Northampton v Bradford is the finale of the League Two season in England, as the two will contest the Play Off Final on May 18th. Northampton Town struck two 1-0 victories over Cheltenham in their play off semi final, a good return as they had finished two points behind the Robins in the league standings. Northampton had also suffered two defeats at the hands of Cheltenham during the regular League Two season. However, with Northampton just having the edge up front, in terms of scoring more goals than their semi final opponents over the duration of the regular season, a stunning away goal from Luke Guttridge in the second leg was enough to ensure the progress of the Cobblers. They will now look for the guidance of manager Aidy Boothroyd, who took Watford to the Premier League through the 2006 playoffs.
As for Bradford City, they had to battle their way in a thrilling semi final match up with Burton Albion, who were favourites for the playoffs after finishing fourth in the league. Bradford had squeezed into the final play off spot by just a couple of points ahead of Chesterfield, and the goal scoring power of Burton was expected to win through on the day. It looked as if it might all play out to form after the closing of the first leg, which Burton won 3-2 away from home. That may well have given them an advantage but it was the Bantams strikers who took control in the second leg, as James Hansen and Nakhi Wells fired Bradford through to the play off final. The two were very impressive in the second leg, almost unplayable and recorded a great fight back from the first leg deficit to win 3-1 at the Pirelli Stadium and 5-4 overall on aggregate.
Bradford will now play their 64th match of the season after having gone all the way to the League Cup Final, losing at Wembley against Premier League side Swansea. So it has been a tiring season for Phil Parkinson’s side but they keep on plugging away. It could be a welcome return for success from Bradford, who have been on a continuous slide since dropping out of the Premier League back in 2000. The last time that they were in a play off final, was back in 1996 when Chris Kamara led them into the second tier of English football. After their goal scoring efforts against Burton, Bradford are now favourites to go up, as bookmakers have them as 11/8 favourites to win the League Two play off final. Northampton are priced at 2/1 to win the match.
In the two League Two meetings during the season, Bradford won both games 1-0. They finished with similar records for the season, Northampton finishing four points ahead of the Bantams, scoring just one more goal than their play off final opponents, and conceding three more. So little to choose between the two, but will Bradford’s experience at Wembley already this season get them through?
Brentford’s end of season endeavours is becoming all about penalties, after they booked their place in the League One play final in a shootout. On Sunday, May 19th, they will face off against Yeovil for a lucrative place in next season’s Championship. This is a showdown between the third and fourth placed teams in the regular season in the nPower League One. The winner of the play off at Wembley will join Doncaster and Bournemouth in England’s second tier next season. After the bitter disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season, Brentford’s resilience will once again be tested. Yeovil stumbled a bit towards the finish line, but still had a enough to come through their semi final test and set up the clash in the final.
Uwe Rosler’s Brentford missed a penalty in their final match of the regular season against promotion rivals Doncaster. Substitute Marcello Trotta stepped up to take the penalty with the game poised a 0-0, but then Doncaster broke away down the other end and scored what proved to be the winning goal with the last kick of the game. The Bees had simply needed a win to edge their way into an automatic play off spot, and avoided the dreaded play offs, but that missed penalty cost them dearly. Penalties came back to haunt them again in the play off semi finals. After a 1-1 draw at Swindon, the two sides battled out a 3-3 draw back at Griffin Park, which sent the game into overtime in which neither could settle it. This time Uwe Rosler’s men made no mistake from the penalty spot as they won the shootout 5-4 to progress to the final.
As for the passage to the final for Yeovil, there was some redemption for the Glovers and defender Ed Upson in particular. In the first leg at Sheffield United, a lack of concentration from Upson had cost Yeovil in a 1-0 defeat. But it was the midfielder’s 85th minute goal in the second leg back in the west country, which secured a 2-0 win on the day, a 2-1 aggregate win over the Blades to send them through to face Brentford in the League One play off final. So things just about held to form, with third placed Brentford knocking out 6th placed Swindon and 4th placed Yeovil seeing off 5th placed Sheffield. So now the two sides will have to duel it out for a place in the Championship next season at Wembley.
During the regular season it was Yeovil in heavy ascendancy over the Bees. The Glovers won 3-1 at Griffin Park before going better in a 3-0 triumph back on home turf. The attacking power is clearly with Yeovil on this one. They finished the third highest scorers in the League One season, scoring eleven more than Brentford managed. Brentford closed out with a better defensive record than Yeovil. Of course, league season form can get thrown out of the window in the high pressured arena of Wembley in such a lucrative match. However, Yeovil remain the best value being priced at 9/4 to win, with Brentford in at shorter odds of 5/4 to take the Wembley play off final win.
After winning the Scottish Premier League title, Glasgow Celtic will be looking to complete the domestic double as they take on Hibernian in the final of the 2013 Scottish FA Cup. The big match kicks off on May 26th 2013 at Hampden Park and it will be the Bhoys who will be going as firm favourites. They have won the Scottish Cup 35 times before in their illustrious history, the most by any Scottish club. The last time they got their hands on the Scottish FA Cup was back in 2011 as Hearts went all the way in the tournament last season. In a repeat of last season’s final, the defending champions went up against their Edinburgh rivals Hibernian in the fourth round, and it was Hibs who gained some revenge, the win helping to propel them along their way to the final.
The semi finals were dramatic affairs for both Celtic and Hibernian as both needed extra time to make it through to the final. Hibernian were up first against Falkirk and it was a late winner in the 115th minute, deep into extra time, scored by Leigh Griffiths (his second of the game) that was the crucial goal for Hibs. It was a pretty remarkable comeback as well for Hibs, who were three nil down in the match after just thirty minutes, and it wasn’t until seven minutes from the end of regulation time that they eventually got their equaliser. It was by the same scoreline, 4-3 after extra time, that took Celtic past the challenge of Dundee United. Celtic had traded blows with Dundee United through the match, unable to pull away and the game was eventually settled in the 103rd minute by Anthony Stokes for the Bhoys.
For Hibs, they are on the hunt for their first Scottish Cup title since 1902, so it has been a long wait for them to add to their tally of two. The Easter Road outfit may be able to take some confidence from the fact that they didn’t let Celtic get the better of them in their two Scottish Premier League meetings during the 2012/13 season. Hibs took a 2-2 draw at Celtic Park back at the start of September 2012, and in the reverse fixture, took a 1-0 win over the Champions elect. So Hibernian will be able to carry some confidence through with them, especially as Celtic have struggled somewhat through this season’s Scottish FA Cup.
Neil Lennon’s men needed a replay to get themselves past Arbroath in the Fourth Round of the competition, and were pushed hard by St Mirren in the quarter finals, and then by Dundee United in the semi’s as mentioned above. Still, at the end of the day it is hard to ignore the difference in standings between the two clubs in the Scottish Premier League season, with Celtic taking the title easily and Hibs struggling in the bottom half of the table. But will the underdogs be able to grab their chance in the spotlight on May 26th 2013?