Friday night sees the resumption of the League One season after nearly four months of inactivity and the four competing clubs have been thrown in at the deep end. Returning to competitive action after all that time is difficult enough without the added pressure of the play-offs, but for Portsmouth, Fleetwood, Oxford and Wycombe, they must quickly adapt if they want to gain promotion.
The high-stakes games will feel bizarre with no-one in attendance, but it may remove some of the pressure and help players to adapt more quickly.
That lack of atmosphere might be more apparent at the Valley on Friday, when Charlton take on Millwall in a South London derby and a high stakes game in the Championship.
With all that in mind, here are our picks for the three live games on Friday night.
17.30: Portsmouth to beat Oxford
Portsmouth will be looking to avoid a repeat of last year’s play-off heartbreak when they bowed out in the semi-finals after a narrow defeat to Sunderland.
Kenny Jackett’s men had been in decent form prior to the lockdown, and had looked on course to challenge for an automatic promotion place before the season was halted, forcing them to go through the dreaded play-offs once again.
Oxford, on the other hand, had been in sensational form before the postponement, winning five games on the bounce, albeit against sides in the bottom half of the table.
The sides played out a tight 1-1 draw when they met at Fratton Park in the only league fixture between them this season with Oxford stealing a late equaliser, and it could be equally tense on Friday night. Portsmouth though, will be looking to seize the initiative and should take a slender lead to Oxford for the second leg.
19.30: Fleetwood to beat Wycombe
Wycombe will be thanking their lucky stars the powers that be decided to end the league season prematurely and decide the final standings on a points-per-game basis. Gareth Ainsworth’s side had endured a precipitous slide down the League One table before the league season was postponed, falling from first to seventh in just 11 games.
In a turn of good fortune, however, they jumped back to third without kicking a ball because they had played one game less than the teams above them and so had a better points-per-game record.
They now have the chance to secure a play-off final berth if they can overcome the challenge of Fleetwood, a side who were on the march up the table prior to COVID-19 lockdown and are almost the complete antithesis of Wycombe.
Fleetwood hadn’t lost in 12 games prior to lockdown and had moved from 11th to fifth in the table. They narrowly beat Wycombe in that fine run of form and Town will fancy their chances of doing so again on Friday night.
20.15: Charlton to beat Millwall
Relegation-threatened Charlton couldn’t have hoped for a better return to action than their three outings so far. The Addicks have picked up seven points, are yet to concede a goal, and look relatively safe in the battle for survival.
For a club that resided in the bottom three when the season was halted, that is some going.
Millwall, by contrast, have endured an abject return to competitive action, picking up just two points from three games and seeing their play-off aspirations disappear.
They simply have to win this one if they harbour any ambition of winning promotion, but it will be difficult against a Charlton side that have proved dogged, determined and resilient since the restart. This could be the final nail in Millwall’s play-off coffin.
Tips for Friday’s EFL action
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