We are now on the brink of the festive fixtures, it could be claimed that this weekend is the start of an intense run of games, that traditionally ends with the FA Cup third round weekend. For many teams though, preparations are well underway for the dizzying run of games that take place between now and that day, and squad depth is already being tested with injuries taking their toll.
With that in mind, teams are planning how they can strengthen during the January transfer window. A push for promotion could well depend on how they manage the rest of this month, as well as take care of business off the pitch in the coming weeks.
The first half of the League Two season has had some unpredictable scores, which is the standard as teams find their feet. However, a glance at the table as it stands suggests that many preseason pundits were correct in their assumption that Stockport County and Wrexham would gain automatic promotion. Maybe Barrow was not on everybody’s top three list, but they are there on merit.
So, if the season ended now, it would be those three that would be playing at a higher level next season. And four teams would have scrapped away to claim the playoff places for the last remaining spot in League One next term. Who then, will get that place?
Mansfield Town (4) v AFC Wimbledon (7)
The Stags were one of the last unbeaten teams in the whole EFL, and it was only a case of having drawn as many games as they won that kept them out of the top three. Nigel Clough has played a steady hand throughout and has one of the meanest defences in the division. This could be used to their advantage as they look to keep a rampant AFC Wimbledon under control. For a long time the Dons could not buy a win at home but a run of wins where they scored for fun, pushed them into the playoffs. They went up in 2016 from the same seventh spot, so the omens are good. This is billed as a defensive battle, but once the scoring starts both teams excel. AFC Wimbledon to win 5-4 on aggregate.
Crewe Alexandra (5) v Notts County (6)
Lee Bell has guided his side into contention through their play at home. This has been pivotal in keeping them in the hunt most of the season, as they look to return to League One after an absence of two years. Their approach to this tie will be to get something to hold onto from the away game at Notts County, a task that will not be easy. The Magpies will look to regain some of their early season form which had many thinking they would be doubling up promotions with Wrexham. They have had a blip but they are still in the mix, and that is the main thing. Luke Williams will have his side primed for goals early on and might just get an unassailable lead for when they travel to Gresty Road. Notts County to win 4-2 on aggregate.
EFL League Two Playoff Final
The two teams both have huge ambitions. Wimbledon is back on track after a few seasons where nothing would go right, and County are on the up after two incredible seasons where they have gone toe-to-toe with some of the lower leagues’ best teams. In a cagey opening period, the nerves are obvious as mistakes almost lead to the opening goal. And it is one of those errors that does indeed break the deadlock. A high cross is misjudged and not cleared, and County takes the lead with a low shot from just outside the area with 20 minutes to go. Wimbledon have no choice but to go for it, and they get their rewards with a penalty 10 minutes from time. Extra time is looming when County go on a surging attack and catches the Dons napping on the back post. The ball agonisingly hits the post but somehow the ball is scrambled home. Heartbreak for the London side, but joyous scenes in the Notts County end.
The League Two playoffs will be the most exciting out of the three sets of end-of-season showdowns. The urgency to get out of the division will prevail over defensive minds, and goals will flow freely. The division is one of the most competitive there has been for quite some time. The course could well change in the new year. Gillingham, Swindon Town, and Accrington Stanley are all on the brink of getting into the playoffs now, and late runs could come from Milton Keynes and Bradford City. It will be an exciting run-in and a great end to the season.