Barnsley’s Great Escape bid proves folly of points-per-game method in EFL - Sue Smith

When the clubs were discussing how to finish those seasons which could not be completed because of the coronavirus, I was against the idea of settling league tables on a points-per-game basis. The form Barnsley are showing at the moment is demonstrating why.

Barnsley's Kilian Ludewig challenges Millwall's Murray Wallace. ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Chelsea won the Women’s Super League despite Manchester City being top of the table when the pandemic brought games to halt.

It has been similar in National League North, where York City finished top but are preparing for the play-offs because King’s Lynn’s games in hand gave them the better points-per-game ratio.

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League football is the big test of a team. Sides play 38 games a season, or 46 in the EFL, in all sorts of weather against different styles of football, and you have to be consistent from August to May – or July this season.

Hull's Paddy McNair takes on Middlesbrough's Kevin Stewart. ( Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

Some teams set off like a train, only to hit the wall. Up until Thursday night, it looked like Sheffield United may have fallen into that category.

Others are slow out of the blocks but through a change of manager, some inspired transfers or just a focusing of the mind, they can pull off something remarkable.

It is at this stage of the season where a team which looked dead and buried will often pull off an incredible run of form.

Barnsley have done it before, and they are threatening to do it again.

Barnsley's Cauley Woodrow shields the ball friom Millwall's Shaun Williams. (Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe)

The Reds have won five and drawn one of their last eight matches either side of the lockdown.

They are yet to lose since the resumption. If the league had started when Barnsley’s run did in mid-February, they would be in the top ten, along with relegation rivals Huddersfield Town, Stoke City and Wigan Athletic.

The Latics in particular have been in great form, which is why the 12-point deduction coming their way now they have gone into administration will be even harder to take.

Fortunately for Barnsley, they will get the chance to see how this plays out. Still three points from safety with 18 more to play for, the job is far from done ahead of the first of four massive games for them. They are at Stoke today, Luton Town on Tuesday and at home to Wigan on the Saturday before their big derby against Leeds United.

It is great to see Gerhard Struber’s young side putting up such a fight. All season long they have shown they are a good attacking side, the question has been whether they were solid enough at the back.

I said before the games restarted they had nothing to lose, and that whether they stayed up or not, the experience would be good for them.

But I feel sorry for the teams who did not get the same chance to save themselves.

No division has been tighter than League One, and a Tranmere Rovers side who were starting to show some fight themselves were relegated by 0.106 of a point.

It worked for Rotherham United at the other end, taking the second automatic promotion spot by 0.036 points per game from Wycombe Wanderers, who were not even in the play-off positions when the matches stopped.

The bottom end of the Championship changes dramatically twice a week now. Charlton Athletic dropped into the relegation zone for the first time this season days before the postponement of matches and are now 18th, effectively 17th when Wigan’s deduction is factored in. Hull fell into the bottom three for the first time on the afternoon when matches got restarted, but Thursday’s win over Middlesbrough will have lifted spirits massively. Huddersfield began Wednesday in a relegation place, now they too are four points clear.

The whole point of league tables is that everyone plays each team home and away, and that had not happened in the leagues which had to be abandoned. Some teams would have been looking forward to a run of matches they fancied their chances in, others would have been dreading what was around the corner.

The beauty of English league football, especially in the Championship, is its unpredictability. Second-guessing it with a mathematical formula is just not fair.

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