Football League Expert & Columnist
One Ell of a finish
Failure to gain automatic promotion will condemn Leeds to another season in League One, says Peter Beagrie.
Last Updated: 07/05/10 3:34pm
What a finale we have on our hands in League One. After 45 games of the season it's amazing that five teams are still in with a shout of the second automatic promotion place.
There is one point separating three teams, and three points separating five; I've never known a finish like it. Excitement, nervousness, anticipation - all these emotions spring to mind for the fans of those clubs involved. They'll have been made dizzy by all the permutations that are possible from the final round of fixtures.
There is a lot of stake for the clubs involved. You look at Leeds, who are still in the box seat despite limping towards the end of the season. The Leeds fans will be hoping that Lady Luck will shine on them when Bristol Rovers travel to Elland road. Having spoken to a number of supporters they're of the opinion that if the club miss out on second place they will once again come up short in the playoffs. Saturday is all or nothing as far as they're concerned, and I tend to agree with them.
At times this season Leeds have been sublime, but on other occasions some of their performances have bordered on the ridiculous. This is a such a pressurised game for them, but in their favour is the fact that Bristol Rovers have nothing left to play for.
The wheels came off for Rovers when they lost at Oldham in early April, and they have since gone five games without a win. They have had a fantastic season though and they will travel to Leeds in a relaxed manner.
It's time for Leeds' experienced players to stand up and be counted, and produce a performance that gets them over the line. There'll be over 30,000 fans roaring them on, and they'll be praying their side won't be consigned to a fourth season in the third tier.
Two teams who are hoping Leeds slip up once again meet at the Den, where Millwall and Swindon both know that victory for either could see them promoted to the Championship. But if they draw then Charlton could snatch second with a win at Oldham. And it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Huddersfield could repeat the 4-0 win they had against Exeter earlier this season and leapfrog the four teams in front of them. The permutations are never-ending!
Ultimately you have to fancy Leeds going up automatically with Norwich. If they play the game instead of the occasion then they should stay second. But the other contenders will be going all out to put pressure on them, and should they fail at least secure home advantage for the second leg of their playoff semi-final.
Things are just as tense down at the bottom of League One, where Hartlepool's three-point deduction for fielding an ineligible player now means there are four teams still in danger of occupying the last relegation place.
Just when Hartlepool's fans thought they could relax they receive this penalty for playing Gary Liddle in the 2-0 win over Brighton when he should have been serving a suspension. It's thrown them into the mire and I'm sure Jeff Stelling will be going grey overnight!
Tranmere have done fantastically well to get themselves into the position where they're actually one game from safety. They beat both Norwich and Millwall at home, which were games everyone had written off as defeats, and they go to bottom side Stockport with a fighting chance of staying in League One.
I can't see Hartlepool getting anything away to Brentford, who are a strong and organised outfit, and Exeter will find the going tough against Huddersfield. Gillingham will be hopeful they can get the point they need at relegated Wycombe to secure their status.
Morecambe on brink of first-ever playoff place
There will also be plenty of drama down in League Two, where there are two playoff places still to be decided.
Morecambe can secure their spot if they can take a point from their match with Aldershot, who sit one place above them in fourth. However, there are five teams still in contention for seventh spot, with Dagenham & Redbridge, Bury, Port Vale, Chesterfield and Northampton all harbouring playoff hopes.
Morecambe have been on an incredible run. Sammy McIlroy has done an unbelievable job bringing them out of non-league and consolidating them. And now they're on the brink of their first-ever playoff appearance. It's been incredible.
The Shrimps are capable of playing some really good football and have got some interesting characters who started off at bigger clubs. Their captain Jim Bentley started off at Manchester City while I was there, and he's been a terrific servant for the club.
If Morecambe can beat Aldershot here they'd leapfrog them, which would mean the two teams meeting again in the playoffs, but with Morecambe having the advantage of the second leg at home.
Must-win for Mariners
You would fancy Dagenham to take the other playoff place as they travel to bottom side Darlington, who are already relegated. But if they slip up, there are four sides vying to take their place.
Who will join Darlington in the Blue Square Premier will be one from Grimsby, Barnet and Cheltenham. Grimsby are on a superb late run of form, but they must win at Burton Albion if they are avoid relegation from the football league for the first time in their 118-year history.
It's going to be a weekend of heroes and villains!