BLUE SQUARE BET PREMIER PLAY-OFFS BETTING PREVIEW
Tuesday May 1, 2012
BY ALAN ALGER FROM BLUE SQUARE
THIS is the tenth season of the Football Conference play-offs and over the next few weeks we will see the four teams who finished 2nd to 5th in the Blue Square Bet Premier table battle it out to join champions Fleetwood Town in League 2.
Luton Town secured the final play-off berth on the final day of the regular season and the prices for which of the quartet - the rest of which is made up by York City, Mansfield Town and Wrexham - will gain promotion are extremely close indeed. Form team Mansfield are our 9/4 favourites and they will begin with a trip to York on Wednesday. The two sides could not be separated with two draws in their league campaigns. York are 11/4 to go up, with most people complimenting them as one of the best footballing sides in the section. League runners-up Wrexham looked to have found their scoring boots again at the weekend and they aim for revenge over Luton who beat them at this stage last year. Wrexham are the 5/2 second-favourites to win the play-offs and Luton Town are, unusually for them, the outsiders at 10/3. Once again it's going to be hard to judge how much of a turnaround Paul Buckle has achieved at Kenilworth Road, but one thing we can definitely say is that clean sheets - now five on the spin - are a massive plus.
TEAM BY TEAM GUIDE
Wrexham have had a couple of weeks to get over the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion. Their points tally for the season would have secured them the title in seven of the last 10 seasons in the division and they now hold the runners-up record. That will of course mean nothing to their fans if they fail at this hurdle. The Red Dragons appeared at this stage last year but their hopes were quickly dashed with a 3-0 home defeat to Luton in the first leg, they have the same semi-final opponents this time around. Being at home for the second leg could be in their favour but they'll need to keep it tight at Kenilworth Road. They will be encouraged by the fact that Luton have yet to score against them this season.
What the manager says: ANDY MORRELL - "If you are going to go up you have to beat the best and Luton face us off the back of beating the champions Fleetwood. "We go into the play-offs off the back of two good performances, we should be on the front foot now. "The lads who were here last year know about the heartache and disappointment, they know we've got to be more solid and at our game to make up for that this time. "It's now a bit of a lottery but we have to go and play as well as we have done all season."
Seasonal head to head versus the other play-off teams - P6 W2 D1 L3 F4 A8 Pts7
BLUE SQUARE PRICES - To be promoted 5/2, To make the final 8/11
The Stags can be considered the form team going into the play-offs, in fact they are the form team of the last few months in the whole division and even outperformed champions Fleetwood Town from the turn of the year. The table from January 1st would have Paul Cox's side two points clear of the already promoted Lancashire side. Third place this season is a vast improvement on three consecutive mid-table finishes and it now feels that Cox has started to build a team to last, regardless of the outcome of the play-offs. Six straight wins is the best form that has ever been carried into the semi-finals and they should also be buoyed by the fact that third position has been the most successful down the years. A vast improvement in their away form has seen them defeated just four times on the road and they've ended the season unbeaten against their fellow play-off contenders.
What the manager says: PAUL COX - "I don't know why we've been made favourites. "I suppose it's the form we are coming into it with. "I am not trying to play mind games, you have to look at how long the other three clubs have been putting their squads together. "You've got to pick Wrexham as favourites for the season they've had. "Taking nothing away from us but in preparation terms we are the babies of the play-offs. "My squad don't seem to be scared or anxious about these games though. "Field Mill will be like a cauldron on Monday, the football club is buzzing and the town is buzzing."
Seasonal head to head versus the other play-off teams - P6 W2 D4 L0 F9 A5 Pts10
BLUE SQUARE PRICES - To be promoted 9/4favs, To make the final 4/5
York come out best of the four play-off teams in a head-to-head comparison from the regular season. Gary Mills' side completed a double over Luton and also managed a win away at runners-up Wrexham. The other three matches ended in draws included a Christmas double-header with semi-final opponents Mansfield. Last season it was their away from that let them down as they eventually finished 8th in the table. In contrast this season their away form has improved to the extent that they would be 3rd place in a table just based on those games. Their home form would have them as low as 8th and that would be a concern going into Wednesday night's first leg. They kept 12 clean-sheets at home last season and were also in double-figures the year before that but a more attacking style of play sees them with just eight at Bootham Crescent this season. They have the right players to unlock games in a cup tie situation though as we've seen from their progress to the FA Trophy final.
What the manager says: GARY MILLS - "These games are massive for this football club. "We've earned the right to be playing Mansfield in this semi-final, we know the prize on offer, we want to get to Wembley again. "We have got so much to play for and we are really looking forward to it. "We were behind in both matches against them in the league and had to show a bit of character to earn a point both times, but once we were a bit braver we got the ball down and dominated those games. "We've got ourselves prepared for the first game and I think it's important that we take a lead to theirs on Monday. "I'm always confident that we can score goals."
Seasonal head to head versus the other play-off teams - P6 W3 D3 L0 F11 A4 Pts12
BLUE SQUARE PRICES - To be promoted 11/4, To make the final 10/11
A third season in the play-offs and a third manager in the Kenilworth Road hot-seat trying to return the club back to the Football League. In Paul Buckle they have a manager that has successfully negotiated this hurdle before which is an advantage he holds over the bosses at the other three clubs in contention. It's been a season of under-achievement for the side as a whole, recording the lowest ever finish in their history, but at least a sense of positivity has been fostered by the team going on an unbeaten run under the former Torquay man. The Hatters carry five clean sheets into the promotion shoot-out and it's nearly 500 minutes of football since keeper Mark Tyler was picking the ball out of his net. As one of the best stoppers at this level he will be a huge asset for them. The stats say that they haven't beaten any of the other three teams in the play-offs this season, but Buckle would rightly argue that he wasn't in charge for any of those six games - the hard work starts now though.
What the manager says: PAUL BUCKLE - "The realism is we've done nothing yet. "We've put ourselves in a strong position, we've got to stick together and give everything to see if we can get into that final. "From what I saw and witnessed a few weeks ago it didn't look as if we'd be able to do this, but it goes to show you if you work hard you don't know where it can take you. "The games just keep getting bigger and bigger for me, the club and the fans and it's going to continue. "It's going to be epic. "I know from experience that you need a lot of luck in these games, but the biggest thing for me is that we are actually there and now we have to make it count."
Seasonal head to head versus the other play-off teams - P6 W0 D2 L4 F2 A9 Pts2
BLUE SQUARE PRICES - To be promoted 10/3, To make the final Evens
TEN STATS FOR THE TENTH YEAR OF THE CONFERENCE PLAY-OFFS
•1. NO TEAM HAS EVER WON THE PLAY-OFFS FROM A FIFTH PLACED FINISH IN THE FINAL TABLE.
•2. SIX OF THE PREVIOUS 18 SEMI-FINALS HAVE BEEN SETTLED ON A PENALTY SHOOT-OUT, BUT NONE SINCE 2007.
•3. LUTON TOWN ARE THE FIRST TEAM TO APPEAR IN THREE CONSECUTIVE SEASON'S OF THE PLAY-OFFS.
•4. THE NINE PREVIOUS WINNERS HAVE ALL STAYED IN THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE.
•5. FOUR OF THE NINE LOSING FINALISTS NOW PLY THEIR TRADE IN THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE.
•6. WITH FIVE WINS IN THE NINE FINALS, THE THIRD PLACED TEAM IN THE REGULAR SEASON TABLE HAS BEEN MOST SUCCESSFUL.
•7. THE SEMI-FINAL MATCHES AVERAGE JUST 2.55 GOALS PER GAME, WAY UNDER THE REGULAR SEASON TOTAL.
•8. THE LAST SEVEN FAVOURITES FOR THE PLAY-OFF STAGE HAVE FAILED TO WIN PROMOTION.
•9. AFC WIMBLEDON'S 8-1 THRASHING OF FLEETWOOD TOWN LAST YEAR WAS THE HIGHEST SCORING SEMI-FINAL AGGREGATE.
•10. SEVEN OF THE PREVIOUS 18 SEMI-FINAL FIRST LEGS HAVE ENDED IN DRAWS.
All FIVE Blue Square Bet Premier play-off matches including the Promotion Final are live on Premier Sports TV - visit http://www.premiersports.tv/ for subscription details.
You can play your part in the commentary for every game! Contact commentators Steve Bower and Ian Snodin during the action to give your thoughts - email: email@example.com OR Twitter: @steveandsnods.
You can follow me on Twitter - @AlanBlueSquare