Shakers and Cotts give us reasons to be cheerful

Steve Cotterill celebrates his League Two success with Notts County
Steve Cotterill celebrates his League Two success with Notts County

So that’s it. Play-offs it is.

The enveloping disappointment hasn’t swallowed us up this season quite like it did at 4.50pm on Saturday.

Paul Cook. Picture: Joe Pepler

Paul Cook. Picture: Joe Pepler

For the first time, automatic promotion seemed a distant prospect as Oxford United celebrated their ‘defining’ win in front of the biggest league crowd of the campaign.

The permeating low was a natural reaction to a much-hyped promotion battle.

Even Paul Cook had a job lifting himself out his malaise, with despondency making the ‘there’s still a long way to go’ rhetoric feel forced.

But the Pompey boss has a point.

Detaching yourself from emotion and delivering a cold analysis of the stats underlines that’s the case.

The 14-point gap to league leaders Northampton seems an increasingly unbridgeable chasm. Maybe.

Seven points to Oxford United in the third automatic spot to go up isn’t such a challenge, though, with 20 games remaining.

History provides the greatest indicator to what will occur in the future – and it offers Pompey fans reasons to be cheerful.

But who would have thought Bury and Steve Cotterill would be the catalysts to drag the Fratton faithful from their melancholy?

Over the past 20 years, there have been five seasons where teams in the same or worse positions than Pompey at this stage, have gone on to secure automatic promotion.

In fact, teams have come from as low as 11th in the table to secure a League One berth.

Just last season, Bury were a massive 10 points off third spot after 26 games. They went up automatically.

A run of 13 wins from 16 was what the Shakers produced to turn their fortunes around.

They have form for such strong finishes, too, repeating the trick in 2011 (four points off at this stage and finished second) and 1996 (eight points off and finished third).

It’s Notts County who really underline it’s not quite time to write off the top three, though. Six years ago, the Magpies were languishing in ninth place in League Two – eight points off the top three. They won the league.

And it was former Pompey boss Cotterill, who oversaw the late charge as they won an outstanding 14 of their final 18 games.

That ensured Cotterill’s side incredibly finished 10 points clear of their nearest rivals – and 20 points ahead of the play-offs.

Torquay (2004) and Northampton (2010) are other examples of sides emerging late in the campaign, as they came from seven and eight points off, respectively, to finish in the top three.

So there’s compelling evidence, making the top three is a long way from a forlorn hope for Pompey.

Which begs the question, do they look like a team capable of achieving promotion?

Cook’s side have accumulated 44 points from 26 league games to date – an average of 1.69 per game.

Again, history tells us that it takes between 78 (Port Vale 2012-13 and Wycombe 2008-09) and 85 points (Bury 2014-15 and Swindon 2006-07) to finish third over the past 20 years.

The average points return to do it over that same period makes 81 the magic number. Pompey are currently on course to collect 78 points.

So, the Blues are looking for an upturn in form – but not a large one.

What is clear is a winning run is needed, something Pompey’s promotion rivals have all achieved.

Northampton have won 10 of their last 11 in the league, Plymouth 10 wins and two draws from 14 and Oxford seven wins and three draws from 12 – on top of FA Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy runs.

And make no mistake, automatic promotion is what we all need.

Anyone dreaming of Wembley play-off glory have clearly let the pain of 1993 heal.

That defeat to Leicester defeat reminds you it only takes a dodgy linesman or similar for ambitions to be shattered.