It has taken 48 games to get here, but on Saturday an entire season boils down to one match. Bradford City meet Northampton Town in the League Two play-off final at Wembley with each club, both of whom boast managers that probably feel they should be operating at a higher level, hoping to end their long exile in the bottom tier.
Bradford boss Phil Parkinson, reputation still sky high following the club’s incredible exploits in the Capital One Cup, will be looking to end the Bantams’ six-year spell in League Two, while his opposite number Aidy Boothroyd, a former Premier League manager who masterminded Watford’s 2006 Championship play-off success, is seeking to end the Cobblers’ four-year spell in the basement of English football.
It is a match that pits seventh against sixth, and two clubs that have turned their fortunes around this year.
Bradford have been kicking around the bottom half of League Two ever since their demotion in 2007 as the club’s dire financial position took effect, while Boothroyd had to save Northampton from relegation upon taking over last season before leading Town to their best finish since their own relegation four years ago.
There was little to separate the teams over the regular season, with Northampton just four points and one goal better off, and I reckon the big occasion at Wembley will be a close affair.
Bradford are the favourites at 6/5, which is understandable given they have beaten Arsenal, Aston Villa and Wigan en route to Wembley this season, with that experience thought to be crucial come Saturday.
But the price is a bit on the short side for a team that has already played 64 matches this term, and Northampton will certainly have their backers at 21/10.
The draw is 11/5, but I think the 19/10 that there are under 1.5 goals looks like a decent play, especially with winnings of £58 on offer for new customers who successfully back it with their free £20 bet after registering.
It is sure to be a tight encounter, as the two league matches between the teams both finished in 1-0 wins to Bradford, and games with few goals have been a feature of City’s season: 17 of the Bantams’ fixtures didn’t even produce as many as two goals, a record that only Wycombe Wanderers can beat.
And of late, there has hardly been a goal to speak of when Northampton have taken to the pitch. Seven of the Cobblers’ last ten games have seen one goal or fewer scored as Boothroyd’s caution takes hold with everything at stake.
Both teams had very good defensive records in the normal campaign, with only Cheltenham keeping more clean sheets than Bradford’s 18, while only those two sides and Gillingham kept more shutouts than Northampton’s 16.
So all told, I don’t expect a goal-fest and I think the 19/10 on under 1.5 goals looks like cracking value.