With more than half the season having passed, the Football League is starting to get to the nitty-gritty of the season. League tables have taken shape and we can start to see the teams that will be battling for either promotion or survival. Here are Exepose’s predictions for the nine teams going up and the nine teams going down.
Northampton Town: Just two seasons ago, Northampton were only three points from falling out of the Football League, but under the guidance of manager Chris Wilder, the Cobblers now sit top of the tree in League Two. Veteran striker Marc Richards has led from the front with 15 goals this term and the rest of the team has followed, with Northampton scoring the most goals in the league. With financial troubles behind them and the experienced Wilder at the helm, Northampton have to be favourites to go up as champions.
Plymouth Argyle: The Argyle have built upon the play-off chase of last season and currently sit second in the league playing attractive football and utilising the products of their impressive youth academy. Under the leadership of the impressive young manager Derek Adams, Plymouth look well on their way to securing League One football next term.
Oxford United: Michael Appleton maybe mostly remembered for his ill-fated spells at Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn, all within the space of a year however, has started to rebuild his career at Oxford. Developing his side with a good blend of experienced lower league players and youngsters released from Premier League teams, the U’s are currently in 3rd, but could certainly challenge for the title. Kemar Roofe led the charge as the Yellows knocked Swansea in the FA Cup and he is certainly one to watch over the next few seasons.
York City: Since losing the play-off semi-final two seasons ago, City have tumbled down the table. Key players from that promotion push have moved on, leaving the club with an inexperienced and lean squad. Former Dundee United manager Jamie McNamara has taken charge, but York have only won three games all season. The warning signs from last season haven’t been heeded and they now look set to drop out of the Football League once again.
Yeovil: The Glovers are a prime example of a team getting promoted when the club wasn’t ready. Jumping out of League One and into the deep-end of the Championship, proved too much for Exeter’s local rivals and two swift and merciless relegations looks set to become a hat-trick. What started as a great underdog story may very well end with the National League for Yeovil. A very unhappy ending.
Newport County: You know you are in trouble when the manager you bring in to save the club from relegation is doing such a good job that he gets pinched by another club. Yes, John Sheridan took over following the sacking of Terry Butcher, guiding the club away from the bottom of the table, only to leave to take charge of Oldham. With only five wins this season, with four of those under Sheridan, Newport are in trouble and could very well slip back down the table.
Gillingham: The Gills are battling with Burton for top spot in League One, with Justin Edinburgh’s men playing great attacking football, having already scored 55 goals. Midfielder Bradley Dack has impressed and could be a Premier League player in the making, while young forwards Luke Norris and Rory Donnelly certainly have the goals needed to send Gillingham up to the Championship for the first time since a certain Tony Pulis was in charge.
Burton Albion: First it was Gary Rowett, then Hasselbaink and now it’s Nigel Clough that is leading this Burton side to great things. Burton don’t score too many, but they certainly don’t concede many either. Only Spurs, Hull and Middlesbrough have conceded less goals than the current League Two champions. The Brewers have risen majestically through the leagues and with the experienced Clough back in charge there is seemingly no reason that Burton shouldn’t be in the Championship next season.
Walsall: Sean O’Driscoll’s side have arguably the best striker in the league in Tom Bradshaw and with his goals, Walsall have every chance of going up. Even with long-serving manager Dean Smith departing to take over at Brentford, Walsall have stayed true to their style and their attacking philosophy has seen them only lose four games this season.
Colchester United: 65 goals. 65 goals have gone into the Colchester net already this season and we’re only just half way through. The U’s have failed to win a game since November and are favourites to go down, seven points away from safety.
Crewe Alexandra: Crewe have been renowned and revered for their impressive youth academy, producing players that have gone on to play in the Premier League, such as Ashely Westwood and Nick Powell. However, their first team has been in decline since their promotion to League One in 2012. Now Crewe are stuck at the bottom with goals having been hard to come by this term.
Oldham Athletic: Oldham have only won three games all season and having already sacked two managers are struggling for confidence and goals. John Sheridan might give them some hope, however, without a win since early November, it may be too little too late to save the club from dropping into the bottom tier of the football league for the first time since 1971.
Middlesbrough: Having been out of the top flight for seven years, Aitor Karanka’s Boro may very well be playing Premier League football next season. Building on the promotion charge of last year, Karanka has assembled a resilient team that contains the Premier League experience of the likes of Stewart Downing, David Nugent and Johnathan Woodgate. Playing flair-filled attacking football, they’re definite favourites for the title.
Hull City: Many were surprised to see Steve Bruce’s Hull slip back into the Championship following a number of good seasons in the top flight. However, Hull have held on to many of their key players and Abel Hernandez is scoring for fun as they battle to get back up.
Brighton & Hove Albion: 21 games unbeaten at the start of the season, Brighton have been the surprise package in the Championship. After fighting off relegation last season, Brighton have come through a period of bad form and their promotion push is back on track. Chris Hughton’s experience in this league is invaluable and the quality of the recruitment has improved dramatically. Tomer Hemed, Berem Kayal and Bobby Zamora have enhanced the side, with youth products Lewis Dunk and Solly March impressing as well.
Bolton Wanderers: Poor Bolton Wanderers. Their current financial position brings back dark memories of Portsmouth and Southampton and there doesn’t seem to be much hope of any resolution soon. Neil Lennon is struggling to keep his side together and is in danger in losing key men in January. Certainly no hope in staying up this season, and they will do well to stop falling next season. A real mess.
Charlton Athletic: Charlton is an example of the FA’s ownership test completely failing. Roland Duchatelet bought the club in January 2014 and since then the club has had six different managers, with Jose Riga now returning for his second spell. Key players have been replaced with cheaper alternatives and it shows in their current position. Youth products Jordan Cousins and Ademola Lookman are ones for the future, however that will be little comfort for Charlton fans as they face the drop back into League One.
Rotherham United: Steve Evans infamously wore a sombrero, shorts and sandals to the final game of last season as Rotherham’s safety was secured. Fast forward seven months and Evans has departed and Rotherham are still in trouble. Although currently out of the relegation zone, the Millers have lost 17 games this season, the most in the league. A squad full of mercenaries, many of whom have been relegated before means the squad lacks the quality and the heart to escape relegation.