League One Preview: Gameweek 45

Dean Holden

Dean Holden

In League One, Bradford and Barnsley’s play-off hopes are over, and they will play out what could be a low key, end-of-season game at Valley Parade. Preston must beat 4th place Swindon Town to ensure that automatic promotion is in their own hands on the final day, while Oldham manager Dean Holden will return to Walsall, where he spent his final 2 years as a player.

Bradford v Barnsley

Both Bradford and Barnsley are on a poor run of form, which has seen their play-off hopes evaporate. Bradford have only won 4 games out of a possible 16 since they beat Sunderland in February, and you wonder if that FA Cup run, instead of boosting confidence, has had the effect of draining the players. On the other hand, it cannot be underestimated the impact that Andrew Davies’s fitness problems has had on the Bantams. Since the start of last season, Bradford have picked up 1.69 points per game with Davies in the side, and just 0.74 points per game without him. While Bradford have relied heavily on Andrew Davies’s experience, Barnsley operated with a very youthful back-line in their 1-1 draw with Peterborough. Lee Johnson is clearly looking to build for next season, and deserves credit for giving opportunities to young defenders such as Mason Holgate and George Smith, who are beginning to shine at Oakwell. This blog predicts a low-scoring draw between two sides who have little to play for.

Preston v Swindon

Preston North End are just 2 wins away from promotion to the Championship, but for the supporters, it will not feel that simple. Although Preston are unbeaten since the end of January, they have drawn 5 of their last 8 matches, and had taken the lead on each occasion. If the Lilywhites do fail to secure promotion this season, they will only have themselves to blame, because they have had all of their key players available in the last few weeks. Swindon Town will be without midfielder Massimo Luongo for this match, as Mark Cooper has said that he will be rested due to a minor groin injury. Another dilemma for the Robins boss is who to start up front. Forwards Michael Smith and Andy Williams are among Swindon’s top scorers, but both have offered little in recent weeks. Cooper has begun to start Jonathan Obika as the main striker, and although he has not scored recently, he has been contributing a lot to the team in terms of pace and work rate. The pressure on Saturday will be on Preston to win, but Swindon have shown mild signs of finding some goalscoring form and they may cause problems at Deepdale.

Walsall v Oldham

Oldham manager Dean Holden will return to the Banks Stadium, where he spent an injury-plagued 2 and a half years as a player. Both Walsall and Oldham are set to finish mid-table, and they will look back on the season with mixed feelings, because a play-off finish had looked possible for both teams at certain stages. Walsall do not concede many goals, and a factor behind this is the discipline of the team. They have only had one sending off this season, James Chambers in an FA Cup replay at Shrewsbury, and even that got overturned. Another reason for their defensive record is the performances of Richard O’Donnell. The goalkeeper was player of the year last season, and he has had another impressive campaign, prompting manager Dean Smith to offer him a new contract. On the subject of goalkeepers, Oldham’s Joel Coleman kept his third clean sheet in 8 games in the 0-0 draw with Chesterfield last week, and made at least one impressive save in that match. Oldham have been strong at the back lately, but in possession, they have been known to play too many long balls. Rhys Murphy has been criticized for his performances since joining from Dagenham & Redbridge, but he is not the type of striker that will win high balls in the air. Murphy is more effective at running onto early through balls, and he has not been given that kind of service. This blog predicts a narrow home win for Walsall.