WEMBLEY hosts the League One play-off final on Sunday evening. Will Preston or Swindon be plying their trade in the Championship next season? We asked Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire).
Preston North End v Swindon Town | Sunday 17.30 | Sky Sports 1
The League One season climaxes on Sunday with a winner-takes-all play-off between Preston and Swindon at Wembley. The prize? Promotion to the Championship and dates against Derby and QPR, as opposed to away days at Burton and Crewe…
You’ll hear the same lines trotted out over and over again in the lead up to Sunday. Hoodoos, curses, rotten play-off records and plenty more garbage too but I’m happy to leave it all to one side and concentrate on the here and now, Preston against Swindon in May 2015.
The last time Preston occupied the second tier was 2011 and Simon Grayson’s Lilywhites have recovered supremely well from their final day disappointment at Colchester. That loss was their only blip in 21 League One games and saw North End miss out on automatic promotion.
That unenviable record of failing in all nine previous play-off adventures will be churned out relentlessly in the build-up but Grayson’s side can land the prize this time around. The squad is littered with quality and strolled through their semi-final with professionalism, style and swagger. You felt there was another level, if required.
Winning at Chesterfield marked their first ever victory in an away play-off semi-final and the twin threat of League One Player of the Year Joe Garner and Jermaine Beckford look primed to punish a leaky Swindon defence – the pair have netted all of Preston’s previous 11 goals and will do plenty of damage should the Robins leave their nest exposed as they did against Sheffield United.
Mark Cooper’s men conceded six goals across their two semi-finals and arrive at Wembley way with just one shutout to their name in 12 games. The Swindon boss tends to field three centre-halves with two wing-backs for cover either side but it’s difficult to see the Robins plugging those gaps before the weekend.
When playing away to sides in 16th and above, Wiltshire’s finest conceded two goals or more on eight occasions, including in all four matches at the top-five. It’s an extremely concerning trend for Swindon supporters heading to Wembley; Preston boasted 21 clean sheets this season with 11 achieved on the road – six of which came at top-half clubs. Gifting goals to the Lilywhites will prove fatal.
Swindon have proved themselves as one of the best footballing sides in League One this season and Cooper took the opportunity to rest the bulk of his squad before the play-off games. The Robins have overcome the first obstacle but I just don’t have the trust in the underdogs to consider keeping them onside. Honestly, it just comes down to trust.
Preston can be backed at 6/5 with Betway to win in 90 minutes and that’s where I’d be heading for my best bet. The Lilywhites should have claimed automatic promotion and in my opinion, were comfortably second best this season. They boast one of the league’s shrewdest bosses, an excellent road record, superb recent form, plenty of goalscoring firepower but crucially, that defensive nous to grind out results.
It’s PNE, for me. Make it tenth time luck, please – just don’t guff this one up!
Preston North End v Swindon Town – Preston North End to win (6/5 Betway)
Reckon Mark has got it all wrong? Will Swindon triumph at Wembley? Where’s your money going?
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