The View Outside The Premier League: Sheffield Pair See Out 2011 In Style But Its Misery at Northampton
No doubt where the gloomiest bunch of fans were to be found on New Years's Eve. Excellent results by the teams around them sent Northampton Town to the bottom of the Football League. This event was even more galling as the Cobblers conceded a last-minute winner at home to Swindon Town.
There is now a real prospect that the East Midlands contingent in the Football League will take another cut next year. Lincoln City, Grimsby Town, Mansfield Town and Rushden & Diamonds have all fallen into the Blue Square Premier in recent seasons and Northampton appear to be in freefall. Cobblers fans will just be glad to see the back of 2011.
The signs of life at Plymouth Argyle and a strong festive showing from Dagenham & Redbridge threw the problems at Sixfields into sharp relief. In League Two the prospect of losing League status can create panic and a desperate loss of confidence and the Cobblers have to stem the tide immediately.
The Cobblers have a truly dreadful home record with just a single win in twelve home fixtures this season. On Boxing Day another late, late winner saw Burton Albion take all three points back to Staffordshire; surely 2012 must be an improvement?
In contrast, it's presents all round for Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United. Both clubs hoovered up three points and then were able to sit back and watch Charlton turned over by Leyton Orient in the day's late kick off.
The Steel City pair now sit second and third and have taken heart from the faltering form of Huddersfield Town. Five clubs are beginning to break away at the head of League One - MK Dons being the fifth - and the two automatic promotion places are surely going to the quintet at the head of things.
United and Wednesday both look good at the moment and while Charlton and Huddersfield were the autumn form sides, it's a much more open contest now. Gary Megson's Owls are especialy strong as Hillsborough has finally become a place that intimidates the opposition, rather than inspires them.
A word must be said about Coventry City. A couple of weeks back in this column I said that the Sky Blues had to come up with at least one three pointer over the festive period to have any chance of survival in the Championship. Two home games against Bristol City and Brighton were effectively the last chance saloon for Andy Thorn's side.
The team rose to the occasion with back-to-back victories and actually moved off the bottom on goal difference. The win over Bristol City was a nervy single goal affair but against Brighton the fans enjoyed the luxury of a two-goal cushion after Leon Jutkiewicz backed up Gary McSheffrey's opener.
Two clean sheets were just as important as the goals - finally Coventry won a pair of close games instead of falling short. Their position is still grave but the Sky Blue enter 2012 on a roll.
Things are still not happening for Leicester City. Their stop-start campaign sees them entering 2012 still parked in 14th place. On New Year's Eve it was Portsmouth - responding well to new boss Michael Appelton - who frustrated the Foxes and left with a precious point.
David Nugent got on the scoresheet against his old club but Pompey were able to battle to a result. Burnley's rise up the table shows that Leicester can still make the play-off places but Nigel Pearson's squad have to go on a solid run soon.
Rotherham United drew their second scoring blank of the Christmas period and went down to a single goal at Cheltenham. Despite the efforts of Lewis Grabban the Millers haven't been able to cover for the departure of Adam Le Fondre - a scorer at better than one every two games at this level. After a very bright start to the season, the South Yorkshire side are down in eleventh and struggling to keep up with the play-off contenders.