It seems a General Election couldn’t decide the fourth team to be promoted from League Two, so it’s going to have to revert to the end-of-season japes that you’d know better as the playoffs. Four teams are up for this one – including our dear Stevenage – but there’s nothing more we can expect from this first sparring contest than an idea of who might have what it takes to go up.
Our visitors to the Lamex for the first leg on Sunday evening will be Southend United, a team who had automatic promotion in their own hands and ballsed it up on the last day of the season. Not that we can comment too much, given the Shrimpers ended eight points ahead of Boro’ and perhaps the most consistent record out of all the teams taking part in the League Two playoffs.
Southend have the sixth best home record and the fourth best away record in the division, which is quite an achievement when a lot of teams around them – including Boro’ – let themselves down somewhat either at home or away. Mind you, the Shrimpers arrived at our gaff earlier this season with the league’s best away record, but we beat ’em and they lost their way on the road.
If the league was decided on home form alone, we’d already be up. Only two others had fared better on their own patch than us – with our last three home games finishing in our favour. It’s been six games outdoors since Southend failed to score, however – this one is going to be a tough old nut to crack and it’s going to go the distance. Don’t expect too many answers come Monday.
Talking about number one, Stevenage are taking part in their fifth set of playoffs – and all five have been launched at home. It’s been a varied history: final, semi-final, final, semi-final. If you’re a fan of pretty patterns and delicious order, then you’ll be well aware of how this one should go. Football doesn’t work like that, of course, but sometimes you can allow yourself to believe.
And when we haven’t made the final, it’s been because of a goal in the last five minutes or after extra time or something. Harsh.
We are in good hands, however. After the chastening experience of being floored with a Cambridge United suckerpunch back in 2009, GW, Ronnie and Daysey have great wisdom to impart when it comes to the importance of not getting too far ahead of the game, even if we do have the grace and fortune to emerge from this initial encounter with Southend in the ascendancy.
The bookies might not have us in pole position for the promotion race, but it seems we’re favourites for this battle. You’ll find a tasty 13/8 on a home win if you go looking, while Southend are remarkably far out at 2s with Bet365. A relatively large number of games (us at home, them away) have delivered more than 2.5 Goals – and that could be well worth a punt at 6/4.
If you take the two matches between Stevenage and Southend United from the regular season, you get an aggregate score of 4-4 – that might sound great from an entertainment perspective, but not good on the ol’ticker. It’s a very real possibility that we will be going the distance in this semi-final; wouldn’t it have just been easier for us to stick a cross in a box and do it that way?