MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews the League One play-off semi-final first leg between Chesterfield and Preston on Thursday night.
Chesterfield v Preston North End | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 5
1989, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2014. Only a Preston fan would know what’s associated with those nine years – play-off failure. The Lilywhites have competed in more play-off competitions than any other side but are yet to record a single promotion via the end-of-season extravaganza. No wonder North End supporters are dreading their duels with Chesterfield.
Simon Grayson admitted there was plenty of emotion, a very quiet dressing room and bus home from Colchester on Sunday as Preston blew their chances of automatic promotion. “My worst day as a manager” is how the PNE supremo described the day as his charges slipped to a first league defeat in 19 (W12-D6-L1) and failed to score for the first time since 4 November.
Despite finishing 20 points clear of Chesterfield in sixth, I’m not so sure the pain of Sunday can be healed in just four days. Grayson gave the players Monday off to ‘get over’ Sunday’s events but the psychological scars are likely to take longer to heal. Ultimately Preston should progress but their mind-set must be questioned ahead of a tricky Thursday night trip to the Proact Stadium.
Against Colchester at the weekend, the visitors appeared crippled by the occasion. Their play was forced, scrappy and inaccurate. I’m a huge fan of Grayson (he’s won promotion via the play-offs as a manager twice before) and he’ll need to summon all his motivational skills to bring the belief back to the group.
The previous meeting at the Proact ended in a 2-0 win for Preston but Chesterfield saw Sam Hird sent off in the third minute of that match and therefore the result doesn’t best reflect the Spireites’ chances. Unlike their more illustrious hosts, the mood is excellent in the home camp with the Derbyshire club bidding to play second tier football for the first time since 1951.
A wretched return of five defeats in six when welcoming top-seven clubs this season is certainly of concern. Paul Cook’s charges failed to even score in all five losses but take out a reverse to table-topping Bristol City and the aforementioned regular season meeting with Preston, the Spirieites home form has been relatively consistent since Boxing Day (W8-D1-L2).
Over the same timeframe, Preston have recorded W5-D4-L3 on their travels and for me, there’s enough mileage in the stats and emotional state of both sides to suggest opposing the visitors. Taking Chesterfield +0.25 at 5/6 with BetVictor appears the fairest option; basically our stake is split across a Double Chance bet and Draw No Bet selection – this means that we’ll bank full profit should the home side win but still pocket half of that potential full pay-out should the fixture end all square.
But it would be rude to avoid the goals markets with a number of overwhelming trends in our favour. Over the past 10 years of League One play-off semi-final first legs, only 4/20 (20%) have featured Over 2.5 Goals with the average goals-per-game sitting at just 1.80 gpg.
Immediately Betfred’s 8/11 on Under 2.5 Goals holds plenty of appeal but I’d be more inclined to take the 6/5 from BetBright on Both Halves Under 1.5 Goals. It’s proven a winner in eight of Chesterfield’s last 10 and five of Preston’s previous 11, sits nicely alongside the low-scoring nature of first leg play-off semi-finals and offers a much more attractive price.
Chesterfield v Preston North End – Chesterfield +0.25 Asian Handicap (5/6 BetVictor)
Chesterfield v Preston North End – Both Halves Under 1.5 Goals (6/5 BetBright)
How do you see this semi-final unfolding? Is Mark right to oppose Preston?
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