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.