The League One play off final takes place on Saturday, and with no top level fixtures in England on the day, the Wembley showpiece takes centre stage. It’s two of the third tier’s biggest sides fighting it out for promotion to the Championship, as Millwall and Bradford do battle in a winner-takes-all game at the national stadium.
It was the 2000/01 season that Bradford were relegated from the Premier League, and the Bantams have fallen a long way since. They were relegated to the third tier in 2003/04, before dropping into the fourth tier of English football in 2006/07. Six seasons in League Two followed before promotion back to League One via the play offs in 2012/13. It will be a long-awaited return to the second tier if the Bantams make it, and there could be something special going on at the club. Bradford’s ambitious German owners have brought in affordable season tickets in an attempt to fill Valley Parade, and the aim of bringing the game back to the fans is an admirable one. The budget increase that promotion will bring would surely be a huge boost to this initiative.
Standing in their way is a Millwall side that has only been in the second tier for two seasons. The Lions were relegated at the end of the 2014/15 season, and almost bounced straight back up last year via the play offs. They beat Saturday’s opponents Bradford in the semi final last season, before losing out 3-1 to Barnsley in the final at Wembley. They were fancied to fill one of the automatic spots this season, but an extended run to the FA Cup quarter finals might have affected league position. In Neil Harris they have a true club legend in the managers seat (as do Bradford with Stuart McCall), and the former Lions striker jokingly apologised to fans for the cost of their fifth trip to Wembley in eight years. They’ve made four previous play off final appearances and an FA Cup semi final since 2009.
The Bantams are rated a -108 chance with 188Bet to lift the trophy and win promotion, and we’ll side with Bradford to come out on top by whatever method.
Part of the reasoning to back the Bantams is their excellent defensive record, which could prove to be vital in a game of this magnitude. Bradford had the joint second best back-line in the division along with their play off semi final victims Fleetwood, and only promoted Bolton conceded fewer. Stuart Mccall saw his side keep two clean sheets during the two legs with Fleetwood, and he’ll be hoping for another at Wembley. Rory McArdle’s late goal sealed a 1-0 home victory at Valley Parade, before a goalless draw away from home took them through.
The Lions enjoyed a much more exciting route to the final despite a 0-0 draw in the home leg of their play off semi final with Scunthorpe. After falling a goal behind in the second leg, veteran Steve Morison inspired a fight back which saw them eventually run out 3-2 winners. Millwall finished the regular season in 6th place, six points behind Bradford in 5th. Manager Neil Harris has pointed to least season’s heartache as inspiration, and his players will be desperate not to miss out for a second year running.
Another bet that stands out is under 2.5 goals at -159 with Marathonbet.
Each of the last three meetings between the sides has ended 1-1, and as so often in Wembley finals, a nervy encounter would come as no great surprise. Six of Bradford’s last ten have had less than three goals, and while Millwall are often involved in high-scoring games, they come up against a strong defence here in what is a crucial game. The fear of giving something away can lead to players making conservative choices and taking a safety-first approach. In that respect a bet on under 2.5 goals makes perfect sense, as the teams try to work each other out on Wembley’s expansive surface.
Neither side have any new injury worries to contend with after getting through the play off semi finals unscathed, and there should be no excuses by the end of Saturday’s game. It’s going to be a tight, but entertaining game, and Bradford are the marginal call based on their superior defensive prowess.
Bradford to lift the trophy
Saturday 20th May, 15:00 GMT
Bradford v Millwall – Under 2.5 goals
Saturday 20th May, 15:00 GMT