As the end of the 2011/12 football season approaches, we cast an eye over the npower League One Play-Offs in an attempt to find out where the value lies.

The 2011/12 League One Play-Offs kick off on Friday night as Stevenage play host to Sheffield United, and what a tight contest they look to be. Anything can happen in the roller coaster ride that is the Play-Offs, but what surprises are in store and more importantly, where does the value lie?

League One Play-Off Dates

Friday 11th May 2012, 19:45
Stevenage V Sheffield Utd

Saturday 12th May 2012, 12:30
MK Dons V Huddersfield

Monday 14th May 2012, 19:45
Sheffield Utd V Stevenage

Tuesday 15th May 2012, 19:45
Huddersfield V MK Dons

Saturday 26th May 2012, 15:00
League One Play-Off Final (Wembley Stadium)

The Teams

Sheffield United FC League One Play-Offs 2011/12Sheffield United
Best Price: 3.00 (SportingBet)
Position in League One: 3rd, 90 points
Key Player: Kevin McDonald

Sheffield United had been in the automatic promotion spots for the bulk of 2012, but were overhauled with two games remaining by arch-rivals Sheffield Wednesday, who put together an incredible run of 12 games unbeaten to pip them by three points. But will Danny Wilson’s men be able to overcome their disappointment and pick themselves up for the Play-Offs?

Of course, that’s not the only emotional and psychological issue for the Blades players to overcome if they are to win promotion back to the Championship. Since 35 goal hitman Ched Evans was sent to prison just three weeks ago, United have been visibly deflated. The three games since that verdict have seen United pick up just two points and crucially, they were held at home by Play-Off opponents Stevenage.

Evans is not the only striker missing from the side, either. James Beattie’s red card against Exeter ensures that he will miss the Play-Off campaign entirely, while Richard Creswell is playing with an injury to his shoulder and the season ended a fortnight ago for Will Hoskins, courtesy of a double Hernia. The only fit striker at the club is Chris Porter, who hasn’t scored since the FA Cup match against non-league Salisbury back at the start of January. The Blades may have notched more than any other League One rival with an impressive 92 goals, but take away the majority of the strikeforce and you have to wonder whether they will have enough up front.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Blades, as midfielder Lee Williamson has helped himself to a handy 13 goals in League One this season, with the likes of Quinn and Lowton chipping in with five and six strikes respectively, but United’s usually solid back line has begun to creak in recent weeks too, with United having gone a goal down in their last five matches. They can’t afford a slow start against any of their Play-Off rivals.

Verdict: Danny Wilson has got Sheffield United playing some attractive, attacking football and on his day, Kevin McDonald wouldn’t look out of place in a Premier League midfield. But history shows that the team just missing out on automatic promotion doesn’t win the Play-Offs as often as they ought to and with that in mind, plus a serious striker shortage, Sheffield United could be a good lay for promotion from League One at 2.90 on Betfair.

Huddersfield Town
Best Price: 3.75 (Bet365)
Position in League One: 4th, 81 points
Key Player: Jordan Rhodes

Huddersfield blew their chances of automatic promotion some time ago, with a poor run of form that saw them lose to Carlisle, Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth and Preston. Since then, they have steadied the ship somewhat, albeit against weak sides like Preston and Scunthorpe. Perhaps more worrying than Huddersfield’s form is that fact that prolific striker Jordan Rhodes hasn’t hit the back of the net in the last five games.

In Rhodes and Lee Novak, Huddersfield possess the most potent strike force in League One – the pair have scored almost 50 league goals between them this season. However, of the top six sides in the division, only Stevenage have scored fewer goals than Huddersfield, who have hit the back of the net 79 times in total. The question is, if Novak and Rhodes are having an off day, then will Huddersfield have enough about them up front? Play-Off matches have a cup tie feel to them and one bad day at the office will see the end of a team’s promotion push.

Both matches between Huddersfield’s Play-Off opponents Milton Keynes ended 1-1 and since March 1st, both teams have identical records in League One: Played 14, Won 6, Drawn 4, Lost 4. There’s little to choose between the two, but Huddersfield have to travel to Milton Keynes for the first leg, which could prove to be a real advantage for the Yorkshire side.

Milton Keynes have been ropey at home of late, as their record of four defeats in their last eight games shows. In that time they have lost to the likes of Walsall and Yeovil, and even their 1-0 win over Sheffield United came the day after the Ched Evans guilty verdict, which had an obvious effect on the visiting team. Huddersfield have hardly been amazing away from home, but all they need to do is keep it tight and get out of the match with a draw or even a narrow defeat, safe in the knowledge that their home form will see them through.

Verdict: Only Tranmere conceded fewer goals at their home ground than Huddersfield this campaign, and with match winners like Rhodes and Novak in the side, they can make it to the final. There is no value in backing the best price of 1.91 for Huddersfield to qualify (Bet365) and not even the 3.50 offered by (BetVictor) could tempt me into backing them to win in the first leg, but I will be interested to see what price they are to win the second leg.

Milton Keynes Dons
Best Price: 3.75 (Ladbrokes)
Position in League One: 5th, 80 points
Key Player: Darren Potter

Both Huddersfield and Milton Keynes have known their fate for a few weeks and have been able to plan accordingly for their League One Play-Off campaigns. Of the pair, Milton Keynes are in marginally better form, but as discussed above, there is little to choose between the two.

MK Dons come into the League One Play-Offs with four wins from their last nine games and only three of those sides were in the top half of the table, two of which they lost. That doesn’t read well at all, but then Huddersfield’s form is no better, with just three wins in their last eight matches.

The MK Dons top scorer in League One this season is Dean Bowditch, with just 12 goals and if they are to make the final, they will need to break down one of the league’s toughest defences. The Dons back line is also strong (both sides have conceded just 47 league goals this season) but Huddersfield have been especially tight at home, where the crucial Semi-Final second leg will take place and for me, this gives them the edge.

Verdict: I believe that Huddersfield’s superior firepower, coupled with playing the second leg at home, gives them the edge over Milton Keynes and so I can’t possibly back them to qualify for the League One Play-Off Final at a best price of 1.91 (Ladbrokes). I can see the first leg being a tight and low scoring affair though, so the best price of 1.83 about Under 2.5 Goals (BetVictor) could be of interest.

Stevenage FC League One Play-Offs 2011/12Stevenage
Best Price: 5.00 (Bet365)
Position in League One: 6th, 73 points
Key Player: Mark Roberts

Stevenage have been quite a success story in the past few years. Winners of the FA Trophy in 2007 and 2009, Stevenage soon translated that cup form to league points, romping to promotiom from the Football Conference (and the title) in 2010, before securing back to back promotions the following season via the League Two Play-Offs, after finishing sixth.

In their first ever League One campaign, Stevenage have performed admirably, again finishing sixth as they bid to climb up to the dizzy heights of Championship football. Their recent Play-Off experience and cup success (including an appearance in the FA Cup Fifth Round this season) should stand them in good stead ahead of this season’s promotion bid and their form against their fellow Play-Off rivals is solid.

The Stevenage squad lacks star quality, but they are a well drilled, disciplined, tightly nit bunch of players, led by team captain Mark Roberts who not only stepped into caretaker charge earlier in the season, but who has weighed in with a healthy seven goals from defence this season, including one at home to Play-Off opponents Sheffield United.

Verdict: To progress to the final, Stevenage face Sheffield United, who missed out on automatic promotion by just three points on the final day of the League One season and finished a full 17 points ahead of them. However, Stevenage have taken four points from the Blades already this term and with United facing something of an injury crisis, coupled with the disappointment of missing out on automatic promotion, Stevenage could be overpriced to make the final at a best price of 2.35 (bwin). The 2.62 (BetVictor) to win the home leg of the tie also looks a great price.

Recommended Bets

It’s an incredibly tough contest to call, but in light of recent events, laying Sheffield United at 2.90 on Betfair looks like a smart move, as even if they manage to see off Stevenage, they have a tough tie no matter who they face and their record in Play-Off finals is poor (three defeats from three, without scoring a single goal). If you aren’t a fan of the betting exchanges, then backing Stevenage to win the Semi-Final first leg at a best price of 2.62 (BetVictor) would do just as well.

In the other tie, it’s tough to call the winner. I marginally prefer Huddersfield, but I don’t feel there’s any value to be had in backing them. One thing is for sure though – the first leg will be close and I like the look of BetVictor‘s 1.83 about the Under 2.5 Goals.

I believe that the 2011/12 League One Play-Off Final will be contested by Stevenage and Huddersfield, in which case Huddersfield have to have a great chance of promotion to the Championship, to make up for losing out in last year’s final. Their record against Borough is good, having taken four points from them during this League One campaign and player for player, they have more than enough about them to get another positive result.

If everything pans out the way I think it will, the 3.75 (Bet365) currently on offer for Huddersfield to win the Play-Offs could look like buying money come the evening of May 26th.