MARK O’Haire (@MarkOHaire) takes a look at the best betting opportunities ahead of Sheffield United’s clash with Swindon in the League One play-off semi-final first leg on Thursday night.
Sheffield United v Swindon Town | Thursday 19.45 | Sky Sports 2
Sheffield United supporters will be hoping their team’s love for knockout competitions will aid their cause as they look to end a winless record of seven previous play-off campaigns. Since Nigel Clough took the reigns at Bramall Lane, the Blades have bagged 14 wins from 21 cup games and with a big crowd expected, the pressure is on to repeat the trick on Thursday night.
Clough’s charges have been far from convincing this season. Bar the 4-0 walloping handed out to Scunthorpe at the end of March, United have failed to convincingly outplay any of their league opponents this season. The Blades boss insists his team are in good shape, prepared both physically and mentally for the demands ahead but there are a few injury concerns.
Influential midfielder Louis Reed and defender Terry Kennedy have both been ruled out of the semi-finals, while Matty Done is considered as a major doubt for both legs. Despite an unbeaten record at home to Swindon that stretches back to 1970, there’s just not enough to convince me that United can improve on a W3-D2-L5 record when hosting teams in 11th and above; I’d rather look elsewhere for a bet.
That’s not to say I fancy Swindon, mind. Visiting manager Mark Cooper has done his level best to pile the pressure on his more illustrious hosts in the pre-match build up saying, “Because it's such a big club they're expected to get promotion, whereas we're not. The only pressure on us is from within, which is the pressure we put on ourselves to put on a good performance and show everybody what we're all about” and yes I do fancy his team to progress over two-legs.
However, Cooper’s decision to rotate and rest his squad in recent weeks could have as much of an adverse effect as a potential positive. It’s hard to tell but with 27 players used across five games, the Robins arrive lacking fluidity and momentum when you’d assume they need it most.
Having studied the fixture quite extensively, I’m happiest to swerve any of the match markets. The prices on offer seem fair with little room for manoeuvre when hunting a value bet so instead I’m heading towards the goals markets, which normally prove profitable in play-off football.
League One semi-final first legs have a history for being low-scoring affairs. Just four of the previous 20 have broken the two-goal barrier but here’s a game that I can foresee a goal or two. Cooper’s gone public regarding his aim to be aggressive and attacking across both legs and that should certainly help lend itself to an enjoyable tie.
Despite the lack of Over 2.5 Goals winners across the last 10 years of semi-final first legs, it’s telling to see that Both Teams To Score has proved profitable in half of those 20 previous clashes – at 10/11 (William Hill) it certainly holds appeal having banked in 16 of United’s last 20 and in 14/23 of Town’s away days. But I reckon I’ve found a better alternative…
BetVictor have chalked up 2-3 goals in the Total Goals Exact market at an odds-against quote of 21/20. Not only has it proven successful in 12 of those 20 (60%) previous play-off semi-final first legs, it would have also seen us collect in 26/46 (56%) of Sheffield United’s regular season results and in 25/46 (54%) of Swindon’s. It covers the potential for BTTS as well as a narrow win for either side, at a better price.
And as I’m banging on about Both Teams To Score, I can’t leave without having a nibble on William Hill’s 6/1 that the game ends in a 1-1 correct score. It’s by far the most common first leg score and has also proven a winner in 24% of United’s league games this season.
Sheffield United v Swindon Town – Exactly 2-3 Total Goals (21/20 BetVictor)
Sheffield United v Swindon Town – 1-1 correct score (6/1 William Hill)
Are you following Mark’s lead and expecting a few goals at Bramall Lane? Reckon you’ve found a better value bet elsewhere?
We’d love to hear your views so let us know in the comments box below.