What a difference a week can make (and it's not even been a week).
Firstly Sheffield Wednesday beat Sheffield United to reduce the games in hand for the team in second place, then we comfortably beat Chesterfield, who were having a bit of a run, with ease, then United (in second) struggled to beat a relegation battler at home when the visitors played more than half of the game with ten men.
It is a relative chase now, and we seem to be holding up very well, thank you very much. Tomorrow the fixtures of the top five are:
Bournemouth v Charlton
Sheffield United v Oldham
Rochdale v Sheffield Wednesday
Bury v Huddersfield
Hartlepool v MK Dons.
I can see a win for all of the challengers this week, which I guess means that most will win, but one won't, and as long as we do the gap will get bigger to one of the teams. I built a spreadsheet last week to look at the remaining fixtures of the top five. I know it is too early to do that, but with the lead we have to third I thought it might be interesting as far as considering how many points the chasers can't all get.
Sadly the only clash between the top five teams from here on in are:
Huddersfield v Charlton on 24th March
Huddersfield v Sheffield Wednesday on 7th April
MK Dons v Sheffield Wednesday on 21 April.
As discussed by Nelson the Huddersfield game could be the one that we are promoted at, but with them playing Sheffield Wednesday two weeks later it is clear that both those clubs cannot achieve maximum points.To be honest, I was a little disappointed that there were not more games between the chasing pack, but it is what it is.
The MK Dons v Sheff Utd game could well be interesting, but I can't help feeling that we will have it all settled by then, and even if we are only six or seven points above United by then it will be unlikely that we'd lose the remaining three games so it is most likely only going to be important to settle who will be second.
In a weird way I find myself a little less excited by games now that I was a few weeks ago. I don't think it's the dire football we saw in February - and it wasn't all that dire, and we were picking up points anyway. No, I think it is because it looks a bit predictable.
For my MBA my dissertation was about football attendances, with specific reference to Charlton. One of the factors that I studied was the probability of outcomes. This is relevant both for individual games and also for the impact the individual game will have on the ultimate goal. In our case that goal is (or was) promotion. I would have taken second at any point until very recently when I came 'round to the idea that anything less than the title would be a disappointment. That is not me being greedy but from the position we are in we should be able to close it out, and if we don't it will feel more like a 'loss'.
Once we'd dispatched Stevenage I was decided that I wanted Wednesday to win the Steel Derby as I wanted United to be kept as far behind us as possible.
Maybe the lack of excitement in the games is because their was a heightened level of anticipation with the two Sheffield clubs and MK Dons but it could also be because I can't see us losing, and even if we do we are almost certainly going to lift the title in May.
There, I've said it. I am confident of winning the title, which is much more than I dared wish for back in the summer. I did wish for promotion, and I would (obviously) have taken 6th and a win at Wembley, but this season has gone, pretty much, 100% our way.
Anyway with this weeks fixtures I would suggest that we have one of the hardest games of the top five so a comparable result would be a fantastic achievement. I'm not sure any of the teams are looking up as far as us now. Realistically Sheffield United are the only team that could aim to catch us and I think they are a little more interested in looking behind them to be honest. Even if they win their game in hand they will be seven points behind us and with a goal difference eleven better than them it's not guaranteed that in the process of making up those ten points they would match ours, so it's possibly eleven points with a game in hand.
We haven't been specifically lucky this season and I believe we have been worth our results, which makes it even more likely that they will continue. I can't be bothered to run calculations on all league tables from back in the days when teams got two points for a win, but since the change there has only been two teams that achieved 100 points in this division - Wigan (100) in 2003 and Fulham (101) in 1999. Fulham had Keegan at the helm and were signing £2m centre halves and Wigan also had a team that was hardly put together on a shoe string. Wigan finished 7th then 2nd in the second division after their 100 points haul and Fulham finished 9th and then 1st. Both of these clubs have been in the Premier League ever since.
Clearly they had further investment after promotion, but I'd like to get into the 100 points club, especially if it means two years before joining the Premier League 'club'.
Anyway, I've gone way off topic. Bournemouth had a terrible start to the season, but they picked up and had a very good run to get themselves into play-off contention. Their recent run of three defeats (after a draw) leaves them 10th and five points behind 6th having played two games more. Thankfully for them Stevenage have had two defeats and a draw in three, but that did include us and Huddersfield. Bournemouth's next two games are us at home and Sheff Wed away. They also have to face Sheff Utd away and Huddersfield at home. Even if they win at Stevenage on the 27th March I think all but the most optimistic will be getting prepared for another season in this division.
Tomorrow's game might be a threshold for them, but I suspect that one goal and their heads will drop.
It's very difficult to make predictions when teams are on a bad run, as it won't carry on forever, but I suspect that Bournemouth are heading for a forth straight defeat, rather than a return to winning ways this weekend.
I'd take a 1-0 or a 2-1 as at this stage we just need to keep winning (we are only 27 points away from a divisional record) but I have a feeling that with BWP back among the goals it could be a bit more one sided.
It will be interesting to see how Simon Francis is getting on. I thought there was a footballer in there, and he did have some good qualities, but his lack of concentration worried me for a full back. I wish him no ill, but he, like McCormack, did seem to manage the situation to maximise his income, which I can understand, but it does make life difficult for clubs like ours. Anyway he's gone and not out problem now. It would be typical for him to score the only goal of the game tomorrow - let's hope not.
I believe we have sold a lot of tickets for tomorrow and there should be a fantastic atmosphere. Sadly the weather forecast for Bournemouth (according to Siri) is rain, which is a shame for those going for a weekend on the sea front, but I suspect a win will make up for it.
Up the Addicks!