FOOTBALL LEAGUE analyst Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on League Two's play-off semi-final first leg showdown between Newport and Mansfield.
Newport v Mansfield | Thursday 9th May 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Newport’s remarkable rise can continue on Thursday night as the Exiles prepare to lock horns with Mansfield in the first leg of this League Two play-off semi-final.
County clinched survival in stoppage-time on the final day of the 2016/17 season as Mike Flynn took charge with the Amber Army 11 points from safety with 12 games remaining. The Newport boss now says reaching the play-offs just two years later was a greater thrill than masterminding the Great Escape after overseeing a 10-game unbeaten streak (W6-D4-L0) – leaking just three goals – to close out the campaign.
Again, a late goal proved decisive for the Exiles as the Welsh outfit sneaked into the fourth and final berth inside the top-seven thanks to Jamille Matt's 87th-minute equaliser at Morecambe in a game dominated by their opposition. Nevertheless, Newport are expected to offer a much sterner and steelier resistance back at Rodney Parade.
Flynn says his side have hugely overachieved with a “relegation-level budget” to finish in the top-seven and the hosts will be buoyed by recent play-off trends in League Two that show the side finishing seventh has won the play-offs in five of the last nine League Two campaigns, including two of the last three.
Newport command respect at Rodney Parade
Newport certainly have history for upsetting the odds. Over the past two seasons the Exiles have provided FA Cup giant-killing moments against Leicester, Middlesbrough and Leeds, whilst also providing Manchester City and Tottenham with awkward assignments in Wales. In fact, Pep Guardiola’s group are the last away side to taste success at Rodney Parade.
League Two champions Lincoln, as well as promoted Bury, have come unstuck here in the last month alone and County have suffered only three defeats as hosts of League Two football this season. Unsurprisingly, the Exiles boast the best home record (W14-D6-L3) with star goalkeeper Joe Day helping the side to a divisional-high 13 clean sheets in that time.
A reasonably rigid side, Newport offer plenty of punch from set-pieces and Micky Demetriou’s long throws, and in attack the physicality of Matt alongside the clinical Padraig Amond ensures County are always a tough proposition. I’m certainly not keen to oppose Flynn’s close-knit squad at quotes bigger than 8/5 on Thursday night.
Mansfield can be opposed
On paper, Mansfield are the standout side in League Two’s play-off picture. Well-fancied to secure automatic promotion back in July following an eye-catching spending spree, the Stags blew their chance of a top-three finish by suffering defeat in each of their final three regular season fixtures, including a winner-takes-all tie at MK Dons last Saturday.
David Flitcroft’s charges went behind early on and piled on the pressure after half-time but could not find a breakthrough. Town struggled to create clear-cut openings and there was a sombre mood post-match with Mansfield backed by more than 5,000 disappointed travelling supporters. They must raise spirits immediately if they’re to keep promotion dreams alive.
The Stags are missing key defender Matt Preston due to concussion with Ben Turner stepping into the breach for the semi-finals, whilst wing-back Hayden White’s long-term absence is also a blow for Flitcroft. However, at the other end the guests can look to the talent of Jorge Grant and CJ Hamilton for flair with in-form Tyler Walker leading the line.
Town completed the campaign with League Two’s best defensive record, although the bulk of their strongest performances have arrived at Field Mill. Mansfield registered just six triumphs on their travels – and 11 draws – and recent omens – the team finishing fourth has only won promotion in one of the last 10 seasons – are against the Nottinghamshire outfit.
The betting angle
I’ve already expressed my interest to keen Newport onside and with first leg play-off semi-finals notoriously cagey, it makes sense to support the Exiles in the Double Chance market alongside Under 3 Goals in Bet365’s Bet Builder for a generous 6/5 offering.
Just three of the last 20 League Two play-off semi-finals have been won by the away side and if we pair the two clubs’ regular season records together, only nine of their combined 46 (20%) home/away outings ended in victories for the visitors. Mansfield enjoy the upper hand in the data metrics but there’s enough rhyme and reason to doubt the Stags here.
Meanwhile, the average goals per-game for play-off first leg ties stands at just 2.10 with 67% of encounters paying out for Under 2.5 Goals supporters. With the pair also prominent in low-scoring duels this season, it makes sense to keep a low-scoring contest onside.
This selection is essentially backing Newport to win 1-0 or 2-0, with the 0-0 and 1-1 correct scores also providing potential profit.
Newport v Mansfield – Newport double chance and Under 3 Goals (6/5 Bet365)