Big winners, big losers and what happens now - the state of play as League One heads towards early finish
PUBLISHED: 06:00 23 May 2020 | UPDATED: 07:19 23 May 2020
League One looks to be heading towards an early finish due to the coronavirus crisis. ANDY WARREN looks at how that leaves things in football’s third tier.
What happens now?
The events of this week have seen us edge closer to the end of the League One season and it’s increasingly likely that, for 19 of the sides in the division, they will not kick another ball in 2019/20.
The EFL have made their feelings clear. They want to complete the campaign as planned, when it’s safe to do so, but, failing that, the framework is in place for the campaign to be brought to a conclusion.
That would see the top two promoted, the bottom three relegated and the sides placed third to sixth contest the play-offs on the pitch. Those final placings here would be decided using a straight points-per-game formula.
Two votes are coming next week, though the dates of them are not certain. The first would ask whether or not to accept the EFL’s recommended framework in the event of the season not being completed and, if this is voted for, it will become EFL law covering not just this season, but future seasons as well.
All 71 EFL clubs will be polled on this issue, with a 51% majority needed for it to pass. The motion would also need a majority of at least 13 of the 24 Championship teams, given the second tier holds a greater weighting.
If that is passed, the second vote will then be whether or not to resume or cancel the season and revert to the framework. That vote would be held divisionally, meaning 12 League One teams would need to vote in order for it to be cancelled.
League Two clubs appear to be united in accepting that framework while the Championship largely want to resume, with League One the contentious issue.
But, in all likelihood, the necessary majority of 12 would be achieved and the season cancelled. It’s entirely possible that as many as 19 clubs would vote for the campaign to be brought to a conclusion now, rather than returning to play.
It’s conceivable the entire bottom half, excluding Tranmere who are fighting to survive, could opt to cancel, as could many of the sides on the fringes of the play-offs and even top two Coventry and Rotherham.
The fate of the season could be decided next week but, even if a decision is made, that’s not likely to be the end of the issue.
If the season was ended now, the top two would remain as they currently stand, meaning Coventry would win the title and Rotherham join them in the Championship as the second automatically promoted side.
We’ve heard little from Coventry during this period but, given they’ve lost just three games all season, there is little resistance to them winning the title from other clubs.
Fleetwood manager Joey Barton said: “They’d lost three all season. They were probably going to get the automatics, so I don’t think anyone has got a gripe with Coventry going up.”
In the play-offs
Barton’s Fleetwood will be entering a four-team play-off competition in a bid to earn Championship football alongside Wycombe, Oxford and Portsmouth.
Wanderers are the big winners here, jumping up from eighth to third using the points-per-game formula, but manager Gareth Ainsworth still believes his side could secure automatic promotion.
“We’ve been in the top two more than any other club this season - I think 20 weeks total that Wycombe have been in the top two,” he said.
“From a competitive point of view, give me the 10 games we have remaining, because I believe we’ll finish at least in the play-offs, if not an automatic. But it has to be safe.”
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Fleetwood, Oxford and Portsmouth have all previously expressed a desire to continue playing but it remains to be seen whether that remains their stance given cancelling the season now would see them get a crack at promotion through the play-offs.
If Wycombe are the big winners from cancelling the season, Peterborough are certainly the big losers, given they drop out of the play-off places using the points-per-game formula.
Posh owner Darragh MacAnthony has been vocal on the issue, admitting he would consider legal action, and was the man behind calls for an expanded play-off competition in order to include clubs with a realistic shot at promotion. Speaking on his podcast on Friday night he admitted ‘the fat lady is clearing her throat’ when it comes to ending the League One season, while pointing out the potential future financial ramifications should the league not resume play.
Sunderland would also miss out on a play-off place, with potential financial implications there given their Premier League parachute payments end this summer with them left in the third tier for a third successive season.
The Blues have consistently stated their desire to play out the remaining games of the season, with owner Marcus Evans writing to EFL chairman Rick Parry recently to make his feelings clear.
Any lingering hopes of breaking into an expanded play-off tournament appear to have been dashed this week meaning it’s now almost certain Ipswich will be playing League One football again next season, Whenever that may be.
Under points-per-game, Ipswich drop to 11th in the table below Gillingham, which would be the club’s lowest finish since 1953.
Aside from the season being voided, there was little prospect of Southend and Bolton being saved from relegation. But the situation at Tranmere Rovers is a different story.
The Merseyside club sit three points shy of safety but have a game in hand on AFC Wimbledon immediately above them and were on a three-game winning streak at the time of football’s suspension. Points-per-game would see them relegated, though.
Understandably they’re not happy, with vice-chair Nicola Palios insisting it was wrong that their side didn’t have a chance to defend their place in League One while four League Two clubs would have an opportunity to take it through their play-offs.