CAN Swindon complete the job and progress to Wembley? Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) analyses the League One play-off semi-final second leg on Monday night between Swindon and Sheffield United.
Swindon Town v Sheffield United | Monday 19.45 | Sky Sports 2
We really shouldn’t be surprised but seven games down in the Football League play-offs and we’ve been treated to some fantastic entertainment so far and I fully expect the drama to continue at the County Ground on Monday night. Swindon snatched a goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time to win 2-1 at Bramall Lane in a cracking first leg and there’s plenty of bad blood left over from Thursday night’s encounter.
The nature of that win sparked jubilant scenes among the Robins contingent and Blades boss Nigel Clough is determined to use that as a motivational tool for the return leg. Clough was also left seething as he claimed his team should (not could) have had three penalties, accusing referee Darren Bond of getting “four key decisions wrong”.
That injustice should spark the United team missing their best player in defender John Brayford, who’s struggling tor recover from a back injury. However, Jose Baxter’s return from the illness will provide a boost with the Blades required to go on the offensive in their efforts to progress to Wembley.
Clough was pleased with their performance on Thursday but that fixture seemed to summarise their season; quick and pacey on the break, the Blades were a danger but once again failed to take the majority of chances that came their way. The high-press they adopted for a rapid opening 20-minute spell put Swindon under plenty of pressure and you’d assume a similar tactic will be employed at the County Ground.
The hosts have no new selection concerns Clough’s statement that Swindon have ‘everything to lose and nothing to gain’ during the return in Wiltshire was laughed off by Robins manager Mark Cooper. Cooper is adamant his men are staying grounded, insisting, “There’s no hooting and screaming and back-slapping. They know it’s half-time.”
So expect it to be feisty. Expect it to be bad-tempered and expect it to boil over as the emotion takes over. But do expect goals too. It was attack rather than defence that led the way in the first tie with 35 shots mustered in Sheffield, including a huge 20 in the first-half alone.
Swindon’s policy of resting players in the lead-up to the play-offs means we can more or less write off their final five regular games as any sort of sample but it’s true the Robins have kept just one clean sheet in 11 and four across their previous 19 outings. They did look back to their best in the second 45 minutes at Bramall Lane with Yaser Kasim particularly eye-catching and can add to their tally of scoring in 19/23 County Ground games.
United have netted in 20/21 matches now but only four shutouts in their 23 regular season fixtures on the road suggests Clough’s men aren’t so adept at keeping the goals out. With Both Teams To Score landing in six of their last seven assignment and 17/21 further back, Coral’s 10/11 on BTTS looks the standout betting opportunity for Monday night and I’ll gladly get involved.
Swindon Town v Sheffield United – Both Teams To Score (10/11 Coral)
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