David Pritchard – Oxford Mail
Reasons for optimism: Just in the nick of time, United have clicked into gear with 16 points from the last seven games.
That’s a third of their total points this season, which has taken them from the bottom four – where they have been in residence for most of the campaign – to the heady heights of 12th.
Significantly, they have tightened up defensively and are now staying in games even when not playing well. Keep that up and there are the attacking options who should be able to get them over the line.
Even with a stutter in the next month, there are nine teams now between them and the dreaded dotted line.
Reasons to be fearful: Their biggest danger now could be complacency – and they have repeatedly stumbled after appearing to get out of trouble this season.
While the table looks good, 49 points is unlikely to be quite enough and one more win is probably needed. Although that sounds simple, the concern would be if it did not come quickly.
The next two games are against Walsall and AFC Wimbledon and if they fell short in those games, the pressure would begin to ratchet up again.
And United really do not want to take it to the final day of the season, when they visit Luton Town.
Predictions: 21. Scunthorpe 22. Southend 23. Rochdale 24 Bradford.
Luke Cawdell – Kent Online
Reasons for optimism: Form of late has been relatively good (one defeat in seven) and they’ve managed to put some distance between themselves and the bottom four. The recent win at AFC Wimbledon was massive. A handful of January signings has helped boost competition and given everyone a lift, having slipped into the bottom after a February defeat at Barnsley. Since then the manager has returned to his preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation, he has had a settled side and with a 20-goal striker in Tom Eaves upfront there is always hope.
Reasons to be fearful: It would take a disastrous run of results now to see the Gills go down and they’ve got a number of struggling sides still to face. One more win should suffice. Anything’s possible but the Gills have found some good form at the right time and they’re now targeting a mid-table finish.
Predictions: 21. Wycombe 22. Southend 23. Walsall 24. Bradford
Chris Errington – Plymouth Herald
Reasons for optimism: Argyle looked doomed to relegation after they replaced AFC Wimbledon at the bottom of the table on Boxing Day following a 2-1 defeat at the South London side. However, since then, their record has been seven wins, six draws and three defeats from 16 games. That has seen them move up to 14th position. The Pilgrims’ home form has been strong over recent months and in Graham Carey and Ruben Lameiras they have two players who can win any match.
Reasons to be fearful: There is only a five-point margin between them and the relegation zone. Argyle will play three of their next four games against top six opposition – Charlton, Doncaster and Barnsley – so they have some tough fixtures coming up.
Predictions: 21. Scunthorpe 22. Southend 23. Walsall 24. Bradford.
Lewis Cox – Shropshire Star
Reasons for optimism: I have been fairly confident that Town have enough to not be relegated all season. Their squad is too good. But it hasn’t transpired on to the pitch as, going into last Saturday, Shrews were still 19th in the tight standings. They did, however, manage an absolutely crucial victory over struggling Southend to lift them to 15th on 46 points, probably needing two more wins from the last six games for safety. Sam Ricketts’ side’s run-in is also decent, they play four relegation rivals. They have forwards and midfielders – and a centre-back – who score goals.
Reasons to be fearful: Town’s away results have been their big Achilles Heel this term. The Roots Hall win was just their third on the road this season. Hopefully that is a sign they have learned what it takes to win on the road. Another big issue has been defending set-pieces, the severely hampered them a couple of weeks ago in disastrous defeats at Rochdale and Plymouth. No-one of a Salop persuasion wants relegation to be a prospect come the final day versus rivals Walsall.
Predictions: 21. Rochdale 22. Southend 23. Walsall 24. Bradford.
John Evely – Bristol Post
Reasons for optimism: The Gas keep picking up points and they have one very big reason for optimism and that is their big striker Jonson Clarke-Harris. Has there been a better January signing this season in League One? I don’t think so. The former Coventry City forward has now scored nine goals in nine games for Rovers to give them the cutting edge they missed at the start of the season.
The Pirates have a near perfect run in as they still have to play Bradford City, Rochdale and AFC Wimbledon who all sit in the bottom three places in League One as it stands.
Reasons to be fearful: Graham Coughlan’s side are sat in 16th place and are just seven points away from reaching the magical 52 point benchmark. In truth there is no way I can see them going down this season. The Gas are a considerably better side than their league position suggests, the fact they have a superior goal difference to everyone else up to 11th suggests that.
But, they are only three points off the drop zone and that means mathematically they are still in trouble.
Predictions: 21. Southend. 22. Scunthorpe 23. Rochdale 24. Bradford.
Nicholas Tunney – Bucks Free Press
Reasons to be optimistic: Despite their recent run of form, Wycombe are not playing too badly. They deserved a lot more from their recent matches against Shrewsbury and Oxford. They also should have beaten Sunderland. The run-in is also fairly kind and in the space of four games they play Southend, Rochdale, Walsall and AFC Wimbledon which will be pivotal. I am very confident Wycombe will survive. Just need one win and I think another will follow straight after such is the strength of their performances.
Reasons to be fearful: Wycombe have had a wretched run and not won in 10 games. They have a very worrying habit of conceding last minute goals at the moment that needs to eradicated.
Predictions: 21. Scunthorpe. 22 Southend. 23. Wimbledon 24. Bradford.
Alex James – Lancashire Live
Reasons for optimism: The manager. John Coleman performed a miracle to get Stanley promoted last season and keeping the side in League One will a terrific achievement. He knows how to get the best out of his players and the squad has enough quality to ensure safety. The games in hand could be crucial too with the Reds having played two fewer matches than most of their relegation rivals.
Reasons to be fearful: Form. Stanley have struggled in recent weeks with just one win in seven – a run that has also seen five defeats. Indeed the Reds have won just twice since Boxing Day in the league and need to arrest that worrying trend – and quickly. Goals have also been an issue with only Wimbledon scoring fewer in the league this season although the Reds have found the net with a bit more regularity in recent weeks.
Predictions: 21. Wimbledon 22. Scunthorpe 23. Southend 24. Bradford
Paul Crute – Scunthorpe Live
Reasons for optimism: Unfortunately very few at the moment. But in players like Adam Hammill and Tony McMahon, the Iron have players who can change a game. Hammill has not managed to nail down a starting spot but he added some much needed added impetus when he came on against AFC Wimbledon and created the Iron’s goal. McMahon has been superb since arriving in January and his delivery from crosses and set pieces is excellent. Scunthorpe just need to take advantage of it. They may also be helped by the fact they have a relatively favourable run in. Teams such as Southend, Walsall, Accrington and Wycombe are all on poor runs and Scunthorpe may be saved by the fact that there are four worse teams in the division than themselves.
Reasons to be fearful: Scoring goals is the big problem for Scunthorpe at the moment. If you take the Southend game out of it, when they won 4-1, they have only managed four goals in their last seven games. Three of those have been consolation goals. Some of the old elementary mistakes have crept back into the defence as well and when the Iron do go behind they rarely look like getting back into the game. Conceding the goals coupled with the strikers firing blanks is not a good recipe and it is hard to see where the next win is coming from.
Predictions: 21. Southend 22. Walsall 23. Rochdale 24. Bradford
Chris Phillips – Southend Echo
Reasons for optimism: Simon Cox would be the main one. He’s got 16 goals so far this season and considering he’s been quite an isolated figure at times that’s some achievement. Cox has been Blues’ only fit senior striker for the last six games but Stephen Humphrys’ is close to making a return. That could give Southend a boost and there’s hope the new managerial appointment of Kevin Bond will do the same during the run-in.
Reasons to be fearful: Southend have now gone 12 games without a win and have taken just four points from the last 36 on offer. They have also gone 12 games without a clean sheet and have gone three games without scoring so it doesn’t look great at the moment.
Predications: 21. Accrington 22. Wycombe 23. Rochdale 24. Bradford.
Joe Masi – Express & Star
Reasons for optimism: The Saddlers have played very well in six of their last seven games. They were also okay at Doncaster bar a disastrous opening four minutes. The trouble is that run coincided with fixtures against Portsmouth, Sunderland and Barnsley before the trip to Keepmoat. And the top sides just had enough to edge them out. Going forward, they are creating chances and look a threat. If they become just a touch more clinical they have enough quality to stay up.
Reasons to be fearful: If 52 points is the benchmark to stay up, Walsall have to win three of their remaining six games and get a draw. But they have only managed three victories on their last 13 outings. And nine of those 13 matches ended in defeat.
Predictions: 21. Wycombe 22. Southend 23. Rochdale 24 Bradford
Richard Cawley – South London Press
Reasons for optimism: Form. Backtrack a couple of months and the Dons looked doomed. But they have banked 13 points from their last six matches and only Charlton, Sunderland and Luton can better that return. Goals win you games and in recent weeks Joe Pigott and James Hanson have both started finding the net on a regular basis. Wally Downes has switched things around since replacing Neal Ardley and there is a whole lot more mobility to this side. Wimbledon always knew their run-in – they go to Bradford on the final day and have Accrington Stanley and Oxford next up – gave them a shot of climbing clear.
Reasons to be fearful: The Dons are still in the role of chasers – and that’s probably aided them. In recent weeks they’ve had nothing to lose in matches by going for the jugular. If the dynamics change, and they become the chased, it will be interesting to see if that changes an approach which is working. They are also still capable of defensive lapses, the 4-2 home loss to Gillingham is a prime example.
Predictions: 21. Southend 22. Walsall 23. Rochdale 24. Bradford
John Dunn – Football commentator
Reasons for optimism: Since the departure of long serving boss, Keith Hill, temporary manager Brian Barry Murphy has lifted the whole mood of the club and the Irishman is unbeaten in all four of the games in which he has taken charge.
Despite having the worst defence in the league, the goals conceded column has stopped ticking over at the rapid speed it was under Hill.
There has also been a return to the team, and to the goals, for Aaron Wilbraham. The striker turns 40 later this year and seemed to have being discarded by Hill. Our talisman and skipper Ian Henderson also his goal drought at Gillingham on Saturday. Looking for another omen? Dale’s last day heroics,( Joe Thompson and all) last season came against Charlton Athletic. The same team Dale play on the last day of this season.
Reasons to be fearful: Games against promotion hopefuls Sunderland and, Portsmouth, and Charlton will be huge tests. Despite the defence being much improved there is still visible frailties. The good run had coincided with the emergency loan signing of goalkeeper Andy Lonergan. He has impressed in recent weeks but with Josh Lillis now recovered from injury Lonergan has returned to Middlesbrough. The remaining games are all six pointers including the game in hand against Lancashire rivals Accrington Stanley.
Predictions: 21. Scunthorpe 22. Southend. 23 Wimbledon 24. Bradford
Simon Parker – Telegraph & Argus
Reasons for optimism: The Bantams have lost four in the bounce and yet the gap to safety remains at a tantalising six points. They could have been cut completely adrift but other results have still given them a sniff of a chance – if they can somehow put a late run together. City’s final three games are all against teams in the relegation mix, Gillingham, Scunthorpe and Wimbledon – so they must cling on to the coat-tails of the clutch of sides above by that point to keep any hopes of survival alive.
Reasons to be fearful: City need another 14 points from the last six games to reach the 50 mark that is usually seen as enough to stay up. They have had one purple patch this season with four wins out of five games over Christmas and New Year but otherwise have never managed to string back-to-back victories together. So the prospect of this team suddenly winning at least four of the final six games seems an unlikely one.
Predictions: 21. Southend 22. Wimbledon 23. Rochdale 24. Bradford.