Sky Bet League One Play Off Final Preview

I’m actually looking forward to this game more than the Derby/QPR game tomorrow as I think this is potentially the most entertaining contest this weekend. The last match of the season features two very evenly matched sides that could only be separated on goal difference: Rotherham took a while to adjust to League One but have been very impressive since then whilst Leyton Orient haven’t been out of the top five all season long.

I treat this game as an away match for both teams and unless specifically stated the statistics I quote will be from the last 20 seasons.

As Rotherham are favourites to go up, I’ll start with them. The Millers find themselves in a somewhat unprecedented situation as only two clubs that had been promoted from the fourth tier in the last 20 seasons have reached the playoff final (Northampton 1998, Swansea 2006) and both lost. However, it’s not an unprecedented situation for the club, who won consecutive promotions from the fourth to second tier in 2000 and 2001: it might be worth remembering that both of those successes were automatic rather than via the playoffs.

Like their opponents tomorrow, Rotherham were very strong away from home – they won the same amount of games as Wolves and didn’t lose to any of the teams that finished in the bottom half of the table. Although that’s impressive, there are some chinks in the Millers’ armour: of the playoff teams only Peterborough conceded more away goals. Steve Evans’ side kept clean sheets at Brentford and Peterborough, but haven’t managed to stop the opposition from scoring against them in away games since the win at London Road in March and recently shipped six at Wolves as well as three at Preston (in the regular season game) when they blew a two goal lead.

Technically speaking Leyton Orient haven’t played in the second tier of English football since 1966: as plain ‘Orient’ they were relegated from the old Second Division in 1982. This season saw the club finish in their highest position in the third tier since they won the old Third Division in 1970, but as they’ve finished in the top ten in League One in three of the last four seasons and only missed the 2012/13 playoffs by three points, this team isn’t a flash in the pan by any means.

Along with champions Wolves, the Os lost fewest away games last season and were only beaten in three away matches from October onwards – in fact they had a better record against the other promotion candidates at home than at Brisbane Road. Although they were tough to beat away from home, arguably one of the reasons Orient failed to win automatic promotion was their inability to win on the road in the latter part of the season; five draws in their last ten games supports that hypothesis. They conceded six fewer away goals than Rotherham (that Wolves game has a lot to answer for doesn’t it!) and haven’t let in more than two on their travels since losing to Coventry last October. A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that although the Os can park the bus, they don’t necessarily have to and Sunday’s game might be a demonstration of that.

Head to head: Rotherham have won six of the last ten league meetings; Orient’s win at Brisbane Road in October was their first home win against Rotherham since September 1990. Six of those games produced more than 2.5 goals.

General trends: there have been eight previous finals between the sides that finished in third and fourth place at the end of the season. The higher placed side has only won three of them and hasn’t won this game since Gillingham beat Wigan in 2000…there has been an average of 2.75 goals per final when it’s been contested by the 3rd and 4th placed sides, but both teams have only scored in half of the eight previous finals between teams that finished in those positions…only one of those eight games finished goalless after 9o minutes, when Huddersfield beat Sheffield United on penalties two seasons ago…London clubs have only won the third tier playoff final once in six attempts over the last 20 seasons…the record for Yorkshire sides over the same period is six wins and three defeats, but there hasn’t been a London/Yorkshire final in the last 20 seasons.

Verdict: Leyton Orient have been underestimated by a lot of so-called experts this season, but their record speaks for itself and Rotherham will find them a much tougher proposition that Preston were in the semi final. History and geography appears to be on Rotherham’s side, but as I mentioned above, teams that were promoted from League Two don’t usually get this far and I also get the feeling that their defence could be the weak link. Then there’s the rather bewildering stat that the fourth placed team have been promoted in each of the last three seasons: between 1998 and 2000 the third placed side won all three finals, but then Reading lost to Walsall. Streaks like that are meant to be broken and so I’m going to go with Leyton Orient to return to the second tier in a game that will may feature a few goals.

Update: a very dramatic game – Orient were 2-0 up at half time, but thanks to an astonishing equaliser from Alex Revell the game finished 2-2. Unfortunately for Chris Dagnall, he missed a penalty for Leyton Orient which meant Rotherham were promoted.

We also know the last team to join League 1: Fleetwood Town beat Burton Albion 1-0 at Wembley this afternoon.

Rotherham v Preston: Winner Faces Leyton Orient

An interesting second leg that may not be as close as the bookies seem to think.

The Millers haven’t lost at home since being beaten by Coventry on New Year’s Day and have won six of their last ten games at the New York Stadium, failing to score only once. In that ten game spell Kieran Agard has scored six times, but has been supported by Alex Revell, James Tavernier and Slovenian midfielder Haris Vukcic who have found the net three times: the latter pair are on loan from Newcastle United, which indicates something, although I’m not sure what. Although having goals spread around the side is a good thing, at time of writing it wasn’t clear if either Agard or Lee Frecklington will start against Preston.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago before they lost to Crewe, Preston have picked arguably the worst time of the season to fall apart away from home. The Lillywhites haven’t won on the road since beating Oldham at the beginning of March, which was also the last time they scored more than one goal on their travels and (probably most importantly of all) the last time Joe Garner scored away from Deepdale. Although they don’t necessarily need to win tonight to qualify for the final, Preston can’t afford to sit back and defend either: if you re-read this paragraph and look back at what I wrote about Peterborough’s away form before the second leg of their playoff, the comparison is obvious.

Head to head: Preston have only won two of their last ten visits to either Millmoor or the New York Stadium and only three of those ten encounters have featured more than two goals.

Verdict: Both sets of fans have some causes for concern. Ten games without a home defeat is a sign of two things: a very good team that is due to lose soon. If the concerns over Agard and Frecklington are genuine, Rotherham have a big problem this evening, but Preston’s medium term away form should be a bigger worry for their supporters. In five games this season against the other clubs in the top six, they scored precisely one goal whilst Rotherham only lost one home game against the final top six (Peterborough – in September). Based on their away record this season, I’ll be surprised if Preston reach Wembley this evening but it may not be plain sailing for the hosts.

Preston took the lead, but if Steve Evans was trying a bit of kidology it worked. Lee Frecklington and Kieran Agard both scored as Rotherham won 3-1.

Leyton Orient v Peterborough: Round 2

Back the Matchroom Stadium for the crucial semi final second leg between these two.

The first thing to notice about Orient is how wobbly they’ve been at home recently. The Os have lost four of their last ten home games – including defeats by Wolves and Brentford – and two of their five wins during the same period were against teams that were relegated.

On the positive side, although they’ve only scored more than two goals in a home game since mid February, those goals have been shared amongst the team. Kevin Lisbie is leading scorer in that period with three, but with four other players having scored at least twice – including Saturday’s goalscorer Moses Odubajo – I don’t think there’s any doubts about where goals might come from.

Peterborough have been extremely unconvincing away from home since Christmas. Nine defeats in 13 games isn’t promotion form and although they’ve won at both Orient and Rotherham this season: just like Orient’s home record, two of Peterborough’s away victories were against teams that will be playing in League Two in August.

As I’ve mentioned before, the other odd thing about Peterborough this season is the apparent lack of goals. Although they’ve scored more than they did in the Championship in 2012/13 and only Orient, Rotherham and Wolves managed more away goals than Posh, as the season came to a close Peterborough were shut out four times. I mentioned in the first preview for this game that Brett Assombalonga tends to score in streaks and he’s not scored away from London Road since the win at MK Dons in March. He’s either due another soon or won’t score this evening; Tommy Rowe or Nicky Ajose might have to pick up the slack.

Head to head: Posh have won five of their last ten trips to Orient but haven’t won consecutive games there since the late eighties/early nineties. One aspect of all those games is particularly relevant tonight: both teams scored in nine of those ten matches and there have been at least three goals in eight of those encounters.

Verdict: I think we might be in for a treat tonight. You could argue that Posh blew their chance of promotion by not winning last week, but with neither side having much recent form to write home about and the prospect of a few goals, this could go either way. As seven of the last ten third placed sides have reached the final and the JPT winners don’t usually get promoted I’ll go for Orient to qualify but we might be in for another late one. I’ll update ASAP.

Update: Leyton Orient 2, Peterborough 1.

Sky Bet League One Play Offs Part 2

Peterborough v Leyton Orient (12:15pm, Sky Sports 1)

The higher placed team after the regular season has qualified for the final in seven of the last ten seasons, so the immediate advantage appears to be with Orient.

Posh have occupied the last playoff spot since early February but over that period they’ve only lost twice in nine games at London Road and have kept four clean sheets in their last five home games. However, they only won four of their ten games against the other top six sides and although they recorded home wins against Wolves and Preston, they lost to Rotherham, Brentford and Leyton Orient and conceded three goals in the matches against the latter pair.

Darren Ferguson has chopped and changed his side around this season: only leading scorer Brett Assombalonga, midfielder Micheal Bostwick and ‘keeper Robbie Olejnik have appeared in more than 40 games and the seemingly ever changing cast in midfield is augmented by supersub Danny Swanson. Assombalonga does have a tendency to score in streaks, but has justified his price tag to the extent that Tyrone Barnett – who hasn’t justified his fee – was sent to Bristol City on loan after Christmas: if anything, Posh need another striker to work alongside Assombalonga.

Leyton Orient got off to a fantastic start this season with a twelve game unbeaten run but that form was unsustainable and the wheels started coming off at the start of February when they lost three consecutive games and dropped to third place. Although they recovered and were second until mid March, a five game spell without a win effectively ended their hopes of automatic promotion. Although they won at MK Dons last weekend, that was only The Os second away triumph since the start of February: however, they’ve only lost twice on the road in the same period and only lost once in away games against the top six this season. Part of the reason that Orient have done well this season is that Moses Odubajo and Dean Cox have been regulars in the side as well as scoring often: between them they’ve found the back of the net 22 times in 2013/14.

Head to head: Orient’s win at Peterborough at the start of November was their first victory at London Road since October 1991. Peterborough have won half of the last six league encounters between the sides when they’ve had home advantage.

Verdict

Peterborough’s playing style has changed following their stay in the Championship: defence used to be an afterthought but only three teams let in fewer goals at home than Posh did this season. As I mentioned above, Peterborough are possibly a little too dependent on Brett Assombalonga to do the business up front and if Orient score first then Posh might be at a distinct disadvantage.

Orient have drawn four of their last ten aways and their only loss against the top six this season was at Rotherham, so a draw at London Road is not beyond them. To put that into context, Orient and Rotherham scored the most away goals in League One in 2013/14 and the East London team had a far better defensive record than the Millers, so although I don’ t think they will park the bus, they can if they want. I’ll go for a 1-1.

Result: 1-1 with Brett Assombalonga opening the scoring for Posh. Moses Odubajo equalised in the second half.

Three hours later it’s time for:

Preston v Rotherham (5:15pm, Sky Sports 1)

The lower placed side has qualified for the final in six of the last ten seasons but as I mentioned in the last post, the fifth placed team hasn’t been promoted since Barnsley beat Swansea in 2006.

It’s been a weird season for Preston: they moved into the top six in early September and have stayed there for eight months without ever getting beyond third place. If you’re wondering why the Lillywhites didn’t seem to be able to catch up, a quick look at the table is the answer: they drew far too many games, which is something I commented on last August. In three of their nine undecided games at Deepdale this season they failed to hold on to leads and in four of them they had to come from behind to earn a point; at some stage you wonder if they’re going to get found out.

To be fair though, Preston have finished strongly – or at least they appeared to. They’ve not lost at home in 2014 and have won five in a row in front of their own fans, scoring 18 goals. During that period both Craig Davies and Paul Gallagher both scored hat tricks, but once again if you look a little closer all is not what it seems. Four of the teams they beat during that run finished fourteenth or lower in the final table and two of them (Carlisle and Shrewsbury) were eventually relegated and the win over Peterborough at the end of March was the first – and only – time they’d beaten any of the clubs in the top six at home this season.

Rotherham took a little while to adjust to League One. Between the end of September until the end of November the Millers only won two of their ten games and were in tenth place, but just two defeats in the following half season saw them establish a foothold in the top six that they never relinquished. They were phenomenal on the road – winning as many games as Wolves and scoring as many goals as Orient – and I really wouldn’t read too much into their recent defeats at Sheffield United and Wolves, both of which were decided by extremely late goals and made no difference whatsoever to the top six. Ex-Everton trainee Kieran Agard has scored 21 goals in 46 games this season but the player who caught my eye when I saw the Millers this season was Ben Pringle, who is a similar type of energetic midfielder as the late Alan Ball was in his heyday.

Head to head: Preston have won four and drawn three of their last ten games against Rotherham at Deepdale. The Millers’ last win there came on Boxing Day 2002.

Verdict:

The teams shared six goals at Deepdale at the end of February, but that was after Rotherham had taken a 2-0 lead after less than a quarter of an hour. I’d not be the least bit surprised if something similar happened again but I think it might be a bit much to expect as many goals this time round.

I’ll update this post as soon as I can on Saturday evening, but in one of those ‘everything happens at once’ situations that occasionally occur, I’m at a Eurovision Song Contest party and it might not be until Sunday. I should be able to post something for the return leg of the Orient/Peterborough clash next Tuesday, but it’s also my wife’s birthday that day so it’s a case of see how we go with that one 🙂

Sky Bet League One Play Off Preview

So we’ve reached the playoffs. This season they consist of two clubs that have been in League One for a couple of seasons, one of the relegated sides and one of the promoted teams. Here’s a look at the contenders with a price guide taken from Oddschecker on Tuesday for those of you that fancy a punt.

Leyton Orient (13/4)

Last ten games: 3-4-3. Pre-season prediction: ‘…playoffs aren’t out of the question’

Highest finish in the third tier since they won the old Third Division in 1970 but they’ve not been in the playoffs since reaching the fourth tier competition in 2001. Dropped out of the top two for good in mid March but their points haul would have been good enough for automatic promotion in two of the last five seasons; underestimate them at your own risk.

Past playoff team they most resemble: Bristol City, 2002/03. The Robins finished seventh at the end of 2001/02 but a six game winless streak at the start of 2003 ended any hopes of automatic promotion and they lost to eventual winners Cardiff in the semi finals. Eventually promoted four seasons later.

Rotherham United (13/5)

Last ten games: 6-2-2. Pre-season prediction: ‘…could be a surprise package’

Highest finish in the third tier since finishing runners up behind Millwall in 2001, but unlike Orient the Millers have recent playoff experience as they were losing semi finalists in League Two four years ago. Were never out of the top six after the end of November, but were never in contention for the automatic promotion places.

Past playoff team they most resemble: Cardiff City, 2001/02. Having finished runners up in the fourth tier behind Brighton, the Bluebirds (as they were known then) finished off the following season with a 13 game unbeaten run before coming unstuck against Stoke in the semi finals. Won promotion to the Championship in 2003 after beating QPR in the playoff final at the Millennium Stadium and were relegated from the Premier League last weekend.

Preston North End (5/2 favourites)

Last ten games: 5-2-3  Pre-season prediction: ‘…Simon Grayson knows how to succeed at this level’

Highest finish in League One since winning the title in 2000; reached the Championship playoffs four times in seven seasons with the last decade but had finished in the bottom half of League One in both seasons since relegation in 2011. The Lillywhites looked like strong playoff candidates from mid September onwards but like Rotherham they never looked as if they were going to win automatic promotion.

Past playoff team they most resemble: none. Since 1994, no side that has improved from 14th to fifth in one season has reached the playoffs and only Sheffield Wednesday in 2004/05 had finished lower than 14th and gone on to win the playoffs at the end of the following season.

Peterborough United (10/3)

Last ten games: 5-1-4 Pre-season prediction: ‘…an immediate return to the second tier is more likely than not.’

First season back in League One since 2010/11 started well but a run of five consecutive defeats in October/November took them out of the top three and Posh were embedded in sixth place from early February until the end of the season. Having said that, they’ve got an excellent playoff record at this level and have already won at Wembley this season.

Past playoff team they most resemble: Huddersfield (2002). The Terriers were relegated to the third tier by a point and were sixth from the middle of March 2002 until the end of the season. Lost to Brentford in the semi finals and suffered the ultimate playoff hangover a year later when they were relegated to League Two.

In head to head terms, there’s not much between the contenders for the last promotion place, but there are some patterns that emerge when you take a look at how the finals have panned out since 1994.

3rd place: six wins (last time: Millwall 2010), six defeats (Brentford, last season) – which is relatively good news for Leyton Orient, considering that the third place team has reached the final 12 times in the last 2o years.

4th place: five wins (Yeovil, last season), eight defeats (Cardiff, 2003) – Rotherham may be up against it even if they reach the final. Since 1994, only two teams that had been promoted from the fourth tier and finished in fourth placed reached the playoffs (Northampton in 1998 and Cardiff in 2002) and both were losing semi finalists. Additionally, it’s highly unlikely that the fourth placed club will win four consecutive playoff finals.

5th place: four wins (Barnsley 2006), four defeats (Swindon 2010) – this season the finishing position with longest streak without a playoff final win belongs to Preston.

6th place: five wins (Scunthorpe, 2009), two defeats (Swansea, 2006) – only seven appearances in the last 20 finals but with a bonus that if Peterborough beat Orient they stand a good chance of going up.

I’ll be back tomorrow with the individual match previews.

Game Of The Day: Crewe Alexandra v Preston

The bottom of the table is where the action is this weekend and unless Carlisle manage to do something unprecedented they’re down. Basically, the Cumbrians need to win at Wolves to have any chance of staying up. They’ve never won at Molineux, have scored less than one goal per game in 2013/14 and have the worst goal difference in League One. You never know though: be prepared for lots of references to Jimmy Glass if they pull it off.

The other permutations are almost infinite, so if you’re going to follow the games expect lots of ‘as it stands’ updates on the box. In all likelihood Colchester are safe thanks to their goal difference, which leaves Notts County (at Oldham), Crewe (v Preston) and Tranmere (v Bradford) the most likely candidates for the drop. As The Alex’ game also has implications for the playoff seeds, that’s the logical choice for the last Game Of The Week this season.

The reason Crewe are on the brink of survival is because of their away from. They haven’t won at home since the start of February and have lost four of their last seven at Gresty Road: the last time a Crewe player scored at home was Mark Ellis’ consolation goal against Notts County at the end of March, as their goal against Coventry City was an own goal by Jordan Clarke. For all those reasons, having to play at home against a team that is in the playoffs looks like a daunting prospect.

Or so you’d think until you look at Preston’s recent away form. One win in the last five is nothing to write home about and they’ve also apparently lost their goalscoring touch away from Deepdale, having only averaged half a goal in the last four. I mentioned before the season began that the Lillywhites needed to convert more draws into wins to stand a chance of promotion but only Bradford and Bristol City have featured in more inconclusive matches this season and if Preston are promoted they may not be able to get away with doing that in the Championship.

Having said that, Preston have done very well against the teams in the bottom half of League One: their only defeat was at Deepdale in October – against Crewe. Their record at Gresty Road isn’t so good: only three wins in ten games since 1989 and although this is not a game Simon Grayson’s side need to win, if they don’t there’s a chance that Leyton Orient (who have a superior goal difference) can finish third by winning at MK Dons. Crewe don’t necessarily need to win either to be safe, but a victory would make things that much easier for them.

I’ll back between 5.00 and 6.00pm tomorrow with a quick recap of what’s happened. If you’re interested in which club will be joining League One from the Championship alongside Barnsley and Yeovil, please visit our companion site at Buzzin’ Championship Football sometime after 2:00pm.

Update 1: Doncaster will be back in League One next season.

Update 2: Tranmere and Carlisle are down. Crewe beat Preston 2-1 to survive and Notts County drew 1-1 with Oldham to pull off their own version of the great escape.

Playoff schedule: Peterborough v Leyton Orient (Saturday 10th May, 12th May 12:15pm)

Preston v Rotherham (Same day, 5:15pm)

TV coverage: probably Sky Sports. They have the Championship playoffs on Thursday and Friday evening.