After nine months of ups and downs, twists and turns, and an utterly unpredictable campaign, the Football League season finally comes to an end this weekend in England with plenty to play for in all three divisions.
In the EFL Championship, Norwich City and Watford have already tied up promotion while playoff positions have been cemented by Brentford, Swansea City, AFC Bournemouth, and Barnsley. However, at the foot of the table, there is still a huge amount to be decided which can only mean one thing: final day relegation drama.
With Derby County currently sat on 43 points- two above the dreaded drop zone in 21st– they may only require a draw on the final day as they face a Sheffield Wednesday side at Pride Park who are three points and two places below them. But, since their victory over Luton Town at the start of April, the Rams have lost their last six games. It is an abysmal run of form which will give hope to a Sheffield Wednesday side that have only suffered defeat once in their last four outings. If the Owls can notch up a victory, they would go above the Rams on goal difference.
This monumental clash will attract the attention of many fans on Saturday lunch time, but they will also be keeping a close eye on events in South Wales as Rotherham United- sat in 22nd– are firmly in the relegation scrap too. After back-to-back draws, a win at Cardiff could keep them up only if Derby fail to win. Paul Warne’s side are without an away win since March, but- as we know from last season- anything is possible on the final day.
Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers lost their first seven games in the Championship. There was talk by many that they would be down by March. To their credit, a winner from Uche Ikpeazu against Bournemouth last time out means they have taken the fight to the final game, but only just. Currently on 40 points, they have a significantly worse goal difference than those around them meaning even victory over Middlesbrough is highly unlikely to be enough. Unless Akinfenwa can bag 11 in Teesside of course.
From those desperately trying to remain in the Championship to those fighting to get into it, Sunday will be the day when the play-off race will finally be decided. Blackpool, Sunderland and Lincoln City are guaranteed their spots but there is still one final place up for grabs.
Portsmouth currently occupy that position in sixth, on 72 points, and will keep their spot if they beat Accrington Stanley at Fratton Park. However, with Charlton and Oxford United only a point behind- and on a similar goal difference- it will be a nervy 90 minutes on the South coast.
Back in December, Oxford United sat 20th in the table; but a record-breaking eight game winning run followed to set their season alight. Victory over a rejuvenated Burton side, led by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will not be a straightforward task though.
Finally, Charlton, who beat Lincoln on Tuesday night to keep their chances alive, host title winners Hull City and know they must better both Portsmouth and Oxford United’s results if they are to get a crack at the playoffs later in May. While Pompey fans will be hoping for a relatively calm afternoon, Charlton and Oxford United supporters will pray for one last twist.
If you are looking for drama this weekend, League Two may well provide the most. With just 90 minutes of the season remaining, three sides are still in contention for automatic promotion.
Cambridge United, who sit second on 77 points, have already seen two chances come and go, suffering defeats to Stevenage and then Harrogate Town. They will be desperate for a win, which would see them return to the third tier for the first time since 2002.
If they can manage a point against already relegated Grimsby Town, that would see them join league leaders Cheltenham Town in League One next term. With Paul Mullin chasing down a record-breaking League Two goalscoring tally, you would have to feel they should have enough to come through. If they lose though, there are two sides ready to pounce.
One of those looking for the U’s to slip up is Bolton, who currently occupy the final automatic spot on 76 points. Last Saturday they were on the verge of promotion after leading Exeter City at half time. But, second half goals from ex-Watford prospect Randell Williams and Pierce Sweeney got the better of them. Ian Evatt’s side still have the power in their hands though, knowing a win away at Crawley Town will get the job done.
Competing with the Trotters is Morecambe; who impressively have one of the smallest budgets in the division. Derek Adams has done a superb job this season, with attacker Carlos Mendes Gomes a standout figure in the side with 15 league goals. If they can find a fifth win in six games against Bradford City at home, then they will really put the pressure on those above them.
The playoff race is looking equally enthralling with Newport County, Tranmere Rovers, Forest Green Rovers, Exeter and Salford City all competing for the three remaining spots.
Overall, it should be a highly dramatic weekend up and down the country as teams fight for precious victories for the final time this term.
If you liked this Football League article, check out my twitter https://twitter.com/samjacot for more.