The View Outside The Premier League - Reading March On While The Big 'Franchises' Line up in League One
All season Southampton and West Ham United have been the most likely contenders for automatic promotion to the Premier League and the two clubs still sit one and two in the table - but just below them Reading have bolted from the pack to pose a serious threat to their ambitions.
A few weeks back Wolves made enquiries about manager Brian McDermott but his decision to stay in Berkshire looks a shrewd move. The two clubs should be at least in the same division next season but Reading could even end up as the senior side.
Reading are benefitting from showing confidence in McDermott who has now been in the hot seat since December 2009. His January signing of Jason Roberts is looking like an excellent buy bringing in an old head to steady the ship at the business end of the season. The ex-Blackburn man has four goals already and a nice partnership developing with Noel Hunt.
The Royals now have eight wins on the spin - what started as a run to ensure a play-off berth now threatens to take them to an automatic slot, although the two teams above them are keeping their form too - West Ham would like to be more decisive at home though.
In League One there is the bizarre situation that three of the four teams in the play-off berths have sacked their managers since New Year. It's arguable whether these decisions have helped or hindered their promotion pushes.
A look at the teams involved though, gives some idea why the boards became trigger-happy. If an American sports promoter took a look at these teams he would be amazed that Sheffield, Nottingham and West Yorkshire aren't represented at Premier League level. Franchises from those areas would soon be fast tracked to the top flight.
Each club can see opportunities for the taking. Sheffield Wednesday believe they should be a top flight club, while Notts County can see a chance to become top dog in their city for the first time in many years. And Huddersfield can see a possibility to upstage perennial rivals Leeds United to become West Yorkshire's leading side.
This is why Lee Clark, Martin Allen and Gary Megson were all edged out while bosses well below them in the division are still in a job. Ironically the fourth side in the play-off berths are MK Dons, the club created on the American franchise model to exploit potential markets in their current home area.
Macclesfield Town are one of those clubs destined to spend a League career struggling in the foothills. Crowds to watch the Silkmen are among the lowest in the 92 clubs and there are many teams in non-league with a stronger base to work from.
Nonetheless the club and their supporters doggedly hold on to their place in the league and Saturday was a case in point. The teams at the bottom have all been piling on points recently to bring Macclesfield back towards the relegation zone - and when high-flying Crawley went two goals up at the Moss Rose it seemed that Gary Simpson's side were falling even further.
A late, late fightback earned an improbable point which could be vital on the last day of the season - but the side do need a win badly as they are now just three points off the drop zone.
Middlesbrough's poor home form still threatens to keep them out of the play-offs. Leeds United's Sunday win at the Riverside means Boro have won just seven of 19 home games - but they are as good as anyone in the division away from home.
Tony Mowbray's Boro bear a passing resemblance to Arsene Wenger's Arsenal. The same commitment to playing the game in the right way and a dogged refusal to change things too much - as with Wenger's team, when things are going wrong Mowbray appears to have no Plan B, although when they get it right Boro are an excellent side to watch.