ARE Burton Albion in a better or worse position to push for promotion to League One than last season?
Depending on how you read the statistics, you could argue either way.
They are currently fourth in League Two, whereas this time last season, they had just beaten Aldershot 2-1 away to climb to second.
However, they had played two more games, and if Albion win their next two matches, they will be a point better off than last term, and could be topping the table.
They also look less likely to suffer a mini slump as they did towards the end of last season, when they went on a four-game winless run at just the wrong time.
Although they recovered slightly in the final four games, they ended up losing that automatic promotion berth and finishing fourth.
The automatic promotion race is also much more open than last campaign, when Gillingham pretty much had the title wrapped up by February before their own slump.
Now, the top four teams are separated by just three points, and even a team as low as Accrington Stanley – fourth from bottom – are just 10 points off the play-offs.
Burton might need to take 20 points from their final 10 games to secure an automatic promotion place.
That is based on previous League Two seasons, when only twice in the last 10 years have teams been promoted automatically with fewer than 80 points.
The Brewers currently have 60.
While far from impossible, gaining two points a game would require Gary Rowett’s men to vastly improve on this season’s form so far.
They have taken an average of 1.66 points per game to date, a figure which has not earned a team automatic promotion in the last decade.
However, third-placed Rochdale are only a point ahead of Albion – albeit with a game in hand – and second-placed Scunthorpe are only two points ahead.
So Burton would only need to secure one more victory than the Iron – who they face a week tomorrow – to be in with a great chance of going up automatically.
It all comes down to the comparative fixture lists then, which do not massively favour Rowett’s side.
In their last 10 games, they face both of the current top two teams, as well as play-off hopefuls Southend United, Plymouth Argyle, Hartlepool United and Newport County.
Scunthorpe, meanwhile, only face Burton and Oxford United – both at home – of the current top seven, and are unbeaten in their last 20 games – an incredible run.
Playing devil’s advocate though, that run must surely end eventually, and if Albion beat AFC Wimbledon tomorrow and Scunthorpe next week, they will be in the top three.
I predict that Albion will take around 15 points between now and the end of the season. That thinking incorporates wins over Wimbledon, Wycombe, Plymouth and Hartlepool, and draws against Scunthorpe, York and Newport.
That would give them 75 points which, based on my other predictions, would see them finish fifth.
However, I was wrong last year, when I said they would claim third, and hopefully I will be wrong this year as well.
I think that Rochdale will win the title.
They may be back in third now, but that game in hand, if they win it, would put them top, and their run-in is more favourable than others’.
Of the current top eight, the Dale face only Fleetwood and Southend, and have lost only once in their last eight games.
Current leaders Chesterfield have been boosted this week by the loan signing of Derby County youngster Mason Bennett.
The teenager is certainly a talent, and will enhance their squad, but he is not yet a prolific goalscorer who can necessarily fire a team to promotion.
The Spireites are in form, with just two defeats in the last 10, but do have a tricky end-of-season fixture list.
As well as travelling to the Pirelli Stadium, they take on Oxford, Plymouth, Hartlepool, Fleetwood and Newport – all of whom will still have promotion hopes.
I can see them just slipping up enough to allow Rochdale to overtake them into pole position, although it looks as though those top three spots will be keenly contested.
As I mentioned earlier, Scunthorpe – relegated from the third tier last season – are the form team in the league, and have an enviable run-in, but it remains to be seen if they can continue their fantastic run.
Fleetwood – a team who Albion know all too well after facing them five times in the space of a year – now sit one place and two points behind the Brewers.
All but three of their remaining games look winnable, with only clashes with Rochdale, Oxford and Chesterfield of the current top six, and I can see them leapfrogging Albion into fourth spot.
I think that Oxford and Southend will make up the final play-off positions, as they currently do, with neither having an easy final 10 games.
That would see Plymouth and York miss out on the top seven, and though they are within touching distance at the moment, they both have tough run-ins.
The Pilgrims take on five of the top seven in their next seven games, and the Minstermen face trips to Rochdale, Oxford and Scunthorpe.
Unsurprisingly, the bookmakers back leaders Chesterfield as favourites for the title.
They predict a top seven of: Chesterfield, Scunthorpe, Rochdale, Fleetwood, Burton, Oxford and Southend.