One of the most interesting in unique storylines in English Football is the EFL League Two relegation battle. League Two is the fourth division of English Football and is the lowest division recognized as being "League Teams", meaning members of the EFL. In England, the Premier League is of course the top division, and is comprised of 20 teams. Below the Premier League, there are 3 divisions of 24 teams each (EFL Championship, EFL League One, and EFL League Two).
This means that there are a total of 92 "League Teams" in England, and all of the other hundreds of teams in lower divisions are what is considered "Non-League". Considering that there were 736 teams in England who competed in the 2019 FA Cup competition, and just the 92 "League" slots to go around, it goes without saying these 92 positions are highly coveted. What makes the EFL League Two relegation battle particularly interesting is that this is where each year two teams are relegated to "Non-League", while two new teams claim one of the coveted 92 slots.
What Relegation To "Non-League" Or Promotion To "League Means To A Club
This goes far beyond the prestige of simply being called a "League Team", this is literally a life or death matter for clubs as many find it difficult to stay in business after being relegated to "Non-League". Many teams find it difficult enough to bring in crowds and keep the books balanced in EFL League Two, and even League One and the Championship as these leagues do not get the type of global TV contracts that the Premier League teams enjoy. A relegation to "Non-League" means even that local TV revenue is unlikely as at this point you are walking the line between being a "Pro" or "Semi Pro" club. As a "Non-League" team you are likely to be relying on things like volunteer staff, and players that are showing up late to practice after their day jobs. Sponsorships are sparse, and crowds are difficult to bring in even when charging the most meager of gate and concession charges.
Relegation to "Non-League" is not necessarily a death sentence for teams as it is possible to bounce back. However, this often involves a change or ownership, influx of cash from an outside source, or some other type of fortuitous circumstance. On the other hand, promotion for a team from "Non-League" into League Two is a magical step that buts a club just 3 rungs below those big money teams of international fame and fortune. Below, we will take a look at which current League Two clubs are sitting in a precarious perch near or in the relegation zone. In part 2 next week, we will look which clubs from the National League may be ready to make the big jump.
EFL League Two Clubs Sitting Just Above The Relegation Zone
With just 7 match weeks remaining in League Two (a handful of teams have 8 or 9 games remaining due to reschedules), we are going to look at any team that is currently 9 or few points away from the relegation zone. There are enough games left that higher up teams in the standings could still mathematically become relegated, but it is these 7 teams (currently ranked between 18th and 24th in the League Two table) are in the greatest danger of being sent to "Non-League". These 7 teams are separated by the just 10 points in the table between Notts County in 24th with 33 points, and Crawley Town in 18th with 43 points. Cheltenham Town in 17th place enjoys a 5 point cushion over Crawley at 48 points. In addition, these 7 teams also hold the bottom 7 places in the league in goal differential, or in other words there is a significant gap in quality between these 7 clubs and the rest of the league.
18th Crawley Town - 43 Points, -18 Goal Differential - Relegation Probability Low
The Red Devils face a moderately tough schedule in their 7 remaining games with a mix of 4 games they are likely to lose, 2 games they are likely to win, and a massive game coming up this Saturday, March 30th, 2019, at Morecambe, the team directly below them in the standings. The game at Morecambe could be pivotal, and provide them some immediate cushion above the teams below them. However, all the should really need to do is take care of Yeovil (22nd 36 points) April 13th, and Notts County (24th 33 points) April 22nd. Those 6 points would put them up to 49, meaning that Macclesfield Town would need to win 5 of their last 8 just to catch them, which is unlikely for a team that has won just 8 of their first 38.
If they should slip up in one or both of those games then they could find themselves in a bit of a predicament. That's because the other 4 remaining games are against the teams that currently sit 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th in the table. While these might not be the teams on the very top of the table, these teams are going to be fighting tooth and nail to lock up a playoff spot. These teams will be salivating at the thought of a match up with an 18th place team and are unlikely to be giving up points to bottom table teams this late in the campaign. At the end of the day, all signs still point to Crawley staying up, especially if they beat Morecambe Saturday.
Player To Watch - Ollie Palmer #9 - Forward
19th Morecambe - 42 Points, -18 Goal Differential - Relegation Probability Low
The Shrimps hold the distinction of being the team with the most consecutive seasons in League Two, having played in this division every year since 2006-2007. It looks likely that they will be able to add to that streak next year, but it is by no means a forgone conclusion. However, given the friendliness of their schedule, I believe they are the least likely of the 7 teams to be relegated. This of course starts with their big match up Saturday with Crawley Town that we mentioned above. Morecambe gets the advantage of playing this one at home, and a win would vault them 2 points ahead of Crawley and leave them likely breathing easy the rest of the way.
In their other 6 remaining matches, the only game against top table teams is an away game at currently 4th place Mansfield Town on April 19th. However, even they are winless in their past 4 matches. Of the other 5 games, none are against a team currently ranked above 14th in the table. This includes a match at 23rd place Macclesfield on April 6th that they should win. Like Crawley, they likely only need to win 2 of their last 7 to safely avoid relegation. Home matches against Grimsby Town (15th 49 points) and Cheltenham (17th 48 points), as well as a trip to Cambridge United (20th 42 points) are all winnable matches. Their final game is at home against a sneaky tough Newport County team (14th 52 points), so they will want to have their position secure before then.
Player To Watch - Liam Madeville #17 - Forward
20th Cambridge United - 42 Points, -22 Goal Differential - Relegation Probability Low
Out of the teams we have looked at so far, The U's have the most uncertainty, but are still very unlikely to get relegated. They have a strange mix of things going for them, and also a few things working against them. In their favor is that they have a game in hand over the above 2 teams, meaning they have 8 games remaining. They also have the best current form of the 7 teams we are looking at as they are currently on a 4 game unbeaten streak. Working against them is that their schedule is the much more difficult than the teams we have looked at so far, and their -22 goal differential is worse than all but Macclesfield and Notts County. This of course puts them at a disadvantage in any tiebreakers.
Of their remaining matches, only their final game on May 4th against Macclesfield is their only remaining game against teams below them in the table. Even that one is on the road. They also face currently 2nd place Bury, currently 4th place Mansfield, and currently 6th place Forest Green Rovers, all on the road. Home matches with currently 9th place Colchester United F.C. and 10th place Swindon Town will be tough points to come by as well, since both of these teams are still in the playoff hunt. A home game against Morecambe on April 27th could become critical for them if a few of the teams below them make a run. It is worth noting that Macclesfield also has 8 games remaining. If Macclesfield were to go on a run, and Cambridge were to stumble against their tough schedule then that last game could be a loser goes down match.
Player To Watch - Jevani Brown #20 - Forward
21st Port Vale - 41 Points, -12 Goal Differential - Relegation Probability Moderate
While it may seem like a huge difference between 41 and 42 points, the way the table lines up, it is a big point. The reason being that with Macclesfield sitting on 34 points in 23rd, they would need just 2 wins and a draw to move up level with Port Vale on points. Of course they would need 3 wins or 2 wins and 2 draws to move level of pass the 42 point teams. They also face one of the more difficult schedules to end the year. The Valiant's second to the last match of the year, at home against Macclesfield on April 27th is the only game they have remaining against a team below them in the table. The remaining 6 opponents on their schedule are all in 13th place or higher.
To make things even more difficult for Port Vale, their last game of the season is at Bury, who is currently second in the table, and on a run of good form. As you may have noticed a trend, every team that we have talked about so far faces Macclesfield. This means 2 things. One is that Macclesfield will be playing a lot of those 6 point relegation games that Arran mentioned in his recent article. The second is that Macclesfield will be playing a lot of winnable games against lower table teams. Add all of this up and it is not improbable that a team with a tough schedule like Port Vale could end up falling down to a team like Macclesfield that is playing a lot of winnable matches. It will be critical for Port Vale to win at least one of their home matches against Crewe Alexandra (12th 53 points) on April 6th, or Stevenage (11th 54 points) on April 19th in addition to beating Macclesfield if they want to stay up.
Player To Watch - Luke Hannant #11 - Midfielder
22nd Yeovil Town - 36 Points, -20 Goal Differential - Relegation Probability High
The Glovers are a team in trouble, and even though they are 2 points clear of Macclesfield right now, I am going to pick them to be one of the two teams relegated. They don't have the most difficult schedule, but it isn't the easiest either. They don't have any games left against teams below them in the table (there are only 2). They also only have one game remaining against the 7 teams on this list, a home match against Crawley Town on April 13th. The rest of their games are against teams ranging anywhere between 8th and 14th in the table, so there are not a lot of easy points out there, if any.
To make matters even worse, their form is absolutely horrific as of late. Not only have they dropped their last four games in a row, they haven't scored a goal in any of them either. In fact, they haven't scored a goal since March 2nd against Morecambe. They are the first team we have come across that does not play Macclesfield coming up, however, when they played them a fortnight ago they were beaten 2-0. They will at least need to win their home game against Crawley Town and scrape out another point or 2 if they have any hope of staying up. It is both impressive, and indicative of a larger issue with the team that defender Carl Dickinson is tied for the team lead with forwards Alex Fisher and Yoann Arquin for the team lead in goal involvement with 7.
Player To Watch - Carl Dickinson #3 - Defender
23rd Macclesfield Town - 34 Points, -24 Goal Differential - Relegation Probability High
The Silkmen have had an atrocious season winning just 8 of their first 38 matches. That being said, I think the cards are lining up for them to avoid relegation. As we have already established above they have 3, games remaining that are the 6 point variety. Two of those, against Morecambe on April 6th, and the massive, final game of the season May 4th against Cambridge United are at home. They have Port Vale on the road in their second to the last game April 27th. If they can get 2 wins out of those 3 games, and pick up a draw elsewhere on the schedule then I think that will be enough to get them past Yeovil.
They have also played just 38 games, meaning they have a game in hand on everyone on this list except Cambridge United. It's not all a walk in the park for Macclesfield however, as they have some tough match ups, in particular, coming up this Saturday March 30th against Lincoln City. Right now Lincoln is 8 points clear of Bury in second at the top of the table, and in excellent form. They also have a difficult trip to 6th place Forest Green on April 13th. In other words their margin of error will be low in their 6 point games, because points will be scarce in their other match ups.
Player To Watch - Michael Rose #24 - Defender
24th Notts County - 33 Points, -34 Goal Differential - Relegation Probability Very High
In spite of showing some faint signs of life the past few months, The Magpies are very likely to be relegated from the "Football League" for the first time since 1888, the first season of "League Football". Not only were they one of the original 12 teams from 1888, but they are the oldest team currently in the EFL with a history dating all the way back to 1862. Their relegation will be a truly sad day in history. Luckily, with a large (19,000 plus capacity) stadium, and a long time following they are a team that should be able to bounce back. As of January, current owner Alan Hardy put the club up for sale. With any luck a buyer with the resources to restore the team back to respectability will come along. Until that happens it is looking like things will be difficult for their supporters.
Their remaining schedule this year isn't overwhelming difficult, but is not a cakewalk by any means either. The toughest remaining team on their schedule is currently 3rd play MK Dons, who they play at home on April 19th. Their best chances to win are at Crawley Town April 22nd and at home against Grimsby Town April 27th. Road games with Crewe, Stevenage, and Swindon Town are unlikely to yield many points. As much as I hate to say it, I just don't see where Notts gets the points to climb out of the basement in any scenario.
Player To Watch - Kane Hemmings #15 - Forward
Coming In Part 2 Of EFL League Two Relegation Battle
Now that we have taken a look at which teams are most likely to get relegated, next week in part 2 with we will take a deep dive into "Non League". We will take at look at the National League (the 5th Division of English Football) and which 7 teams from that league are most likely to replace the two teams who get relegated from EFL League Two.