The Home Straight, Play-Offs The Prize
Ten games of the season remain and we sit four points off the play-offs.
There are various arguments that we should be currently in that top seven. A poor away record, a poor February, too many draws at the start of the season.... it's hard to say what has cost us the most.
As things stand, it is our home record that is carrying us. Only Gillingham and Chesterfield have better home records than us this season and only Port Vale and Gillingham can match our defensive record at Gresty Road.
I think it's slowly become apparent that the fault, which we've forever put down to inadequate defending, may not entirely lie with the defence.
We've conceded twice as many goals away from home as we have done at home this season. In fact, to really highlight our traveling troubles; we've only conceded nine more goals at home all season than we conceded in one night at Northampton.
There's a lot to be said about a decent record on the road. The best three teams away from home this season are, quite easily, the top 3 sides in the division - Bury, Chesterfield and Wycombe. Not that any of those got a goal, never mind a point, at Fortress Gresty.
So why can the defence, or the team not take their performances away from Gresty Road? It is one major issue that could be the decider in the fate of our season.
It's quite feasible we could win our remaining five home games, our run-in is quite kind compared to other teams around us. Oxford and Wycombe are our remaining top-half opponents as things stand whilst plenty may have nothing to play for by the time we match up - such as Lincoln, Bradford, Cheltenham. There`s also Stockport who will probably already be relegated by the final home game of the season.
You cannot count your chickens at all, the points are not in the bag, but compared with Vale, who have Bury, Chesterfield and Torquay in the next few weeks, and Torquay, with Vale, Chesterfield, Wycombe and Rotherham, our`s is a run-in you`d much rather have.
However, it`s all immaterial if points are not picked up on the road. Even winning every home game remaining will not be enough to claim a play-off spot in May.
The cut off point for the play-offs sits around 72 points, going from the previous seven years it`s never been lower than 66 points and it`s unlikely to reach the heights this season of the 78 points needed in 2008 for 7th. Taking an (un)educated guess, looking at how tables were panning out with 10 games to go in previous years, it`s likely 70-72 points will squeeze you into 7th. With the amount of teams on 55-56 points (4th-7th) then it could possibly be lower.
So, do we have another 21 points in us?
Simply put, yes but only with an improved away record. At home we have Accrington, Cheltenham, Lincoln, Morecambe and Stockport. Not only ranked in order of play and alphabetically but also in order of quality!
You`d have to say there`s a comfortable nine points there and you would not expect us to lose to Accrington and Cheltenham. So, on the conservative side there`s 10-12 points to be had, on the optimistic (yet quite realistic) side a full 15 points is possible.
Away from home, it`s another matter. Oxford this Saturday followed by Hereford, Barnet, Wycombe and Bradford. Such is my confidence in our away form I`m worried about soon to be relegated Barnet!
Oxford is going to be tough this weekend, if only for the matter of getting over these 7 straight defeats. A draw would not be a bad result. Barnet and Hereford do represent good chances of 3 points, in fact they are games a promotion/play-off hopeful should be winning.
Wycombe at the end of April will be a tough tough game and worst case scenario their top 3 place could rest on it. Fingers crossed they wrap up promotion before then. Finally Bradford is hard to call. They look like settling for mid-table and will be playing out their season, let`s hope we aren`t playing out ours and if we aren`t then really anything can happen on the final day of the season.
So, there is a route to the play-off spots. It`ll require form we haven`t hit this season. It'll require us to completely turn around our away form. It also requires an absolute minimum of 20 points from a possible 30 for us to be in with a chance.
But it`s possible, so back those mighty reds with everything you have for the next seven weeks!