Most Read Football

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages
1

Paper Talk: Wolves close on Marega

Three former players to decide Manchester United transfer targets - and a £30m striker heading to Wolves. Plenty more too in a bumper Thursday edition.

Romelu Lukaku
2

Lukaku odds-on for Inter move

Romelu Lukaku is odds-on to swap Manchester United for Inter Milan after growing reports in Italy suggest he will be the first target of prospective new manager Antonio Conte.

Newport v Tranmere in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final at Wembley3

Rovers to secure promotion

The first of the games on the Sky Bet EFL play-off weekends final comes from League Two, where Tom Carnduff is backing Tranmere to go up.

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages4

Paper Talk: £105m Man United move

Man United willing to meet Joao Felix's £105m release clause, while Liverpool are eyeing a Bournemouth star, according to the back pages.

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages5

Paper Talk: De Ligt to Manchester?

Manchester City are set to rival Manchester United in the pursuit of Matthijs De Ligt and Harry Maguire, according to the back pages.

Sky Bet EFL: Outright preview & tips for play-offs in the Championship, League One and League Two

Our best bets for the Sky Bet EFL play-offs
Our best bets for the Sky Bet EFL play-offs

Tom Carnduff previews the Sky Bet EFL play-offs with his best bets, outright winners and a look at the historical trends.


Recommended bets

2pts West Brom to win the Sky Bet Championship play-offs at 4/1

3pts Charlton to win the Sky Bet League One play-offs at 5/2

3pts Portsmouth & Charlton both to make the Sky Bet League One play-off final at 14/5

2pts Tranmere to win the Sky Bet League Two play-offs at 33/10

2pts Newport & Tranmere both to make the Sky Bet League Two play-off final at 3/1

For advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record


Sky Bet Championship

The fixtures for the Sky Bet Championship play-offs have been confirmed
The fixtures for the Sky Bet Championship play-offs have been confirmed

Four teams battling out for their involvement in what is often described as the 'richest game in football' - the Sky Bet Championship play-off final.

Leeds' involvement has upset the typical status quo with the club often found bouncing around mid-table at this point. Marcelo Bielsa has managed to guide the Whites to third in the table in his first full season in charge.

Aston Villa and Derby are in for the second consecutive seasons while West Brom have secured top-six as many expected following their relegation from the Premier League.

What we have though is an incredibly strong line-up with each of the four teams able to make a case for good enough to take on England's elite in August.

The eye-catching semi-final of the two is undoubtedly West Brom v Aston Villa - with both sides strong in all areas of the pitch. While much has been made of Leeds v Derby given the infamous 'Spygate' scandal back in January, in terms of these two games, a West Midlands derby is bound to be tasty.

Aston Villa have set a club record for most consecutive wins this season with ten, and the fact that the run came in the second half of the season means many have put them down as the favourites for the play-offs.

The winning run came to an end in final week, though. A draw away at Leeds, where Bielsa ordered his players to allow Villa to score in an act of extraordinary sportsmanship, was followed by a defeat to Norwich on the last day.

The players clash after Leeds take the lead
The players clash after Leeds take the lead

West Brom's form hasn't been exceptional but they are an incredibly difficult side to face at the Hawthorns. The Baggies have won their last five in front of their own supporters, fantastic form despite the surprise sacking of Darren Moore which some expected would damage their post-season prospects.

A concern for James Shan will be their record on the road in recent weeks. Before heading to Leeds, West Brom were one of the best away sides in the division but since that 4-0 hammering at Elland Road they have won just one away game.

It's three defeats in five away since then which could set this up to be a tie which will be all but decided in the first leg. That said, the circumstances show that it was a difficult run of games.

They faced a Derby side who had to win to secure a play-off spot and the same applies to Bristol City and their play-off aspirations when they travelled there at the beginning of April.

There have also been visits to Reading and Millwall, who were both battling the drop, but the solo win during that time offers hope. They beat Brentford 1-0 who, despite finishing in 11th, had the third-best home record in the division.

Aston Villa's aspirations have obviously been boosted since that late run but it'll be intriguing to see how they can bounce back now that has come to an end. While Villa are the form team, West Brom have been a constant feature in the top-six throughout the campaign.

Jonathan Kodjia's strike handed Aston Villa a historic tenth straight win
Jonathan Kodjia and Aston Villa celebrate

If they can avoid defeat in that first leg at Villa Park they will be in a great position to progress to Wembley. It's easier said than done, but while the focus has been on Dean Smith's side because of their storming second half of the season, West Brom have consistently gained positive results.

Waiting for them in the final will be Leeds or Derby. Leeds are favourites to win the play-offs - but their recent form has left a lot of questions over the character of the squad.

They've finished the regular season on the back of four winless games, two of those against teams at the bottom who only had 10 men. Bielsa isn't worried, but a lot of the Elland Road faithful are.

Leeds have been superb throughout large parts of the campaign but their issue is just how wasteful they are with opportunities in front of goal. It needs to click in the play-offs, there is no more time for mistakes.

The one positive for the Whites going into this tie is the fact they have dominated Derby twice this season already. They hammered them 4-1 at Pride Park in the second week of the campaign, while also securing a convincing 2-0 win at Elland Road - in a game where the talk was around an intern being spotted watching Derby's training from a public footpath.

We can take two things from the 'Spygate' saga. One - Derby need to build either bigger walls or ensure their training ground isn't visible to the public (a green sheet around fencing isn't the answer), and two - the Rams will be eager for revenge.

Celebrations for Frank Lampard after Derby's win at Wigan
Celebrations for Frank Lampard after Derby's win at Wigan

Frank Lampard has played down the spying in the build-up to this already, but you know he's thinking about it and what perfect way to get your own back than by knocking Leeds out of the play-offs?

It will be on his mind, I don't believe that he will simply forget about it going into this one, but that could backfire as they need to keep level heads across 180 minutes.

Going all-out attack will not work against Leeds. They tried that at Pride Park and it came back to haunt them. Leeds like teams coming onto them and they need to be sensible in their approach.

While the Whites haven't been great in their ending to the season, they still have the ability to pick teams off and Derby need to be wary of that threat.

A common theme throughout the season has been Leeds answering the questions that have been thrown at them. When doubts have crept in, they've seemingly delivered the goods.

While they missed out on automatic promotion, it needs to be said that Leeds were probably overachieving in what should have been a building year. They were always capable of top-six, but champions? Clearly not.

The best example of bouncing back was probably that home game against West Brom. They'd lost to QPR in the previous match but came out days later and completely blew away a promotion rival.

Patrick Bamford celebrates a goal against West Brom
Patrick Bamford celebrates a goal against West Brom

Leeds need to find that spark again and it is there. I don't believe it just simply disappears overnight and neither does Bielsa. They still have a great opportunity and the time for sulking about one missed opportunity already is over.

At Wembley, I'm going against the general trend and think that West Brom will be the opposition who are waiting. Carrying an attacking threat of their own, they have the ability to edge Aston Villa in what should be a high-scoring contest on aggregate.

While the chances of promotion based on finishing position do make for interesting reading, it's not worth studying history in great deal.

Fourth place hasn't been kind for chances of promotion through the play-offs. Hull and QPR are the only two sides who have done it in the past 14 years, but each set of play-offs are unique in their own way and this season's edition is no different.

That historical data is available below and can be interpreted as seen fit.

A lot is made of form going into the play-offs and it often seems to result in a disregard for consistency. Villa will be the team that most will fear because of recent results, but West Brom have been a side who have been a top-four side throughout the entire campaign.

Matt Phillips scores against Birmingham
Matt Phillips scores against Birmingham

The Baggies also have a decent balance of consistency in position throughout the season and an impressive points return in the past four weeks. They've gained 10 points from a last possible 15.

It should also be noted how West Brom have known their fate for a while now. Leeds have been battling for automatic promotion while Villa and Derby have been aiming to secure their promotion spot.

For most of the season, Albion have been out of the automatic promotion running but have never looked like they would drop out of the play-off places altogether.

While that away form is a concern it's worth remembering that those types of results happen to those with little to play for when they travel to a team who are battling for something.

West Brom have been a good team throughout the course of the season, even after losing their best player in January when Harvey Barnes was recalled by Leicester.

They recruited smartly and are now in a fantastic position for an immediate return to the Premier League. The winner of the 4th/5th contest should be the one who gets promoted, and a price of 4/1 looks good value on that team being West Brom.

Sky Bet Championship: West Brom to win the play-offs at 4/1

West Brom celebrate their controversial goal against Aston Villa
West Brom can secure promotion

What's been said?

Following the final day, the four managers had this to say heading into the play-offs...

Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa: "If you put aside the mistakes we made from this game, the performance from the team was good enough.

"At the end of the game you could not think that this opponent (Ipswich) could score three goals against us and it was impossible that we could not score three or four goals.

"We conceded three goals and this is something that is honestly impossible to explain and we also only scored two goals, which is also difficult to justify."

West Brom's James Shan: "After they (Derby) scored the third our level of application and work ethic was not acceptable.

"However we dress up what's happened today, it's not the business end. There were some honest assessments from the players in there. There's no excuse now.

"We're going to have to play a lot better than that if we're going to have some success against Aston Villa."

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith: "We are going into two games that we are all looking forward to.

"There is an awful lot of confidence. You can feel it around Villa Park. The players will relish the games. This place will be rocking and that can give us a goal start.

"We lost to them here 2-0 this season but we weren't at the top of our game and never had a full squad."

Derby boss Frank Lampard: "We'll be underdogs because we came sixth. There's a reason we've finished points behind Leeds, Villa and West Brom.

"The run-in has been good for us, so let's go into it with no fear and try and upset a few people. I'll plan to play the Leeds side that have been really strong all season. The cup atmosphere the play-offs bring can throw recent form out.

"I won't plan that they're in bad form, I'll plan for Leeds who beat us well and looked at Christmas like they were going to win the league."

Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa
Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa

Does finishing higher give you a better chance?

It's not a certainty - but finishing higher does give you a slightly better chance of success according to the history of the competition.

In 14 play-off finals since the league was re-branded to the Championship, only three teams have failed to make Wembley when finishing in 3rd (Brighton in 2016, Nottingham Forest in 2010 and Ipswich in 2005).

In 50% of those finals, the team finishing in 3rd has been promoted to the Premier League. Most recently that was Fulham in 2018, and prior to that it was Norwich in 2015 after they beat Middlesbrough at the national stadium.

Blackpool (2010) and West Ham (2005) are the only teams who finished in 6th and went on to win the play-off final.

Probability of success based on recent history:

  1. Leeds - (3rd - 7/14)
  2. Aston Villa (5th - 3/14)
  3. West Brom (4th - 2/14)
  4. Derby (6th - 2/14)

Vote!


Sky Bet League One

The fixtures in the Sky Bet League One play-offs have been confirmed
The fixtures in the Sky Bet League One play-offs have been confirmed

All eyes will be on Sunderland's performance in these play-offs after missing out on their initial aim of automatic promotion, and they face one of the toughest ties available in the division by coming up against Portsmouth.

Jack Ross' men were beaten by Pompey at the Checkatrade Trophy final and Portsmouth were the only team in the top-seven who were able to beat Sunderland in the league.

A team that have picked up points in 41 of their 46 games this season would usually end up promoted but Sunderland finished in fifth. Draws held them back throughout the campaign, their 19 being considerably higher than the majority of other teams in League One.

They are the team that most people have followed based on their recent history. The Black Cats suffered consecutive relegations from the Premier League and Sky Bet Championship, the downfall documented for all to see on on-demand TV.

There was the expectation that they would bounce straight back up but it may not work out like that. The positive is that the club has found itself again with supporters re-engaging at their lowest point.

It's a tried and tested formula that has worked for teams in the past and Sunderland will have to do the same. Those that have struggled often benefit from the drop to then get promoted and come back stronger - that's the aim for Ross' men.

They're up against three very talented sides though who can all make a case for deserving a spot in the Championship next season. Charlton, Portsmouth and Doncaster are the other three teams who will be hoping that they will be lifting the trophy at Wembley.

Sunderland celebrate Will Grigg's goal against Bristol Rovers
Sunderland celebrate Will Grigg's goal against Bristol Rovers

The most intriguing tie comes from Portsmouth v Sunderland - two clubs who would have hoped to have finished higher than their respective positions.

Sunderland can take confidence from the fact not many sides have been able to beat them. They're a tough team to come up against and the ability to avoid defeat is key here. The Black Cats have proven throughout the season that they can do it, although Portsmouth are one of the teams who have been able to get past them.

The benefit of that Checkatrade Trophy final is that the one side who make it to the play-off final will have experience of playing on the big stage this season.

That was the main focus of both managers after that game. The trophy was nice to win, but ultimately the primary aim is based on success in the league and the day itself can only benefit in the long-run.

Both are generally priced around the same to progress to Wembley, but more bookmakers are offering Sunderland at odds-on which shows how they edge it as the favourites heading into the first leg.

The bet has to be Portsmouth, though, given their efforts throughout the course of the campaign, alongside the fact they have got the better of their opponents on more than one occasion.

This is a contest that does have the feeling of going beyond 180 minutes, that's how close these two sides are to each other. Ultimately, it's Portsmouth who edge it for me as this type of game seems to suit them well.

Brett Pitman scores the winning goal for Portsmouth against Coventry
Brett Pitman scores the winning goal for Portsmouth against Coventry

In the other tie, Charlton's fantastic season has seen them sneak into third on final day and set up a meeting with Doncaster, who had to wait until game 46 to secure their top-six spot.

Lee Bowyer has managed to keep the Addicks at the top end of the division throughout the course of his managerial career - guiding them to the play-offs last year which ended in a semi-final defeat against Shrewsbury.

They'll be better for the experience though and have kicked on with some decent recruitment. The headline addition has been Lyle Taylor, who has established himself as one of the division's top strikers during his season at the club.

My main concern for Charlton was whether or not they had the ability to kick on above that top-six finish. They had the feel of a side who could make the play-offs but don't quite have enough to get over the line.

However, their efforts in the second half of the season have done more than enough to sway that opinion. Not only in the manner of finishing in third, but the fact that they have consistently picked up results in run-up to the conclusion of the regular season.

A defeat to in-form Oxford is the only time they've dropped points in their last eight league games. Since that loss, it's been three wins, 10 goals scored, with none conceded.

This isn't just a team hitting form, it's a team which has form alongside the consistency across the 46-game period.

The first half of the campaign did see defeats on more regular occasions, but 2019 has brought about an impact that has seen games which could have been defeats ending in draws, while the wins have come at the right point late on.

Mallik Wilks finds the net for Doncaster
Mallik Wilks finds the net for Doncaster

That's not to say that Doncaster have little chance of progression. Grant McCann has done a fantastic job with a talented group of players. The attacking element has been the most eye-catching, with John Marquis regularly finding the net.

Mallik Wilks has enjoyed a strong loan spell from Leeds while there's been a balance of goal contribution from the midfield. The concern for Rovers, though, is a lack of consistency throughout the season.

They've been up there in the right part of the table, but the results have fluctuated between periods of success and ones with dropped points. Four wins through September and another run from March into April have been coupled with a five-game run without victory.

A final day win may give them a boost given how it's been rare that they've failed to follow up victory with at least a draw the game after. Against a Charlton side with confidence, ability and a decent track record though, that pattern should not continue.

A good characteristic of this Charlton side is also their ability to gain results both home and away. Bowyer's men had the second-best home record in League One over the 2018/19 season, sixth-best away.

In terms of the semi-final, it sets them up for an aggregate victory. Avoiding defeat away in the first leg will put them in a strong position for progression. Even with a one-goal loss, their showings in front of their own fans will give them confidence.

Not only that, but Rovers' woes on the road are evident in the fact that there are eleven teams who have performed better away.

It's also clear that there are issues when travelling to the top teams. They've lost to Luton, Charlton and Sunderland, while being held to draws in visits to Barnsley and Portsmouth.

There will be a reliance on a home result and ultimately trying to win 180 minutes of football in just 90. Charlton have the edge in this contest, putting them in a great position to feature at Wembley.

The Valley is home to Charlton Athletic
The Valley is home to Charlton Athletic

When it comes to picking a winner, it's got to be Charlton for the reasons given above.

Bowyer's side have overcome adversity with the atmosphere surrounding the ownership at the club, that's alongside the likes of Josh Magennis and Karlan Grant departing.

The Wembley pitch may also suit their style of play, even if Portsmouth have already played on it this season. Charlton seem equipped for this moment and past play-off experience will put them in a good position.

The ability to finish third, when many didn't consider them as a team capable of beating the likes of Portsmouth and Sunderland, is testament to the job that Bowyer has done and you feel that they will have a difficult job keeping hold of him should they not go up.

They'll be hoping it won't come to that though as the ingredients are there for success. A lack of involvement in cup competitions has highlighted how their focus is on promotion, the priorities are in order and it's showing with their strong conclusion to the regular season.

Sky Bet League One: Charlton to win the play-offs at 5/2

Carlton Morris scores Shrewsbury's second leg goal that helped them reach Wembley
Charlton can learn from last season's disappointment

What's been said?

Following the final day, the four managers had this to say heading into the play-offs...

Charlton's Lee Bowyer: "It’s two ninety-minute games. Anything can happen. You can have a sending off in the first minute of the game and it all changes. I don’t think any of that comes into it. It’s two ninety minutes.

"Two good teams that will be putting their bodies on the line. The team that takes their chances will win the game.

I don’t think there’s any advantage whether you’re home first or second. I use Barcelona as an example. Liverpool went there and they’ve got the second leg at home but they got thumped 3-0. Game over in my eyes.

"For me it makes no difference. You’ve still got two tough games. Whoever does best over the two games will come out on top."

Portsmouth manager Kenny Jackett: "We can’t necessarily say there’s too much wrong by getting 88 points.

"It would have been lovely to have got another four or five but that’s the way it is. Thirteen away wins is a club record, so we’ve done well.

"But at home, we haven’t kept enough clean sheets and maybe that’s been some of the reason (why Portsmouth missed out on the top-two). Certainly it has been this week, conceding three against Peterborough and one on Saturday."

Sunderland's Jack Ross: "The defeat at Fratton Park is the only game we’ve lost to any of the teams in the top seven. That’s a positive obviously.

"We lost the Checkatrade final, but it was a draw over the course of the game.

"I do feel as if the players have generally responded well to playing against the best teams in the league and the bigger atmospheres."

Doncaster boss Grant McCann: "We have been underdogs all season, right from minute one.

"Peterborough hired a serial promotion winner in Steve Evans and sacked him. Then they hired another serial promotion winner in Darren Ferguson.

"This is what we are up against – real experienced managers in this league. This group has been written off right from day one and we have just proved everyone wrong.

"We have proved we can challenge for promotion, that we can finish in the top six like we have showed."

Kenny Jackett's Portsmouth suffered their fourth defeat of the season at Blackpool
Kenny Jackett

Does finishing higher give you a better chance?

Unlike the Sky Bet Championship, the League One play-offs do not historically favour those who finish as the 'top seed' in 3rd.

Using the same criteria (the 14 seasons of the current division structure), the 3rd-placed team have only been promoted on four occasions.

The best position to finish in seems to be fourth, which will be good news for Portsmouth supporters. The fourth-placed team have gone up five times, most recently being Rotherham in the 2017/18 season.

Bad news for Sunderland, the play-offs don't favour those who finish fifth. Only two teams who have ended in that position have been promoted to the Championship, and those teams were Sheffield Wednesday in 2005 and Barnsley in 2006.

Doncaster are the outsiders but recent history has shown how those who end in sixth can finish as the winners. Millwall (2017) and Barnsley (2016) are two teams who have finished the lowest of the four sides but earned their spot in the Championship.

They also join Scunthorpe in 2009 as being the sixth-placed teams who would end up promoted.

Probability of success based on recent history:

  1. Portsmouth (4th - 5/14)
  2. Charlton (3rd - 4/14)
  3. Doncaster (6th - 3/14)
  4. Sunderland (5th - 2/14)

Vote!


Sky Bet League Two

The fixtures for the Sky Bet League Two play-offs have been confirmed
The fixtures for the Sky Bet League Two play-offs have been confirmed

While history shouldn't be looked into with great detail when deciding a play-off winner, it does show us how the League Two competition is usually the most open.

The phrase you hear the most around the time of the play-offs is that it's a "lottery". To some extent it is, but form and consistency across the season play a bigger part, although League Two has proven to support the above cliche.

The final day decided who would finish fourth and who would come in seventh. Newport managed to snatch that last spot with a late tap-in from Jamille Matt, while Mansfield were beaten by MK Dons who leapfrogged them into the automatic promotion spots.

A big question surrounds Mansfield's ability to bounce back from final day disappointment. It wasn't just the consequences of that result, but it made it three defeats in a row which is also a concern.

Remarkably, Mansfield had lost just one game prior to January 5. It looked like they would have little issue in reaching League One, but their showings since then have led to some worries.

There's been nine defeats in the second-half of the season, with the majority of March seeing little reward. While they seemingly bounced back, one win in their final five games does not put them in a good position heading into this tie with Newport.

Form isn't everything and the one thing that they have in their favour is regular involvement at the top-end of the standings. There's a big expectation on promotion though and morale will have suffered from losing out on the top-three despite it being in their hands.

Mansfield Town, pictured celebrating a goal against West Brom in the Carabao Cup
Mansfield Town, pictured celebrating a goal against West Brom in the Carabao Cup

I can understand why they are favourites to win the play-offs, but recent showings have made me question a short 6/4 price on them joining Lincoln, Bury and MK Dons in League One next season.

The doubts are also present on whether they will make it to Wembley, let along achieve promotion. The Stags come up against a Newport side who, while making it on final day, have been picking up results from mid-March onwards.

In fact, they are unbeaten over a ten-game period. That includes success over champions Lincoln and a draw against a fellow promotion rival in Tranmere.

The form throughout the mid-point of the season can't be ignored but their involvement in the FA Cup has to be taken into account.

County beat former Premier League champions Leicester in January and followed that up with success against Championship promotion chasers Middlesbrough.

Michael Flynn's side were eventually beaten by Manchester City, although there was only so much they could do. Given the attention for those games, it's little surprise to see just two league wins over the same period.

Newport though have found that side who were able to start the season in strong fashion and the one which turned up to beat opposition in higher divisions. It's come at the right time too, with the play-offs putting them up against a team who some fancied to lift the division trophy.

This contest sees a contrast in confidence. Newport have the excitement of reaching the play-offs when it looked an unlikely outcome, and while some might argue that they have used most of their energy in reaching that goal, it may still be enough to get past this Mansfield side.

Newport County's Padraig Amond celebrates his goal against Manchester City
Newport County's Padraig Amond celebrates his goal against Manchester City

In the other semi-final, these two met in the National League play-off final in 2017 and Tranmere will be looking to get their own back as they come up against Forest Green.

Both sides should be applauded for how they have adapted to life in the Football League with this now being a play-off game in League Two just two years later.

Tranmere had to go back to Wembley the following year in order to achieve their promotion. Micky Mellon's side beat Boreham Wood at the national stadium and have followed that up by being a consistent feature of the top-seven in League Two.

While they were floating around the seventh spot earlier in the campaign, a strong second-half of the season saw them realistically qualify with games to spare. The form in recent weeks hasn't been the best, but that may be down to them knowing what their outcome would have been.

They made it in the end, just, but Forest Green had to settle for drop points in their past two games so neither side is holding a form advantage there.

The first leg will be the key for who comes out on top in this tie. Tranmere hold a strong home record with 47 points gained from a possible 69, while Forest Green have picked up 41 points away.

That gave them the second-best away record in the division, one point behind Lincoln, but failure to secure victory when they travel to Prenton Park puts them in a difficult position for the reverse fixture.

15 teams have had a better home record than Mark Cooper's men this season, and while Tranmere's away form hasn't quite matched that of the opposition, it's always a worry for a top team who fail to perform in front of their own supporters.

Forest Green's Christian Doidge
Forest Green's Christian Doidge

Two consecutive years of play-off involvement can only put Tranmere in a good position for success here. This has all come after losing top goalscorer Andy Cook as well, with James Norwood stepping up to claim the League Two top-scorer accolade.

The thing that also benefits Tranmere in a play-off scenario is their ability to grind out results when required. They've won by a 1-0 scoreline on eight occasions this season, that's compared with just three for Forest Green.

It can click for them though and that does equate to goals. They've netted four goals in games against Morecambe and Grimsby, while also hitting five past Crawley in their meeting in October.

Given how well these two teams are matched up, a track record of narrow victories will play into the hands of Micky Mellon's men. While Newport and Mansfield can also boast similarly low-scoring affairs, Forest Green's differing fortunes will give hope to Tranmere.

The final was a high-scoring affair last year, with Coventry hitting three past Exeter, but you'd expect a tightly-contested game regardless of which of the four teams makes it.

Particularly if, as predicted, Tranmere meet Newport in the showpiece event at Wembley. It could well be a contest where one goal decides it and both have form with 1-0 victories throughout the course of the regular season.

Tranmere have been in this situation over the past two seasons though, and while that was in a lower league, it gives them the edge over their promotion rivals.

Sky Bet League Two: Tranmere to win the play-offs at 33/10

What's been said?

Following the final day, the four managers had this to say heading into the play-offs...

Mansfield boss David Flitcroft: "I am hurting and I never want to feel like this again.

"I have told the players to soak it in, understand why we got beat and how you are feeling straight after the whistle on the pitch, having 15,000 MK Dons fans celebrate around you, coming into your face. It's a tough one.

"But I've said don't let it haunt you. Let it be the thing that frees you into driving for a performance against Newport. There is regret and hurt in the dressing room."

Forest Green Rovers' Mark Cooper: "We could have played our players, won the game and still finished in the same position and picked three injuries up so we're in a better position than when we started. 

"We respect them (Tranmere), I think they're a really good club, with really good players and a really good manager. 

"We always have good games against them and I'm sure Friday will be no different." 

Tranmere manager Micky Mellon: "We never really had any targets at the start of the season other than to make sure that we gave our best in every game, we took it game-by-game, and to get into this position is fantastic. 

"I was pleased that the players were disappointed at the end of the Bury game, because that’s what our standards are.

"We wanted to get automatically promoted, we fell short of that, so we will very quickly move on. We now get the fantastic opportunity to fight for the next route out, and that’s the play-offs."

Newport's Michael Flynn: "It is an amazing feeling. Is it a better feeling that the Great Escape? Of course it is. There are different reasons, but last-gasp things at the top of the table are better than at the bottom!

"At the start of the season we would have bitten your hands off for seventh.

"We have a bottom-three budget, but we have a formula that means we have a group of lads who play above themselves more often than not."

Micky Mellon took over as Tranmere manager in 2016
Micky Mellon

Does finishing higher give you a better chance?

Its the opposite to the other divisions in League Two, with those who finish the lowest of the four teams having the better chance of success.

In the last 14 finals, the team who have ended in 7th have won on five occasions, most recently that was Blackpool in 2017 and then AFC Wimbledon the season before that.

It is then a straight split between the other three positions. In the remaining nine finals, it's worked out that three teams in each position has ended up with promotion.

You have to go back to Fleetwood in 2014 for the last side to finish in fourth and get promoted. While we often see the top seed in the final in the Championship, it's common that they don't make it to Wembley in League Two.

There are obviously the five teams who were beaten along the way by those in seventh. They are joined by Shrewsbury (2011), Bury (2009) and MK Dons (2007) as being the eight fourth-placed teams not to reach the final.

That will give Newport fans some optimism - although it highlights just how much of a lottery the League Two play-offs typically are.

Probability of success based on recent history:

  1. Newport (7th - 5/15)
  2. Forest Green (5th - 3/15)
  3. Tranmere (6th - 3/15)
  4. Mansfield (4th - 3/15)

Vote!


Odds correct at 1445 BST (07/05/19)

Follow Sporting Life on social media - find us on Facebook here or tweet @SportingLifeFC

Related football links

Like what you've read?
Help your friends Know It All by sharing this article to your social media.

Most Read Football

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages
1

Paper Talk: Wolves close on Marega

Three former players to decide Manchester United transfer targets - and a £30m striker heading to Wolves. Plenty more too in a bumper Thursday edition.

Romelu Lukaku
2

Lukaku odds-on for Inter move

Romelu Lukaku is odds-on to swap Manchester United for Inter Milan after growing reports in Italy suggest he will be the first target of prospective new manager Antonio Conte.

Newport v Tranmere in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final at Wembley3

Rovers to secure promotion

The first of the games on the Sky Bet EFL play-off weekends final comes from League Two, where Tom Carnduff is backing Tranmere to go up.

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages4

Paper Talk: £105m Man United move

Man United willing to meet Joao Felix's £105m release clause, while Liverpool are eyeing a Bournemouth star, according to the back pages.

Get all the latest football gossip from the day's back pages5

Paper Talk: De Ligt to Manchester?

Manchester City are set to rival Manchester United in the pursuit of Matthijs De Ligt and Harry Maguire, according to the back pages.

Football Tips

Newport v Tranmere in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final at Wembley

Rovers to secure promotion

The first of the games on the Sky Bet EFL play-off weekends final comes from League Two, where Tom Carnduff is backing Tranmere to go up.

Charlton v Sunderland final guide

Extra-time needed on Sunday

Charlton take on Sunderland in the Sky Bet League One play-off final and Tom Carnduff thinks more than 90 minutes will be required.

John Higgins

Sporting Life Tipping Record

A look at how the Sporting Life recommended bets have performed in May 2019.