Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham United and Sunderland and how home form could be key to League One promotion race

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY’S home form is up there with the very best of them in League One.

Only Rotherham United and Plymouth Argyle have collected more points – having both played a game more – but should the Owls beat Cheltenham Town at Hillsborough on Saturday, then it would take their total to 44 from 20 matches, which would put them out on their own at the top of the ‘home table.’ It would also move them into the top six.

It is Wednesday’s away statistics which promise to make or break their season and determine whether they extend their campaign into the play-offs.

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Their form in the road is modest for a promotion contender, much like a club similar in size and stature and almost identical in terms of results this season in big top-six rivals Sunderland.

Owls hat-trick man Saido Berahino with the match ball after Sheffield Wednesday beat Cambridge United 6-0 at Hillsborough this month. Picture: Steve Ellis

The Owls’ form away from home is the ninth best in the division – Sunderland’s is the eighth best, but they remain infinitely stronger at home like Wednesday.

Only two teams have scored more home goals than Darren Moore’s side. Conversely, their total of away goals (23) is the worst in the top nine. Relegation-threatened Fleetwood have even scored more.

The Owls must visit the Fylde coast before season’s end alongside tough trips to MK Dons and Wycombe, not to mention Bolton.

At home, mid-table Cheltenham and a Portsmouth side who will probably have little to play for but pride on the final day must visit Hillsborough alongside relegation candidates AFC Wimbledon and Crewe. No real dramas. There shouldn’t be at any rate.

Millers boss Paul Warne. Picture: Steve Ellis

Owls chief Moore certainly has happy final-day memories against Pompey, incidentally one of his former clubs as a player.

He was part of the West Brom side who beat them on the last day of the Premier League season at the Hawthorns in 2004-05.

A 2-0 victory, allied to results elsewhere, secured a stunning ‘Great Escape’ from relegation.

After the desperation of Derby, another of his old sides, at the end of last term, Moore will be hoping that the fates are rather kinder once again.

The Owls run-in does possess some hazards, particularly away from S6. But in comparison to several rivals, they have got off relatively scot-free and it looks rather more ‘safe’.

Ultimately, the bottom line is surely this. If they do not make the top six, they will only have themselves to blame.

It would, as Dominic Iorfa recently opined, be a ‘disastrous season.’ Especially when you look at what is to come for others.

Look into April and there are devilish fixture quirks for several competitors. For the Owls’ Yorkshire rivals Rotherham, currently sitting at the summit, it promises not to be plain sailing either.

But no-one will have it tougher than Plymouth Argyle and Oxford United, who currently lie in fourth and fifth place respectively. If they clinch a top-six place, they will have done it the hard way and undeniably deserve it.

Argyle’s remaining seven games feature five appointments against sides in the mix for automatic promotion or the play-offs – six if you include Ipswich, who the Devonians visit on Saturday with the Tractor Boys still having an outside chance of reaching the end-of-season lottery.

Over Easter, Argyle visit Wycombe and then host Sunderland. They then head to Wigan for their final away game of the campaign before entertaining MK Dons in their last match of the regular season at Home Park.

Oxford’s run home also looks nasty, if not quite so brutal.

The U’s head to Plymouth on April 9 before welcoming Sunderland seven days later. They host MK Dons on Easter Monday (April 18) and journey to Rotherham the following Saturday.

Alongside visiting Oxford and Plymouth, the Wearsiders, currently one place and one point above the Owls, play host to Rotherham on April 26.

That night – the final midweek evening of action in the regular League One season – promises to be a ‘Super Tuesday.’

Several rearranged games will carry significance at both ends of the table, with Wednesday also visiting lowly Fleetwood and Wigan heading to Portsmouth.

Those fixtures come three days after a similarly seminal Saturday when the Owls visit Wycombe, the Millers host Oxford and Wigan are at home to Plymouth, with the intrigue at the top of the third tier comparable to that in the upper echelons of the Championship where rivals will also bump into each other wherever you look in April.

Inactive on Saturday and in Papa John’s Trophy final action on the first weekend in April, Rotherham, whose form has been faltering of late, will be monitoring developments elsewhere.

Should their automatic promotion rivals not cash in, the Millers will be afforded a psychological fillip by the time they take the field for their next league game, at home to Charlton on April 9.

If results go against them, it will get nervy. That’s the nature of the beast at this time of year.

For all their recent dip in form, the Millers are still in a very good place and position that they would have gladly snapped up before a ball was kicked in August.

They possess the best defensive record in the division and have lost four times in their last 33 fixtures. They have still not conceded an away goal in the first half of a league game this term.

Amid the handwringing in some quarters after last weekend’s home reverse to Shrewsbury, it is worth pointing that out.