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.
Two of the automatic promotion places in the nPower League Two this season look as if they are going to be occupied by Gillingham and Port Vale. They have been the front runners in the division for a while now and both look well set to be heading up the English league tier next season. While Gillingham and Port Vale are battling it out between themselves to settle the not-so-small matter of winning the League Two title (with the Gills edging things narrowly in the nPower League Two Outright Winner market) the big race is on behind them to figure out who may join them going up to League One next season. There looks as if there will be a good scrap for the third and final automatic promotion spot, and four further teams will be hoping to squeeze in through the back door of the League Two play offs.
With three quarters of the 2012/13 League Two season having passed, there was a good nine teams still in the running to book themselves a play off spot. Some of the strongest showings heading into the final stretch of the season were coming from Burton Albion and Northampton Town. They were both trading at around 4/5 with a quarter of the season to go in the nPower League 2 2012/13 to reach play-offs betting odds. That should make them fairly solid bets to secure a top seven finish, and Burton in particular were showing the kind of form over the second half of the season that could get them to the third automatic promotion spot. But teams were so tightly packed that anything was really up for grabs, offering plenty of value around.
One team that was trending very well with a quarter of the season remaining was Cheltenham Town. Despite something of a stuttering start to 2013, when draws were coming their way more than wins, they were holding onto a play off spot, simply thanks to their resilience. So if they find their winning touch again, it won’t take them much to remain a very solid option in npower League 2 2012/13 Play-Offs betting. Rotherham looked to have found a hot streak to keep themselves in the hunt as well as the final stretch of the season approached and along with Southend were being offered at fair value to book themselves a spot in the play offs. With the play off race though in League Two looking fairly evenly matched and open, there is still some good value around in some outside shots.
Perhaps looking the best option to mount a late surge and muscle their way into the play offs is Morecambe. They started to come on strongly since the turn of the new year and were trending well towards a top seven finish. The question is though whether they will be able to keep form going, as well as seeing others above them slip enough for them to squeeze in. With a dozen games remaining in the League Two season, Morecambe were six points adrift of the play offs. Fleetwood started to drift a little in the race, but one team holding steady was Exeter. After the heroics of their League Cup run, Bradford started attracting more interest. After beating Premier League opponents on their way to the League Cup final, where they lost to Swansea, will that experience be enough of a catalyst to put them in the play off race? Or will it have simply been a costly distraction?
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