It doesn’t look much on the graph, but our good form in November – three wins, one draw - saw us hit another peak on the Appletonometer. In the 46 games up to the end of November we’ve picked up 77 points, which is comfortably play-off form. That’s an improvement of 2 points on the end of October, a whopping 15 ahead of the end of last season. By comparison, Chris Wilder’s best ever points haul over 46 games was 78; which only came a couple of months before he left us. He’s not quite there yet, but Michael Appleton has achieved 20 games what Chris Wilder took 109 to achieve.
Five game form
It’s no surprise then, that our short term form was excellent in November. In the five games up to and including Hartlepool, we took 13 points out of fifteen, the second time that we’ve done that this season. It’s now been the best part of two months since we dropped below title form and six since we achieved less than play-off form. One of the reasons for starting Maths of the Day was to work out whether short term gains we genuine improvements or not. There appears to be no fluke in this form.
Top of the table, so it’s no surprise to see us showing title form. We’re two points ahead of where we really need to be to win the title, five ahead of an automatic position and nine ahead of the play-offs. That’s a healthy buffer to have with just less than half the season gone.
At the end of November, we shared the lead on points with Northampton and Plymouth, so if we’re demonstrating title form, then so must they. Of course, only one can win the title, meaning either this is an exceptional year, or someone is going to fall. You might reasonably argue that Northampton are probably most vulnerable; we know a lot about Christ Wilder’s ability to create short term spikes in performance, but his struggles to sustain it. I think he was the perfect man to have in place during their recent crises. And it’s their crises that give us the second reason to believe they may fall away; few clubs solve their problems overnight whether it’s the stress of what they’ve gone through or legacy issues relating to finance, you suspect they’ll appear at some point. Not that this should worry Cobblers fans, they’re probably happy to still have a club to support.
The only team who might threaten the automatic positions, based on current form, are Accrington Stanley. Stanley are, by all accounts, the smallest team in the Football League, which implies they are seriously over-performing.
Should everything go to form, then, there are three remaining play-off spots to go for and four teams currently performing at or above the level needed to achieve it. Portsmouth and Orient both threatened to be part of the elite, but both seem to have contrived to find a new crisis to occupy their time. None-the-less, you suspect having got off to a decent start, they should be able to see it through to at least the play-offs this year.
Which just gives us one more slot to fill – Carlisle and Mansfield are surprise packages given that they’ve suffered near-relegation in recent years. It’s a toss-up between the two, ultimately, Carlisle feel like a club that should be more successful than they are, but Adam Murray seems to have built a solid team – including Matt Green – with which to threaten.
Which is to say that all things being equal, automatic promotion is absolutely within our grasp and the title a real possibility.