18 May 2013

2013 League Two Play-Off Final preview

Nahki Wells will hope to be in the goals again for Bradford City today.
The Football League Play-Off Finals get underway at Wembley today, with Bradford City and Northampton Town the first two teams to take to the pitch.

7th-placed Bradford and 6th-placed Northampton both overcame higher-ranked opponents to reach the League Two Play-Off Final, and neither team was expected to do particularly well this season, so promotion to League One would be a pleasant surprise for either side.

Incredibly, this is Bradford City's 64th match of a memorable season. This will also be the Bantams' second trip to Wembley in just under three months, having previously made it all the way to the League Cup Final before getting tonked by Swansea City.

The Yorkshire club are looking for their first promotion since being relegated from the Premier League in 2001, and are aiming to do so via their first Play-Off Final since 1996, when they beat Notts County in the Division 2 Final. Despite having little to celebrate in the play-offs in recent years, they do have the slight edge over today's opponents, having not lost to Northampton in four previous meetings this term.

Manager Phil Parkinson, who is in demand from several clubs in higher divisions, has no injuries or suspensions to worry about when he comes to select his team for this afternoon. Parkinson is expected to field the same XI that overcame a first-leg deficit to knock out Burton Albion in the Semi Final a fortnight ago.

That means striker Nahki Wells, who scored twice to turn that tie around, keeps his place up front alongside James Hanson. Captain Gary Jones will marshal the team from midfield, and goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin is preferred to League Cup hero Matt Duke.

Can Adrian Boothroyd do with Northampton what he did with Watford?

Northampton Town's mission is to get back into League One after four seasons down. Having finished a lowly 20th in the previous campaign, they were expected to struggle, but said "Cobblers" to their critics to reach the play-offs for the fifth time.

However, the only time they won a Play-Off Final was in 1997, when they overcame Swansea City by a solitary goal to get out of Division 3. Since then, it's been mostly frustrating in the post-season for the East Midlands team, but in Adrian Boothroyd they have a manager that got Watford into the Premier League via that route just seven years ago.

Boothroyd will need to get his team to overcome their on-the-road jitters. This season, they had the second-worst away record in League Two - only relegated Barnet fared worse when not at home.

Northampton are set to be without striker Clive Platt and defender Joe Widdowson through injury, while another forward - Alex Nicholls - is still unavailable after breaking his leg in October. Among the players that they are able to utilise, though, are on-loan Wigan Athletic keeper Lee Nicholls, striker Adebayo Akinfenwa, and PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle, who is primarily a centre-back.

For either Bradford or Northampton, the long wait for play-off glory will end imminently. The Bantams will be slight favourites, especially if the game goes to penalties, so The Daily Transfer Request predicts that they will win to complete the first stage of their ascent back up the leagues.

TDTR PREDICTS: Bradford City 2-1 Northampton Town

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