FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) runs the rule over Sunday’s League Two play-off final.
Blackpool v Exeter | Sunday 15:00 | Sky Sports
Superlatives are chucked around like confetti by football pundits nowadays – looking at you, Owen Hargreaves – but nobody could describe League Two’s four play-off semi-finals as anything other than spectacular, nail-biting and bloody unbelievable drama.
All four fixtures featured at least five goals and both ties were decided by goals netted deep into injury time in the second legs. And I’m confident the most entertaining of the Wembley finals will be the clash between Blackpool and Exeter on Sunday afternoon with both clubs preferably playing with the handbrake off.
Blackpool sneaked into the play-offs on the final day of the season and beat promotion favourites Luton in the semi-final thanks to a last-minute own goal. But having racked up six goals in three hours of action against the division’s second-best defence, they’ll be confident in grabbing more.
Tangerine supporters are boycotting the final due to the on-going ownership issues at Bloomfield Road but I wouldn’t expect Gary Bowyer’s boys to underperform due to a lack of support in the stands.
The Seasiders have been cut in price over the past few days and having suffered only 12 league defeats all season, it’s also worth shouting about their record when up against the league’s elite. Blackpool W7-D3-L4, clearly benefitting in matches where their opponents were willing to attack.
With the likes of in-form Mark Cullen, Kyle Vassell, Jamille Matt, Nathan Delfouneso and Amand Gnanduillet in their armoury, the underdogs certainly have the firepower to mix it with the best in a potential shootout.
Poor defences spell goals
But like Exeter, Blackpool have issues at the back. The Tangerines have been a soft touch defensively and I just can’t imagine they’ll be capable of keeping out League Two’s Player of the Season Ollie Watkins nor team-mates David Wheeler, Ryan Harley and Reuben Reid.
So immediately I’m looking towards the goal markets. Collectively the pair have seen 43 goals scored in total across their last 10 fixtures whilst the duo averaged 1.57 goals per-game during the regular season. They almost guarantee entertainment.
Over 2.5 Goals and Both Teams To Score can be backed at 11/10 (Coral) and looks our best option to get a goal-heavy game onside, as opposed to picking between the two attack-minded outfits.
Exeter finished a point and place higher than Blackpool; a tremendous achievement considering the Grecians were rock-bottom in the depths of November having battled a severe injury crisis in the first third of the campaign.
It’s now a third trip to Wembley in seven years under Paul Tisdale and as much as I admire Exeter, I’m not too keen on the odds on offer considering the flaws at the back.
City have kept one clean sheet in their last 19 outings and are too often bullied at the back during set-pieces or from balls into the box from the flanks.
Exeter only won three meetings with fellow top-seven teams (W3-D4-L7) – another reason why I’ll happily swerve the favourites – but instead I’ll have an interest in Blackpool hitman Mark Cullen getting a goal on Sunday at 2/1 (888).
Cullen has struck 12 goals in just 19 starts for the Seasiders, has notched nine goals in his last 14 outings, including five in his last five matches. He’ll be Blackpool’s biggest threat in the penalty box.
Elsewhere, I’m happy to back Watkins to score at 7/4 (Ladbrokes). The Grecians forward is being tracked by a host of Championship clubs and has come to the fore in the play-off games; another classy display should seal a big-money summer move away from St James’ Park.
City should be suited to the open Wembley pitch and have scored at least three goals in each of their past five outings. And it’s worth noting, Tisdale even chucked on an extra striker when 3-1 up away at Carlisle in the first leg of the semi-final in an attempt to kill the tie, highlighting the mind-set.
Finally, trends fans might be interested to learn that the side finishing in fifth (Exeter this year) has won promotion just four times in 30 previous play-off campaigns at League Two level. In contrast, the team finishing in seventh (Blackpool here) have won promotion in four of the past seven campaigns.