What Blackpool, Sunderland, Lincoln, Portsmouth, Charlton and Oxford are all saying ahead of a dramatic League One final day
As League One heads into its final weekend, all eyes will be on the race for the play-offs.
While Sunderland, Lincoln City and Blackpool are already assured of a spot in the top six, any one of the trio can still clinch third place and what – on paper at least – is perceived as the most favourable draw.
And the race for sixth place remains wide open too, with Portsmouth in pole position. Oxford United and Charlton Athletic are poised and ready to pounce if Danny Cowley’s side slip-up, though.
Ahead of the final day, we take a look at how each side enters the final day – and what they have been saying ahead of a crucial 90 minutes:
Final day opposition: Bristol Rovers (H)
Last six: WWWLLW
Results v Sunderland: W 1-0 (H), W 1-0 (A)
The Seasiders enter the final day of the season in third and know that a win against already-relegated Bristol Rovers will secure that spot.
Neil Critchley’s side have been in fine form since the turn of the year and have steadily climbed the table – eventually clinching a top six finish with victory over Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday.
But for ex-Liverpool youth coach Critchley, the job isn’t done yet.
"Getting into the play-offs is nice but it doesn’t mean too much,” he said.
“We’re one of four in there and it’s going to be really tough. We’re going to have to be at our best to win the play-offs. It’s fantastic, but the message in the dressing room is we’ve still got a job to do and we’re not finished yet.”
Crithcley also confirmed that the club would not be tactically trying to finish in a certain position in order to draw another side.
"They’re all good teams,” he told the Blackpool Gazette.
“Sunderland were very good against us, Lincoln have beaten us and drawn with us and who knows with the final one, whether it’s Portsmouth, Oxford or Charlton.”
Final day opposition: Northampton Town (H)
Last six: WLDDLL
The Black Cats have the poorest run of results of any of the sides in play-off contention, but will be buoyed by Saturday’s win at Plymouth Argyle and the return of some key players.
And for Lee Johnson – who is yet to manage in a play-off campaign – the prospect of a final shootout for promotion is an exciting one.
"It wasn’t a relief because I knew we’d do it, I always had faith, but for me the relief is like ‘Bang! Here we go…’,” he said, after Sunderland clinched their top six finish last weekend.
“That’s how I genuinely feel. More than anything the boys are desperate for the mental rest and now we can actually enjoy a performance going into the Northampton game.
“I don’t care who we play in the play-offs, I genuinely don’t, so there will be no cleverness – if you like – from us. We will just do what is right for us and then come out of the traps like greyhounds when it comes to the play-offs.”
Johnson also intends to use Sunday’s clash with Northampton as a ‘warm-up’ for the play-offs.
"I want to win the game and I want to perform well," he said.
"I might use my five subs for this one based on what we require at the moment because we need to be in a position to peak for the play-offs.
"We need our best for that moment and I think this is the warm-up for that moment, if you like. I'm excited for the play-offs and I think it's something we've got to enjoy and embrace."
Final day opposition: AFC Wimbledon (H)
Last six: LDWLWW
Results v Sunderland: L 1-4 (H), D 1-1 (A)
The Imps have been promotion contenders throughout the campaign and sit fifth heading into the final day.
They face a tricky final day test against a resurgent AFC Wimbledon, with boss Michael Appleton aiming to avoid any further injuries ahead of the play-offs.
When asked about his aims for the final day, Appleton told Lincolnshire Live: “The performance would be good. Usually when we play well, we win. First and foremost, try and get a performance.
“The most important thing is that we come out of the game with no injuries and that our so-called strongest XI are fit and ready for the 18th or 19th.
“If we lose the game and don’t play as well as I would like, yes I would be disappointed, but the bigger picture is making sure we’ve got a fit and available squad for the play-offs.”
Final day opposition: Accrington Stanley (H)
Last six: WDWLLD
Results v Sunderland: L 0-2 (H), W 3-1 (A)
It’s been a topsy-turvy 2020/21 campaign for Pompey, who have shown some tangible signs of improvement under new boss Danny Cowley.
And while the future of the former Lincoln boss remains unclear, he remains focused on securing a top six finish.
A win over Accrington Stanley will secure the side’s place in the play-offs – with Cowley urging his players to grasp the opportunity.
“For the players to have shown resilience, grit and determination to find a way of it being on our terms going into the final game of the season is tremendous,” he said, speaking to The News.
“What we have done is create an opportunity. The best players and best teams when presented with an opportunity take it – and that’s what we aim to do on Sunday.
“It has been a wonderful challenge and one I have enjoyed every day.
“But if you want to be remembered and want to be good, you have to take the opportunity when it arises, and that’s the challenge for us.”
Final day opposition: Burton Albion (H)
Last six: WWLWWW
Results v Sunderland: L 0-2 (H), L 1-3 (A)
The U’s have been in excellent form since their Good Friday defeat at the Stadium of Light and sit in seventh ahead of the final day.
Their destiny is out of their own hands, but Karl Robinson is determined to ensure his side are ready to capitalise if Portsmouth drop points.
And in order to aid preparation, the manager has arranged a hotel stay for his players the day ahead of the Kassam Stadium clash.
“I have been in the same situation twice before, achieved it once, missed out once so you just don’t know,” he said.
"Six years ago I was involved in a similar game where we were a point adrift ahead of a 12 o’clock game on a Sunday. We felt staying overnight was the best way of doing things because we can get them together, do our usual pre match walk, get the right foods cooked properly and you’re in control of everything.
"So we will meet at a hotel on Saturday then be ready on Sunday morning.”
Final day opposition: Hull City (H)
Last six: WDDLWD
Results v Sunderland: D 0-0 (H), W 2-1 (A)
The Addicks are outsiders in the race for the play-offs, but could still finish sixth if results go their way.
Nigel Adkins’ side have a tricky test against champions Hull City – but striker Jayden Stockley is hopeful that an early goal could boost their chances of a successful outcome.
"We’re going to give it absolutely everything this weekend,” he said.
“Ben Watson was at Nottingham Forest last season and they were pushing for the play-offs but there was a six-goal swing on the last day. He told us about it – that was the importance of beating Lincoln.
“Things like that can happen, it’s a mad day. We go 1-0 up early against Hull and other peoples’ benches get a whiff of it – it spreads panic.
“We know if we win then we’ve got a chance. We don’t need to worry about anyone else’s score.”