A place in League One is up for grabs on Saturday evening at Wembley. Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) steers us towards the best betting opportunities.
Southend United v Wycombe Wanderers | Saturday 17.30 | Sky Sports 1
The curtain closes on the League Two campaign this Saturday evening at Wembley with one final place in League One awaiting the winner of Southend and Wycombe. Who’ll be heading to Bramall Lane, the Ricoh Arena and the DW Stadium next season? And who’ll be travelling to The Hive, Kingsmeadow and the Crown Ground?
The two teams finished the season level on 84 points – a tally that would have won promotion in 18 of the last 20 League Two seasons – and both clubs can point to damaging defeats away to Morecambe in the run-in as the reason they didn’t secure a top-three finish.
But Wycombe may boast a psychological advantage heading into this winner-takes-all contest. Both regular season meetings ended favourable for Wanders – in December they produced their best display of the season when beating the Shrimpers 4-1 at Adams Park (although Southend were reduced to 10 men), whilst a dominant United performance at Roots Hall went unrewarded as Wycombe netted with their only two attempts on goal to pinch a point in a 2-2 draw.
However, those were the final goals Phil Brown’s side conceded on home soil until their semi-final showdown with Stevenage and it’s that terrific defence that has been the foundation to the Shrimpers excellent final few months. The Essex club won seven on the spin before that Morecambe loss with goalkeeper Daniel Bentley attracting Premier League interest following his haul of 20 clean sheets in 41 League Two outings.
But it’s now three games without a victory inside 90 minutes for Southend and Brown was quick to bring the club back down to earth after their semi-final success, insisting there is nothing for them to celebrate just yet. His troops have been chalked up as 13/8 favourites (William Hill) to do the business on Saturday but I prefer to look at Wycombe’s exploits when chasing a bet.
Unlike their opponents, the Chairboys have won each of their last three fixtures and been 2-0 up at half-time in each victory. It’s been a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Bucks club with Wanderers fans calling for boss Gareth Ainsworth’s head this time last year as Wycombe flirted a little to close to non-league football than they’d have liked.
Fast forward 12 months and Wycs are heading back to Wembley after 21 years and there’s plenty of optimism to feed off. Ainsworth produced a tactical masterclass to dominate Plymouth in both semi-finals and although Argyle fought back valiantly in both semi-finals, it proved too little, too late.
The feel-good factor is back around the town and the injury crisis that threatened to derail their season has eased. Both goalkeeper Matt Ingram and veteran forward Steven Craig look likely to be fit, giving Ainsworth a full squad to choose from.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that Wycombe’s excellent campaign has been incredibly consistent from start to finish. The Chairboys didn’t drop lower than seventh at any stage during the campaign and were only out of the top-three for five weeks. Of course, one of those was the all-important final seven days.
But written off as relegation fodder, Ainsworth’s moulded a supremely confident, enterprising young side and that’s been shown in their remarkable road record. Wycombe boast the best away return in English football this season and have also been handed the ‘away’ changing rooms at Wembley. Is that a lucky omen?
I’m massively tempted by the 19/10 BetVictor are offering on a Wanderers win but as we all know, Wembley finals are often tentative affairs and this one could easily follow that pattern. So instead I’ll take advantage of, what I believe to be, a great value price of 21/20 (BetVictor) on Wycombe in the Draw No Bet market.
The only way in which I’ll lose my stake is if Southend come out on top and the Shrimpers have W1-D3-L7 of their away days (including the play-offs) against top-half teams this season. Compare and contrast that to Wycombe who’ve W7-D3-L2 against top-half rivals with those two defeats their only reverses on the road this season.
Meanwhile, previous play-off final trends would suggest opposing goals but I’m going to go against the grain and have at the Exact Total Goals market with 2-3 goals an 11/10 play with BetVictor. This would cover a 1-1 draw and 2-1 success to either side and it’s worth noting that attack-minded Wanderers have seen both teams score in 13 of their previous 18 matches as well as in Southend’s last three outings.
Southend United v Wycombe Wanderers – Wycombe Wanderers draw no bet (21/20 BetVictor)
Southend United v Wycombe Wanderers – Exactly 2-3 Total Goals (11/10 BetVictor)
Who are you backing to seal a place in League One next season? Have you found a bet you’d like to shout about?
We’d love to hear where your money is going on Saturday so let us know in the comments box below!