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Is Top 6 Possible In 2019-20?

Can Rovers reach the play-offs for the fourth consecutive season?

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Posted: 28/07/19

By | Matthew Evans | @M_R_Evans1



Hello and welcome to Deadly Submarine’s 2019-20 League One countdown. Twelve months ago, we launched our inaugural countdown feature in preparation for Tranmere's return to the EFL. The response was incredible, and so we are delighted to be able to bring the feature back as we look ahead to Rovers' third-tier return.

With just six days until Rochdale visit Prenton Park for the opening fixture of the League One calendar, we will bring you a new piece every day until 2nd August, with each related to the number of days remaining in some manner.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter (@DSubmarine17), Facebook (@DeadlySubmarine) and our new Instagram account (@deadlysubmarineofficial) to ensure you keep abreast of the latest releases. Each new entry will be released at 6am on the appropriate date, so you should have plenty of time to digest each.

And if you do miss an instalment, you will find links at the bottom of each day's entry to take you back to any that may have escaped your attention.

Please find below our content for day five in the 2019-20 countdown.

As we reach the halfway point of our 2019-20 League One countdown, it's now time to focus on Tranmere's search for #3inarow.

Having been successful at Wembley in both 2018 and 2019, Rovers are seeking a third consecutive promotion, a feat that has never been achieved in the EFL, although it has occurred in non-League football. Rivals Chester's promotions in 2010-11, 2011-12 & 2012-13 and their return to the fifth tier are the most notable of such rises, with other clubs such as FC United of Manchester, Kings Langsley, South Shields and Shaw Lane AFC securing hat-tricks further down the English pyramid.

Indeed, only one club in British football history has managed to achieve such a success in a professional setting. Playing in the Scottish leagues, Gretna went from the fourth tier to the first in 2004-05, 2005-06 & 2006-07.

Clearly, another promotion would be difficult, but is a top-6 finish possible for Tranmere in 2019-20? If you've got to be in the promotion race to win it, can Rovers get across the starting line and declare themselves a contender for a fourth year in a row?

Let's discuss.

Recent Statistics

League One Season Promoted From League Two Top 6 Finish*
2009-10 Brentford, Exeter City, Wycombe Wanderers, Gillingham (PO) None
2010-11 Notts County, Bournemouth, Rochdale, Dagenham & Redbridge (PO) Bournemouth (6th)
2011-12 Chesterfield, Bury, Wycombe Wanderers, Stevenage (PO) Stevenage (6th)
2012-13 Swindon Town, Shrewsbury Town, Crawley Town, Crewe Alexandra (PO) Swindon Town (6th)
2013-14 Gillingham, Rotherham United, Port Vale, Bradford City (PO) Rotherham United (4th, Promoted via Play-offs)
2014-15 Chesterfield, Scunthorpe United, Rochdale, Fleetwood Town (PO) Chesterfield (6th)
2015-16 Burton Albion, Shrewsbury Town, Bury, Southend United (PO) Burton Albion (2nd, Promoted)
2016-17 Northampton Town, Oxford United, Bristol Rovers, AFC Wimbledon (PO) None
2017-18 Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle, Doncaster Rovers, Blackpool (PO) None
2018-19 Accrington Stanley, Luton Town, Wycombe Wanderers, Coventry City (PO) Luton Town (1st, Promoted)
*Promoted clubs only | (PO) = Play-off winners
Fig.1: Table showing all teams promoted from League Two in the past decade and those who placed in the top 6 in League One the following season.

With promotions one and two already locked into the memories of the entire SWA, what we are really asking is what are the chances of securing a play-off position in League One immediately after securing promotion from League Two?

There is a clear jump in quality between the divisions and, with Tranmere enduring a 5-year absence, one would be forgiven for taking an eye off the League One ball. Therefore, it seems the best route to ascertaining the feasibility of a newly promoted club securing a placing of sixth or higher is to assess the statistics.

In the last ten seasons, 40 teams have been promoted from League Two to League One (Fig. 1). Of those 40 teams, just 7 have obtained a top-6 placing in their first season (17.5%). A pair of those 7 — Burton Albion (2015-16) and Luton Town (2018-19) — secured automatic promotion, whilst 1 — Rotherham United (2013-14) — won the play-offs.

That leaves 4 clubs — Bournemouth (2010-11), Stevenage (2011-12), Swindon Town (2012-13) and Chesterfield (2014-15) — who qualified for the play-offs before falling at the semi-final stage.

Of the 7 teams who made the top 6, just one had won the League Two play-offs the season prior (Stevenage 2011-12), whilst the other 6 had previously won promotion via automatic means.

Furthermore, no team that won the League Two play-offs went on to win promotion again the following year. Perhaps this is due to the reduced time to prepare for the step up in comparison to their counterparts? Is this because, as the lowest-ranked club from the previous season, the difference between the fourth and third tiers was more apparent to them than their contemporaries?

Whilst the statistics seems to suggest it is 87.5% likely that Tranmere will not make the top-6 in 2019-20, they can take heart from the fact that between 2010-11 and 2015-16, at least one of the teams promoted from League Two has broken into the play-off zone. Moreover, this has occurred in seven of the last ten seasons, which suggests promoted teams can go again in League One, if they prepare correctly.

This must be tempered by the fact that only 1 of the last 12 teams promoted has placed sixth or higher; reigning League One champions Luton Town.

Tranmere Mentality

Over the past few seasons, Tranmere have built a mentality, on and off the pitch, that has proved conducive to success.

Whilst looking at the teams who have achieved the top 6 immediately following a promotion from League Two, it could be argued that Tranmere are a comparable club in terms of size. Teams such as Bournemouth, Rotherham United and Luton Town, especially the latter, are examples of clubs who have been in dire situations and have capitalised from the momentum built throughout the turnaround — much like Rovers will be seeking to do.

Notwithstanding, all of the clubs that have achieved it, with the possible exception of Stevenage, were fiscally supported and therefore could build a squad that was able to compete at the top of League One immediately.

Tranmere simply do not have the funding of those clubs, and as such will be reliant on their work rate, commitment and attitude to fight for every point they achieve.

As a club, Rovers have become used to winning more than they lose, with a phenomenal home record over the past two seasons in particular. If they can make Prenton Park the fortress it has been since Micky Mellon's arrival, who knows what could happen?

One suspects Tranmere's attitude and application, both of which have been exemplary during their back-to-back promotion victories, could see them surprise a few teams. Can they surprise enough to reach the top 6 of a division containing some very big teams?

Only time will tell.


Looking for #3inarow is a nice dream to have, but it isn't based in any sort of reality.

Whilst Rovers are clearly carrying momentum into the new campaign, is it really fair to burden them with the expectation of a feat that has never been achieved in professional English football? Statistically, they are four times as likely to miss out on the top 6 as they are to qualify for the play-offs, whilst they are 92.5% likely to fall short of another promotion based on the experiences of their counterparts over the last decade.

An honest assessment of Tranmere's squad would have to conclude that, whilst containing players of quality, it does not look anything close to a third tier promotion-chasing team yet, and as such, those odds don't seem too far off the mark.

That's not to say the personnel cannot develop into a contender over time, but perhaps there is a reason no team has ever secured three successive promotions within the professional game? Is it too much adjustment for one team to make in such a small period of time?

In summary, is a top-6 finish possible?

Yes, of course, as Bournemouth, Stevenage, Swindon Town, Rotherham United, Burton Albion, Chesterfield and Luton Town have highlighted.

However, is it likely? If the SWA are honest, no.

Then again, how likely was a top-7 finish in 2018-19?


Remember: Check back tomorrow for day six of our ten-day countdown to the 2019-20 season.