A club by club look at the top seven as the League One promotion race hots up

BARNSLEY, 5th, Points: 53. Played: 29, Goal difference: +20

Can the Reds compete with the current top four for the last three months of the season or will they be scrapping for the final two play-off places?

That question is in the balance and will be determined by whether they can perform much more like they have in their last two away games at Oxford and Bolton than in their last two home matches against Carlisle and Exeter, especially in the first halves. They cannot afford such inconsistency and must find top form and a good rhythm, which may be helped by new signings and players returning to fitness.

Barnsley need to be more ruthless – finding their pre-Exeter dominance against the lower teams then taking their chances in the massive games against fellow challengers.

They have been excellent away from home, where they are unbeaten in five, but have to start winning more regularly at home and generate the bigger atmospheres and crowds we saw in the promotion run-in a year ago.

Their first 11 looks as strong as any in the division but there are doubts over their strength in depth.

For the top two, they must look to post a points tally in the 90s which would require at least 12 wins from the last 17 games. It is a tall order but certainly not impossible.

What is their run-in like?

The home games with Derby in two weeks and Bolton ten days after that look vital.

The schedule is then a bit uncertain as they have a trip to Stevenage to rearrange as well as probably the game at Portsmouth which is in the March international break.

Those are the only four games of the last 17 against top seven sides, although their final away trip is to Blackpool who still have slim hopes of catching up with the top six.

What do the stats say?

Barnsley have faced 65 shots on target from within their box which the most in the division.

Goalkeepers Liam Roberts and Ben Killip have had to make 93 saves between them – the sixth most of any club’s goalkeepers in the division – compared to 86 for the whole of last season which was the third least. They have conceded the sixth most shots on their goal in total, at 13.3 per game this season compared to 9.4 last season.

Slow starts at home are also an issue as no side has conceded more home goals in the first 15 minutes of matches than Barnsley with six, netting only once – Devante Cole against Fleetwood in October. Their first half goal difference at home is minus one but no side has scored more than their 18 home goals in the second half.

PORTSMOUTH, 1ST, PTS: 63, P:31, GD:+22

On December 16, John Mousinho’s side were seven points clear at the top and 13 ahead of Barnsley – having lost just once all season.

But they then were beaten by Bristol Rovers, lowly Cheltenham and Leyton Orient during a run of one win in six.

They have recovered with three wins and a draw in their last four games so are four points clear at the top and five clear in the top two. But teams below have games in hand so, if they do not keep winning, the original front-runners could be swallowed up by the pack.

What is their run-in like?

The least populated of any promotion-chaser as they have played the most games, with only 15 left, but it is arguably the most difficult.

From early March to mid-April, they are due to host Oxford, visit Blackpool and Peterborough, welcome Barnsley and Derby then go to Bolton – six meetings with current top sides in nine games which may define their campaign.

What do the stats say?

Pompey have coped well with adversity this season as, not only are they the most fouled side in the division, but they have the most points after falling behind with 18.

A footballing team, they are second to Peterborough in almost every metric which measures passing and possession.

They have the best away record in the division.

How was their January window?

The general consensus seems to be that they did some of the best business.

They strengthened their midfield with Carlisle star man Owen Moxon and recruited Wigan forward Callum Lang who has been a top performer at this level for years and has two goals in two games so far for Pompey.

They also brought in Reading defender Tom McIntyre and midfielder Myles Peart-Harris on loan from Brentford.

Do they play Barnsley?

They are due to host the Reds on March 23 but that is during an international break with Pompey calling off every such game so far due to call-ups and Barnsley doing the same in November.

There is a good chance it will be postponed and moved back into April, making it one of the final games of the season.

Barnsley will look to perform better than at home in September when they went 3-0 down after 16 minutes and lost 3-2.

DERBY COUNTY, 2nd, PTS: 59, P:30, GD: +25.

After missing out on the play-offs on the final day last season, and making a fairly slow start to this campaign, the Rams have risen into top two contention with 13 wins from 18 games.

They have the biggest crowds in the division, a manager in Paul Warne looking for a fourth promotion out of it and a plethora of ex Championship and Premier League regulars such as former Barnsley captain Conor Hourihane.

What is their run-in like?

They host Stevenage and visit Barnsley this month then welcome Bolton in mid-March before a tricky Easter weekend sees them host Blackpool then visit Portsmouth.

What do the stats say?

Derby are the late goal kings – scoring 17 times after 75 minutes which is the most in League One this season.

They have also been caught offside the most in league as they try to put their talented forwards in behind the opposition defence such as Nathaniel Mendez-Laing who has the most assists in the division with ten as well as seven goals.

How was their January window?

They reportedly paid around £300,000 for winger Corey Blackett-Taylor from Charlton.

He terrorised Barnsley at Oakwell in December and had made the most successful dribbles in the division.

They sold star midfielder Max Bird to Bristol City but loaned him back for the rest of the season.

Do they play Barnsley?

County visit the Reds on February 24, looking to complete the double after a 3-0 home win in November and erase memories of a 4-1 thrashing at Oakwell almost exactly a year previously.

BOLTON WANDERERS, 3rd, PTS: 58, P:28, GD:+24

After drawing with Barnsley on Saturday, the Trotters’ match at Cambridge on Tuesday was called off due to a waterlogged pitch. That left them third, although they have games in hand on all the sides around them including three on leaders Portsmouth.

What is their run-in like?

Ian Evatt’s team have games in hand but therefore the busiest schedule, even before their midweek match was postponed.

It is also one of the most difficult run-ins in theory as they still need to visit Blackpool, Barnsley, Derby, Stevenage and Peterborough, with the latter the final game of the season – having hosted Portsmouth in their third-to-last match.

What do the stats say?

No side in English professional football have let in fewer away goals this season than Bolton with nine.

Although they conceded early to Barnsley on Saturday, they generally are the quick starters in the division with ten goals in the first 15 minutes.

How was their January window?

They made one of the most expensive third tier signings of the window when they paid Bristol Rovers a reported £750,000 for Aaron Collins who assisted a goal against Barnsley with his first touch for the club. They also loaned in full-backs Nat Ogbeta and Calvin Ramsay.

Do they play Barnsley?

They visit Oakwell on Tuesday, March 5 – just 31 days after Saturday’s draw.

PETERBOROUGH, 4th, PTS: 56, P:30, GD:+23

Posh’s 12-game unbeaten league run came to an end with a 3-2 defeat at home to Wigan on Saturday.

Their previous loss was also against Wigan, who were the only side to beat them in 22 league matches from September.

But Darren Ferguson’s side then lost 2-1 at Exeter City on Tuesday with two late own goals. They are the top-scorers in League One and have had the most shots by more than 50.

What is their run-in like?

Their league games in the next month are all against mid-table sides or relegation-battlers. Home fixtures within four days in mid-March against Stevenage and Portsmouth could be vital before they visit Oxford in their third-to-last game and finish with what may well be a massive match at home to Bolton.

They also have a semi-final of the EFL Trophy at Blackpool this month so their final run-in could include a trip to Wembley in early April and a rearranged league match.

What do the stats say?

A truly bizarre but impressive stat is that Posh have won the fewest headers of any side in League One this season but still scored the most headed goals with 11.

They have had the most possession while completing and making the most passes. Defender Ronnie Edwards has made 500 more passes than any other League One player with team-mates Josh Knight second and Harrison Burrows third.

How was their January window?

Striker Jonson Clarke-Harris did not make the expected move, having started just one league game since October – against Barnsley when he scored twice.

They also kept hold of the highly-rated Edwards and, although they sold captain Ephron Mason-Clark to Coventry, they loaned him back for the season. Their only new signing was teenage Brentford winger Michael Olakigbe on loan.

STEVENAGE, 6th, PTS: 52, P:29, GD:+14

Steve Evans’ side remain in the top six and in contention for a second successive promotion.

They could have overtaken Barnsley on Tuesday with a win at home to Reading – which would have been a fourth straight victory – in their game in hand over the Reds.

But they were beaten 1-0 by the relegation-battlers and remain sixth.

They have scored the fewest goals of the top six by nine but have the second best defensive record in the division.

What is their run-in like?

Challenging. They still must visit Derby, Peterborough and Oxford, which is their final away game, as well as hosting Bolton and Barnsley.

What do the stats say?

They have the lowest pass completion rate and made the fewest dribbles but won the most headers. Forward Jordan Roberts has made the most fouls in the division by far.

How was their January window?

They loaned in three players – Bradford striker Vadaine Oliver, MK Dons goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray and Reading left-back Nesta Guinness-Walker. They kept top-scorer Jamie Reid.

Do they play Barnsley?

Yes, but we don’t know when as the match last month was controversially postponed late on and is yet to be rearranged.

They are the only current top six side Barnsley have beaten this season, losing 2-1 at Oakwell just before Christmas.

OXFORD, 7th, PTS: 51, P:30, GD:+12

The Us are the only team in the current top nine to have changed their manager this season.

It was not through choice as Liam Manning moved to Bristol City in November having put Oxford second, eight points clear in the top six. Des Buckingham was brought in and has won four of his 14 league games so far – one of his last seven in all competitions – including a current four-match winless run which started with home defeat to Barnsley last month.

They have fallen out of the top six and, as the teams directly above them have games in hand, they are in danger of drifting out of the promotion race unless their form improves.

Blackpool are five points below them in eighth while the likes of Leyton Orient, Bristol Rovers and Northampton would need a sensational end to the season to sneak in the top six.

What is their run-in like?

They visit Portsmouth and Bolton in March then their final two home games are against Peterborough and Stevenage.

What do the stats say?

Oxford have scored the most goals from outside the box this season with 11, one more than Barnsley.

They have made the fewest fouls and received the fewest yellow cards – although they have been given five reds – while midfielders Ruben Rodrigues and Marcus McGuane are the two most fouled players.

How was their January window?

They were the busiest of all the promotion-chasers with six new signings, while keeping hold of star players like Tyler Goodrham. They are thought to have spent about £400,00 on Cheltenham striker Will Goodwin.

They also brought in wingers Kyle Edwards and Owen Dale who have performed well at this level in the past plus loanees Jamie Cumming, Tyler Burey and Jay Matete.