What it takes to clinch automatic promotion
Each season is different. Every season, teams fluctuate up and down the divisions. And every season it takes a different amount of points to gain promotion, or to win the title. This piece will look at the recent history of points totals in League Two and what that means for the teams fighting at the top this campaign.
The 2019/2020 season was an anomaly, with the impact of COVID meaning the season wasn't properly completed, so it serves as an outlier in this discussion. No one will ever know how the season would have panned out if the pandemic never happened.
Between 2018 and 2022, excluding the COVID year, the winning total has only ranged between 82 and 85. This gives teams, targeting the top, somewhat of an idea of a points tally to aim for target for. The benefit of being in League Two is that there are three automatic places up for grabs, in comparison to only two in League One and the Championship. This gives teams in the lower section of the top half, chasing the playoffs, more hope, because they know 7th gets you into the playoffs. But what does tend to happen is a significantly bunched mid table, where little separates the majority of the teams who finish in the top half. This makes the end of the season a highly palpable experience for teams and fans.
Looking at the points total of 7th place, in relation to the teams below them who have narrowly missed out, the range is six points (from 71-77), in the same time span as previously mentioned (except the impacted 2020 climax). This again, despite being liable to oscillation, gives teams aiming for the playoffs a sense of how many points they may need come the end of the season. A trend is apparent with little variation from year to year.
However, the competitiveness of the division makes it highly difficult to keep up with the best, and a bunched table means one loss can ruin an entire season. In 21/22, just five points separated 3rd placed Bristol Rovers (who dramatically went up on the final day on goals scored, following a 7-0 demolition of relegated Scunthorpe) and 9th placed Tranmere. This illuminates the 'every game matters' mentality, that the difference between automatic promotion and ninth is less than two wins across a span of 46 games.
The previous year, the disparity was nine points between third and ninth, but three teams who made the playoffs (Newport, Forest Green and Tranmere) all finished on 73 points, although none of them ended up going up. In 2019, just one point was the difference between seventh and tenth, and three points between sixth and tenth, that is how minimal the margins are in this league.
Looking at the opposite end of the table, the total for safety, with only the bottom two being relegated, has been either 44 points (twice) or 48 points since the 18/19 campaign.
Fast-forward to this year, Hartlepool currently sit in 22nd on 29 points with 11 games to go - 15 points short of that mark. They are also six points adrift of 21st, having played a game more, and only four points off the bottom.
It is hard to determine definitive positions because teams have played different number of games due to weather postponements or cup games. But Leyton Orient enjoy an 11 point cushion at the summit whilst ten points segregates Carlisle in second and Barrow in tenth. With eleven games left for The O's, it seems as if the aforementioned target total is within reach. Around four more wins and they're up, right? I'm afraid it is not that easy in this league, nothing is guaranteed. Orient will be made to fight for their title until the very end and a bad run of form can ensue at any moment, no matter how well they have played for the majority this season.
But that is why fans love the EFL. It is not over until it is over, as proved by Bristol Rovers on the final day last season. Sure, Leyton Orient are nearly there, but not quite yet...