Fleetwood Town v Wycombe Wanderers
League One play-off semi-final first leg
Friday July 3, 19:30
Live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event
Barton looking to cap an excellent season
Prior to the league being suspended in March, a few would have quietly fancied Fleetwood for automatic promotion. In fact, they were one of the form teams in the third tier with a run of 12 unbeaten at Highbury – a sequence which had helped them to third – which is their highest-ever finish in English Football. That’s excluding the PPG rule obviously.
They are very much a progressive side. I got the feeling Joey Barton learned a lot from a couple of mistakes early on. He and his staff demand high standards, and there certainly is an intense drive and desire from him and the players to improve.
Now Barton has to start all over again, as the unbeaten run at home (whilst impressive), means very little after a three month break and an element of match rustiness.
The Cod Army lost out to Bradford City in the 2017 play-offs under Uwe Rosler. This time around, they are second favourites in the Promotion market at [3.45].
Can the over-achievers do it again?
Whilst Barton can be given a mark of 8.5/10 for his work this season, Wycombe manager Gareth Ainsworth is surely worth a similar rating? They have certainly over-achieved.
In no way could you have considered Wycombe to be in contention for automatic promotion prior to the season kicking off in 2019. In budget terms they would be a long way behind a lot of clubs in the third tier, and it took a while for the layers to latch on to the fact that the Chairboys were winning plenty of matches at home.
Indeed, they flew out of the traps and won nine games up to December. However, the wheels came off when they were played off the park by Coventry at Christmas time, which was the pre-cursor to a tailspin in form when they lost seven of their subsequent 11 games.
However, they made the playoffs, and that’s testament to Ainsworth and his team. They can be backed at [5.9] in the Promotion market, but they won’t mind that, as they have been underdogs all season.
Of the two Friday evening games, Fleetwood are the shortest to win at [2.08], and I can fully understand that price. Out of the two, Wycombe are more erratic.
In the head-to-head from the fixtures earlier in the season, both were close games in terms of goals (1-1 and 0-1 to Town), although Fleetwood had a lot of chances in the victory at Adams Park last February – the first time a visiting team had kept a clean sheet at Wycombe all season.
The 1-1 at Highbury last August is perhaps the best guide as to what to expect on Friday. Wycombe went there looking for a point according to Barton. The visitors are direct, and they like to spoil too. So it’s important that the hosts keep their heads and try to impose their passing game on their opponents – as they are the better footballing team. That was evident in the February victory, as at times, they played Wycombe off the park.
The hosts look a reasonably sound bet at [2.02]. If you are backing the near-evens price, you have on your side the fact that Wycombe were quite poor travellers on the road during the regular season. They only won four games and had scored just 11 on their travels. Only Bolton and Shrewsbury (both 10) registered a lower total.
It’s hard to see Wycombe scoring twice, and they’ll be doing their best to keep it tight for the return leg.
Using Opta Stats for the Unders market, in each of the last eight matches between the two; there has been no more than two goals with neither team scoring twice. And if you need anymore back-up for that bet with the stats, Wycombe failed to score in six of their last eight matches away from home.
The Under 2.5 is a bit shorter than normal – and the [1.66] bet is a complete non-starter. The Under 1.5 is certainly an option to explore given Fleetwood kept six clean sheets out of 18 games. That again might be a little squeezed in terms of price.
Madden and Akinfenwa to add to their fine records
Fleetwood forward Paddy Madden is most definitely the player for this fixture. He scored the equaliser on 90 minutes in the 1-1 last summer, and he netted the winner in the 0-1 in February – and Fleetwood were down to 10-men in that game.
Madden celebrated his 100th EFL goal in the regular campaign and has scored three times against Wycombe in his last four appearances against the club. His tally was 15 for the season before play ended in March – only Ivan Toney (24) of Peterborough had scored more. I’ll be watching where Toney goes this summer – as he was the outstanding forward in League One by a long way.
Wycombe will be dangerous from set-pieces as Joe Jacobson delivers the best free-kick and deliveries in the league. Indeed, he is even a threat to net direct from a corner. That appears to be a party trick for us left-footers, as that was something I’d attempt on a regular basis when I played. With limited success.
Jacobson has scored 10 times from left-back this season which is no mean feat.
Adebayo Akinfenwa is a big game player, and his 10 for this season also makes him a potential bet if you are looking for Wycombe to cause an upset. The forward scored in each of his play-off games when he featured for Wimbledon, and he also found the net against Fleetwood in August.
Alan Dudman’s P&L (inclusive ante-post, playoffs and regular season)
*All bets to a 0.5pt stake unless stated otherwise