As a professional footballer, there can’t be many more nerve-racking games than a play-off final. You’ve worked solidly for the preceding ninth months of the season and yet your whole campaign boils down to 90 minutes at Wembley Stadium: joy and success, misery and abject failure. Sport doesn’t get much crueller than this.
The three play-off final line-ups are now confirmed. In the Championship it will be Reading taking on Huddersfield – certainly not the final most expected – on May 29, while League One is first up with their crunch clash between Bradford and Millwall tomorrow.
And finally, Exeter and Blackpool will duke it out in the League 2 final after winning their semi-finals by a 6-5 aggregate scoreline in what was a breathless pair of fixtures. In a bizarre way, you fancy that play-off game on May 28 will be more highly anticipated than any of the others!
So where does the smart betting value lie for this fascinating trio of games?
Huddersfield vs Reading Betting Tips
There really isn’t much to choose between these two sides, but from a betting perspective a low-scoring affair is likely. A play-off final is a game fraught with nerves, and you wouldn’t expect either team to go all-out on the attack. The fact that their two league clashes ended 1-0 (both winning their home game) adds fuel to that fire.
Reading nipped past Fulham 2-1 on aggregate thanks to a hotly-disputed Yann Kermorgant penalty in the second leg, and in fairness they did just about enough over the two legs to deserve their place. It wasn’t vintage Royals, who have been exceptional going forward at times this term, but it was good enough to get the job done.
Huddersfield, meanwhile, needed penalties to see off their Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday after a pant-shredding semi-final ended 1-1 on aggregate. Terriers goalkeeper Danny Ward saved two spot-kicks to see his side through to the Wembley showpiece.
It will take a brave punter to dive into the outright market here, but Under 2.5 Goals at 8/13 is worthy of investment.
Millwall vs Bradford Betting Tips
Bradford’s defensive excellence continued against Fleetwood in their play-off semi-final, and that backs-to-the-wall approach could serve them well at Wembley too.
The Bantams boasted the second best defensive record in League One during the league campaign, and they continued where they left off against the Fleet by keeping a pair of clean sheets home and away. They could only find one goal themselves but hey: this is football, and that’s all you need.
Millwall’s clash with Scunthorpe was the proverbial game of two halves, with a 0-0 draw at the New Den backed by a 3-2 triumph away from home. These Lions are made from stern stuff, and they will be expected to roar at Wembley on Saturday.
Like the Championship play-off final, it might be one for the purists only. We don’t expect a goal-laden affair that’s for sure, and so Both Teams to Score (No) has to be worth a poke at 4/5.
Exeter vs Blackpool Betting Tips
Both of these teams needed 95th minute goals to secure their place at Wembley, and while Exeter had been in control of their tie with Carlisle almost from the get-go – they were 3-1 up in the first leg before boss Paul Tisdale changed formation and the Cumbrians came back to 3-3 – it was a whole different story for Blackpool.
The Tangerines trailed with 15 minutes to go against Luton, but an Armand Gnanduillet goal looked set to force extra time before disaster struck for the Hatters and keeper Stuart Moore put through his own goal to hand Blackpool the chance to return to league 1 at the first time of asking.
It could be another rollercoaster ride in this final, although Exeter’s away form during the league phase (W13 D3 L7) was very interesting indeed. For that reason alone they deserve favouritism with the bookies, and the 6/4 available appears to be an appetising mark for punters to sink their teeth into.