Predicting how a football season will pan out is never an easy task. If the teams with the most expensively assembled squads won league titles, football would be a much less interesting place. There is always room for an underdog to topple the expected winners. Now that we have some sense of how the season is flowing across the football league pyramid, we can stick our neck out and say who some of those underdogs might be.
Below we are going to pick out one potential unexpected title winner from six different tiers of English football. We will skip the Premier League, and start with the EFL Championship and work our way down to the National League North and South. Their chances vary, but all of these underdogs have a puncher’s chance of a title in May:
EFL Championship – Bristol City
The Championship is going much the way you’d expect, with Norwich, Bournemouth and Watford all at the top-end of the table. But among the challengers are surprise packages Bristol City. The Robins do not possess the Premier League-level squad of that trio, but they are more than the sum of their parts and sit just a few points off the top. Look, predicting how Bristol City will fare week-in and week-out isn’t easy given the well-documented toughness of the Championship, and they could plummet down the table just as quickly as ascend to the top. But there is a sense of steely resolve about Dean Holden’s team, and they might just have enough to topple the big boys of the EFL Championship.
League One – Lincoln City
Non-league fans will be well aware that Imps were in the National League just a few seasons ago, but two promotions in three years have put them into League One where they proudly sit 4th, two points from the summit. Like Bristol City above, Lincoln have to face teams with much more expensive squads, like Ipswich, Peterborough and Hull City. However, they have the meanest defence in the league and players like Jorge Grant who know where the goal is; so why not dream of another promotion?
League Two: Cambridge United
The U’s have been stuck in mid-table in League 2 during the six seasons since securing promotion from the Conference after the 2013/14 season. They were not fancied to do much this season bar improving a little on the 16th place finish from last time around. But United have been excellent thus far, scoring the most goals and conceding the fewest. They will almost certainly be in the mix for a Playoff spot, but manager Mark Bonner will believe his side is capable of something more.
National League – Wealdstone
We talk a lot about clubs having miraculous rises up the football pyramid, and Wealdstone’s journey is certainly one of the most notable. The North London side has grown organically over the last decade, jumping from the Isthmian Premier to the National League South, and now sits 5th in the National League. A club with passionate fans, an astute manager and a board that knows how to make the most of limited resources. Can Wealdstone take the ultimate step forward? It is unlikely, but they have started life in the National League with a bang.
National League North – Gloucester City
The first team on our list that are current table-toppers, but pundits and bookmakers still tend to believe that AFC Fylde, York or Kidderminster will be the kings of the National League North come May 2021. While their super-hot start has been curtailed with a couple of defeats, Gloucester still look every bit champion material. There is a new lease about the team after the return to New Meadow Park after 13 years of “exile”, and it would be wonderful to see this team, which has suffered more than most down the years, take another step up the ladder.
National League South – Hungerford Town
Hungerford were in the Hellenic League just over a decade ago, so even the last four season in National League South might feel like heady heights for some fans. Teams like Dartford, H&W and Dorking are much more fancied than the Crusaders, but they are still in with a sniff of winning the National League South. Like Gloucester above, some of the early-season euphoria has evaporated after a couple of defeats, but Hungerford have a generous fixture list over December and the Christmas period. They might emerge into the new year as one of the favourites.