The best and worst-case scenarios facing Portsmouth this weekend in League One
Pompey travel to Shrewsbury tomorrow with their promotion hopes finally balanced.
A win at New Meadow against Steve Cotterill’s side could propel them right back into the play-off mix.
Defeat, though, could see them plummet down the table with just 10 matches of the season remaining to rectify the situation.
As is proving to be a common theme in this season’s League One promotion race, every match day can have a massive impact on a team’s chances of getting out of the division.
Only four points separate fifth-placed Doncaster Rovers (57 points) and 12th-placed Accrington (53) in a congested top half of the table.
And with Pompey in the thick of it – eighth, with 55 points from 35 games played – every point matters at this stage of the season as the pressure intensifies.
Here, we look at the best and worst-case scenarios facing the Blues come 5pm on Saturday.
Victory for eight-placed Pompey at Shrewsbury (17th) could see them move up to fifth in the table on 58 points.
The last time they occupied such a relatively lofty position came on March 2, when a 2-1 defeat at Doncaster Rovers saw them drop from fourth in the standings.
Three defeats – all under Kenny Jackett – followed by last Saturday’s come-from-behind win against Ipswich under new head coach Danny Cowley – has seen them collect just three points since then.
But with many of those teams in and around them also struggling for consistency, the Blues have remained in touching distance of a top-six finish even if the automatic places look out of reach.
To return to fifth, though, results elsewhere are required to go their way.
Indeed, sixth-placed Blackpool (56 points) need to slip up at home to Plymouth – even a draw at Bloomfield Road would be good enough for Pompey to potentially move up to fifth.
Meanwhile, Doncaster (5th, on 57 points) would need a bad day at the office at MK Dons.
A draw at Stadium:MK could also work for the Blues, with the Fratton Park outfit’s current goal difference of +13 better than Donny’s +9.
Seventh-placed Charlton (56 points) have no game this weekend so don’t need to be part of the equation. Although, it is worth noting that they’ve played two more games than Cowley’s side.
There’s also the small matter of Shrewsbury, who will be no pushovers tomorrow.
They’ve played eight of the current top 12 teams in the division since the middle of December and are yet to taste defeat.
What’s the chances?: Shrewsbury record against the big teams speaks for itself, although they’ve only one three of their past nine games.
Doncaster, like Pompey, are struggling to keep pace with the leaders.
They’ve not won in four games and face an MK Dons side who have claimed maximum points from their past three outings.
Blackpool, on the other hand, are very much in form and have suffered just one defeat in their past 12 games.
Meanwhile, the last time they were beaten at home in the league was way back on October 20, when Charlton claimed a 1-0 win.
Pompey could conceivably sit 12th come the end of play tomorrow.
Gillingham, Ipswich, Oxford and Accrington all have the chance of leapfrogging them in the table if the Blues suffer defeat against Shrewsbury.
With the congested nature of the top half of the table, it doesn’t necessarily spell disaster.
But it won’t look good, even if Pompey have a game in hand on two of those four and two on seventh-placed Charlton.
Indeed, they could fall four points behind sixth-placed Blackpool, who will have played two matches less.
And more worryingly – just because the Blues beat them prior to Christmas to go top – leaders Hull could go a staggering 17 points clear of Cowley’s men if they beat Gillingham at the KCOM Stadium.
In the grand scheme of things that wouldn’t be too bad, with Pompey’s automatic promotion hopes all but dead and buried.
So it’s fair to say a Hull win over the ninth-placed Gills (54 points from 37 games played) would be welcomed in these parts.
The same applies to Oxford’s televised game at home to Lincoln tonight.
The U’s currently sit 11th with 53 points from their 36 games played.
Victory for them would see them move a point above the Blues, but like the Gills they will also have played more matches.
So we’re hoping for an away win in that game!
Obviously, defeat for the fourth-placed Imps could see Pompey potentially close the current seven-point gap on them, but the Blues need to concentrate on those teams who pose a greater threat to their play-off hopes immediately around them.
As mentioned, Accrington (12th on 53 points) fall into that category – and they can go above the PO4 outfit if they beat second-placed Peterborough at London Road.
As do, Ipswich (10th on 54 points), who can bypass Pompey and gain revenge following last weekend’s defeat at Fratton Park, if they beat lowly Wigan at the DW Stadium.
What’s the chances?: As mentioned above, the Blues will be up against it at New Meadow, given their hosts’ form since before the turn of the year.
So chances are Cowley’s men might need a favour or two from others to prevent them slipping further down the table.
There’s a good possibility of that happening, though.
Despite their own inconsistencies over the course of the season, Hull should be too much for Gillingham, while Peterborough would be expected to beat Accrington on home soil.
The Imps don’t exactly exude confidence, with two wins in their past 12 games.
But Oxford’s form isn’t worth writing home about either, with Karl Robinson’s side enjoying only two wins in 10 and losing their past two matches.
You’d have to fancy Paul Cook’s Tractor Boys to beat old club Wigan, however.
The Latics are third from bottom and in real danger of suffering a second successive relegation.
What about a Pompey draw?
A draw could be good enough to see the Blues climb back into the play-off places thanks to their +13 goal difference.
But as always results would need to go their way – namely a Blackpool defeat at home to Plymouth.
Meanwhile, both Hull and Wigan would need to deny Gillingham and Ipswich in their respective matches.
A draw would also open the possibility of both Oxford and Accrington sitting above the Blues come the end of play tomorrow night.
But they would need to win their games against Lincoln and Peterborough handsomely given their respective goal differences of +6 and +5.