nPower League One Play Off Final Preview

Only two places left in the Championship and tomorrow’s League One playoff final is between two sides that will be new to the Championship. Brentford last played in the second tier two decades ago (when it was the old Division One) while this season’s fourth placed finish is Yeovil’s best season in the Football League since they were promoted from the conference ten years ago.

Brentford are the favourites to win promotion, but I think this is going to be a very, very close game that could have a surprise ending. Here’s why:

This is the eight time in the last 20 seasons that the League One playoff final has been contested between the sides that finished third and fourth at the end of the season. However, five of those eight finals have been won by the lower placed team and the last time the third placed team beat the team that finished immediately below them was 13 years ago, when Gillingham beat Wigan.

Additionally, half of those eight finals needed extra time to separate the clubs – including last year’s showdown between Huddersfield and Sheffield United – and finals that go to extra time tend to come in bunches. Between 2007 and 2011, all the games were settled in 90 minutes, but six of the eight finals between 1999 and 2006 were undecided at full time.


League One Playoff Finalists 1997 (lost to Crewe), 2002 (lost to Stoke), losing semi finalists 1991, 1995, 2005 and 2006

Hardly an inspiring record is it? It’s not as if Brentford are going to Wembley with a lot of recent form either. You get the impression that they’re only favourites because they finished two points ahead of Yeovil.

The Bees have won only three of last ten games in League 1, their last win coming in a 3-2 victory against Portsmouth at Griffin Park in the middle of last month. Goals – from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Clayton Donaldson in the last five minutes gave Brentford a come from behind victory.

The West London side been in the playoff positions for half the season but were in with a chance of automatic promotion before the crazy ending to their game against Doncaster at the end of last month. To be honest, the Bees drew far too many games to really be considered auto promotion candidates – only four teams in League One featured in more stalemates this season.


League One Playoff Finalists: 2007 (lost to Blackpool)

The Glovers were looking like a solid mid table team until they went on a run of eight wins between the end of December and the start of February, but since then they’ve manoeuvred themselves into the playoffs by being tough to beat.

This season’s final table is a little misleading: although Yeovil have one of the poorest defensive records of the top ten sides in League One, over the latter half of the season they were much tighter at the back.

Absolutely no problems up front though – only Swindon and Bournemouth scored more goals this season. Irish striker Paddy Madden is League One’s leading scorer and James Hayter scored the winning goal for Doncaster Rovers in the 2008 League One playoff final.

VERDICT: one of the overlooked aspects of this game is that whatever happens next season, Yeovil will be the best team in the West Country if they win promotion. Manager Gary Johnson, left back Jamie McAllister and midfielder Gavin Williams were all involved with Bristol City’s more successful seasons in the Championship.

Having won both league games against Brentford this season, I think Yeovil are underrated. The Bees have one of the worst records in the playoffs at any level and also seem to have acquired the habit of screwing up at the worst possible time this season. Defeat at home against Doncaster was bad enough, but they also let Swindon back into the game in injury time at the end the playoff semi final at Griffin Park and I think they may get found out tomorrow.

Update: congratulations to Yeovil Town, who were promoted to the Championship following their 2-1 win over Brentford yesterday.