This is what Alex Ferguson calls it. I used to work with a chap (who is still a friend today) that refers to it as "5p, 50p. 5p, 50p". I'll leave it to your imagination if you have not heard the expression and it doesn't seem obvious.
We now have 6 games to go. I don't know why but that has been adopted as the recognised 'run-in' by most of those in the game. Managers talk about the "Last Six" and the football pundits also mentioned it regularly.
It may have something to do with the mental ability of football managers and pundits. It takes a lot of mental intelligence to be able to analyze more than six games. To be fair, the average football fan is probably not going to be too interested in the various permutations of, say ten games, involving ten teams. As the number of games reduces so do the number of teams one is interested in. As we look at the last six games we are interested in three teams above us, and one (maybe two) below us.
The other thing with reducing the number of games to analyse is that you can extrapolate form much more accurately. I have talked about form before. If you've played the top six then your form is likely to be less impressive than if you've just played the bottom six, but never the less, the form tables are all that we have so I'm going to use them irrespective.
As it happens the recognised form tables are also six games. Again, I don't know why, but there you go. Thanks to the Statto web site (www.statto.com) it is really easy to collate a load of statistical information, and at the risk of making this a little boring I'm going to try to analyse it. Sadly even before I start the evidence doesn't look entirely good for us.
Firstly, let's look at the games we have left:
Southampton away (2.17 in 6) (2 in 12) (1.95 in 21)
Colchester at home (0.33 in 6) (0.91 in 11) (1.45 in 22)
Norwich at home (2.17 in 6) (2 in 11) (2.41 in 22)
Exeter away (2 in 6) (1.27 in 11) (1 in 22)
Leeds at home (1 in 6) (1.08 in 12) (1.39 in 23)
Oldham away (1.17 in 6) (1.17 in 12) (1.05 in 21)
The number in brackets are the average number of points they have recorded in the number of games. For example Southampton have managed an average of 2.17 points in their last six games, an average of 2 points in their last twelve and an average of 1.95 in their last twenty-one games. Clearly the more recent games give an indication as to form, but the longer spells indicate if the recent results are just a blip.
Thus we need to play away to Southampton and Exeter and at home to Norwich. Those three teams are 4th, 5th and 3rd in the six game form tables. We are currently 7th. So half of our games are against the top five form sides in the division. With Southampton and Norwich, in particular, there form is anything but temporary.
The other two home games are against Leeds and Colchester. The former may well have lost their way, but clearly have some good players and managed some very late winners earlier in the season. The latter should, realistically, be the easiest of the games we have left, despite losing 3-0 at their place in September.
So we have a tough run in. That shouldn't make it impossible except that we have to catch three sides to make it to second. Leeds have been mentioned already but we also need to catch these two:
Swindon (2.67 in 6) (2 in 12) (2.09 in 23)
Millwall (2.67 in 6) (2.42 in 12) (2.23 in 22)
These two sides have been in fantastic form since the start of December. There best form in that period is pretty well right now. Recent suggestions that Millwall may have peaked too early look like wishful thinking. Millwall have to go to Huddersfield and these two play each other at the end of the season, but other than that I fully expect them to win all their other games. That means that 2nd place will probably require six wins from us.
Our comparable stats, just for completeness are:
Charlton (1.83 in 6) (1.58 in 12) (1.73 in 22).
However, just for my own interests I went back over the last ten seasons in the third division and found something interesting.
I'm not going to produce the stats verbatim, but the average number of points won by the teams that finished 2nd over that ten years is 85.375. Thus 86 should be enough (on average) to finish 2nd. However the highest number of points in that ten year period is 91, so it wouldn't be unheard of for the team finishing second to need 92 points. If we win all of our remaining games we will have 92 points. As things stand Swindon can have 91 and Millwall 90 when they face each other at The New Den on the last day of the season.
Out of interest the season that the second placed team had 91 points, the Champions had 100. Norwich can lose that the Valley and still reach 100 points, so it does look like this is a high scoring season at the top of the division. You would, actually, expect that with Norwich, Charlton, Southampton and Leeds in the division. Incidentally, give Southampton their ten points back and they'd be one point behind Huddersfield with us at home their only tough game left.
I know all the games in this division are winnable, particularly for us (being one of those relegated last season and with a very strong squad, but it might be asking a lot to actually expect us to win the last six. Also it is not as though we have to hope to catch one side that is a little erratic. Leeds have looked anything but unstoppable since Christmas (not unlike ourselves) but Swindon and Millwall have had fantastic runs, and the likely of them both blowing up is very remote.
On the plus side the playoffs are a bit of a lottery, and the team that just misses out on second has a huge psychological disadvantage. In fact over the last ten years the playoffs have been won by the team that finished 3rd 3 times, 4th twice, 5th 3 times and 6th twice. A fairly even spread. Also, just for interest, in the three highest scoring seasons of the last ten the team that finished third didn't win the playoffs. Thus it is entirely likely that either Swindon or Millwall will not go up at all.
If we assume that we are not going to make the second automatic promotion place it is all to play for in the lottery that is the playoffs. Not to mention the fact that they are the most exciting games in the calender, and if you make it through the two legged affair then a game at Wembley beckons.
It is indeed squeaky bum time. 5p 50p, 5p 50p.
Up the Addicks!