Down to the wire?
It's shaping up to be a gripping conclusion to the League One season, with several teams battling it out at the top. Sky Sports examines who could be heading for promotion.
By Rachel Griffiths - Follow me on Twitter @SkySportsRachG
Last Updated: 21/02/13 5:52pm
With the business end of the League One season upon us, it's difficult to pick out who will be hoisting the trophy come May - or which two teams will be following the eventual champions into the second tier.
As it stands, seven sides appear candidates for promotion, with just four points separating top spot from seventh position, while eighth-placed Coventry are not far behind the leading pack.
Managerless Swindon currently lead proceedings but Bournemouth are hot on their tail, while the big Yorkshire duo Doncaster and Sheffield United aren't far behind. Throw in-form Yeovil, Tranmere and Brentford into the mix and the battle for promotion promises to be an intense one.
With promotion-chasing teams chopping and changing places on a weekly basis and no apparent potential runaway winner, there is the distinct feeling this campaign could go right down to the wire.
Sky Sports looks at the teams fighting it out at the top and how their seasons could pan out.
Those who thought Paolo Di Canio's resignation at Swindon would have an instant effect on their promotion hopes were silenced swiftly on Tuesday night when the managerless Robins swept to a 3-1 win at fellow title hopefuls Tranmere. But despite that morale-boosting win, and talk of the outspoken Italian returning if the proposed takeover of the club goes through, the off-field drama currently surrounding the club could shake their push for back-to-back promotions, with the latest blow coming with the resignation of Di Canio's backroom staff, including caretaker boss Fabrizio Piccareta. The volatile manager was the driving force behind their rise to League One last season and under the fiery boss many had backed Swindon to do it again. It remains to be seen if Swindon can get the job done without him but they've set themselves up with a fighting chance, having assumed top spot in the table for the first time after Tuesday's win, while stretching their unbeaten record to 12 games. Consistency has been a bugbear for the Robins this season, with their inability to finish off games seeing them drop points, drawing four of their last six. With some big games against fellow promotion rivals lined up over the run-in, Swindon will have to continue to regroup quickly to get over the loss of Di Canio.
Back in October, promotion appeared a distant dream for the labouring Cherries, who had sunk as low as 21st in the League One table. Enter former manager Eddie Howe, and a stunning revival has taken place at Dean Court to turn them from relegation candidates to promotion hopefuls. The Cherries have lost just twice in the league since Howe stepped in, climbing all the way up the table to second place, with defeat at Preston on Saturday ending a five-game winning streak. Buoyed by the funds of Russian owner Maxim Demin, the South Coast club seem to have everything in place to try their hand at a stint in the Championship. Howe has so far brought the best out of his strong squad, which boasts talent across the board, including a prolific goal scorer in forward Lewis Grabban. Cash was splashed in January, including the well-documented purchase of Matt Ritchie from promotion rivals Swindon which is thought to have been the straw that broke the camel's back for Di Canio. While Bournemouth have only spent three seasons above the third tier in their history, the Cherries will be hoping the time has come for them to have their own fairytale ascendance. Rated with Sky Bet as favourites to walk away with the trophy, it could well be their year.
After the humiliation of Championship relegation last season, Doncaster are the team with arguably the biggest point to prove as they battle it out at the top. The Yorkshire club made a fast start under former boss Dean Saunders but waved goodbye to the manager in January when he was headhunted by Wolves. Fans will be concerned that they have failed to win any of their last four games since beating Leyton Orient in manager Brian Flynn's first match in charge, losing two and drawing two. That run has seen their six-point cushion dissolve but despite their recent dip, Rovers remain a very comfortable third in the table and level on points with Swindon and Bournemouth above them. If Flynn can steady the ship to keep Doncaster up there they could be a real force to contend with as the promotion fight heats up, with several keys players such as captain Rob Jones and already proving they're willing to give their all to the cause. They will hope their promotion push will not be derailed by a mounting injury list which has seen Martin Woods and Paul Keegan among the players sidelined at a critical time.
For Sheffield United, this term represents the chance to escape the third tier at the second attempt after their nightmare finish to last season. The Blades' title bid spectacularly collapsed last year, with the loss of their star striker Ched Evans to a prison sentence a factor in their flop, and were ultimately beaten to promotion by Huddersfield in the play-off final following a nail-biting penalty shoot-out. After making a storming start to the current campaign, another dip threatened to upset the Blades' promotion push when they recently went five games without a league win but Danny Wilson's side have since appeared to get things back on track with three straight successes. Now fourth in the table and just a point off the top spot, the South Yorkshire club remain very much in the mix but will be wary of suffering a sense of déjà vu and buckling under the pressure, with fans impatient to return to the Championship sooner rather than later and the weight of expectation heavy on their shoulders. Parting ways with top-scorer Nick Blackman in January will not have done much to ease supporters' nerves but Wilson will be hoping the signings of Jonathan Forte and Dominic Poleon on loan will give the Blades an extra boost.
Something of a surprise package this season, Yeovil are the in-form team at the moment and sit firmly in the race for promotion after a club best run of eight straight wins in the league. At the heart of their ascendance is the league's top scorer Paddy Madden, initially signed on loan in October before penning a permanent deal in the winter transfer window. The 22-year-old striker has scored 18 goals for the club this season to help inspire their rise through the standings and appears to be one of the season's most prolific signings for manager Gary Johnson. This is the eighth season Yeovil have been plying their trade in League One but, with Johnson having seemingly discovered a winning formula, they will be hoping to pull off a promotion shock. While the club operate on a relatively low budget, chief executive Martyn Starnes has made assurances they could adjust to the increased costs of Championship football should they go up.
Earlier in the season Tranmere had appeared the surprise ones to beat in the race for promotion, sitting pretty in the top spot for most of the first five months of the campaign. However, Ronnie Moore's side have let things slide in recent weeks, suffering a disheartening four straight defeats to see them drop into sixth place. Their place in the promotion frame seemed unlikely to begin with given the size of their budget in comparison to rivals such as Sheffield United and Bournemouth, who have more money to throw at their own challenges. But even with their recent dip in form, Rovers remain in the hunt to go up, currently occupying the final play-off spot and just two points off the pace. With injuries troubling Moore's squad, it remains to be seen whether they have the depth to get themselves back on track or whether they will drop away, but if they are still very much contenders as they look to recover their early season form.
Now that Brentford's extended FA Cup run is over after defeat to Chelsea last weekend, the Bees are free to concentrate fully on their promotion ambitions. Their league form has been inconsistent in recent games after climbing steadily up the table earlier in the season but manager Uwe Rosler will be hoping they can put a run together as the season reaches its climax. Despite sitting seventh in the table and outside the play-off places, Brentford are only four points off the top spot and still have automatic promotion in their sights. They will be boosted by the signing of Bradley Wright-Phillips on loan from Charlton as they look to keep pushing up the table, with the striker a prolific scorer for the Addicks in their promotion-winning League One campaign last season. Rosler will be hoping the frontman will repeat his heroics to help fire the Bees into the second tier.