Given the hype and the millions of pounds spent each year on promoting the Premier League as the ‘best in the world™’, it must be pretty galling for all involved that the fourth tier of English football is providing infinitely more entertainment than the glitz and glamour of English football’s promised land.
To recap, Doncaster, Plymouth and Portsmouth are promoted, and will now battle it out to determine who will rise to League 1 as champions.
But, and here’s the fun part, four teams get promoted from League 2; the fourth via the play offs. Luton are currently fourth on 68 points with Wycombe, way down in thirteenth, just six points behind! So yes, some nine teams could yet join the aforementioned trio on the promotion bandwagon.
Such uncertainty is good for neutral spectators who will enjoy a pant-shreddingly nervous conclusion, and for punters it is truly a Godsend: but where is the smart money going?
The Class Act: Luton Town
Promotion Odds: 2/1
Top 7 Finish Odds: 1/50
The Hatters are four points clear of Carlisle in eighth with just three games to go, so their odds of finishing in the play-off places are representative.
If the best team won the play-offs – and in truth, they very rarely do – then Luton would be odds on to triumph. They have lost just nine games this term, which is less than Plymouth and Portsmouth, and only Pompey have conceded fewer goals than them.
But bizarre dropped points, like the draws against Newport and Leyton Orient of late, have derailed any hopes they may have had of challenging for automatic promotion. The unpredictable nature of the play-off system means that their price of 2/1 to be promoted is simply too short to be value.
The Form Horse: Accrington
Promotion Odds: 25/1
Top 7 Finish Odds: 17/2
What a price to be had here. Accrington are just two points off the play-off places despite sitting in eleventh place, and of all the teams embroiled in this race they are in the best form: W9 D6 L0 since February 12.
The reason for their long price is that they have to face Luton and fifth-placed Stevenage in their last three games, plus an away trip to relegation-threatened Newport, so it will be tough for the Accies to continue their fine form.
But for those punters who love a long shot, Accrington to finish in the top seven at 15/2 looks a huge price.
Kings of the Road: Exeter
Promotion Odds: 5/1
Top 7 Finish Odds: 8/15
Only Plymouth have performed better away from home than Exeter this term (W12 D3 L7), and that could well come in handy given that two of the three play-off matches (one of the semi-final legs and of course the final itself) will be played on the road.
That could also be a factor given that their one remaining away fixture is at champions-elect Doncaster, where they will hope to pick up a point at least to go with those earned at home against beleaguered Morecambe and Carlisle.
The Exiles do look a good outside punt for promotion.
The Wobblers: Stevenage
Promotion Odds: 6/1
Top 7 Finish Odds: 4/9
Between January 28 and March 11 Stevenage were outstanding: winning nine and drawing one of their ten league outings. That run included excellent victories over Wycombe and Luton, which opened up the promotion race no end.
But things have gone a little awry since (W2 D2 L3), and they will need three points against a decent Mansfield side to confirm their place in the top seven.
Given their lack of form of late, Stevenage are perhaps ones to avoid in the betting markets.
The Party Poopers?: Carlisle
Promotion Odds: 16/1
Top 7 Finish Odds: 9/4
For all their woes, Carlisle remain outside of the play off places on goal difference alone. So if they can get a result next time out at Crawley – a side that has lost three of their last four games – then there’s every chance they will jump back into the top seven.
But finding a win could be a problem for the Cumbrians, who have tasted victory in just one of their last eleven league outings. That said, draws with Luton and Stevenage suggest there is life in them just yet.
A final day trip to Exeter could also spell curtains for their promotion bid.