Walsall set to banish final-day disappointment with victory at Barnsley

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Portsmouth and Plymouth Argyle kick-started the Football League play-offs with a breathless, end-to-end 90 minutes of football which ended in a 2-2 draw.

It’s a hard act to follow, but with the play-off pack across League One and League Two offering a very strong set of sides, from attacking outfits like Accrington Stanley to solid campaigners like Bradford City, who would bet against seeing night after night of exciting drama?

Here’s our preview of those intriguing ties across both divisions, as eight sides look to end their season with the joy of promotion.

Barnsley v Walsall (League One play-off semi-final first leg, Today 17:30)

The Saddlers were in scintillating form on the final day, winning 5-0 at Port Vale, though Burton Albion’s draw at Doncaster means that Jon Whitney’s men will have to do it the hard way. However, this spirited Walsall side are set to stay on course for promotion with victory at Barnsley.

The Tykes have sneaked into the top six thanks to Gillingham’s dramatic slide, but the South Yorkshire outfit have been inconsistent on their own patch this season, losing eight games at home, while Walsall have only been beaten four times on the road.

Add the Saddlers’ 2-0 win at Oakwell in October to the mix, and the smart money seems to be on a Walsall win at 21/10, with Barnsley 13/10 and the draw on at 9/4.

With Whitney’s side high scorers on their travels, the best value could be on a 3-1 triumph for the visitors at 25/1.

Score Prediction: Barnsley 1-3 Walsall (25/1)

Bradford City v Millwall (League One play-off semi-final first leg, Sunday 12:15)

Millwall may have snapped up that second-leg home advantage with a four-game winning run to end the season, but Bradford City look good to end the Lions’ recent cheer with a home victory.

The Bantams have won the last seven on their home patch, scoring 13 and conceding just a single goal in that period. Millwall, by contrast, have suffered two away defeats and dropped points at lowly Swindon Town and relegated Colchester.

Bradford have recorded three wins and a draw in their last four home meetings with Millwall, and the Lions’ last win of any sort in this fixture came way back in 2006.

It’s hard to look past a Bradford victory at 7/5 with 21/20 for an away triumph, and a share of the spoils at 21/10. Considering the hosts’ near-immaculate defensive record at Valley Parade, Bradford to keep a clean sheet looks well worth a flutter at 13/8.

Score Prediction: Bradford City 2-0 Millwall (10/1)

AFC Wimbledon v Accrington Stanley (League Two play-off semi-final first leg, Today 19:30)

With 10 previous meetings of these two having produced six victories for Stanley and John Coleman’s men currently on a five-game winning streak away from home, expect Stanley to pick themselves up from final-day defeat with victory in south-west London.

The visitors boast two of the league’s finest forwards in Josh Windass and Billy Key. The latter has opened the scoring in six games so far this season, meaning the Northern Irishman could prove popular at 5/1 to break the deadlock here.

Windass, meanwhile, has netted a brace in two of his last five games and backing the 22-year-old to score twice or more here could be a very smart bet indeed at 11/1.

Stanley look good for victory at 2/1 while those backing the Wombles to win can do so at 13/10.

Score Prediction: AFC Wimbledon 1-2 Accrington Stanley (10/1)

Plymouth Argyle v Portsmouth (League Two play-off semi-final first leg, Sunday 18:00)

Portsmouth came from behind to snatch a 2-2 draw in Thursday night’s pulsating clash with Argyle, but while a share of the spoils at home might dampen some sides’ hopes, away-day specialists Pompey should get an all-important victory in Devon.

Paul Cook’s men have won 11 away games in League One this season – more than they’ve managed at home. At 17/10 for victory, Pompey look to be the smart bet to back, with Plymouth 6/4 and 23/10 for the draw.

However, the best value may lie with backing a draw at half-time and Portsmouth to win at full-time (5/1). Pompey have scored 46 of their 76 League One goals this season in the second period, so expect an even first half here, before the visitors kick into top gear.

Score Prediction: Plymouth Argyle 1-2 Portsmouth (9/1)

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Dave Burin

Dave graduated with an MA in English Literature at Durham University, and worked in marketing before joining the Ladbrokes News team. A Man United fan and avid groundhopper, he’s also an ardent follower of Rugby League. You can usually find him at a ground near you, clutching a big cup of tea.