MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) tackles the League Two play-off semi-final first leg between Wimbledon and Accrington on Saturday night.
Wimbledon v Accrington | Saturday 19.30 | Sky Sports 2
Accrington were 25/1 shots to win promotion at the start of the season but I’m absolutely convinced John Coleman’s men have been League Two’s best team this season despite operating on the division’s smallest budget.
Of course, blowing automatic promotion on goal difference on the final day when being held to a 0-0 draw by Stevenage whilst Bristol Rovers pinch a dramatic late winner will hurt. But Stanley have the tools, character and personnel to right those wrongs.
Coleman’s charges struck the woodwork three times in last weekend’s goalless game but remain unbeaten in 12 matches (W8-D4-L0), as well as winning each of their last five away days on the spin since being held to a 0-0 draw at Wimbledon.
That Kingsmeadow meeting in March wasn’t without controversy with Accrington robbed of a goal when referee Trevor Kettle blew his whistle for half-time just as Accrington struck the net. Had that goal been given, Accy would be preparing for life in League One.
Coleman’s still aggrieved by the decision but wounded animals can often be the most dangerous to approach and the Stanley boss went public with his disappointment last weekend, saying:
“It’s going to be tough, but everything we do in life at Accrington seems to be tough as we never do things the easy way. We’ve finished on 85 points which two or three years ago would have won you the league, so it’s disappointing to miss out on goal difference.
“The sickening thing is that the first time we haven’t scored at home this season was in the biggest game in the club’s history. The irony is that we’re now playing Wimbledon which is the place where we had two points robbed off us earlier in the season, so football is a funny old game.”
Coleman reckons promotion would be a greater achievement than Leicester’s winning the Premier League title and whilst the manager of the Lancashire minnows may have been kidding, the stats suggest Stanley should be the side winning promotion.
Accrington have enjoyed comfortably League Two’s best shots-on-target ratio (64.59%) – their share of the total shots-on-target in matches – whilst the highest-finishing side tends to triumph most often in the play-off picture.
Accy have kept four clean sheets in five on their travels, have boasted the league’s strongest defence on the road – leaking only 18 – and W6-D2-L3 at top-half teams this term. Their W4-D3-L5 return from home/away games against top-seven teams wasn’t quite so impressive.
As well as a mean defensive streak – including seven shutouts in 10 – Stanley have plenty of attacking talent to utilise in forward areas.
Rangers-bound Josh Windass was injured for the March visit to Wimbledon but has 15 goals in 30 games and recent recruit Tarique Fosu-Henry (three goals in eight appearances) arrived after the controversial encounter.
Only Bristol Rovers’ forward Matty Taylor was involved in more league goals this season than Billy Key (17 goals and 14 assists) and in what could be a tight encounter with minimal margins on offer, Accy possess more match-winning quality to sneak a positive result.
Wimbledon made eight changes to the side that secured the Dons’ place in the League Two shoot-out at Stevenage two weekends ago when picking up a 1-0 triumph at Newport last time out. But boss Neil Ardley admitted he’s unsure whether two or three members will be fit enough to return here.
The Wombles collected their fifth clean sheet in six as well as their six successes in eight to head into this Kingsmeadow clash as favourites.
Now being 270 minutes away from wiping out a six-division gap to potentially play against their nemesis MK Dons in League One next season, motivation won’t be in short supply.
AFC’s improved defensive strength saw them ship just 25 goals as hosts this season but their tally of 50 goals against is the largest of the top-seven. And it’s true too that Wimbledon’s 64-goal output is the fewest amongst the same category of fourth-tier sides.
Yet in Lyle Taylor the Dons have a 20-goal striker that’s scored in six of his last seven. With Tom Elliott, Rhys Murphy, Bayo Akinfenwa and Ade Azeez also in the home camp, Ardley isn’t short of firepower but eight sides fired in more attempts on-target on home soil in the regular season.
Wimbledon’s W11-D4-L8 home record reduces to W0-D3-L3 when taking the top-seven into account as they scored just twice in those six fixtures. Three of the past six seventh-placed sides have won promotion but you get the impression the Wombles are just glad to be here, mixing it the big guns.
I’m really surprised to see Accrington offered as outsiders here. Perhaps I’m being blinded by my affirmation towards the Stanley project and Coleman’s influence but I’m desperately hoping they do get over the line and achieve promotion.
Nevertheless, I do feel there’s excellent value available in backing the visitors with a +0.25 Asian Handicap start at 5/6 (BetVictor). With this selection, we’ll make money should Stanley avoid defeat – a half-stakes win if the game ends all square or a full-stakes win should they pinch first leg honours.
I’m also going to back the 0-0 correct score (17/2 Bet365) and the 1-0 Accrington win at 17/2 (888). We’ve already seen how impressive both sides have been defensively and the pair have been consistently delivering low-scoring matches in recent weeks.
Collectively, one side has failed to score in 20/40 (50%) of their most recent league outings 5/24 (21%) of games against fellow top-seven sides have finished 0-0. One goal could prove decisive here and as you’d probably guess, I’ll be favouring Accrington to get it, should it come.