League One Madness Marks Third Tier Out As One Of Europe’s Top Leagues

League One is better than Ligue 1… pass it on.

This weekend, 20 years of Premier League experience goes head-to-head when Bolton Wanderers host Portsmouth. Elsewhere, Charlton Athletic and Barnsley face off in another match-up of former EPL clubs. And neither of them are the biggest game of the weekend as third-placed Ipswich Town and leaders Plymouth Argyle meet at Portman Road.

Next week Derby County host Bolton, and Sheffield Wednesday soon face Barnsley, Plymouth and Ipswich in the space of no time at all. When it comes to non-stop clashes between big-name clubs, the English third tier might be one of the most appealing divisions in world football.

Bolton, Wednesday, Ipswich, Derby, Barnsley, Charlton and Portsmouth between them have 48 years of Premier League football under their belts since the league’s inception in 1992, and with only three spots in the Championship up for grabs this is a tier which is guaranteed to be stacked with historic outfits for some time to come yet.

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Plymouth are leading the way, and while they themselves have never been in the PL, they represent the biggest city in the country never to have had a top-flight club. With an average attendance of over 15,000 this term, the Pilgrims are currently out drawing eight Championship outfits and Premier League Bournemouth. They’re also performing on the pitch to such an extent that a host of former top-flight clubs are jostling for position behind them.

They’ve recently lost Morgan Whittaker back to Swansea City after a successful first half of the season on loan, but the secret of Argyle’s form under Steven Schumacher has been the contributions they’ve got from all across the field. Besides Whittaker’s nine goals, Ryan Hardie and Niall Ennis have hit eight each and Sam Cosgrove and Finn Azaz six apiece, while at the back Dan Scarr and Brendan Galloway have been part of a stubborn back line. Even when the defense has faltered, goalkeeper Michael Cooper has been on hand to make the second-highest number of saves in the division this season, trailing only Morecambe’s Connor Ripley (94 to Ripley’s 100).

IPSWICH REMAIN FAVORITES FOR THE TITLE DESPITE AN INCONSISTENT SPELL

IPSWICH REMAIN FAVORITES FOR THE TITLE DESPITE AN INCONSISTENT SPELL

Since losing to a last-minute Cosgrove goal at Home Park in early October, Sheffield Wednesday are unbeaten in 18 games in all competitions, a run of form which has seen them leapfrog title favorites Ipswich into second place. Darren Moore’s side attracted national headlines last weekend with a famous FA Cup win over Newcastle United at Hillsborough, and the recent upturn in performance level of two-goal hero Josh Windass has been among the reasons the Owls have emerged as strong contenders for automatic promotion.

Michael Smith has also been bang in form lately, bagging four goals in his last two League One appearances, and even the absence of talismanic captain Barry Bannan through injury has failed to check Wednesday’s stride.

Ipswich are still very much in the mix despite an inconsistent run which has seen them collect just five points from their last four games, and a win on Saturday against league-leading Argyle would take them within four points of their opponents with a game in hand . They also boast a few notable new faces, with Massimo Luongo coming in from Middlesbrough, George Hirst arriving on loan from Leicester City and – most significantly – Nathan Broadhead signing for £1.5 million from Everton after starring for Championship Wigan Athletic in the first few months of 2022-23.

Below the top three there is a nine-point gap to resurgent Derby in fourth, but then there is a real bottleneck developing, with Bolton, Barnsley and Wycombe – who host Wednesday this weekend – all within three points of the Rams. Chuck in the fact that the three promoted clubs – Bristol Rovers, Port Vale and Exeter City – are nudging aside the likes of Charlton and Portsmouth in the play-off race and League One has arguably never been as fierce and as fascinating as it is right now.

Whatever the attention garnered by bigger-name leagues, England’s third tier is providing top-drawer drama.

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change

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