If you’d have asked at the start of the League One season who would be in the automatic promotion as we entered October, you’d have got pretty good odds on it being Scunthorpe United and Bury.
There are a number of big name clubs fighting it out to get back into the Championship, some with more high profile players, deeper budgets and bigger attendances than the current front-runners – but the Iron and the Shakers have so far upset expectations with a combination of hard work and good play seeing them rise to the top of the division.
These two go head-to-head today knowing the winner will pull further clear of the chasing pack.
Leaders Scunthorpe travel to Gigg Lane in fine form, dispatching Walsall 4-1 in midweek away at the Bescot. Josh Morris notched a hat-trick that night and will be keen to add to his total today – with 10 goals, he is the highest scorer so far in League One this term and also has one League Cup strike to his name – his free transfer from Bradford City in the close season is looking like an absolute bargain.
With five league goals to his tally, James Vaughan might lag behind Morris in the scoring charts, but his contribution for Bury this season has been priceless – he grabbed a fine brace in midweek away at Milton Keynes Dons, ensuring a 3-1 victory for the Shakers that kept them in the promotion hunt.
Despite losing Morris from their playing roster, Bradford City have had a solid start to the 2016/2017 campaign. The third-placed Bantams maintained their unbeaten start to the season midweek, coming from behind to defeat Fleetwood Town 2-1.
But they’ll need to start converting more draws into victories if they want to go higher this season – that win ended a run of five successive stalemates – and that may be put to the test by their next opponents, Chesterfield, who come into the game at the Proact Stadium following a 3-3 draw with Gillingham.
Fourth placed Northampton Town’s strikers are trying to keep a lower profile at the moment it seems. Port Vale loanee JJ Hooper came off the bench without a name or number on his back at Swindon Town following a mix up by the Cobblers kit-man meant his jersey didn’t make the trip from their Northamptonshire base – but it didn’t matter to him as he set up the clincher in an impressive 3-1 victory at the County Ground.
At the bottom of the table, it’s all change at Coventry City as manager Tony Mowbray has resigned having failed to win in his 10 league matches so far this season. In fairness to Mowbray, 10 months ago he had the Sky Blues top of the table and their early season troubles seem to have surprised him as much as anyone else.
They posted their sixth draw of the season with a late, late equaliser from Andre Wright hauling them back to 2-2 against AFC Wimbledon, that result was enough to take Wimbledon out of the relegation places.
Mowbray described the winless start to the campaign as “embarrassing” before doing the honourable thing – his long-time number two, Mark Venus, will take over the reigns as Coventry travel to Vale Park to take on Port Vale this afternoon.
He’s not the only manager finding things tough though, Walsall boss Jon Whitney has warned his players that too many more displays like their aforementioned 4-1 home defeat by Scunthorpe will see him ‘at the dole office’.
Following last season’s near-miss in the play-offs, the Saddlers have won just twice in 10 matches this term, and have now slipped into the League One drop zone. They host 17th placed Millwall today – yet another side which only just missed out on promotion last year.
One place behind Walsall, in 22nd place, sit Shrewsbury Town. Their manager Micky Mellon has criticised the air of negativity coming from some sections of his club’s fans – two consecutive 1-1 draws not doing anything to quell the unrest on the New Meadow terraces.
A win at home to Swindon today would see them leapfrog their 18th placed rivals though – whilst a defeat or draw is probably not worth contemplating what fallout might follow.
Oldham Athletic, who are sandwiched between Shrewsbury and Coventry, have a similar carrot as they know if they can beat MK Dons at Boundary Park, they will go above the 14th placed side.
That perhaps tells you how tight the division is right now. A couple of victories could see a stratospheric rise up the table, but a couple of defeats could put your job at risk. All to play for.
Full League One Fixture List (October 1, 2016):
AFC Wimbledon vs Gillingham
Bolton vs Oxford
Bury vs Scunthorpe
Charlton vs Rochdale
Chesterfield vs Bradford
Fleetwood vs Sheffield United
Northampton vs Bristol Rovers
Oldham vs MK Dons
Port Vale vs Coventry
Shrewsbury vs Swindon
Southend vs Peterborough
Walsall vs Millwall