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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Final Day Preview

With the final weekend of the regular season drawing near, Nobes looks at the issues yet to be decided in the Football League and predicts what will happen.

The only race still going on is between Nottingham Forest and Leeds for the final play off berth.

Leeds must win and hope Forest lose - as well as requiring a six goal swing in their favour to take sixth spot from the East Midlands outfit.

Crystal Palace vs. Nottingham Forest

You have to give huge credit to Forest boss Billy Davies. While others around him were losing their heads when the side went on a nine match winless run, he kept maintaining the race for the top six would go to the wire.

So it's proved, but only just. Four wins from five have seen Forest all but cement their spot in the play offs and only a mathematical freak will see them miss out now.

I don't see it happening, and a draw against a Palace side generally good at Selhurst Park will be more than enough to secure yet another top six finish for Davies.

Prediction: Crystal Palace 1 Nottingham Forest

Queens Park Rangers vs. Leeds United

There will be some serious questions asked about the bottle at Elland Road. Leeds almost choked last season in League One, and they've once again crumbled under the pressure of this year's run-in.

The last team they would want to be visiting needing a healthy victory are the Champions QPR. People forget that, for all their flair going forwards, Rangers are a very hard side to score against, let alone beat.

Leeds will give it a go, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them pick up a point - but they won't be ousting Forest.

Prediction: QPR 1 Leeds United 1

The relegation fight goes to the wire, with Bristol Rovers in all reality doomed to life in League Two next season. They will be joined by one of Notts County, Walsall, and Dagenham & Redbridge.

Notts County vs. Brighton & Hove Albion

What a quirk of the fixture list, with the three teams still battling to avoid the drop facing the top three sides in League One. A tough mission for all of them.

Notts have been revived under Martin Allen, who has used his famed motivational skills to help drag County out of a real mess.

I think they've probably done enough to see themselves safe - which is a good thing because Brighton will be looking to go out on a high on their way to the Championship next year.

Prediction: Notts County 1 Brighton & Hove Albion 2

Southampton vs. Walsall

I thought Walsall were dead and buried earlier in the campaign, but should the Saddlers complete their great escape this weekend then Dean Smith deserves the freedom of the town.

He's engineered a remarkable turnaround following the departure of Chris Hutchings, although they have to face a formidable Saints side to ensure they remain in the third tier.

It's my belief that, had Nigel Adkins been at St Mary's all season, then they would have won League One ahead of Brighton. He wasn't though, and they will have to make do with finishing runners-up and will win here.

Prediction: Southampton 1 Walsall 0

Peterborough United vs. Dagenham & Redbridge

Given the resources available at Victoria Road, boss John Still has done another incredible job to get the Daggers still in with a shout of survival on the final Saturday.

However, a trip to London Road is a tough one to try and ensure a second successive year in League One next term.

Posh are a side who have great attacking flair and pace going forwards and I can see them picking off Daggers on the break as they warm up for the play offs and send Dagenham down.

Prediction: Peterborough United 3 Dagenham & Redbridge 0

Huddersfield Town vs. Brentford

You have to feel sorry for Huddersfield. Lee Clark's side have been on an unbelievable unbeaten run that, any other season, would have seen them gain automatic promotion.

Unfortunately, the Terriers have come up against superior opponents in Southampton and will have to settle for a crack at promotion via the play offs.

Difficult to see a Bees side with nothing to play for stopping Town from ending their regular campaign with another three points.

Prediction: Huddersfield Town 2 Brentford 0

Issues all over the basement division to be decided. One of Barnet or Lincoln will join Stockport in being relegated to the Conference.

The fight for the third automatic promotion spot is a fight between Wycombe and Shrewsbury. Two from Torquay, Stevenage and Gillingham will make the end of season play offs.

Even long-time leaders Chesterfield need a point to secure the title ahead of a Bury side who can still nick it.

Chesterfield vs. Gillingham

We all thought Chesterfield would have sewn up the League Two title by now, but the Spireites have stumbled a little of late. Having led the table for so long this term too, it would be awful if they didn't end the season as worthy Champions.

Fortunately, they only need a draw - although they take on a Gillingham side who will know they must take something from the game to be in with a shout of the play offs.

Andy Hessenthaler's side have slipped up at home of late - and it may cost them a place in the play offs. Which would be an undoubted failure given their pre season expectations.

Prediction: Chesterfield 1 Gillingham 1

Rotherham United vs. Torquay United

If you'd told someone at the start of the season that one of these two sides would need a result from this game to get into the top seven, you'd have predicted that side would be Rotherham.

Not so though, as the Gulls know a win will secure them a play off spot. That would be a terrific accomplishment from Paul Buckle, who continues to strengthen his cause as one of the lower league's most talented young bosses.

They take on a Rotherham side who have struggled to take off under Andy Scott and have nothing to play for. Add in the Devon side's good record against top half sides, and I fancy a Torquay win to cement a top seven spot.

Prediction: Rotherham United 1 Torquay United 2

Stevenage vs. Bury

No one likes them, and they don't care. Indeed, Stevenage boss Graham Westley probably uses it as motivation to inspire his team in what's been an impressive debut season in the Football League.

Stevenage are a very competitive team, and have a solid record at Broadhall Way. They will be awkward opponents for any side over two legs in the play offs.

And I expect them to be in those play offs by gaining a victory over an already promoted Bury on Saturday. The Shakers blew their chance for the title last weekend really, and that may well affect them psychologically.

Prediction: Stevenage 2 Bury 1

Shrewsbury Town vs. Oxford United

After play off final defeats in 2007 and 2009, Shrewsbury fans will be dreading entering the end of season lottery and will have all fingers crossed that they can pip Wycombe to third spot.

Graham Turner's men have probably slightly overachieved this term, having consistently been in and around the top three despite a radical overhaul of the playing squad and style in the summer.

I think they'll have enough to beat an Oxford side who, although having had a good first season back in the Football League, have nothing to play for now. WEill it be enough though?

Prediction: Shrewsbury Town 2 Oxford United 0

Wycombe Wanderers vs. Southend United

These two sides were relegated from League One together last season, but it's Wanderers who now stand on the verge of returning there.

It's been an up and down campaign for Gary Waddock's men, who have often flattered to deceive and they will definitely need strengthening over the summer to prevent a swift return back to League Two in 12 months time.

As it is, I expect them to enjoy a promotion party at Adams Park this weekend with three points being enough to see them over the line.

Prediction: Wycombe Wanderers 1 Southend United 0

Barnet vs. Port Vale

I wrote an article a couple of months back suggesting the fight for League Two survival would be a huge anti climax. Barnet have proved me badly wrong though and can still beat the drop on Saturday.

That's an incredible feat considering the Bees have been a shambles all season, and always seem to flirt with relegation. The short-lived return of Martin Allen did seem to galvanise them and has given them the impetus required to survive.

Port Vale have nothing to play for - and I just fancy Barnet - with home advantage and knowing that they just need to go for the win - may well get the three points and then hope for a good result from Sincil Bank.

Prediction: Barnet 2 Port Vale 1

Lincoln City vs. Aldershot Town

Deary me. How on earth have Lincoln allowed to get themselves into such a mess? The Imps looked just about safe a few weeks back, but have embarked on a dreadful run of form at the worst possible time.

Now they could end up slipping back down into the Conference for the first time since 1988. I feel for Steve Tilson, who has done his best with a woeful squad left behind by Chris Sutton.

Aldershot are tricky opponents too. They are difficult to beat under Dean Holdsworth - particularly away from home. I can see them making life very uncomfortable for City and earning a draw - relegating Lincoln on goal difference.

Prediction: Lincoln City 1 Aldershot Town 1

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