The League Two Play Offs will be decided on Thursday evening, with Wycombe, Plymouth, Southend and Stevenage battling it out for two places at Wembley, and a chance to win League One football for next season.
Both ties are finely balanced going into the second legs, and it promises to be an exhilarating night of football. Plymouth gave themselves a chance when they fought back from 3-0 down in the first leg against Wycombe to pull it back to 3-2, and they travel to Wanderers in an attempt to turn it around. Southend also came from behind away at Stevenage to secure a 1-1 draw in a pulsating match, and they will be favourites to claim a place in the final when they contest the second leg at Roots Hall.
Anything can happen in the play offs, but both home sides look worth following on Thursday night.
First Leg Drama
Wycombe raced into a three goal lead in the first leg at Plymouth on Saturday, scoring twice in the first half and early in the second half to seemingly put the tie to bed at an early stage. However, Plymouth showed great character to bounce back and score two vital goals in the last five minutes to keep the tie alive. The second leg will be fought out at Wycombe’s Adams Park, and the home side deserve to be favourites having only narrowly missed out on automatic promotion.
Stevenage took the lead early in the second half at home to Southend in their first leg on Friday night, but the Shrimpers fought back to equalize just nine minutes later, and the game ended all square. It was described by Southend boss Phil Taylor as a game of ‘pure commitment’, which was underlined by Michael Timlin’s determination to play on after a sickening clash of heads in the first half with Stevenage captain Bira Dembele. Timlin required 15 stitches to a head wound and was sensibly substituted, while Dembele was forced off at half-time. It remains to be seen if either player will be fit enough to take part in the second leg on Thursday. Once again, the home side will be favourite, and Southend also missed out on automatic promotion by the finest of margins.
Wycombe are a decent price to complete the job against Plymouth at home, despite the fact that they don’t need to win to qualify. They hold a one-goal advantage from the first leg after that 3-2 win, and in reality the tie should already be done and dusted. To concede in the 86th and 89th minutes is criminal, and although he will have been happy with the victory, manager Gareth Ainsworth insisted they will have to cut out the mistakes on Thursday night.
Wycombe had the best away record in the whole of League Two this season, but their form has been a little more patchy at home. Plymouth’s away record is equally patchy, but they will take heart from the fact that they’ve won on their last two visits here. However, one suspects that a major factor in Wycombe’s lack of success on their own ground is due to being one of the ‘big fish’ in the division. They were among the favourites at the start of the campaign to win the title, and as such plenty of teams will have come to Adams Park to park the bus and frustrate Wycombe. They have perhaps done better on their travels where the home side has had the onus to come out and play, and they’ve been able to exploit the extra space that provides.
This game could play out in a similar manner to an away game, as the onus is on Plymouth to come and score. It’s no good for the Pilgrims to sit back and invite Wycombe to break them down, and in fact, it could turn out to be the exact opposite, with the home side the team playing on the counter-attack.
Southend can also be backed to finish the job at home, and it’s worth remembering that both Wycombe and Southend finished on 84 points – one point behind the automatic promotion places, but 12 and 13 points ahead of Stevenage and Plymouth respectively. It maybe true in this case that the league table doesn’t lie, and the two teams with the best seasonal record make the final at Wembley.
Stevenage couldn’t take advantage of Southend’s failure to win promotion automatically, after they dropped out of the top three on the final day of the season, and their best chance may have been to win that first leg. They look vulnerable now as they travel to Roots Hall for the away leg. Southend were only beaten 3 times in 23 home games over the course of the season, while Stevenage only won 5 of 23 away games. Arguably the best the visitors can hope for is a draw and extra-time, and they’ve managed 5 draws from the last 7 away games, so that is a distinct possibility. However, Southend had been in imperious form prior to the final day loss at Morecambe, winning 7 in a row, and they’ve also won four on the bounce at home.
Stevenage named 56-year-old goalkeeper Dave Beasant as their substitute keeper for that first leg, and while the neutrals would love to see him grace the Wembley turf again, some 26 years on from Wimbledon’s famous victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup final and his even more famous penalty save, it serves to highlight the lack of depth to the Stevenage squad. Captain Bira Dembele will be a big miss if he fails to recover from that head injury, and Southend should prove too strong for Stevenage on the night.
League Two Play Offs Second Legs, Thursday 14th May, 7.45pm
Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.
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