What follows is an appraisal of the top 6 in League One; their strengths and weaknesses.
One statistic needs to be explained before we start. The strength of schedule (to borrow an Americanism) relates to the league positions of each side’s opposition. A low strength of schedule number means the side has been dealt a tough fixture list. A high number means the club’s fixtures (on paper at least) have been easier.
All statistics relate to league matches only.
Scunthorpe Utd – Position 1st
Strength Of Schedule: 147
Scunthorpe have played four of the bottom five in their last four matches.
The Iron for the moment sit pretty on top of League One. They have the division’s third best scoring record and the second best defence. Scunthorpe’s success has been due in part to their ability to impose their will on games. They’ve scored first in nine of their opening league games with their most productive period of the match being just before half-time. The Iron have netted three in the five minutes before the break, and took seven points from those matches.
Scunthorpe’s problem this season has been closing the deal. Already this season they’ve dropped eight points in games which they were leading. Worryingly, Nigel Adkins’ side have only conceded two goals before half-time, but let in seven after the restart.
Leicester City – Position 2nd
Strength Of Schedule: 125 (147 including Yeovil)
Since the home defeat to Millwall, Leicester haven’t played a side higher than 16th.
Like Scunthorpe, Leicester have enjoyed the pleasures of a relatively burden free fixture list thus far. That being said, you can only beat what’s put in front of you, and City have done just that. Their win percentage is higher than any side in League One.
Nigel Pearson has built his side around a defence that has proven stingier than the serving sizes at Leyton Orient. With just five conceded, the platform has existed for City to win every game in which they have opened the scoring. Leicester have also acquired the exceedingly useful habit of scoring late goals. They’ve netted four times in the last five minutes this season.
Pearson has also installed discipline into the Foxes. With an average of just 1.3 bookings per game, suspensions have not been an issue so far.
Concerns remain up front, where Steve Howard has still only one league goal to his name. Matty Fratt has netted 8 from 43 attempts.
Oldham Athletic – Position 3rd
Strength Of Schedule: 133
100% record against teams in the top 6 (3 games)
Oldham have proven to be the surprise package of the season so far. John Sheridan’s men really believe they can produce a sustained challenge for promotion this season. The Lee Hughes gamble seems to have paid off, both he and Chris Taylor have hit six. In fact, Oldham are League One’s leading scorers with 24.
The Latics are also proving to be remarkably resilient. Oldham are unbeaten in matches where their opponents have scored first, taking five points from those three games. Just as ominous, Oldham have scored in every single league game this season.
If there are weaknesses, they appear to lie just after half-time. The Latics have conceded three just after the break, 25% of all the goals against them this term.
Leeds Utd – Position 4th
Strength Of Schedule: 139
Beat Scunthorpe and lost to Oldham on opening weekends.
Garry McAlister’s policy at Leeds this season appears pretty straightforward: shoot on sight. Leeds have fired in a massive 179 efforts on goal this season. Consequently their accuracy has suffered, only 45% of these attempts hit the target. This policy has also meant Leeds are only League One’s fourth highest scorers. Having the most shots is not the same as scoring the most goals, just ask Frank Lampard.
Elsewhere it is business at usual for the Yorkshiremen, they’re conceding late (four in total) and racking up the disciplinary points. Leeds have accrued 18 yellow cards and a further two red.
Millwall – Position 5th
Strength Of Schedule: 115
Toughest fixture list of the top 6.
Millwall can claim, quite fairly, that the fixture computer has not been kind, yet they’re impressing League One if not with flowing moves then with muscle. As Leicester learned to their peril, teams will have to be prepared for a physical challenge against the Lions. Their disciplinary record is the worst in League One (again) with 24 yellow cards and three red picked up in just 10 matches. Kenny Jackett’s team have been pulled up for a staggering 130 fouls.
Millwall are also the lowest scorers in the top six, having breached opposition defences just 16 times. More impressive are Millwall’s four clean sheets, but without a real focus in attack you have to wonder if automatic promotion will be too much of a stretch.
MK Dons – Position 6th
Strength Of Schedule: 119
Best start of the promoted sides.
MK Dons have not been dealt an easy set of fixtures either, but their start under Roberto Di Matteo has impressed many. The Dons come into their own in the second half, where they have scored almost twice as many goals as in their first half outings.
Just 10 bookings to date make MK Dons the nicest side in the top six, but that didn’t stop them tearing Millwall to shreds at the New Den. The Dons are proof that there is success to be had playing football in amongst the brutes of League One’s more burley sides. It probably helps when your shooting is the most accurate of the top six too. 58% of the Dons’ 113 attempts have worked the keeper.
It’s still too early to know who will be able to keep pace and who will fade away. All of these sides have potential. If anyone needs reminding, League One will not be a stroll in the park for the Foxes.