FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert George Elek (@GeorgeElek) runs the rule over the League One play-offs, picking out his best bet for promotion.
League One Play-offs | 4th-20th May 2017
Final day drama saw Millwall leaving it late in their 4-3 victory over Bristol Rovers to pip Southend to the final play-off berth. We now know that Scunthorpe, Fleetwood, Bradford and Millwall will contest the third promotion spot to the Championship.
Scunthorpe looked for much of the season likely to be the team that would join Sheffield United in the automatic spots. A slump had some questioning whether they would even make the top-six, but the slide was arrested and a third spot finish sees them get a plum draw against sixth-placed Millwall.
Doubts over the Lions
Neil Harris’ team got over the line the hard way. Having had such an imperious home record all season, they lost their final league game at The Den 3-0 to Oxford.
Despite eventually putting Bristol Rovers to the sword on Sunday, conceding six goals in your final two games is not great preparation going into this high-stakes shoot-out. Millwall struggle to keep the goals out on their travels, and last kept a clean sheet on the road in a 0-0 draw with the miserly Oldham at the end of February.
Whilst a strong home record is important, one gets the feeling that Millwall are the team worst equipped to go the distance here and could well be too far behind if Scunthorpe play to their best at Glanford Park.
Scunthorpe, on the other hand, have won their last five games of the season and have regained the swagger that catapulted them to the top of the League One table earlier in the season.
Ivan Toney has been a particularly shrewd loan signing and, having been part of the Barnsley squad who were promoted in this way last season, his presence will be important to the Iron’s hopes.
With the attacking talent they have in Kevin Van Veen, Josh Morris and Paddy Madden, Scunthorpe fans have every right to be optimistic of getting to Wembley.
The other semi-final, however, has the two teams that I believe to be the ones to beat. Bradford are solid if unspectacular. They are yet to be beaten at home this term, although they have drawn more of these games than they have won. They score few and concede even less, so their two-legged tie could well be a cagey encounter.
Fleetwood, who had been tipped by many to go down this season, have been utterly tremendous under Uwe Rosler. They went into the last day of the season with a slim chance of being promoted automatically and, whilst a 0-0 draw at home to Port Vale may not seem like ideal preparation, their opponents were fighting for survival and had been much improved in recent weeks.
The Cod Army have lost just three league games since mid-November and are both tough to keep out and hard to get past. In the league games between the two it was the home side who ran out 2-1 victor in either, showing how well matched the two sides are.
Smart money on Cod Army
The betting, however, disagrees. Bradford are as short as 7/4 whilst Fleetwood are the outsider of the lot at 9/2 (Coral). It would be no surprise at all to see Bradford progress, but at the prices the smart move has to be to side with their opponents who have proven what a class act they are over the course of 46 games.
Should Fleetwood progress to the final I would make them favourites for that game. Their consistency should ensure that they remain in the tie after the away leg and, given the momentum that such a special season has brought the club, their dream campaign may still have its Champagne moment yet.
League One play-offs – Fleetwood to be promoted (9/2 Coral)