Top of the Bottom – Life in the Third Division

, tired of the same old teams slugging it out in the Premier League, gives the case for League One, where a riveting title race is unfolding

Grant Holt has netted 17 times for Norwich City this season

Grant Holt has netted 17 times for Norwich City this season

I, for one, am getting bored with the English Premier League. Chelsea are looking in cracking form and as well as being a point ahead of Manchester United, they also have a game in hand. With such a big squad at their disposal and a resurgent United side hitting their stride, this season’s title race is already between the same two contestants.

Where to go for your weekly dose of football excitement then? I present to you the Coca-Cola Football League One.

Even before the season began, this league has always looked exciting. Leeds United, playing against some of the greatest teams in Europe just a few years ago, were hot shot favourites for the top spot and a certainty for automatic promotion. In 2001, a side made up of class players such as Alan Smith, Mark Viduka and Rio Ferdinand lost to Valencia in the semi-finals of the Champions League. Now they’re being carried by Jermaine Beckford. The 26 year-old striker scored his 24th goal of the season against Colchester United at the weekend to bring Leeds’ tenth win at Elland Road so far.

Leeds opened the season with eight consecutive victories, their best ever league start. Nine points ahead at one point, Leeds are now three points behind Norwich with two games in hand. They look in impressive form to reclaim the top spot though. Winning against Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Cup is solid proof that this side doesn’t deserve to be in the third tier of English football. Let’s just hope that prolonged action in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, where they’ve reached the Northern Final, and FA Cup doesn’t distract them from their goal of automatic promotion.

In contrast, Norwich City have only got league ambitions on their mind. The Canaries’ form started off shaky, losing 7-1 on the opening day to local rivals Colchester. However, a miraculous turnaround has taken place. City legend Bryan Gunn was sacked six days after Norwich’s heaviest loss ever, replaced by Paul Lambert, the Colchester manager who masterminded the win. Unsurprisingly, Theoklitos, the Australian goalkeeper responsible for the opening day defeat, hasn’t played since and Norwich are now unbeaten in 16 matches.

Canary fans are praying that their three star players stay injury free and the club’s fine form can continue. There is no doubt that without Grant Holt, Wes Hoolahan and Chris Martin, the club wouldn’t be top of the table. The three players have scored 39 league goals this season, well over half the club’s total of 61. The loan signing of Newcastle stopper Fraser Forster seems inspired as well; Norwich have only conceded 23 league goals since that disastrous first day. Proof of Lambert’s incredible magic at Norwich comes in the form of a 5-0 demolishing of Colchester last month, showing that memories of the first day have been forgotten. Not achieving automatic promotion would be cruel now.

Hot on the tails of the top two have been Colchester and Charlton Athletic. Charlton always looked like title contenders, especially with their reputation of Premier League football a few years ago. Captain Nicky Bailey, who was also Charlton player of the year last year, has continued his good form scoring ten goals so far this season. The Addicks have only lost three times in the league so far showing consistency, as well as the ability to put pressure on the top two and push for automatic promotion. Furthermore, they’ve drawn with Norwich and Leeds already this season. Charlton’s fourth from last and penultimate games of the season are against Norwich and Leeds respectively, giving the London side a real shot at promotion if things stay tight at the top.

Colchester are leading the rest of the pack to keep up with the top three, with Swindon Town hot on their tails. Despite losing at Leeds at the weekend, their home form has been impressive, winning 10 of their 13 games at the Colchester Community Stadium this season. What they lack though, and which Norwich and Leeds have, is a reliable goal scorer. Kevin Lisbie has hit the net 11 times so far but is only on loan at Colchester from Ipswich Town. Promotion may be a more reasonable aim next season for The U’s.

After their brilliant 7-1 victory against Norwich on the opening season though and beating Charlton convincingly in September, making predictions is a risky business. Especially near the top, the football in League One can be enjoyable to watch and entertaining – League One is full of surprises. Next season plans to be even more of a contest as well – Southampton will be in the race next time without their administration 10 point penalty. Things are also tight at the bottom of the Championship. Ipswich, Crystal Palace and Reading are all in danger of being relegated and entering the race to stay afloat and secure a way out of the third tier of English Football.

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