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10 things to look out for as the football league finishes


The Premier and Champions Leagues might be drawing to a conclusion, but for many football fans, there's a host of far more critical issues to be settled over the course of the next week, as the three Football League divisions play their final two sets of matches.

With just six points at stake, it's crunch time for those at the right or the wrong end of the table. Who will go up in a blaze of glory? And who will be condemned? We take a look at the 15 key things to look out for.

League 2

On the up: Burton (confirmed promotion) plus two from Shrewsbury, Wycombe, Southend and Bury

In the play-offs: The unlucky two from Shrewsbury, Wycombe, Southend, Bury, plus two from Stevenage, Plymouth, Newport, Northampton and Exeter

Heading down: Two from Tranmere, Cheltenham and Hartlepool

Gareth Ainsworth

Gaz reassures supporters who were told that Father Christmas doesn't exist

1. Wycombe have confounded expectations, as the side that stayed up last season by the skin of their teeth have somehow mounted a sustained promotion push under the astute guidance of the talismanic Gareth Ainsworth (above), playing attractive football in the process. They currently edge Southend - who are in the middle of a six game winning run and haven't conceded a goal for seven - on goal difference, but win their final two games and they'll be up. Resources are so tight at the fan-owned club that Ainsworth could even come out of retirement to be on the bench - could we see a final game Roy Of The Rovers fairytale? We will soon see.

Steve McNulty

Is that the 747 from Alicante coming in to land?

2. We tipped Luton to do well in their first season back in the Football League in five years, and they've done just that, hovering on the edge of the play-offs. In reality, they should already be well secure were it not for a shocking March, which saw them suffer seven consecutive defeats. Nonetheless, if they make it into the top seven, it'll be a solid achievement. And, lest we forget, Steve McNulty, (pictured above) has become a football league player despite being the size of a house.

Mickey Adams

"Bugger it"

3. It's been a grim three years for Tranmere Rovers fans. After being top of League 1 at Christmas 2012, they suffered a terrible run, which took them down to 11th by summer 2013 and which has not really ended since. Relegation followed last season, and they're on the verge of consecutive drops as they lie bottom of the football league with two to play. They haven't won in seven, they face two play-off chasing sides in their last two games, Mickey Adams (above) has just quit and the new joint-caretaker has already criticised the players. We won't lie lads, it's not looking good.

League 1

On the up: Bristol City (confirmed champions) plus Preston or MK Dons

In the play-offs: Either Preston or MK Dons, Swindon, plus two from Sheffield United, Chesterfield and Rochdale

Heading down: Yeovil, plus three from Colchester, Notts County, Leyton Orient, Crewe, Crawley, Port Vale, Coventry and Scunthorpe

Joe Garner

Yes, we might not have to go to Scunthorpe next season

4. Bristol City have smashed all before them this season, taking the 'thinking man's double' of League 1 and the Johnston's Paint Trophy, but the race for second looks set to go to the wire. Preston and MK Dons are the contenders: both are on tremendous form; both have tough games against play-off chasers, followed by should-win games against relegation fodder - we'd put our money on both teams winning both games and Preston, led superbly by manager Simon Grayson and League 1's player of the year - 22-goal Joe Garner (pictured above) - edging it by a point. But we'd also fancy MK Dons in the play-offs, given their staggering +52 goal difference - way ahead of their rivals.

Josh Wright

Look lads, League 2 is over there, it looks great!

5. It's been nothing short of an utter disaster of a season for Leyton Orient. After being 2-0 up in the play-off final last season - eventually losing on penalties to Rotherham - they were taken over by Italian billionaire Francesco Bechetti in the summer, with money ploughed into high-profile signings such as former Reading captain Jobi McAnuff. However, a catalogue of mismanagement - issuing popular boss Russell Slade with an ultimatum after just six games (he eventually left for Cardiff), replacing him with three inexperienced and ineffective managers (the latest being former Italian international Fabio Liverani, who couldn't speak any English when he arrived) and replacing virtually the entire off-field staff with novices - has led to their perilous position in the drop zone. With two tough matches to play, the side with one of the biggest budgets in the division could well be plying their trade in League 2 next season.

Crying Brazil fan

This could be the scene at Gresty Road, only less attractive

6. The League One drop zone is the second most-exciting element of the Football League run-in (the first is coming right up) with only Yeovil down and eight other teams not mathematically out of it. Rather excitingly, all of them are in abysmal form, so one win out of nowhere could catapult a team to safety. Colchester have tough games and 4 points to make up (albeit with one extra game), so they will find it tough to avoid the drop, while Scunthorpe should be okay unless every result goes against them - as for the others, it could be tears on 3 May for any two of them, so spare a thought for any Notts County, Leyton Orient, Crewe, Crawley, Port Vale or Coventry fans you know.

The Championship

On the up: Two from Watford, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Norwich

In the play-offs: The unlucky two from Watford, Bournemouth, Middlesbrough and Norwich, plus two from Derby, Ipswich, Brentford and Wolves

Heading down: Blackpool, plus two from Wigan, Millwall, Rotherham and Brighton

Eddie Howe

Yes, I am the best. The very best

7. What an incredible season it's been for Bournemouth. In just their second season in the Championship, guided by Eddie Howe (above) - fresh from being named the best manager of the last ten years at the Football League Awards - have torn the division apart, scoring 92 goals, losing just eight times, and they stand on the brink of the Premier League. It won't be easy to get over the line - just three points separate the top four sides, with only the top two going up, but they have very winnable games in the form of Bolton and Charlton - both in mid-table with nothing to play for. Could Dean Court be witnessing Wayne Rooney and the rest next season? Six points and the dream will become a reality.

Aitor Karanka

So this time next year we'll be above you Steve. Haha!

8. It's been an equally great year for Middlesbrough. Having languished in the middle of the Championship for five seasons, they have finally rediscovered their mojo under the astute leadership of Spaniard Aitor Karanka (pictured above), in his first full season at the club. Appropriately, for a former left-back, their success has been built on their record at the back, conceding just 33 goals. Like Bournemouth - and indeed Watford - they have two games left that they'd expect to win, so it's going to be all about who holds their nerve best over the final 180 minutes of the season.

Mark Warburton

Yes, a bread joke. Well done, not heard any of those before

9. Brentford and Wolves have both had tremendous seasons after coming up from League One this season, and both still have a strong chance of reaching the play-offs. Brentford are, perhaps, the more surprising of the two to be in the position that they are, with a lower budget and the seemingly unnecessary mid-season destabling of the club that came from the announcement that owner Matthew Benham had decided to restructure the management of the club, which meant that Mark Warburton (above) - who literally could not have done a better job in his time as manager - would be leaving the club at the end of the season. Warburton has kept the club focussed and they have two very winnable games to finish their campaign. If they make it into the play-offs, they could well replace their west London rivals QPR in the top flight next season.

David Sharpe

Yes grandad! This is just like playing FIFA!

10. The Championship relegation battle looked done and dusted up until hours ago, when Rotherham were handed a three point deduction for fielding an ineligible player in a game earlier in April - now they're firmly back involved, leading Millwall by just a point and Wigan by two, albeit still having a game in hand. All three of them are in similar poor form and all three face difficult games. If Wigan were to go down, it would represent a serious fall from grace, this being just their second season in the Championship following their relegation from the Premier League in 2013. Managerial problems, the controversy with their owner Dave Whelan, and now the bizarre fact that their chairman is his 23-year-old grandson (David Sharpe, pictured above) all adds up to the possibility that this may not be as low as they sink. As ever, we shall see.

(Images: Rex/Getty)



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