While the Premier League title race rages on, things are edging closer to completion below the top flight.
There are limited spots on the elevator up, but there are plenty of teams trying to throw some elbows and trip some others up to secure their place on the next level.
There’s a good chance that the automatic promotion spots in the Championship won’t be decided until the final few rounds, with four sides in the running.
Stoke City took their league win streak to five matches in a row with a 1-0 win over playoff hopefuls Ipswich on Saturday.
Nipping at their heels is Bristol City, who moved back up to second and stayed only one point behind at the top with a 2-1 win away to next to bottom side Colchester. They swapped spots with Watford, who dropped to third after managing only a 0-0 draw at home with Preston, who got a valuable point in their push to escape relegation.
West Brom have fallen back in the race for promotion thanks to some recent struggles, and those struggles continued with a 2-1 home defeat to Hull, who in turn boosted their playoff hopes. The Baggies have taken only six of a possible 18 points in their last six league ties, and are seven points back of Stoke in fourth, but do have a match in hand.
Plymouth (52) jumped over Charlton (52) and Ipswich (51) to move into fifth, with their fourth win on the bounce, a 3-1 win over Burnley on Saturday, and Hull’s win now has them on 50 with a match in hand.
In League One, there’s little suspense in the title chase, as Swansea, barring a collapse that doesn’t look like happening, will be moving one step closer to the top flight. The Swans took their league unbeaten streak to 17 with a 1-0 win over down, down, down and out Luton on Friday, and have a 14-point lead at the top.
Currently in second are Nottingham Forest, who jumped over Doncaster on goal difference with their 1-0 away win against Leyton Orient and Doncaster’s 1-0 defeat at fellow promotion hopefuls Carlisle.
Carlisle’s win allowed them to close within a point of Doncaster and Forest with a match in hand, so if they can defeat Crewe on Tuesday night, then they’ll jump into second.
Walsall and Tranmere (both on 52 points) currently occupy the other two playoff places, with Southend two points behind them in seventh, Leyton Orient a further point back, and Leeds in ninth on 47.
Leeds are losing ground in their chase for at least a playoff place, and the 15-point deduction they were saddled with is really beginning to hurt. Without the deduction, they would be six points ahead of Forest with a firm grasp on the second automatic promotion place, but thanks to the deduction – and three straight 1-1 draws (two at Elland Road) – they’re ninth, five points out of the last playoff place.
It’s ground that can be made up, especially because they have a match in hand over two of the sides ahead of them, but they can’t afford to keep dropping points and expect to let a playoff place fall into their laps.
At the other end of the table, it’s a little disappointing for me to see my favorite lower league side’s hopes of staying up fading with every match, as Luton have now lost eight of their last nine league ties and are 11 points from safety. Like Leeds, a deduction has made a difference (they had a 10-point deduction in November when they went into administration), but hey, you don’t get anywhere when you’re not winning. Only a few seasons ago, they were on the fast track to the top flight, but now they’re headed for League Two. Doesn’t take long to fall far, does it?
Wimbledon, er, Milton Keynes Dons, are flying the flag in League Two, with Hereford (two points back) and Darlington (a further two points back) occupying the other two automatic promotion places.
Darlington are currently edging out Peterborough by one goal for that third promotion place, while Peterborough, Hereford, and Darlington all have a game in hand on the Dons. Rotherham, Wycombe (both on 57), and Stockport (53) are in the playoff places for now, but watch out for Rochdale, who are three points out of the playoff places right now, but have a couple of matches in hand
And in the Conference, Aldershot have a six-point lead over Torquay at the top, but Torquay have two matches in hand and a superior goal difference. There’s only one automatic promotion place at stake in the Conference (with another going to the playoff winner), so these two will be fighting tooth and nail down to the wire to secure an assured place in League Two for next season.
So, the next few months will be very entertaining to watch, not only in the Premiership but throughout the Football League.
Oh, and in case anyone’s interested in how everyone’s favorite non-league FA Cup Cinderella stories are doing – Havant and Waterlooville are 13th in Blue Square South, 10 points out of a playoff place with four matches in hand to fifth-placed Eastleigh, while Chasetown are currently ninth in Division One Midlands, four points behind Bishops Cleeve for a playoff place with five matches in hand.