The bottom of League One has attracted a lot of attention this week with 12 teams all involved in an epic relegation run-in. However, with the international break upon us, it is time to focus on the top of League One and those clubs vying for automatic promotion to the Championship. It looks to be two from the four teams at the top of the league and we assess each of their chances below.
Luton Town (1st - 80 points - 38 games)
The Hatters have an absolutely remarkable season since gaining promotion from League Two, firing in 72 goals this season and playing some sumptuous stuff. Luton may have lost manager Nathan Jones to Stoke midway through the season but Mick Harford has taken the club on and kept them well in the promotion race.
Luton boast a five-point lead over their nearest rival and look almost certain to record back-to-back promotions and a return to the Championship. With some favourable fixtures coming up, and relegation candidates Wimbledon nd Oxford to take on in their last three games, promotion should be secured at the end of the season. That leaves three teams vying for one spot.
Barnsley (2nd - 75 points - 38 games)
Barnsley are a side looking to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt and they are playing some wonderful football under German boss Daniel Stendel. Their fluent attacking football means often their defensive solidity is overlooked but they do boast the tightest backline in League One, having conceded just 28 goals this season.
That record has put them into the top two although they will slip down to third if Sunderland win their game in hand. You have to say Barnsley’s run in could not be kinder. They face no sides currently in the top six in their run-in whilst taking on several teams battling against relegation. They must be licking their lips at the look of this run-in and the prospect of an instant return to the second tier. They will face fierce competition, however.
Sunderland (3rd - 73 points - 37 games)
Sunderland are without doubt the big dogs of League One this season but they have not had things all their own way as you can see from the table. They also are one of the few sides in the division this weekend to not be playing, such is the quality of their squad, they have lost several to the international break. That means they face an almighty fixtures pile up this month as they try to catch up, but it also puts the pressure on the Black Cats.
You would rather have points on the board than games in hand but the pre-season favourite also face some difficult games, including a CheckaTrade final against Portsmouth. The Black Cats must achieve promotion this season but it is not a given, and the play-offs could provide a banana skin.
Portsmouth (4th - 73 points - 38 games)
Pompey face a tough test to make it into the top two, they are four points off Barnsley. Kenny Jackett’s men have been impressive again this term but it looks as if they will have to settle for a play-off place unless they can put a run together.
Pompey have a huge run of games where they take on Coventry, Sunderland and Peterborough in a matter of weeks. That will define their season but they have surely secured a play-off place and will have to go through that end of season lottery.
Verdict: Luton and Barnsley to go up.