We have 20 games left and looking at how they fall, it looks to me like there could be three phases; the next nine which look like they could yield a haul of points, followed by seven which could be a lot harder and then four very winnable games to finish.
We have five homes in the next nine - Peterborough (8th), Exeter (13th), Carlisle (15th), Tranmere (21st) and Brentford (14th). The four aways are at Hartlepool (11th), Notts County (19th), MK Dons (7th) and Dagenham & Redbridge (24th). I think it reasonable to assume we could expect to win four or five of these, draw two or three and lose a couple which would give us a return of 15-17 points.
The telling spell could be the seven that follow; we have three at the Valley and four away. The aways are at Bournemouth (2nd), Rochdale (9th), Southampton (4th) and Oldham (6th). The homes against Southampton (4th), Leyton Orient (16th) and Huddersfield (3rd). We invariably play better against stronger opponents and much may depend upon just how we sit when we start these matches against Southampton at the Valley and how much confidence we are playing with. If we could pick up 18 or more points in the next nine, we might find we are better positioned against Bournemouth, Southampton, Oldham, Rochdale and Huddersfield which would mean that draws could be better results for us than them and wins positively six-pointers. Fourteen points or less is likely to see us playing the closest of these opponents under significant additional pressure and draws might suit them better than us and defeats could seal our end-of-season fate.
So, working on the low-side of say 14-15 points from the next nine, we could do well to get seven points from the seven that follow. That would leave us on 65-66 points with four left against Bristol Rovers (a), Rochdale (h), Walsall (a) and Hartlepool (h) and that means a finish of maybe 72-74 points which would most likely mean missing out on the play-offs (Huddersfield finished in 6th last year on 80 points).
Lots of 'assumptions,' 'ifs' and 'maybe's' but that would feel about right to me from the football we have played so far this season. The fact that we have not played particularly well at home and our inability to compete for more than one half in the majority of matches would deserve little more. We have also ridden our luck so far, and particularly of late and as these things tend to even themselves out, I am anticipating some misfortune in the games to come.
That, of course, ignores the Powell-factor. No immediate signs of a significant resurgence of confidence or any changes in our tactics or style of play, but we have won three-on-the-spin without conceding and Bradley Wright-Phillips is looking like he's settled immediately. That could be just enough for us to up the ante, grow in confidence and play more sustained and attacking football which just might see us finishing like a train and if not catching the automatic places, at least we would enter the play-offs with the all-important momentum that's needed to see you through.