Bradford City 2.0 v Burton Albion 4.3; The Draw 3.7
Kick-off: Thursday 7.45pm
BRADFORD and Northampton should make the most of home advantage in the first legs of the League Two play-offs.
I wonder sometimes whether I worry too much. Is Bradford's cup expertise – having reached the Capital One Cup Final – in their favour for the play-offs or do those extra games mean they will be exhausted?
The Bantams will play at least 63 games this season, prompting Phil Parkinson to play Andrew Davies, often injured but a huge presence, at centre-back on Saturday to rest Rory McArdle after 55 games. Davies was sent off for two yellow cards and will be suspended. His manager felt he let the team down.
Eight players were changed in all but consider none of them mere squad players, the 0-0 with last year's play-off final losers Cheltenham confirming as much. No wonder the city's newspaper takes the tone, comparing League Two to a prison cell, that the fourth tier is somehow beneath Bradford.
Such disrespectful talk is bound to wind up opposing teams, whether it comes from the club or not. Just two defeats since Wembley is a telling statistic, however, as the Yorkshire club rose to seventh. Furthermore, as Opta state, Burton have never won at Valley Parade and worse their last four away games reaped just two points.
That they have salvaged a league-high 23 points from losing positions seems an Opta warning, however, until it is considered Bradford, at home, have dropped points from leading positions just three times.
The Brewers finished the season with a confidence-boosting 3-2 win over weakened Gillingham, Billy Kee (13 this season) finding his scoring touch again along with Calvin Zola (11). All four of their main scorers have netted in recent weeks, Matthew Paterson (7) and Jacques Maghoma (15) battling for net-busting rights. But which Burton will turn up? The one that won 4-0 at Fleetwood or the one that lost 7-1 at Port Vale?
The one that lost 1-0 at Bradford just 10 days ago will not be intimidated by a Premier League standard stadium, that is for sure.
Anyone who has backed them in from 16.0 in the to be promoted market will surely want to cash out now they are 3.35 favourites.
It should be worth holding on at least until the final. Bradford are the team with real momentum and with the play-off matches in the last two years favouring the teams who were at home first, combined with their momentum, it is worth backing them to win even though they are short-priced favourites, all things considered.
Over 2.5 goals should also be in order, as the visitors will surely try to make some of the running.
Back Bradford @ 2.0
Back over 2.5 goals @ 2.05
Northampton 2.3 v Cheltenham 3.35; The Draw 3.45
Kick-Off: Thursday 19:45
BEN TOZER believes his Northampton side can “mix it up” in terms of varying how they play – they can bully, rely on set-pieces or, more importantly, pass and move.
A terrific home record of late – 10 straight wins at Sixfields before the 2-0 loss to desperate York – indicates a win-at-any-method mentality which will surely stand them in good stead in the play-offs.
Ade Akinfenwa, who Opta emphasise has scored in three of his last four games against Cheltenham, can certainly use his size to intimidate up front. He will be fresh from being rested, while the Cobblers await news on the fitness of Clive Platt.
The Cobblers defeated Barnet, who were desperate for points, on the season's final day and it is telling that in those 11 wins out of the last 12 home games Aidy Boothroyd's side only conceded three goals – in the first three games. Possibly! But which was the last team to win at Sixfields before that? You've guessed it. Cheltenham, 3-2. They also won on their own turf.
So, the Robins' nerves – having been beaten in the play-off final last year – will be somewhat settled. Keeper Scott Brown has kept 20 clean sheets this season, six in the last eight games, to earn him two player of the year awards.
Team-mate Marlon Pack has been named in the League Two team of the year and, at 22, already has 150 league appearances. He proved he can pack a punch with a stunning goal in last year's play-off semi-final in the second leg at Torquay. Jermaine McGlashan also has to be marshalled well.
He is second top scorer with seven. Only Shaun Harrad with eight has more which must be a bit of a concern. But Mark Yates's men also have Paul Benson, who opened the scoring for Dagenham when they won the play-off final in 2010.
Two defeats this season against Cheltenham will give Northampton plenty of ammunition. In fact, Opta reveal, the hosts are without a win in six against their opponents. However, with Northampton's home record, it is hard to argue against them. Under 2.5 goals at 1.84 is an even stronger fancy, given Northampton do not like conceding at home. A 1-0 home win is value at @ 8.2 as a back to cashout at least.
Back Northampton @ 2.3
Back Under 2.5 goals @ 1.84
Back 1-0 Northampton @ 8.2