League One: University of Reading experts predict ‘final table’ without coronavirus

Coventry City were five points clear at the top of League One when the season was suspended on 13 March

There remains uncertainty about if and how the League One season will be completed.

Some teams are keen to complete their remaining fixtures, others say the costs and safety risks involved in restarting the season are too great.

What happens next? And how might the final table have looked if the season had not been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic?

League One timeline

No definitive decisions have been made about the respective outcomes of any of the English Football League’s three divisions.

While there has been fairly broad agreement between clubs in the Championship to attempt to complete their season, and between League Two teams to end the regular season at its current point, clubs in the third tier have not yet been able to find common ground.

Six clubs towards the top of the table – Sunderland, Portsmouth, Oxford, Fleetwood, Ipswich and Peterborough – jointly voiced their collective desire to restart the campaign earlier this month.

Others, such as Rochdale and AFC Wimbledon, have pinpointed financial and safety concerns which make them less in favour of a resumption.

The EFL announced their “recommended framework” for how the season could be completed last week – with promotion, relegation and play-offs still in place in the event of a curtailment.

The EFL board will review feedback from clubs, including an alternative plan from Tranmere based on “statistical analysis of points per game going back three years”, at a meeting on Wednesday and then put forward a proposal to be voted on by clubs at an EGM.

If that is passed, the individual divisions will vote on how they wish to proceed, with the league saying a majority of at least 51% will be required to curtail a season.

EFL chairman Rick Parry, giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee about the impact of coronavirus at the start of May, said the current season realistically needs to be concluded before 31 July because of issues around player contracts.

All 23 teams in League One have between eight and 10 regular-season fixtures remaining.

How might the final table have looked?

What would have happened in League One if the season had not been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in March?

Here at BBC Sport, we’ve tried to predict how things might have ended, with the help of Professor James Reade and Dr Carl Singleton from the University of Reading.

Professor Reade and Dr Singleton have used the same methods they use to forecast inflation or gross domestic product (GDP) to predict the results for League One’s remaining matches.

Using league form and historic records, they predict the number of goals a side will score in each given fixture and the percentage chance that a side will win that fixture. Those results are factored into the next week’s set of fixtures and so on until the end of the season.

They repeat this model 10,000 times to get a percentage probability of where a club would have finished.

Coventry win, Wycombe wait

As it stands Coventry City have a five-point lead over Rotherham at the top of the table, with Oxford United two points further back in third – and the Sky Blues have a game in hand on both.

That advantage is crucial to the way our predicted title race goes.

In all of our models, Coventry will go up as champions – they have a 76.2% chance of winning the title and an almost 90% chance of finishing in the top two.

“Coventry are fairly likely to win the title, but it’s still the case that someone might say ‘hang on a minute’,” says Prof Reade.

Coventry are huge favourites to go up in a predicted table

Rotherham would be one of those sides – they are most likely to finish second and have a 6.5% chance of winning the title.

The team that really throws a spanner in the works, though, are Wycombe.

The Chairboys have a game in hand on all of the sides above them apart from Coventry, and are only one point off the play-offs in the tightly-packed group of sides from second to eighth.

Using the predicted results model, Wycombe remain in eighth place. The only changes are a shuffling of the four teams that currently occupy the play-off places, with Portsmouth leapfrogging Oxford into third and Peterborough moving above Fleetwood.

But using average points per game, Gareth Ainsworth’s side jump from eighth place to third – going from missing out on the play-offs to having a home semi-final against Fleetwood, who are one of three teams level on 1.71 points per game.

Wycombe would climb to third using average points

Tranmere for the drop

At the bottom of League One there is realistically just one relegation place to be filled.

Bolton’s 12-point deduction for going into administration and their poor form at the start of the season sees them cast adrift at the bottom, while 24 defeats in 35 games have consigned Southend to almost-certain relegation.

Under both average points per game and our predicted table, Tranmere are the final side to drop to League Two – in 67.5% of models, Rovers finish third from bottom.

Tranmere are also likely to be relegated in a predicted table

Rovers fans might feel hard done by as, before the suspension of the season, Micky Mellon’s side had won three matches in a row and still had to face relegation rivals Rochdale, AFC Wimbledon and MK Dons in successive games at the end of March.

But Tranmere were scheduled to end the season with six fixtures against sides 11th or above in the table, including Rotherham (second), Oxford United (third), Fleetwood (fifth) and Peterborough (sixth), so that harms their chances in the predicted table.

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