Bristol City v Walsall (Sky Sports 3, kick off 3:30pm)
Referee: Mick Russell. At least one yellow card in nine of his last ten games, 2.3 yellows on average over the same period. Just the one red though.
The showpiece for the lower half of the Football League is always a fun day out for the fans, but there’s an added angle this season. If Bristol City are victorious, the Robins will have won the trophy for a record three times. On the other hand, Walsall have never played at Wembley before; they’ve reached four previous semi finals – two in earlier incarnations of this competition – but have failed to qualify for any of the finals they were aiming for.
First round bye
Second Round: 3-1 at Cheltenham (Burns, Korey Smith 2)
Area QF 2-1 v Wimbledon (Wilbraham 2)
Area SF 2-0 v Coventry (Williams, Wilbraham)
Area F 4-2 at Gillingham (Matt Smith 4), 1-1 at home (Matt Smith)
Matt Smith’s amazing goalscoring feat in the area semi finals is all the more bizarre when you consider that he’s now been recalled from loan by Fulham and can’t play in the final, although he will be attending. It’s fair to say that City’s path to the final has been easier than Walsall’s but they’ve still scored more than twice as many goals on the road in League One as the Saddlers have in 2014/15. City have suffered three defeats on the road and have only failed to score three times in away matches in all competitions this season. Aaron Wilbraham is the club’s leading scorer in the league; four other players have scored more than five goals this season, including former Swindon centre half Aden Flint.
First round bye
Second round: 1-0 at Rochdale (Manset)
Area QF: Sheffield United 1-0 (Sawyers)
Area SF: 2-2 aet at Tranmere (Forde, Cain), 5-4 on pens (Grimes missed)
Area F: 2-0 at Preston (Forde, Bradshaw), 0-0 at home
One of Walsall’s largely unheralded strengths is their away defensive record, they’ve conceded two fewer goals away from home than Bristol City have this season and any side that can stop Rochdale, Sheffield United, MK Dons and Preston from scoring at home should be able to put up a similar effort against City. That’s why the recent 3-0 reverse at Barnsley was a surprise as the Saddlers haven’t conceded that many in an away game since mid September and until that point had scored in eight of their previous away games in all competitions. Leading scorer Tom Bradshaw has only scored once since the second goal at Preston in the first leg of the area final; none of his teammates has scored more than four goals this season but Manchester City loanee Jordie Hiwula-Mayifuila looks like one to watch.
Here’s some general stats from the finals from the last 20 years to keep you going for the next couple of days. Bristol City are favourites, probably because since Johnstone’s Paints took over as title sponsor six of the eight finals have been won by the higher placed team on the morning of the final.
* Half of the last 20 finals have had more than 2.5 goals and both teams have scored in the same number. The bookies see a low scoring game, with a 1-1 draw at the top of correct score market but only five of the last 20 finals have finished all square and the last 1-1 draw was in 1994.
* There’s only been one goalless draw (1997), which was also the only time penalties have been used to sort the winners in last two decades.
* The largest margin of victory over the last two decades has been three goals by Southampton in 2010 and Blackpool in 2002. Both games featured a total of five goals
* Six of the last 20 winners have gone on to play in the Premier League; Southampton, Swansea and Stoke are still there. Two of the last 20 winners (Grimsby and Wrexham) are no longer in the football league.
* The losing team has only scored more than one goal in just two of the last 20 finals; last season was only the fifth time since 1995 that the winners had scored more than twice.
I mentioned last week that I might be able to get something done for Easter Monday, but there’s less of chance of that than there was. The plan is now that I ought to be able to post a recap of the Easter action, so I shall see you then.
Update: Bristol City 2, Walsall 0. In other news, Notts County are searching for a new manager.