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Can Ipswich Town Still Make the Play-Offs?
Written by Mac10 on Wednesday, 5th Jan 2022 11:24

The big question that seems to be on the minds of most Town fans at New Year is if the play-offs, and by extension, promotion, are out of reach for Kieran McKenna’s team.

Those of us who are committed pessimists ridicule the very idea, arguing that there is just too much ground to make up and too many teams between us and the top six.

On the other hand, those of us with a more optimistic personality ask why we shouldn’t dare to dream while it remains mathematically possible.

Let’s look at the evidence from previous seasons.

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This graph plots the performance of the 30 teams who have finished in the top six of League One since the 2015/16 season (omitting the Covid-shortened 2019/20 season).

Those who were automatically promoted are marked in dark blue, those who were promoted via the play-offs are marked in light blue and the losing play-off teams are marked in grey. The graph shows each team’s league position on the first of each month of the season.

Naturally, the closer to the end of the season, the more likely we are to find the eventual top six are at the top of the table. The evidence does seem to support the well-known adage that the league table starts to take its final shape around Christmas time.

Remember, Ipswich Town sit 11th in the League One table on New Year’s Day 2022.

Initially, it looks like there is some ammunition for the optimists here. Only last year, Sunderland, Blackpool and Oxford United were 11th, 12th and 15th at New Year, and all three finished in the play-offs, with Blackpool winning promotion.

However, remember that this was a delayed season and Sunderland had only played 17 games by 1st January, seven fewer than Town have already played this season. By February 1st, when Sunderland had played 24 games, they were up to sixth.

For more concrete good news then we need to look further back. Since 2015, only one other team has come from so far back at New Year to finish in the top six: Barnsley in 2015/16, who were as low at 19th at New Year and bottom of the table on 1st December. Barnsley were also promoted through the play-offs.

How did Barnsley do it? They won 15 of their 23 matches after New Year, losing just three times. They also changed manager with Lee Johnson leaving for Bristol City on 6th February and Paul Heckingbottom arriving a week later.

Ipswich have 22 games left. If they went on a Barnsley-style run in 2022 they could end up with another 45 points, which would take them to 77 overall. Where might that get us?

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This second graph shows the final points tally of League One teams who were promoted automatically or made the play-offs in the past 12 seasons (again omitting the Covid-shortened 2019/20 season).

Seventy-seven points would have made the play-offs in every 'normal' year since 2010. In 2015, Chesterfield made the play-offs with just 69 points.

The average sixth-place finisher achieved 72.3 points. In order to reach this tally, Town would need to win another 40 points from their remaining 22 games, that’s 1.8 points per game. It would be quite a run.

The rest of our graph is grim reading. Omitting last season’s unusual results, Barnsley are the only side to have come from 11th or further back at New Year to make the play-offs. Among our sample, that makes them one in 24.

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Finally, let’s take a more long-term perspective. This last graph shows a selection of the 'Fallen Giants' who have dropped into League One since Norwich City’s relegation in 2009.

This is a subjective category and you may challenge some of the decisions I’ve made. The graph shows that, of the unlucky 13 teams selected, six achieved promotion in the first year after their relegation, five via the automatic places and three as champions. Two were relegated for a second year running, both due to financial implosion.

Ipswich unfortunately fall into a third category: fallen giants who have spent more than one year in the third division. Here, there is perhaps slight room for optimism. Town’s 11th and ninth-place finishes in year one and year two after relegation show them to be on a similar trajectory to Sunderland (relegated 2018) and Charlton Athletic (relegated 2016).

Charlton were promoted in year three and Sunderland look like they may well get promoted this year, in their year four. Even Sheffield United, who spent a tortuous six years in League One, were promoted eventually.

Next year really might be our year.

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Jugsy added 12:11 - Jan 5
Very interesting reading, thanks for the analysis and commentary. I'll stay optimistic until mathematically impossible, it's far too early to give up on the season. McKenna's first game was impressive and whilst I'm annoyed at all the postponements, having a mini-pre season can only be a good thing. These players are match ready but getting time to onboard his game plans, cannot wait for the Gills this weekend to test us out. Stating the obvious, beating the teams above us is where we'll make ground and we have plenty of those fixtures left. COYB!

ButchersBrokenNose added 13:42 - Jan 5
Excellent analysis and interesting commentary. Thank you for putting the time in on this.

bugblatter added 14:56 - Jan 5
Brilliant graphs.

May I recommend having a look at and their accompanying book, if you’re not aware of it…

ITFC_Spell_Correct added 20:11 - Jan 5
Impressive, informative, interesting. Thanks

north_stand77 added 00:19 - Jan 6
Very interesting read thanks, especially by breaking it down to graph form.

ElephantintheRoom added 10:51 - Jan 6
Good article the missing piece in your fact based analysis is change of ownership - and who came up or down to make promotion easier or more difficult. Maybe get be interesting to see the effect of player stability or otherwise. The likes of Leicester and Bournemouth had a core of third division in the Prem - if you want to dream on

peterleeblue added 16:09 - Jan 6
Bite size chunks. If we can close to within 5-6 pts with 10 games to go and then see where we are. Close 5-6 points over the next 12 games sounds a lot more plausible.
Even if we were 7-8 pts off with 10 to go we would still be considered contenders.
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