams: 5

Games left v bottom teams: 4

Phil Parkinson, who had success in League One with Bolton, Bradford and Colchester, is winning over the sceptical Black Cats fans.

Jack Ross' replacement has now overseen a run of just one defeat in 13 (including eight wins in their last 11) to catapult his team from the bottom half into the play-off places. The Wearside club responded really well to a below-par display in the 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth by winning three on the spin - against Ipswich, Rochdale and Oxford - and must now be viewed as serious automatic promotion contenders.

Injuries at the back are mounting up though with January signing Bailey Wright has been ruled out for the season.

"We're in the mix now," said Parkinson. "When you look at it, teams have fluctuated. Like Ipswich, they had an incredible start and dropped off. Peterborough are now on a fantastic run. It's all about who can sustain those good runs the longest.

"We're on a decent one ourselves and we've got to concentrate on sustaining that. There's a lot of teams below the play-off line still thinking 'we've got a real chance of getting in', so it's really competitive, which is great. Every game has got something on it.

"This year is competitive. There's a lot of decent sides. Like I've always said since coming here, you've got no given right to win games or to get promoted. You've got to earn it every step of the way.

"You've got to have a strong mentality within the club to get promotion. I don't think it's got harder. Even when I was a player I remember the qualities required to get promotion were resilience, toughness, keeping going, people playing with injuries, just getting on with things and rolling the sleeves up and just pushing yourselves each and every game. There is no let-up."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Bristol Rovers (h) M

Tues Feb 25: Fleetwood (h) T

Sun Mar 1: Coventry (a) T

Sat Mar 7: Gillingham (h) M

Tues Mar 10: Bristol Rovers (a) M

Sat Mar 14: Blackpool (a) B

Sat Mar 28: Southend (a) B

Sat Apr 4: Shrewsbury (h) B

Fri Apr 10: AFC Wimbledon (a) B

Mon Apr 13: Peterborough (h) T

Sat Apr 18: Burton (a) M

Sat Apr 25: Accrington (h) M

Sun May 3: Rotherham (a) T

- - - - -

PORTSMOUTH

League form: WLWWW WWDLW (22pts)

League games left: 14 (7 home, 7 away)

Games left v top teams: 5

Games left v middle teams: 5

Games left v bottom teams: 4

The Pompey juggernaut is gathering pace - incredibly they've won 11 of their last 12 games - but will it run out of steam?

Tuesday night's dramatic 3-2 victory against Exeter in the EFL Trophy means Kenny Jackett's men will once again be heading to Wembley to defend their title. The South Coast club are still in the FA Cup too, with a fifth round home tie against Arsenal coming up at the start of March. That means they are guaranteed to play 60 games this season.

With at least 16 fixtures to fulfil within 10 weeks, they have five midweek games to come (compared to Ipswich's one), potentially six if they decide to postpone the trip to Oxford due to international call-ups, maybe even seven if a replay is needed against Arsenal.

Having named a full-strength side against the Grecians in midweek, Jackett said: "I am never sure with players - are they tired or can they go again? Generally when they are winning they can go again. You get more tired when you lose."

The Pompey boss added: "You do almost need two points a game. Out of those (in contention) there will be enough who do. It doesn't seem (the final points tally) will be as high as last season. The big teams do put the runs in at the end."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Fleetwood (a) T

Tues Feb 25: MK Dons (h) B

Fri Feb 28: Rochdale (h) B

Mon Mar 2: Arsenal (h) - FA CUP

Sat Mar 7: Peterborough (a) T

Tues Mar 10: Fleetwood (h) T

Sat Mar 14: Accrington (h) M

Tues Mar 17: Doncaster (h) M

Sat Mar 21: Ipswich (a) T

Sat Mar 28: Oxford (a) M

Fri Apr 10: Rotherham (a) T

Mon Apr 13: Blackpool (h) B

Sat Apr 18: Southend (a) B

Sun May 3: Burton (a) M

TBC: Bristol Rovers (h) M

- - - - -

IPSWICH TOWN

League form: WDLLL WWDWD (21pts)

League games left: 12 (8 home, 4 away)

Games left v top teams: 3

Games left v middle teams: 3

Games left v bottom teams: 6

A season of peaks and troughs. First there was that flying start, then the 12-game winless run, then an encouraging start to 2020, then the reality check of successive defeats to Rotherham, Peterborough and Sunderland (followed by a goalless draw at AFC Wimbledon).

Last weekend's 4-1 victory against Burton was impressive. Now we wait and see if Town can back it up and go on another decent run.

No-one in the promotion mix has more games at home. Six of their final seven fixtures are against teams currently placed 17th or lower.

"We're only five points off first place - it's incredible how tight it is," said Paul Lambert. "We've got eight home games now. We're well in the mix that's for sure.

"Until the day the world ends this club is always going to have pressure on it because of what happened in the past. You have to live up to it. You have to be ready for what's coming."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Oxford (h) M

Sat Feb 29: Blackpool (a) B

Tues Mar 3: Fleetwood (h) T

Sat Mar 7: Coventry (h) T

Sat Mar 14: Bristol Rovers (a) M

Sat Mar 21: Portsmouth (h) T

Sat Apr 4: Southend (h) B

Fri Apr 10: Bolton (h) B

Mon Apr 13: Shrewsbury (a) B

Sat Apr 18: Rochdale (h) B

Sat Apr 25: Doncaster (a) M

Sun May 3: MK Dons (h) B

- - - - -

FLEETWOOD UNITED

League form: WWWWD DDLDD (17pts)

League games left: 14 (6 home, 8 away)

Games left v top teams: 5

Games left v middle teams: 4

Games left v bottom teams: 5

Joey Barton has been doing his best to crank up the pressure on the likes of Ipswich and Sunderland throughout the campaign. Expect him to engage in more mind games as the promotion race hosts up.

The Cod Army drew a lot of games between the middle of December and end of January, but have got themselves right back in the mix with four straight wins - including last weekend's big 2-1 triumph against Peterborough.

Speaking ahead of massive clashes with Portsmouth and Sunderland, Barton - whose team end the campaign with a blank weekend due to Bury's expulsion - said: "We need every person we possibly can to get behind this team because they are an incredible bunch of lads.

"I think with a little bit of time and development space they could become as exciting a team as has been witnessed by Fleetwood maybe since the Micky Mellon/Jamie Vardy era. That's what we want to give them - great football, winning football to be proud of on a national scale.

"But nothing is given out in February and we have to keep that one-game-at-a-time mindset."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Portsmouth (h) T

Tues Feb 25: Sunderland (a) T

Sat Feb 29: Tranmere (a) B

Tues Mar 3: Ipswich (a) T

Sat Mar 7: Blackpool (h) B

Tues Mar 10: Portsmouth (a) T

Sat Mar 14: Gillingham (a) M

Sat Mar 21: Rotherham (h) T

Sat Mar 28: Bolton (h) B

Sat Apr 4: MK Dons (a) B

Fri Apr 10: Accrington (a) M

Mon Apr 13: Lincoln (h) M

Sat Apr 18: Oxford (a) M

Sat Apr 25: Southend (h) B

- - - - -

GILLINGHAM

League form: WWWDW DDDDW (20pts)

League games left: 12 (six home, six away)

Games left v top teams: 5

Games left v middle teams: 3

Games left v bottom teams: 4

Remarkably, Gillingham haven't lost a league game since November 23 (W7 D7).

Their current position of 10th is the highest they've been all season. If they are to gate crash the promotion party then games against Sunderland and Fleetwood next month look vital.

Jordan Roberts, on loan from Ipswich, has made a big impact.

Speaking after the recent 2-1 home win against 10-man Doncaster, boss Steve Evans said: "I'm just so proud. There were players running on empty to get us a good win. Doncaster are a good side with good players, and a good manager, so we will take the win but we will need to be a lot better on Tuesday for sure."

A 1-0 win at Southend followed. Evans said: "We were really poor in the first half and really disjointed. I thought we were being a bit disrespectful towards Southend because of where they are in the league. We had a few harsh words when there was a break and from there on in we dominated proceedings."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Lincoln (a) M

Sat Feb 29: AFC Wimbledon (h) B

Sat Mar 7: Sunderland (a) T

Sat Mar 14: Fleetwood (h) T

Sat Mar 21: MK Dons (a) B

Sun Mar 29: Rotherham (a) T

Sat Apr 4: Accrington (h) M

Fri Apr 10: Coventry (h) T

Tues Apr 14: Bolton (a) B

Sat Apr 18: Tranmere (h) B

Sat Apr 25: Wycombe (a) T

Sun May 3: Bristol Rovers (h) M

- - - - -

OXFORD UNITED

League form: WLDLW DDLLW (12pts)

League games left: 13 (7 home, 6 away)

Games left v top teams: 5

Games left v middle teams: 2

Games left v bottom teams: 6

A recent nine-game winless streak in all competitions was ended in style on Tuesday night with a 5-0 dismantling of AFC Wimbledon.

Key duo Shandon Baptiste and Tarique Fosu-Henry departed for Charlton on January deadline day, but mid-season recruits Nathan Holland (West Ham ,loan) and Marcus Browne (Middlesbrough, loan) are making an impact.

Saturday's game at Portman Road could have a big bearing in shaping their promotion credentials.

Boss Karl Robinson said: "I got asked on Saturday (after a 1-0 loss at Sunderland) about how we find the spring in our step. I said to them on Monday 'play more than ever'. If we lose playing this way I'm here to take the blame and be the shield for their style. We have to be brave to play the way we want.

"There is so much more football to play this season. I took stock at the weekend and thought to myself that this club needs to kick on now. I need more pressure on me to deliver. There was pressure in those first few months but this is honestly the best I have felt. I feel home. I don't know why that is.

"Maybe it's the fans: the criticism is fair but I also think they understand when I stick up for my players. I love this group and will always stick up for them because I need to get them to perform."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Ipswich (a) T

Tues Feb 25: Accrington (h) M

Sat Feb 29: Southend (h) B

Sat Mar 7: Shrewsbury (a) B

Sat Mar 14: MK Dons (h) B

Sat Mar 21: Wycombe (a) T

Sat Mar 28: Portsmouth (h) T

Sat Apr 4: Rochdale (a) B

Fri Apr 10: Bristol Rovers (h) M

Mon Apr 13: Coventry (a) T

Sat Apr 18: Fleetwood (h) T

Sat Apr 25: Tranmere (a) B

Sun May 3: Bolton (h) B

- - - - -

DONCASTER ROVERS

League form: LWDWL WDLWW (17pts)

League games left: 13 (4 home, 9 away)

Games left v top teams: 4

Games left v middle teams: 3

Games left v bottom teams: 6

Doncaster's form has been patchy all season. They've beaten Fleetwood, Rotherham, Peterborough (twice) and Oxford along the way, but rarely been able to built up any sort of momentum. Recent form shows that: Beat Southend then lose to Fleetwood, beat Tranmere then draw with Rochdale, beat Bolton then lose to Gillingham.

Manager Darren Moore is getting a reputation as a tinkerman. The former Baggies boss is now hoping that he really bed in January signings Devante Cole, Fejiri Okenabirhie, Jacob Ramsey and Jason Lokilo following the end of a hectic period of fixtures.

Speaking last month, Moore said: "The team got into the play-offs last year - we've lost seven or eight players from that team. There are two players remaining on the pitch from that team. Is this a rebuilding process? Absolutely, 100 per cent. Any team that loses three or four players is rebuilding. It's a new team, that is the facts."

"Have we come a long way? Absolutely, with the players we've got. Are the young players in the team learning immensely? Absolutely, without a doubt. Has the team we've got improved? Yes. Have the players from the loan clubs improved? Yes.

"There's a continuation and building here that in terms of where we were and where we are, has come on huge strides. But we don't want to stand still, we need to keep moving."

Fixtures:

Sat Feb 22: Shrewsbury (a) B

Sat Feb 29: Wycombe (h) T

Sat Mar 7: MK Dons (a) B

Sat Mar 14: AFC Wimbledon (h) B

Tues Mar 17: Portsmouth (a) T

Sat Mar 21: Accrington (a) M

Tues Mar 24: Bolton (a) B

Sat Mar 28: Burton (a) M

Sat Apr 4: Tranmere (h) B

Fri Apr 10: Lincoln (a) M

Sat Apr 18: Rotherham (a) T

Sat Apr 25: Ipswich (h) T

Sun May 3: Blackpool (a) B

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