Sporting Life's League Two play-off preview featuring Port Vale, Mansfield, Swindon and Northampton.
Sporting Life's League Two play-off preview featuring Port Vale, Mansfield, Swindon and Northampton.

League Two play-offs tips: Best bet and preview

Michael Beardmore takes a look at the Sky Bet League Two play-offs, identifying which team he fancies to win promotion to League One.

Football betting tips: League Two play-offs

1pt Swindon to be promoted at 7/2 (Sporting Index)

Sky Bet odds | Paddy Power | Betfair Sportsbook

Betfair new customer offer >

Did you think the Sky Bet League Two drama was over after a madcap final day that saw Bristol Rovers pinch promotion on goals scored after a 7-0 thrashing of Scunthorpe? Think again.

That was only a prelude to the rollercoaster that awaits in the fourth tier play-off semi-finals – games that have produced a host of thrilling encounters over the past several seasons.

For whatever reason, perhaps because the pressure of promotion and expectation is slightly lower in the fourth tier than divisions above, the League Two play-offs are often open, entertaining affairs.

The 28 semi-final ties across the past seven years have yielded a whopping 86 goals, averaging more than three per game – League One’s tally is 80 and the Championship way down on 59.

Sky Bet League Two play-off dates and times

  • Mansfield v Northampton - Saturday, May 14, 19:45 BST
  • Swindon v Port Vale - Sunday, May 15, 12:00 BST
  • Northampton v Mansfield - Wednesday, May 18, 19:45 BST
  • Port Vale v Swindon - Thursday, May 19, 19:45 BST
"Competing in the Premier League with Third Division money." | Racing Education | Buying The Dream

Should that pattern continue in this year’s end-of-season lottery, you suspect it will favour Swindon Town, who are not only the highest scorers among the four play-off sides, but in the division overall.

They netted 77 times in their 46 league matches, although they also conceded the most of the four play-off contenders (54), with the Robins’ games averaging 2.84 goals per match (second-highest figure in the division).

'Marmite' Aussie Harry McKirdy has been their leading light with 20 goals but Jack Payne (13), Josh Davison (9) and Aston Villa loanee Louie Barry (6) have all chipped in too.

Interestingly, in each of the past two seasons, the play-offs have been won by the team of the four who has scored most across the campaign – Northampton in 2019-20 and Morecambe in 2020-21.

Sky Bet League Two promotion odds (via Sky Bet)

  • 5/2 - Port Vale
  • 11/4 - Mansfield, Northampton, Swindon

Odds correct 1300 BST (10/05/22)

Northampton, of course, can consider themselves extremely unfortunate not to have clinched automatic promotion this time around, having been sat in the top three for large swathes of the season.

The question is: can they recover from that hammer blow on the final day of the season when they seemed assured of third spot, winning 3-1 at Barrow, only for Rovers’ goal glut to deny them?

It’s a massive psychological hurdle for any side to overcome – the Cobblers thought they were already up but now have to do it all over again.

They will also be without goalkeeper Liam Roberts for the first leg of their semi-final at Mansfield after his late red card at Barrow – it’s only one game, granted, but Roberts has been exceptional in his first season at Sixfields, keeping a division-high 21 clean sheets and scooping a raft of awards. He’ll be a big miss.

Download the Sporting Life app

If League Two had begun at the start of November, Mansfield would already be up - it was around that time they embarked on a run of 11 wins in 12 games that lifted them away from relegation trouble and into the table's upper echelons.

Nigel Clough's Stags have not quite been able to keep that level up (who could?) but shrugged off an early springtime run of five defeats in 10 games to sneak into the play-offs in seventh place.

They have goal threats all over the park, as evidenced by the fact they have made the top seven despite not having a single player in double figures when it comes to goals, but their up-and-down results in March and April do raise question marks.

Swindon's opponents Port Vale are of similar ilk to the Stags - their records are near identical - and they recovered from three successive defeats that ended their hopes of automatic promotion to seal a play-off spot at title-chasing Exeter on the final day.

Boss Darrell Clarke returned from a lengthy spell of bereavement leave to take charge for that game and do not underestimate the effect that galvanisation could have on the Valiants as they bid to win promotion not just for themselves but their manager.

Infogol's % chances of winning League Two play-offs.

What does the data tell us?

All four sides, as you would expect from teams separated by just three points, were evenly matched on performance metrics across the campaign.

Swindon, as mentioned, lead the way in expected goals for (xGF) per game with 1.31, followed by Mansfield (1.23), Vale (1.16) and Northampton (1.10) - but Vale and the Cobblers have solid back-lines, conceding 0.79 and 0.83 expected goals against (xGA) per game respectively, with Mansfield (1.07) and Swindon (1.22) some way back in that department.

Infogol's play-off simulation makes Mansfield favourites to go up, with Swindon second - but the percentages between all four teams are so close, again highlighting how there really isn't much between the quartet.

In addition, I've pulled together data on each side's results against other members of the top seven to illustrate how they perform when facing the division's creme de la creme, given that's what the play-offs ultimately involves.

Northampton have collected just 13 points from a possible 36 against their main promotion rivals, suggesting that while they can see off League Two's lesser lights, they struggle against the better outfits.

Mansfield (15) performed a little better, but Vale (19) and Swindon (20) impressed in this category, including doing the double over champions Forest Green - and I have a feeling it will be the winner of the Vale-Swindon semi who goes up.

Points collected against the rest of the top seven by teams in the League Two play-offs.

Who will win the League Two play-offs?

Whichever team reigns supreme at Wembley on May 28 will have a heck of a story to tell.

Vale have soldiered on and even prospered during manager Clarke's lengthy absence, while Mansfield turned a likely relegation battle into a promotion push and Northampton, if they go up, would bounce back from that last-day heartache.

And Swindon, remember, almost went of business last summer until their ownership wrangle was resolved and new boss Ben Garner began the season with a team thrown together, almost literally at the last minute.

Having seen all four teams on several occasions this season, for me, the Robins are the best side and appear to have been underestimated by the bookmakers in the outright odds, pegged as outsiders or joint outsiders in most markets.

As mentioned above, they score goals for fun, have momentum on their side after four straight wins and have also performed better than their rivals in the "big games".

As a result, the 7/2 available for SWINDON TO BE PROMOTED with Sporting Index is the way to go - while the 3/1 William Hill offer is also perfectly acceptable.

League Two play-offs best bet

  • Swindon to be promoted at 7/2 (Sporting Index)

Odds correct 1430 BST (10/05/22)

Jake Osgathorpe gives his verdict on the latest round of Premier League fixtures
ALSO READ: Jake Osgathorpe gives his verdict on the latest round of Premier League fixtures

More from Sporting Life

Safer gambling

We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.

If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.

Further support and information can be found at and

Like what you've read?


Sporting Life
Join for free!
Access to exclusive features all for FREE - No monthly subscription fee
Race Replays
My stable horse tracker
giftOffers and prize draws
newsExclusive content