Luton v Huddersfield
The recent history of Championship playoff first legs tells us that this will probably be a tight match. Only 2 of the last 12 first legs have gone over 2.5 goals and only 2 of the last 12 have seen both teams scoring, therefore, both of those bets are viable options here.
Whenever goal expectancy is low the draw is a big runner, however, interestingly there have been no draws in the first leg of Championship playoffs since Huddersfield 0-0 Sheffield Wednesday in 2017.
The very nature of playoff games tends to make them tight affairs that are difficult to predict. Ostensibly we have four good sides that have very similar records over the course of the season, all battling for a huge prize, financially the biggest in football.
That doesn’t mean that form goes out of the window though, often people will talk about momentum coming into the playoffs and how often do we see the team coming into the playoffs in form be the ones to emerge victorious?
In this match, if you like the form theory, then there is one team that looks to be the value, and that is Huddersfield. Having been against them for much of the season because their performance data lagged behind their results this has not been the case leading towards the end of the season.
The Terriers are sitting fourth in the Championship for their xG ratio and expected points data over the last four matches. This remains the case if you stretch the sample size to eight matches. Interestingly they are not relying on set pieces for this as their open play ratio is also ranked highly at 5th. The Huddersfield style comes through in the data though as they actually concede more shots in their own box than they take in the opposition’s box. Their counter-attacking style means that these shots are often much better chances than the chances they concede. This style is going to be very suitable for this particular match as well.
Luton have a good home record at Kenilworth Road. The stadium’s almost unique feel certainly helps them, but looking deeper into their performances at home over the season there isn’t a lot of convincing data to back them up. They have won the xG battle in 12 of their 23 home matches, which puts them only 16th in the league (just behind Huddersfield interestingly enough). Nathan Jones and his charges won’t know or care about this of course and I’m sure that they will run and work until the bitter end here.
Luton really suffered towards the end of the campaign with injuries. This partially explains their difficulties in performance, as does the 7-0 defeat to Fulham. Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu and Elijah Adebayo are still both likely to be out for this fixture, so Cameron Jerome is likely to lead the line, and he is a former first leg Championship playoff scorer for Derby. Huddersfield may welcome Sorba Thomas back to the bench, which would add to Jordan Rhodes as genuine game changers to introduce later on in proceedings. Luton look likely to play 3-5-2 and Huddersfield will probably lineup in a 4-3-3 formation.
My recommendation here is to side with Huddersfield, they are the team in better form and, let us not forget, they are the team that finished 3rd, seven points above Luton. I recommend taking the draw out of the equation by backing Huddersfield draw no bet at an odds against price.
Sheffield United v Nottingham Forest
Most people will have the winner of this 4th vs 5th tie as the favourites to go up in the final. Both teams have made something of a comeback this season, mainly as a result of early managerial changes.
Paul Heckingbottom appears to have been a good fit for Sheffield United and has instilled some of the familiar attitudes and defensive solidity that we saw under Chris Wilder in their previous Championship promotion. Looking into the performance data, Sheffield United’s chance prevention is the best in the whole league going back eight matches. The two teams are level on xG against over a larger 16 match sample, so again, this is likely to be cagey. Purely in open play, Sheffield United emerge as the slightly stronger defensive unit but often play-off matches see set pieces have a big say in the outcome.
United’s home record is intimidating as well. They lost the xG battle at home only 4 times in the 23 matches, therefore the likelihood is that they will do so again here. Certainly the onus will be on them to take an advantage to the City Ground, especially with the raucous Brammall Lane crowd behind them.
Another indication that this is likely to be a low scoring, tight match is the fact that both sides are likely to deploy 3 (or 5) at the back formations. This has been key to both managers’ success in the regular season but often when two well functioning 3 at the back systems come up against each other then chances tend to be very hard work to create.
Forest will continue to miss Keinan Davis and Lewis Grabban from their squad, but the form of Sam Surridge has meant the impact was minimal in the regular season. However, Davis’ physicality would have been a big bonus in this fixture. Bournemouth showed how to shut Forest down very effectively in the penultimate game of the season and no doubt Heckingbottom and his staff will have taken extensive notes from that match.
The information given at the top of the piece obviously applies here too. The price for under 2.5 goals is probably a bit too short to be fully confident to bet but I was surprised to find a more generous price for both teams not to score. As mentioned earlier, both teams have only scored in 2 out of the last 12 Championship playoff first legs, and it is easy to envisage a situation here where chances, for both sides, are at a premium.
Written by an Andy verified content writer
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