After 46 weeks of blood, sweat and tears, the Football League season culminates in a potential trio of matches for these 12 sides. Hope, glory, despair and heartbreak: it’s all in the offing here.
So where’s the betting value in these play-off matches?
Sheffield Wednesday vs Brighton
The Seasiders powered into the automatic promotion shake-up following an unbeaten run of eight matches (five wins, three draws) and while they couldn’t quite do enough to secure second spot at Middlesbrough last Saturday, they at least have the consolation of a play-off place.
Their opponents here, Sheffield Wednesday, sort of fell into a top six place after winning just one of their last half-dozen matches of the regular season. A defeat to an ordinary Wolves side last time out is hardly ideal preparation for a match of such magnitude.
Both matches between these two in the league phase finished 0-0; a surprise given the ease with which they scored goals (Brighton were the division’s joint top scorers, Wednesday scored in five of their last six). But styles make matches, and the way these two play mean chances are at a premium.
Brighton are rightly favourites for the tie given that they claimed 15 points more than the Sheffield side, but Wednesday’s record at Hillsborough this term – W13 D8 L2 – must not be ignored. Indeed, Chris Hughton’s men on their travels returned W9 D12 L2, so perhaps a draw in this first leg at 9/4 is the smart play.
It is the South Coast side’s greater form that could be definitive in this encounter, and so the 8/11 on them to qualify for the play-off final looks another intuitive investment.
Derby vs Hull
Derby deserve massive credit for the way in which they rallied following the sacking of Paul Clement. The wheels appeared to have come off their promotion train, but club legend Darren Wassall settled the ship to secure a top six finish.
What a strange and unpredictable side Hull City are. Four wins in their last five, backed by a 0-1 defeat at the hapless Bolton, is a measure of the Yorkshiremen’s inconsistencies in the second half of the Championship season. The fact that they lost eleven league matches – more than any other side in the top six – highlights their propensity for simply not turning up on the day.
Both of these teams took 14 points from their last eight matches of the campaign, although the Rams signed off with a whimper: a defeat to Ipswich following two draws with Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday.
The key to this fixture could be Hull’s poor away record. They have lost more matches than they have won on their travels in 2015/16, and returned a goal difference of -1. That’s surprising for a side with top two ambitions.
So we’re happy to back Derby to win this first leg at a princely 13/8, but as far as the overall tie is concerned we shall be taking a watching brief.
Barnsley vs Walsall
There’s nothing like a morale-boosting victory heading into the play-offs, and Walsall’s 5-0 demolition of Port Vale last week could not have been timed any better. Indeed, they have now won three on the bounce, scoring ten and conceding two. Timing is the key word here.
Their hosts Barnsley have had a pretty good second half to the season by anyone’s standards, and have lost just one of their last ten. A 4-1 win over Wigan last time out, admittedly who were suffering a hangover after celebrating their title win from the week before, was impressive.
A tough one to call this, but we’re happy to give Walsall the edge in the ‘to qualify’ market given they boast the best away record in the division; that should help them secure an all-important away goal at the very least.
Bradford vs Millwall
Two of the most in-form teams in League One will do battle at Valley Parade, with both sides tasting defeat once in their prior eight meetings.
What could be definitive in this tie is that Bradford are so strong at home, and having conceded just 16 goals in 23 outings the chances of Millwall notching an away goal are slim. As we’ve seen already in the Champion League this term, away goals are so crucial….and so we have to give Bradford the nod to qualify at 11/10.
Portsmouth vs Plymouth
How definitive will the events of April 16 be, when Plymouth beat Portsmouth 2-1 at Fratton Park? It’s hard to say, but seeing as Pompey have now lost two of their last three home matches – as opposed to just four in their previous 20 – we would have to surmise that the jitters are setting in on the South Coast.
Plymouth are decent travellers having gone W12 D6 L5 on the road this term, and the fact they have scored 15 goals in their last half-dozen matches suggests they are in the boxseat here. Incidentally, 10/12 of the pair’s most recent games have gone Over 2.5 Goals, so let’s back that market here at 13/10 and support Plymouth in the ‘to qualify’ market at 11/10.
Wimbledon vs Accrington
No team in League Two is in better form than Wimbledon (W6 D1 L1), so they’ll be looking to take a healthy lead north for the second leg.
Accrington are reliable on the road and have gone eight matches unbeaten however, and of all of these six fixtures it is this one that is perhaps the hardest to call.
We’re tempted to leave well alone then, although we note that just 31.5% of their combined last 16 matches have gone Over 2.5. So, we’ll be backing the Unders bracket at 7/10.