Mansfield host Northampton in the opening Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final on Saturday evening. Michael Beardmore has a couple of best bets at big prices.
1.5pt Mansfield to win at 23/20 (General)
0.5pt Oli Hawkins to be shown a card at 15/2 (Bet365)
0.5pt Fraser Horsfall to score anytime at 14/1 (Bet365)
Mansfield and Northampton kick off the Sky Bet League Two play-offs on Saturday evening – with the Cobblers’ response to final-day heartache likely to play a big part in deciding the outcome.
As explored in my outright play-offs preview, Northampton must recover from the psychological blow of having automatic promotion snatched from their grasp by a single goal.
If they are able to remind themselves of the strong form they have produced during the run-in – unbeaten in six, winning four, taking 14 points from 18 – they will have a chance.
But should the Cobblers show any signs of weakness, they could be in trouble against a Mansfield side with a frankly ridiculous recent record at home.
Since their mid-autumn upturn – believe it or not, Mansfield sat 23rd, in the relegation places on October 30, almost three months into the season – their home results have been P15 W13 D1 L1.
Now, Northampton have the division’s fifth-strongest away record but that’s partly due to bullying lesser sides – against the rest of the top seven, their away record is P6 W1 D1 L4 F5 A10.
The Stags, by contrast, are unbeaten at home to their promotion rivals, W4 D2, and go into the tie buoyant and with little to lose, having come from almost literally nowhere this season.
Their impeccable home form and worries over Northampton’s state of mind – plus the Cobblers are also without suspended first-choice keeper Liam Roberts – means MANSFIELD TO WIN at a generous 23/20 generally is an automatic selection here.
With both sides featuring in the top five of League Two’s ill-discipline standings, this is a game that could get feisty. Referee Antony Backhouse is taking charge and he’s averaging just over 35 booking points per game this season.
There are several contenders on both sides to incur his wrath but the standout price is the 15/2 on offer (9/2 best elsewhere) about OLI HAWKINS TO BE SHOWN A CARD.
The 6ft 5in utility man mostly plays as a centre-half but has regularly been employed up front too – wherever he features, he puts himself about, collecting a whopping 13 cards in 41 games this term, making that price twice as big as it should be.
Only Cobblers striker Sam Hoskins (13 goals) has double figures this season out of the players on show and the scorer markets are a bit of a needle in a haystack as a result.
But it’s definitely worth a play on Northampton centre-back FRASER HORSFALL TO SCORE ANYTIME at 14/1.
Horsfall is the Cobblers’ joint second top scorer with nine goals this season in a Northampton team that has netted a massive, division-leading 43% of its goals (26 of 60) from set-pieces. If they score, every chance it will be from a set-play.
His fellow centre-back Jon Guthrie (eight goals) is 9s anytime if you want to split stakes between the two – in 15 of the Cobblers’ 46 league games, at least one of those centre-halves has netted.
Score prediction: Mansfield 2-1 Northampton (Sky Bet odds: 15/2)
Odds correct 1200 BST (12/05/22)
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