Thursday, 7 March 2019

League 1: February Review

Another terrific month of League 1 action has passed by and we saw more terrific goals, surprise results and more managerial changes as David Hopkin left Bradford after 5 months in charge. Luton are flying with Barnsley in hot pursuit along with Sunderland and Portsmouth. Meanwhile, the relegation battle is going right to the wire with the entire bottom half in danger of relegation.

Club record breaking Luton are absolutely flying and during February smashed their own club record of 19 games unbeaten and heading into March they are currently 21 games unbeaten despite the managerial change during this sensational run. Mick Harford has carried on the positive Nathan Jones momentum and Luton are charging towards back to back promotions. 3 wins from their 4 league games with only Coventry depriving them on maximum points. Luton head into March with a 5 point cushion and a team full of confidence playing some magicial football while Kenilworth Road is a fortress and proving a difficult place to play. Luton aren't the only ones on a record breaking run as Barnsley are hunting a club record of their own. Their final match in February saw them equal their own club record and a win over Southend in their opening March match will see them set a new club record. Daniel Stendel's team are soaring playing some excellent football and their high press is one of the best in League 1. Cauley Woodrow has been sensational in 2019 firing crucial goals and enjoying his best scoring season having scored 10 league goals thus far. The Tykes are flying but face very stiff competition from Sunderland and Portsmouth. Sunderland had an excellent February staying unbeaten in all 6 league games and overall Sunderland are motoring nicely unbeaten in their last 12 league games and find themselves just two points behind 2nd place Barnsley. Jack Ross has certainly brought the good times back to a club that has suffered horrendously under poor management, poor decision making and poor playing staff. Ross has built a team to be proud off and Sunderland are firmly heading in the right direction. However, despite their 12 game unbeaten run, they have drawn 7 of those. Sunderland need to find a more clinical edge despite scoring in all their league games this season and 39 league games consecutively. They are difficult to beat but they do struggle to kill matches off consistently. Despite this, Sunderland are heading in the right direction. However, Portsmouth are slowly falling down. Kenny Jackett's team have struggled in 2019 winless in all their league games thus far. Portsmouth stayed unbeaten in February but drew all 5 league games seeing them fall from 2nd to 4th and five points behind Barnsley and ten behind the leaders Luton. Portsmouth need to rediscover their early season form to continue their push for promotion. The battle for promotion is certainly exciting and no doubt two sides will be disappointed at the start of May but who will be celebrating in May. Luton, Barnsley, Sunderland or Portsmouth?

Sides who enjoyed February included Shrewsbury, Coventry and Plymouth. Its been a much improved month for Shrewsbury and comfortably their best under Sam Ricketts. The Shrews collected 8 points from their 5 games and are currently on a run of 4 unbeaten with back to back wins heading into March. Shrewsbury's improved form has seen them push away from the bottom 4 having started the month stuck in 23rd. Ricketts is finally getting his ideas across and Shrewsbury are certainly heading upwards in the table. While Sam Ricketts' former club Coventry are also heading upwards after an unbeaten February saw their slim play-off chances increase. The Sky Blues have horrendous issues off the pitch with the club unsure as to where they will be playing home matches next season not to mention the threat of explusion from the football league could be a possibility if this isn't sorted out. However, on the pitch, Mark Robins' team collected 8 points from their 4 games as they hunt down Doncaster who occupy the final play-off spot. If Coventry are going to make a late charge, they must have a magnificent run from now until the end of the season with the gap 7 points and Doncaster have a game in hand. Plymouth have enjoyed a terrific 2019 losing just once in their 9 league games thus far winning an impressive 6 of those which has seen the Pilgrims climb from rock bottom up to 14th. Derek Adams continues to do a good job at Plymouth and while he knows their first half of seasons have to drastically improve, Plymouth firmly having the winning bug right now. Plymouth enjoyed an unbeaten February collecting 8 points from their 4 games with Freddie Ladapo enjoying his best ever scoring season notching an impressive 14 league goals and no doubt he would love to break the 20 goal barrier and Plymouth towards a surprise top half finish.

As Plymouth look up, there is a real sinking feeling developing at Bradford with the club stuck in the relegation zone 3 points behind 20th place Oxford United. However, heading into March, the Bantams will be on the hunt for a third permanent manager of the season with David Hopkin choosing to end his 5 month reign at the club by handing in his resignation. He leaves Bradford 23rd in League 1 and in desperate need of a morale and confidence boost. Martin Drury will take caretaker charge of their trip to Portsmouth at the start of March. Hopkin's replacement has been announced and that is the former Blackburn and Blackpool manager Gary Bowyer who will arrive with 11 games to go and tasked with saving Bradford from relegation. Bowyer arrives with a good CV having guided Blackpool to promotion and stability in League 1 despite their chaotic off field problems. Bowyer joins another club in crisis and he will be determined to ignite Bradford's very flat survival charge. His first game will be at home to inconsistent Peterborough and Bowyer will be desperate for a good start and he certainly needs it.

The relegation battle is extremely fascinating with the entire bottom half very much engulfed in the battle for survival. AFC Wimbledon, Bradford, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers occupy the relegation zone but from Bristol Rovers in 21st to Southend in 13th is just 4 points meaning the likes of Walsall, Oxford, Accrington, Scunthorpe and many more are nervously looking over their shoulders as the battle for survival grows even more intriguing. You would be a very brave men to predict which 4 sides will be relegated to League 2 as anyone in the bottom half could be playing in the 4th tier.

A busy February has gone and March will no doubt deliver more crucial games with points on the line as the business end of the season arrives. March kicks off with Luton vs Rochdale, Sunderland vs Plymouth and Portsmouth vs Bradford. The rest of March doesn't look bad either with plenty of games including Bradford vs Peterborough, Charlton vs Portsmouth, Barnsley vs Sunderland, Doncaster vs Barnsley, Accrington vs Rochdale, Peterborough vs Coventry, Luton vs Doncaster, Barnsley vs Coventry and Charlton vs Bradford. The business end of the season has arrived with the final three months of the season upon us with every side needing the points for various reasons whether that be for promotion or to avoid relegation.

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