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Carlisle Utd fans: Ready for some crazy end-of-season drama?

The League One play-off race now comes down to 180 nerve-wracking minutes – and the prized sixth place is still up for grabs. Stevenage now hold all the aces but the contest is far from won – and Carlisle United could still keep their promotion dream alive.With two games of a dramatic season left, Jon Colman looks at the four contenders and all the possible outcomes.

Adam Collin photo
Adam Collin

Sixth. Points: 69. Goal difference: 22. To play: Sheffield United (a), Bury (h)

The outlook: The men from Hertfordshire are now the team to catch, having rediscovered the winning touch at the perfect time of the season. After a host of draws had seemingly taken them out of contention, Gary Smith’s side are now two points clear of seventh-placed Notts County and a further point ahead of Carlisle, with a vastly superior goal difference to both.

In their favour: Points on the board and overflowing confidence. Even when wins were hard to come by in Gary Smith’s early weeks in charge, Boro remained stubbornly tough to beat and have since converted a series of draws into vital victories.

Of all the sides aiming for sixth place, none can be as upbeat as the men from the Lamex Stadium.

Stumbling blocks: Their next game will offer a serious test of their mettle. A victory at Sheffield United, on live TV, could all but seal their play-off place, whilst killing Carlisle’s hopes for good, but the second-placed Blades have lost just three times at home this term.

Danny Wilson’s men need victory to fend off city rivals Wednesday for the second automatic promotion place, and will be out to prove they can cope without jailed striker Ched Evans. Then Stevenage host Bury on the final day, and the Shakers are no mugs, as Notts County discovered on Saturday.

Form: Three straight wins and one loss in eleven; Stevenage need to suffer a sudden form dip for Carlisle to remain in touch with them. Those victories over Yeovil, Carlisle and Brentford have propelled Boro to the front of the pack.

Key players: The former Arsenal forward Luke Freeman is a talented customer in good form, but Stevenage’s stars remain the unheralded men in midfield and defence, such as Michael Bostwick and Jon Ashton.

They say: “Three wins on the bounce does wonders for you. We’re really going for this” – manager Gary Smith.

Seventh. Points: 67. Goal difference: 8. To play: Wycombe (a), Colchester (h)

The outlook: Were favourites for sixth place until their shock 4-2 reverse at home by Bury – their first defeat in six. Keith Curle’s side are now two points shy of Stevenage with a much weaker goal difference. Remain the closest rivals to Boro but now have it all to do.

In their favour: If they can prove Saturday’s defeat was a blip, rather than a case of play-off jitters, they could still capitalise. Wycombe away, this weekend, will be no picnic but it’s a preferable fixture to a trip to Sheffield United. If Curle’s side do the business they could easily find themselves sixth with one game to go, at home to John Ward’s draw specialists, Colchester.

Stumbling blocks: That Bury loss may have exposed the Magpies and set anxiety in at Meadow Lane. It was a big chance blown and this weekend they must prevail against a Wycombe side who are still in with a chance of survival. And if they require victory against Colchester on the last day they will surely find stubborn opponents in Ward’s men, who are usually good for a point.

Form: Until their last game the signs were pointing to Notts, with three wins and two draws putting them at the head of the pack. Lloyd Sam’s hat-trick against Yeovil seemed to be significant but now the picture has changed.

Key players: Sam, if he can find his goal touch, could be key, and Curle could do with some midfield magic from the creative Alan Judge and goalscoring Jeff Hughes.

They say: “I’ve told the players, ‘Don’t get off the bus’. We’ve got two games to go and it’s important we believe it’s still there” – manager Keith Curle.

Eighth. Points: 66. Goal difference: -3. To play: Exeter (h), Oldham (a)

The outlook: Fate seemed to be in the Blues’ favour after last-gasp wins against MK Dons and Huddersfield but the loss of Lee Miller to injury has hurt the Cumbrians, and after five winless games they are adrift by three points and goal difference, their hopes resting on favours from others.

If Stevenage win either of their games the dream will be over, but Brunton Park is the home of crazy end-of-season drama and nothing can be ruled out just yet.

In their favour: United do not have the worst two closing fixtures, with second-bottom Exeter next up at Brunton Park and 18th-placed Oldham to visit on the last afternoon.

Carlisle have ran both Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday close lately and spirits remain resolutely upbeat. Could that habit of last-day madness help the Cumbrians once more?

Stumbling blocks: The Blues need to find a win, and goals, from somewhere. Miller’s loss has made both more difficult to find and the winning habit has deserted Greg Abbott’s side. Draws are now no use to Carlisle, who need to dispatch an Exeter side still trying to pull off an unlikely survival job.

And Oldham, stung by United’s three-goal comeback last October, will be scenting a final flourish to an indifferent season, by which time Jordan Cook’s Carlisle loan will be up.

Form: United have little form to speak of, having lost their 17-game unbeaten home run recently and also seen the victories dry up. Abbott’s depleted side need to prove they can reclaim their authority at Brunton Park and then stage a raid on Boundary Park.

Back-to-back wins, which are probably now needed, would go against their current run.

Key players: Adam Collin has been Carlisle’s player of April and United will need their keeper to maintain his form.

But there needs to be greater productivity at the other end. If the Blues ever needed inspiration from the likes of Francois Zoko, Jordan Cook and Liam Noble, it is now.

They say: “If we win two games, then you never know. There will be twists and turns” – manager Greg Abbott.

Ninth. Points: 64. Goal difference: 11. To play: Sheffield Wednesday (h), Chesterfield (a)

The outlook: The rank outsiders, Uwe Rösler’s side must win their remaining games and hope Stevenage lose their last two to stand any chance, whilst hoping Notts County and Carlisle also stumble.

Defeat at Stevenage, with two missed penalties, has all but killed off the inconsistent Bees.

In their favour: Few will expect Rösler’s side to have any chance of making the top six now, so pressure will not be heavy on the Griffin Park club. They can go for broke at home to Sheffield Wednesday, where victory could leave them with a winnable last-day game at Chesterfield, who could be relegated by then.

Stumbling blocks: The slim chance of staying in the race could be reduced to nothing by 4.45pm on Saturday.

Brentford must become the first side to inflict defeat on Sheffield Wednesday under Dave Jones, whose injury-time win against Carlisle has given them hope of overhauling Sheffield United in second place.

The likelihood is the Bees simply have too much to do.

Form: A five-match winning run put the London outfit firmly back in the picture but they have since gone three without victory, with frustrating draws against Hartlepool and Notts County being followed by that error-strewn loss at Stevenage. Have to get over that psychological blow immediately, or their chances are over.

Key players: Sam Saunders has been a top performer for the Bees and his set-piece skill offers them some hope. The erratic front men Clinton Morrison and Clayton Donaldson need to fire now.

They say: “I don’t think Stevenage will win at Sheffield United. We have to win our home game and see where we are. We are still mathematically in it” – manager Uwe Rösler.

Have your say

Well done to the team for an excellent season on minimal financial resources. We still have a slim chance of making the play-offs and I'm sure the players will give everything in the last two games. Just one point Steve, the club's lack of money is not an excuse - it's a fact that we have to live with. We have gone most of the season on crowds of 4,500 or less and that is simply not enough to compete with the big boys when it comes to signing players.

Posted by Ed on 25 April 2012 at 12:36

What a great season we have had, but i cant help but feel that greg could have done more to find a stiker to take on loan that might have helped us a bit more. Jordan cook has done ok but even if we manage to get to the play offs jordan wont be there. It makes more sense to find someone who would be here to the end, if we get to the play offs then we are in a worse situation than we are now. The team relies too heavily on lee miller and no plan be. This needs to be rectified and to be honest it should have been sorted by now. But well done to the lads this season for over achieving.

Posted by kevhev on 25 April 2012 at 12:27

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