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It’s somewhat ironic that Brentford, who missed an injury time spot-kick against Doncaster on the final day of the season
to be promoted automatically, then booked their place in the play-off final by the means of a penalty shootout.
The villain from the Doncaster loss, Marcelo Trotta was afforded no chance to repent for his sins with a successful strike in the semi-final shootout win over Swindon as he was hauled off eight minutes from time. And no doubt the on-loan Fulham striker will be hoping to fully make amends by helping the Bees past Yeovil at Wembley on Sunday and into the Championship.
The Glovers’ passage to the final was somewhat less dramatic than their opponents. They overcame a 1-0 first-leg deficit to beat Sheffield United 2-0 at home and ensured it was yet more play-off heartache for the Blades.
Yeovil finished two points behind Brentford in the final league table – a fact that is reflected in the bookmakers’ prices, with the Glovers the 3.4 outsiders. Those odds look rather large when you take the two teams’ head-to-heads from this season: 3-1 and 3-0, both in favour of Yeovil.
Gary Johnson’s team beat arguably the tougher play-off opponents in Sheffield United than Brentford with Swindon, who had been out of form in the latter stages of the season. They certainly won’t have expired anyway near as much emotional energy as the Bees and at such generous prices they are worth backing to ensure Trotta is left ruing his penalty profligacy once again.
In the League Two play-off showpiece Bradford make their second trip of the season to Wembley – a trip manager Phil Parkinson will be hoping is somewhat more successful than the first when they were soundly beaten by Swansea in the Capital One Cup final. The Bantams, who face Northampton on Saturday, overturned a 3-2 first-leg deficit to end Burton Albion’s season. Their 3-1 win at Burton was no mean feat as the Brewers were in possession of the division’s best home record.
Bradford’s opponents on Saturday booked their tickets to Wembley with two 1-0 victories over Cheltenham, who finished the season two points ahead of them. The Cobblers themselves finished four points above Bradford yet they are rated the 3.1 outsiders to make this superiority pay in north London.
Bradford were marginally the better side over the two team’s league meetings this season, winning 1-0 and then playing out a 1-1 stalemate. Perhaps more importantly the Bantam’s also emerged victorious when the two sides faced off in the FA Cup, albeit on penalties following a 3-3 draw.
Saturday’s renewal of this fixture is backed to follow a similar trend, with Bradford fancied to win and secure their promotion to League One. However, they’re not expected to have it all their way and like so many of their Capital One Cup games this season, additional time and penalties may be necessary. Back Bradford to qualify but also have a small stakes play on them winning on penalties, with Parkinson’s team currently leading world football in consecutive shootout victories.
The regular season has finished and all attention in League One and Two now turns to the play-offs, which kick-off on Thursday
night with the semi-finals from the third tier of the Football League.
After finishing fourth, just two points away from automatic promotion it would be easy to sympathise with Burton should they
feel hard done by with their draw for the play-off semi-final – Bradford.
Phil Parkinson’s Bantams have spent most of the season dispatching teams a lot bigger and better than Albion in knock-out matches through their infamous Capital One Cup run which saw them reach the final at Wembley, and would have been the one side that everyone wanted to avoid being matched up with in the play-offs.
The main reason Bradford are not already promoted, or at least occupying Burton’s position is in fact their cup run. The Bantam’s league form suffered horrendously for their giant-killing exploits and they won just two of their next 11 league games following their 3-1 win over Aston Villa in the first leg of the semi-final.
To deepen the despair for Burton fans Bradford won 1-0 when these two sides met in a dress rehearsal of Thursday’s match two weeks ago. Burly striker James Hanson proving the difference on that occasion, with Lee Bell being sent off for Albion. That was the second time Bradford have beaten Burton at Valley Parade this term, with the Yorkshire side also knocking out the Brewers during their Capital One Cup run. And while Burton did what Aston Villa could not and took Bradford to extra time on that occasion they are not fancied to put up quite so stubborn a resistance come Thursday evening.
Albion’s away form is very poor and they’ve won just five times on the road all season, losing 11, so they’re not going to flourish in front of a capacity-full Valley Parade and Bradford are backed for the win at a best price of 2.0. In all three meetings of these two sides this season just one goal has been the difference and that is expected to be the same this time around, with Bradford tipped to take a one-goal advantage into the second leg.
In League One Brentford must dust themselves off and forget their heartache from Saturday’s loss to Doncaster if they are to join Rovers in the Championship next season. The Bees travel to Swindon for the first leg of their semi-final ranked the clear outsiders to win. Their odds may prove too large come Saturday evening though. Uwe Rosler’s team may have the worst away record in the play-offs with just seven victories all season – however one of those came at Swindon, who they did the double over.
The Robins are not a team in form and have won just two of their last eight matches, including a heavy defeat to relegated Scunthorpe on the last day of the season. Brentford are a better team and can set about amending for their last minute penalty miss against Doncaster by beating Swindon in the first-leg.
Following their failure to beat an out-of-form Norwich, at home, after Chris Hughton's side had goalkeeper Mark Bunn sent
off, and then gave away a penalty, Sunderland look in real trouble of being relegated.
Martin O'Neill's side are now winless in their last seven games and this run of fixtures has not been the most testing with the aforementioned home game against Norwich, trips to the seemingly doomed pair of Reading and QPR (both lost) as well as matches against Swansea and Fulham at the Stadium of Light. O'Neill would have hoped to gain at least nine more points from this run but instead his team took three, all at home.
There isn't a get out clause either. Sunderland haven't been unlucky, they don't have a host of injuries, they just simply aren't good enough. Signings have failed to deliver for O'Neill with Danny Graham the latest flop in a long list. Steven Fletcher looked to be a great acquisition when he netted five times in his first five games for the club but since then he has scored a meagre six in twenty-six and only in two games since Christmas has the Scot found the back of the net.
Aston Villa, Southampton and Wigan all secured crucial wins this weekend and the trio have the easier run-ins. Sunderland face Man United at home after the international break before trips to Chelsea and Newcastle. Everton visit the Stadium of Light after that and all four of those games are more likely to be Sunderland losses than anything else. The season concludes with an away trip to Villa, home games against Stoke and Southampton before a final day clash with Spurs at White Hart Lane. The latter could be decisive.
If Wigan win their game in hand, which - on current form and considering the surge the club made at this time last season - looks likely, Sunderland would have just a one point gap between them and the drop zone. With few opportunities to pick up points in the coming weeks, now is the time to back the Black Cats to run out of luck. The price of 4/1 will only shorten if expected defeats in the coming weeks are forthcoming.