Ten things yet to be decided in Football League: Kompany v Carrick, Sheff Weds in four-club fight

Lewis Oldham
Football League run-in

The international break is over so it’s time to focus on *proper* football again and much is to be decided during the Football League run-in.

Arsenal and the Premier League bottom nine are set for a defining few months in the Premier League, but don’t be overlooking what’s going on in the Championship, League One and League Two.


Manager of the Season
This award tends to go to the manager who guides their team to the league title. Burnley are running away at the top of the Championship so Vincent Kompany is deservedly in contention this season. But Middlesbrough’s Michael Carrick and Luton Town’s Rob Edwards have done more than enough to warrant being in the running.

In League One, Plymouth Argyle’s Steven Schumacher is the likely favourite – even if Michael Duff and Darren Moore will disagree – as he has worked wonders to keep the south west coast outfit at the forefront of the promotion fight (more on that later).

Leyton Orient’s Richie Wellens will be vying for the accolade in League Two, but Matt Gray is a decent alternative shout for helping Sutton United battle above their means around the play-off places.


Player of the Year
The immense emergence of 24-goal striker Chuba Akpom – who has been one of this season’s surprise packages – must give him a strong chance in the second tier. But the brilliance of Burnley likely means they will be represented, with Josh Brownhill and Nathan Tella perhaps in with the best chance of pipping Middlesbrough’s top marksman.

Further down the pyramid, it is pretty unfair to Sheffield Wednesday’s rivals that 33-year-old Barry Bannan is plying his trade in League One. His magic has been vital during their promotion pursuit, but Peterborough United’s Jonson Clarke-Harris and Bristol Rovers’ Aaron Collins will push him for the award.

In the fourth tier, creative virtuosos Elliot Watt and Owen Moxon from Salford City and Carlisle United respectively will be among the leading contenders, while the league’s top scorer – Bradford City’s Andy Cook – will have his supporters as well.


League Two play-offs
After finishing seventh last season, Mansfield are looking to oust Bradford, Salford or Stockport County to repeat that feat and earn a spot in the play-offs once again. Only six points separate these four teams but Mansfield and Bradford have two games in hand.

Sutton and Barrow are a couple of points further off the pace so it will take a superb end to the season for them to gatecrash the play-offs. But having previously been tipped by many to be down the wrong end of the table, they are doing well to merely be in the top-seven conversation.


League Two automatic promotion
Leyton Orient have been sitting pretty at the top of the table for much of this season and they will be eight points clear at the top should they make the most of their game in hand.

Northampton Town (69 points in 38 games) and Stevenage (67 points in 37 games) are trailing the leaders in the other two automatic promotion spots. Carlisle United (66 points in 38 games) are hot on their heels, though. Also with just eight points separating 2nd and 7th, the battle to avoid the play-off lottery is still pretty wide open.


League One relegation
The bottom four in League One – Forest Green, Cambridge United, Morecambe and Accrington Stanley – are all teams you would expect to be down there given their limited budgets. But they will be looking to escape at the expense of Oxford United (two points above the relegation zone) and/or MK Dons (four points above the relegation zone).

Oxford and MK Dons have suffered major falls from grace this season after they fell short in the promotion race in 2021/22. They are not the teams they once were, but they should have enough about them to ensure the relegation quartet remains the same.


League One play-offs
The final two play-off places are up for grabs in the third tier. Fifth-placed Bolton and Derby County in sixth are both on 64 points, but Peterborough (63 points) and Wycombe Wanderers (61 points) are the teams best positioned to chase them down.

Derby would be a team to avoid in the play-offs as manager Paul Warne was renowned as a League One promotion specialist while at Rotherham United. Wycombe, meanwhile, will be mean opposition, even though rocker Gareth Ainsworth is no longer there to help them repeat their play-off glory from 2020.


League One automatic promotion
Over recent days, the race for automatic promotion in League One has swung wide open. Sheffield Wednesday have arguably been the division’s best team but their recent f*** ups have given their rivals hope. Moore’s side (79 points) now trail leaders Plymouth (80 points) after picking up just two points from their last four games.

Should Ipswich Town (75 points) and Barnsley (72 points) win their games in hand, just five points will be between the top four sides in League One.

Wednesday would have been out of sight had they not fluffed their lines in recent weeks, but they will hope this dip in form is coming at a suitable time as they have enough at their disposal to get over the line. They are having to do it the hard way though as Plymouth, Ipswich and Barnsley will ask them serious questions in what should be a fascinating sprint to the finish line.


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Championship relegation
There is unsurprisingly a lot going on in the circus that is the Championship. At the bottom, Wigan Athletic are all but down as their three-point deduction leaves them eight adrift of safety.

Blackpool (35 points) and Huddersfield Town (36 points) have more of a chance with firefighters Mick McCarthy and Neil Warnock at the helm. Cardiff City (39 points) and Rotherham United (40 points) are looking over their shoulders but they should have enough about them to survive.

The situation at the bottom of the table is set to be spiced up some more as Paul Ince’s Reading are about to be dragged right into the slugfest. Their imminent six-point deduction will leave them on 39 points as things stand.


Championship play-offs
The top-six picture in the Championship has been baffling throughout this season as it has felt like more than half of the division have been tussling for the four spots.

Teams are gradually starting to slip out of contention, however. You can now probably look down as far as Watford (55 points) in tenth for sides capable of breaking into the top-six via a late surge.

Blackburn Rovers (61 points) are six points clear of Watford up in fifth, while Millwall (60 points) are occupying the final play-off position. David Wagner’s Norwich City (57 points) are arguably the ones to watch out of the chasing pack as they are faring far better than they were under Dean Smith.


Championship runners-up
It is only a matter of time before Burnley are crowned champions, with Kompany’s men 14 points further ahead of Sheffield United.

With this season’s champions pretty much guaranteed, the focus has shifted to the runners-up spot. The Blades were keeping pace with the Clarets earlier this campaign but their gradual post-Christmas decline could be capitalised on by Middlesbrough or Luton Town.

Boro have produced a Nottingham Forest-esque climb up the table and sit just three points behind Sheff Utd (who have played a game less), while Edwards’ heroics since replacing Nathan Jones leave Luton on the periphery.

Luton still need to face Middlesbrough and this could play into Sheffield United’s hands as Paul Heckingbottom’s side look to grind out results en route to finishing second.