League One Playoff Race: Over and Out?

By Pete H

Has our downturn in form going into the business end of the 2023-4 season now ended our chances in the League One playoff race? On the eve of St Patrick’s Day, a 1-0 defeat indoors against Leyton Orient saw us drop out of the top six. Mind you, we still hold a game in hand over those two sides immediately above us. In isolation, a win would pop us back in the top six. In context, however, is a run has seen us win two games in 10 – and none in four.

So, the big question is “have we run out of puff at the wrong time?”. Top scorer Jamie Reid is on a lean spell, captain Carl Piergianni received a retrospective three-match ban from the FA, boss Steve Evans has been in the stands of late, and the refereeing against us has been little short of conspiratorial. All this aside is the fact we’re struggling to create chances – let alone convert them. And a dearth of points is proving to be costlier with each week that passes.

Then and now: 2012 vs. 2024

One comparative yardstick you can hang onto is our progress now against our progress back in the 2011-2 season; a campaign in which we came good in the League One playoff race. The gap between our points haul then and now at each gameweek is slowly closing. Yet, the fact remains that our current campaign has us still three points better off after 38 games than in 2012 (61 vs 58). And, under Gary Smith, our league position was remarkably similar.

At this stage of the 2011-2 season, a 2-2 draw at home to Bournemouth(!) had us still in sixth; a position we’d been for some time. Remarkably again, we’d come out of game 38 with just a single win from the past 10 outings. Perhaps the big difference is how we still found a way to grind out points. Boro’ have lost five in 10 in 2024. In 2012, it was two in 10. Part of that was a fantastic ability to turn defeats into draws – something that happened FIVE times.

And THREE of those involved us coming from two goals down to earn a precious point.

Patrick Agyemang even nabbed himself a goal as we ran riot at the relegation-threatened Glovers. Yeovil nil, Boro' six.
Photo: Kevin Coleman

After that draw with the Cherries, we drew two either side of a defeat at Tranmere before we got back that winning touch. Four wins and a draw from our final five saw us end the League One playoff race in the top six. It’s the carrot that is being dangled in front of us again at the moment. But we desperately need our form to improve and – more importantly – to find the back of the net with a bit of regularity once again. And that could be easier said than done.

Our run-in – League One playoff race

The reason is because our run-in, certainly when compared with others around us, does not look favourable. On the face of it, five games in the last eight are against teams sitting in the bottom third (well, more or less). Three, however, are against sides in the mix; two being in a position to make a late lunge for the top two. So, let’s break down our final few opponents – and our prospects. If 73 points was enough for the playoffs in 2012, we need to find 12 here:

Carlisle United (A, 24th)

The Cumbrians come into this fixture with a 16-point gap between them and safety. We can’t relegate them (sadly) and they’re comfortably the worst team in the division. Still, the home fans will love to beat us – and comment on our low away following too.

Last win at Carlisle United: 1-0 – 29 September 2018

Record at Brunton Park: P12 W3 D3 L6 F8 A15

Bolton Wanderers (H, 3rd)

At home, maybe, but potentially a write-off. The Trotters front the chasing pack for that top two – but have run into some middling form. So, that’s encouragement for us. What isn’t, however, is the fact we’ve lost three from three against them so far.

Last home win against Bolton Wanderers: n/a

Record at home against Bolton Wanderers: P1 W0 D0 L1 F1 A2

Charlton Athletic (A, 16th)

We start our Easter weekend by needing to break our points duck against the Trotters. And we then end it on Bank Holiday Monday with a trip to The Valley; a venue at which we have only been once – and at which we were comfortably beaten back in February 2012. With the Addicks, their league position may be lowly. But their recent form is much improved.

Last win at Charlton Athletic: n/a

Record at The Valley: P1 W0 D0 L1 F0 A2

Exeter City (A, 15th)

We haven’t played enough times at The Valley to know if it’s an unhappy hunting ground. In contrast, however, we’ve made several trips to Devon. And, more often than not, we’ve come away empty-handed; losing 61% of our assignments there. You have to go back more than 18 years for our last victory there.

Last win at Exeter City: 2-0 – 14 March 2006

Record at Sid James’ Park: P18 W2 D5 L11 F14 A31

Barnsley (H, 5th)

Back up the table we come and it’s our re-arranged home clash with Barnsley on 9 April. By the time this one comes around, we could be well out of the League One playoff race. Or we could be jostling with the Tykes. It’s hard to know. And we don’t have any historical cues for comparison. This is the first time that Barnsley will have visited the Lamex.

Last home win against Barnsley: n/a

Record at home against Barnsley: n/a

Burton Albion (H, 19th)

It’s arguably the second-most favourable fixture on our remaining calendar. As we write this, the Brewers have the second-worst form in the league over six games; losing five of them. It still has all the hallmarks of a potential banana skin, however. It’s nearly a decade since our last home win against them. Mind you, that was the last time they paid us a visit…

Last home win against Burton Albion: 1-0 – 25 October 2014

Record at home against Burton Albion: P12 W7 D1 L4 F21 A14

Oxford United (A, 6th)

On paper, this looks a tough one. The Us have just usurped us in the top six – but aren’t in a tremendous run of form. Indeed, the last six fixtures has seen them take one less point than us. That said, we’ll both have a better idea of our end-of-season prospects by the time we’re off to the Kassam. And we could both be slogging it out – or both licking our wounds…

One omen is that, en route to the 2011-2 League Two playoffs, we bagged a crucial win there.

Last win at Oxford United: 2-1 – 15 March 2011

Record at the Kassam Stadium: P8 W2 D3 L3 F8 A10

Cheltenham Town (H, 21st)

It’d be good if the Robins come to us on the last day not needing anything because they are either a) already done or b) already safe.

Last home win against Cheltenham Town: 2-0 – 04 May 2019

Record at home against Cheltenham Town: P10 W5 D1 L4 F20 A9

Boro' have failed to win any of their four fixtures since beating Cambridge United at the end of February 2024

Five teams battling for the final place?

Blackpool – P39 | GD +15 | Pts 60 (-1)

Our alphabetical look at the runners and riders battling for the final spot in the League One playoff race starts with Blackpool. The Tangerines’ aren’t in the most consistent groove. Still, they are picking up points and that’s what matters. With three of the bottom five still to play and two in the top five, they’ll be confident of picking up some crucial points.

Average position of remaining opponents: 14.7

Highest ranked opponent still to play: Derby County (A, 2nd)

Lowest-ranked opponent still to play: Carlisle United (A, 24th)

Leyton Orient – P39 | GD 0 | Pts 58 (-3)

The outsiders in this League One playoff race, but doing more than enough to stay with the pack. By winning at the Lamex, the Os have done themselves a massive favour. Three of the next five outings for the Londoners are against sides in the top seven – starting at Lincoln.

Average position of remaining opponents: 12.6

Highest ranked opponent still to play: Derby County (A, 2nd)

Lowest-ranked opponent still to play: Fleetwood Town (A, 22nd)

Lincoln City – P39 | GD +23 | Pts 61 (0)

The Imps are the in-form team and have buckets of momentum behind them. We’d go as far to say as we think the last playoff place is theirs to lose. Mind you, there are some very tasty fixtures coming up for them: namely Orient home and Oxford away. It’ll be interesting to see what’s at stake on the last day as they host top-of-the-table Portsmouth too.

Goal difference is looking mighty fine for them too.

Average position of remaining opponents: 13

Highest ranked opponent still to play: Portsmouth (H, 1st)

Lowest-ranked opponent still to play: Carlisle United (A, 24th)

Oxford United – P39 | GD +10 | Pts 63 (+2)

For the Us, the next three games are against relatively lowly opposition. This could well be a huge blessing in their playoff hopes. Not least because the following three are Peterborough, Lincoln, and Boro’. Crucially, sixth place is currently theirs – our game in hand regardless.

Average position of remaining opponents: 13.1

Highest ranked opponent still to play: Peterborough United (H, 4th)

Lowest-ranked opponent still to play: Fleetwood Town (H, 22nd)

Stevenage – P38 | GD +11 | Pts 61

Here’s our details, for comparison’s sake.

Average position of remaining opponents: 13.6

Highest ranked opponent still to play: Bolton Wanderers (H, 3rd)

Lowest-ranked opponent still to play: Carlisle United (A, 24th)

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