A Most Difficult February

In most other circumstances, a point at home against a high-flying Rochdale side would have been perfectly acceptable. In fact, the two goals from new signings Dominic Samuel and Sanmi Odelusi would have had many optimistic that a corner could be turned. The fixture list though has thrown up a dauntingly difficult February with trips to Preston North End and Sheffield United interspersed with home games against an improving Scunthorpe United and promotion-chasing Milton Keynes ‘Dons’.

Failing to get the result on Saturday, alongside similar near-misses against Yeovil and Gillingham, has meant that we are firmly in a relegation battle. Having not won since that Walsall away game early in January, we could very well find ourselves in March without a win in eight games and in the bottom four.

There is a suggestion that this Coventry City side will benefit from being the underdogs for the next month. However a look at our record this season against teams in the top-half suggests otherwise – 2 wins, 5 draws and 7 defeats is the fourth worst in the division. It appears then that our hopes of being in a decent position for the ‘easier’ fixtures in March will depend then on the results of the teams above and below us. This article is a look then at how February will pan out and where we will be come springtime.

February 3rd 2015

Key Fixture – Barnsley vs Oldham

Tuesday night sees Barnsley, just a point ahead of us, take on Oldham Athletic as the Tykes play one of the games in hand they hold over us. Oldham could move into a play-off spot with a win against an inconsistent Barnsley side. However, the Latics have been poor away from home this season and a win for Barnsley here will see them move out of the relegation reckoning for the time being.

Prediction: Barnsley win

Gap between us and the relegation zone: 3 points

February 7th 2015

Key Fixtures – Colchester vs Crewe, Doncaster vs Walsall, Gillingham vs Sheffield United, Preston vs Coventry City, Rochdale vs Leyton Orient, Scunthorpe vs Oldham, Yeovil vs Crawley

The form of Lee Burge on Saturday will be crucial to kicking off a difficult month on the right foot.
The form of Lee Burge on Saturday will be crucial to kicking off a difficult month on the right foot.

Our trip to Deepdale could be a strong indicator as to how this month may pan out for us. If we can get a result of any kind here, it should give the team confidence that they can take points from the other tricky fixtures ahead. If we are beaten heavily, it could really drain the confidence of the team as we plunge further into a relegation mire. Lee Burge will have to step up massively from the level he was at when he last played for us and although Preston are winless in the league since Boxing Day, I still fancy the Lilywhites to win comfortably.

Four of the five teams below us all face each other this weekend which means that we will stay above the drop-zone regardless of what happens. Colchester face Crewe, the U’s have improved over recent weeks whilst Crewe have lost their key striker Uche Ikpeazu and succumbed 5-0 to MK ‘Dons’ at home last Saturday, Colchester win. Yeovil face Crawley with both sides desperate to maintain touching distance with the rest of the league, both struggle in front of goal and I can see this being a scrappy draw.

Leyton Orient travel to Rochdale desperate for any kind of win and looking more of a shambles with each passing week. They’ll be desperate but Rochdale are very street smart though and should at least take a point from this game. Walsall travel to an improving Doncaster Rovers side but should be good for a point. Scunthorpe are improving at an alarming pace and should be good enough to beat Oldham at home. Finally, I can’t see Gillingham taking anything from their visit to Bramall Lane.

Predictions: Colchester win, Walsall draw, Crewe loss, Gillingham loss, Coventry loss, Leyton Orient draw, Scunthorpe win, Yeovil draw, Crawley draw.

Gap between us and the relegation zone: Two points

February 10th 2015

Key Fixtures – Coventry City vs Scunthorpe, Crawley vs Doncaster, Crewe vs Yeovil, Leyton Orient vs Notts County, Peterborough vs Gillingham, Sheffield United vs Colchester

Bombed out in 2013, McSheffrey will have a point to prove to Steven Pressley.
Bombed out in 2013, McSheffrey will have a point to prove to Steven Pressley.

The home game against Scunthorpe is absolutely massive for us, barring any miracles at Deepdale, we will enter this game without a win in five league games. Not only are Scunthorpe a team in form, but in the form of Mark Robins, Gary McSheffrey and Jordan Clarke will be looking to exploit the ‘curse of the ex-player’ – the latter two especially against the boss who so unceremoniously discarded them. Scunthorpe will be massively up for this game and we will have to exceed that level of intensity. Somewhat optimistically, I am predicting a draw.

Crewe vs Yeovil is the only fixture between two teams around us in this round of games. Both will be looking to give their season a much-needed shot in the arm but Crewe have home advantage and have demonstrated some commendable battling qualities, probably as a result of using local players rather than Yeovil’s cavalcade of temporary and loan signings. I can see this being a home win for Crewe.

Crawley are generally better at home, preying on unsuspecting visitors expecting an easy contest. This game against Doncaster will be vital in keeping them in touching distance of safety and could scrape a draw against manager Dean Saunders’ old side. Leyton Orient face a badly out of form Notts County at home and this might be the game to kick-start their season. Gillingham travel to Peterborough who look to have awoken from their typical mid-season hibernation but I can see the Gills taking a point at London Road

Finally, Sheffield United are looking like they will have a big hand in the relegation battle this season. They face Colchester United in this round having played Gillingham the week before. After a stuttering start to the season, Sheffield United are starting to build a head of steam and should have too much for an improving Colchester to handle.

Predictions: Coventry City draw, Crawley point, Crewe win, Yeovil loss, Leyton Orient win, Gillingham draw, Colchester loss

Gap between us and the relegation zone: 1 point

February 14th 2015

Key fixtures – Chesterfield vs Leyton Orient, Crawley vs Barnsley, Crewe vs Fleetwood, Doncaster vs Yeovil, Gillingham vs MK ‘Dons’, Oldham vs Colchester

With no Coventry City game on Valentine’s Day weekend and with none of the teams around us actually playing each other, we could find ourselves in the bottom four after this round of fixtures.

Leyton Orient have the opporunity to put us in the relegation zone on Valentine's Day.
Leyton Orient have the opporunity to put us in the relegation zone on Valentine’s Day.

Crewe host Fleetwood and will be looking to put distance between themselves and the bottom four. Fleetwood are notoriously stingy in defence and should hold Crewe to a draw. Colchester travel to Oldham in what will be a test of such an inexperienced side’s mettle, Oldham will still be hoping to reach the play-offs and should defeat the travelling U’s. All Sky Blue eyes will be on how Leyton Orient do at Chesterfield, the Spireites are in play-off contention and should be too good for Orient.

Gillingham host MK ‘Dons’ which should be an away win for the promotion-chasing side from Buckinghamshire. Yeovil will travel to Doncaster hoping for a win but may be happy enough with a point. Crawley host an inexperienced Barnsley side and could scrape another decent result at home with a draw.

Predictions: Leyton Orient loss, Crawley draw, Crewe draw, Yeovil draw, Gillingham loss, Colchester loss

Gap between us and the relegation zone: 1 point

February 17th/18th 2015

Key Fixtures: Doncaster vs Crewe, Leyton Orient vs Bradford

Doncaster will have a big say over the relegation battle over the course of February, they will be looking to mount a late play-off push but have struggled badly at home over the course of the season. They face Crewe who may well be organised enough to frustrate Donny into sharing the points at the Keepmoat Stadium

Leyton Orient host Bradford hoping to get the win to jump out of the relegation zone and plunge us into the bottom four. Whilst Bradford will be coming off the back of another excursion in the FA Cup, they might still have the legs to take a point away from Brisbane Road.

Predictions: Crewe draw, Leyton Orient draw

Gap between us and the relegation zone: 1 point

February 21st 2015

Key Fixtures: Barnsley vs Crewe, Colchester vs Bristol City, Leyton Orient vs Oldham, Sheffield United vs Coventry City, Swindon vs Crawley, Yeovil vs Gillingham

Just one of many bad Sheffield United memories.
Just one of many bad Sheffield United memories.

It will have been a nervous 10 days waiting on other results and we will travel to Bramall Lane with that deafening sound in our ears of squeaking bums. We’ll face a Sheffield United side looking to cement their play-off spot and given our overall poor away record against the Blades, this should be an easy home victory. It will be all about the manner of the defeat that Pressley will have to cling on to.

At this point, three teams below us will be capable of catching up with us and this might at last be the weekend where we drop into the relegation zone.  Crawley travel to Swindon which should be an easy home win. Colchester host Bristol City and you would favour the promotion-chasing team there too. The attention once again will be on the fortunes of Leyton Orient who host Oldham. A point would be good enough for the O’s to leap-frog us but I can actually see them going one better and winning the game.

Crewe travel to Barnsley that weekend which I can them losing to keep them in the relegation battle. Yeovil will host Gillingham and know that a win will put them within touching distance of safety having looked marooned at the bottom for so long. I can see Gary Johnson’s side getting that vital win which will make the relegation battle even more nervy than it was before with the bottom seven teams separated by four points.

Predictions: Crewe loss, Colchester loss, Leyton Orient win, Coventry City loss, Crawley loss, Yeovil win, Gillingham loss

Gap between us and safety: 1 point

February 28th 2015

Key Fixtures: Coventry City vs MK ‘Dons’, Crawley vs Sheffield United, Crewe vs Swindon, Doncaster vs Colchester, Gillingham vs Barnsley, Scunthorpe vs Yeovil, Walsall vs Leyton Orient

Apparently, Carl Baker now plays his football in Milton Keynes.
Apparently, Carl Baker now plays his football in Milton Keynes.

It looks like we will face the free-scoring Milton Keynes ‘Dons’ at a nervous Ricoh Arena with many expecting Carl Baker and co. to waltz their way to all three points. I too cannot see anything other than a comfortable win for the franchise club, you can only imagine how nasty the atmosphere will turn come the final whistle.

Above us, Gillingham host Barnsley which they might just be able to win to put some daylight between us and them. Leyton Orient travel to Walsall which is a tough game and one that I can see the Saddlers winning. Crewe host Swindon which could an equally as heavy defeat for the Alex as our one against Milton Keynes ‘Dons’ looks like being.

Below us, Colchester travel to Doncaster where the U’s will fancy taking at least a point. Yeovil travel to a Scunthorpe side that could at that point be eyeing that final play-off spot, a win for the Iron. Finally, Crawley host Sheffield United which should be an easy win for the Blades.

Predictions: Coventry City loss, Crawley loss, Crewe loss, Colchester draw, Gillingham win, Yeovil loss, Leyton Orient loss.

Gap between us and safety: 2 points

Predicted League Table on 1st March 2015

Pos. Played Team Points GD
18 33 Gillingham 36 -11
19 33 Leyton Orient 34 -7
20 33 Crewe Alexandra 34 -30
21 32 Colchester United 32 -18
22 32 Coventry City 32 -19
23 33 Yeovil Town 30 -22
24 33 Crawley Town 30 -27

I caveat this long piece then is that football results at this level can be notoriously tough to predict. Who saw Crawley Town beating Preston North End with a Lee Fowler winner coming this weekend? The relegation picture is likely to be completely different to the table you can read above, teams will win games they shouldn’t but also lose games they shouldn’t. With the entirety of this division either scrapping for survival or going toe-to-toe for promotion to the Championship, there will be added nerves to almost every game this coming month.

So what was the point of this exercise? Mainly it was a bit of fun speculating where we might after a difficult month. Partly though it was to illustrate that if we cannot win a single game this coming month, as appears likely, we should at least be within touching distance at least of safety. This is a tough month and it may distort slightly where we are as a football team, the important thing will be to try and keep as calm as possible whilst we await the supposedly ‘easier’ fixtures.

We could enter March without a win in eight league games, our worst run of the season. It’s vital for us not to get too downhearted if we do find ourselves in the bottom four. Our final 14 games of the season only feature two games against the current top six which gives us a good chance of building momentum for what looks to be a nervous run-in.

Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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