It was in Exeter’s interests to lose at home to Carlisle in the final round of the English League Two regular season so do not write off the Grecians when they visit the Cumbrians in a semi-final first leg of that division’s play-offs.
If Exeter had defeated Carlisle last weekend then it would have still finished fifth on the English League Two ladder but its path to the play-offs final at Wembley Stadium would have been blocked by Blackpool rather than the Cumbrians. At the risk of insulting Carlisle, one can understand why Exeter did not run itself into the ground to protect the 1-0 and 2-1 leads that it held against the Cumbrians because the Grecians effectively handpicked their English League Two play-offs semi-final opponents. One would have said that Exeter was crazy if it had abused its position to ensure that it lined up versus one of English League Two’s most out-of-form teams over two tension-packed legs.
It is a miracle that Carlisle qualified for the English League Two in spite of their results in the second half of the regular season. Carlisle was positioned 18th in English League Two over the last 20 rounds, accruing 10 points fewer than Exeter over the same period. Carlisle finished the English League Two’s 46 rounds with a goal difference of plus one, which is incredibly low for a play-offs side – Exeter (+19), Blackpool (+23) and Luton (+27) are the other participants in the promotion series and none of the other sides ranked in the top 13 had a worse figure than the Cumbrians. Now do you appreciate why Exeter fans cheered rather than jeered when the Grecians conceded a couple of late goals to lose 2-3 at home to Carlisle last weekend.
Exeter and Carlisle ended the English League Two regular season tied on 71 points but, according to one’s collateral form analysis, the Grecians are definitely superior to the Cumbrians. Exeter enjoys a clear 13-1-9 English League Two collateral form advantage over Carlisle and the Grecians boast better away numbers than the home statistics of the Cumbrians. Exeter was 13-3-7 in its 23 English League Two road games – only Plymouth collected more points on its travels – whereas Carlisle was 10-7-6 in its 23 divisional home matches to rank ninth on that particular ladder.
Carlisle boss Keith Curle has injury headaches leading into Sunday’s English League Two play-offs semi-final first leg and he will give Cumbrians stars Jabo Ibehre and Jason Kennedy until the last minute to prove that they are sufficiently fit to take on Exeter. The noises out of Carlisle are not good about either Ibehre or Kennedy.
One almost pulled the trigger on Sheffield Wednesday winning its English Championship play-offs semi-final first leg at Yorkshire neighbour Huddersfield but the Owls are unlikely to field their strongest possible team. The statistical case for Sheffield Wednesday is similar to that of Exeter so, with the Grecians not facing the same issue as the Owls, one’s long-priced selection has to be Paul Tisdale’s men.
Paddy Power is offering odds of +200 about Exeter posting its first English League Two victory over Carlisle this term. One would argue that Exeter should be vying for favouritism even though it is playing away from home.
Exeter to beat Carlisle
Sunday 14th May, 18:30 GMT