Deep breath. This weekend marks the end of the 2008/09 Football League season, and there is still plenty to play for. As you may or may not be aware, the Championship plays its final round of matches tomorrow, while League One and League Two finish up today and, as one might expect, there are a fair few matches that will have a bearing on promotion and relegation issues. With play-off places also still being fought for with a tenacity that belies that fact that three of the four teams that get that little extension on the end of their season will stay in the division that they are in for next season, there is plenty of excitement going into the final round of matches of the season.
The Championship – Automatic Promotion: Congratulations, of course, to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who are already promoted as champions. The second automatic promotion place, however, is still very much up for grabs and the fixture list has thrown up two intriguing matches for the last day of the season. Second placed Birmingham City will be promoted if they win tomorrow, but the fixture list is making them do it in the hardest way possible, with an away match at fourth placed Reading. If Birmingam fail to win, then Sheffield United will be promoted if they win away to Crystal Palace, who are, of course, managed by former Blades manager and self-confessed fan Neil Warnock. Reading, with a vastly superior goal difference to either of the sides above them, will go up if they beat Birmingham and Sheffield United fail to beat Crystal Palace.
The Championship – The Play-Offs: The two losers from Birmingham City, Sheffield United and Reading will go into the play-offs, along with two from Cardiff City, Burnley or Preston North End. Cardiff will definitely join them if they beat Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough but, if they fail to win, they will miss out if Burnley beat Bristol City and Preston beat Queens Park Rangers, neither of whom have anything to play for. Should Cardiff win, Burnley need a better result from their match than Preston get in theirs. Simple.
The Championship – Relegation: Arrivederci to Charlton Athletic and Southampton, who have both already relegated and, one fears, may not be making an immediate return to the top two divisions. The third relegation place is still up for grabs, though results over the last couple of weeks have meant that it is between two sides to avoid the drop. Norwich City are away to already-relegated Charlton and have to win – anything less than this and what happens elsewhere will be irrelevant. Should they win, however, they will survive if Barnsley lose away to Plymouth Argyle. If Barnsley get a result – any result – Norwich will go down anyway.
League One – Automatic Promotion: Leicester City were only in purgatory for one season, and they have been joined in The Championship by Peterborough United, who confirmed their second successive promotion last week. Their fortunes have, perhaps unsurprisingly, improved drastically since Barry Fry moved upstairs and Darren Ferguson took over as manager.
League One – The Play-Offs: Has there ever been an unlovelier bunch of teams playing for promotion? Franchise, Millwall and Leeds United in the play-offs and the only question now is who will play who. Scunthorpe, sixth place, need a draw against seventh placed Tranmere Rovers to guarantee joining them. Should they lose, however, Tranmere will leapfrog over them and claim the last play-off place.
League One – Relegation: Cheltenham Town and Hereford United are already relegated. That’s the simple bit over with. It’s then two from Brighton & Hove Albion, Carlisle United and Crewe Alexandra to join them. Crewe need to beat Leicester by two or three clear goals (at least) to have any chance of avoiding the drop. Carlisle have to beat Millwall at home, or they are down. Should they manage a win, Brighton & Hove Albion will have to beat Stockport County (who collapsed into administration this week) to survive.
League Two – Automatic Promotion: Brentford are already promoted as champions, and Wycombe will join them if they avoid defeat at home against Notts County. Exeter will win a second successive promotion if they win at Rotherham United, but if they fail to win there Bury will grab the third automatic place if they beat Accrington Stanley at Gigg Lane.
League Two – The Play-Offs: One from Exeter or Bury (or, theoretically, Wycombe) will be in the play-offs, along with Gillingham and Rochdale. The fourth play-off place is still up for grabs, though. Seventh placed Dagenham & Redbridge are playing eight placed Shrewsbury Town at Victoria Road. If Dagenham win or draw, then they will claim the fourth play-off place. If Shrewsbury win, though, then they will overtake Dagenham.
League Two – Relegation: Luton Town are already gone, and Chester City will join them unless they can overhaul a goal difference of eighteen on the last day of the season. Burton Albion climbed into the Football League in spite of losing on the last day of the BSP season at Torquay United last week, and the BSP play-offs are in progess at the moment – Stevenage Borough beat Cambridge United 3-1 on Thursday night, while Torquay United beat Histon 2-0 last night. The second legs are next week.