League One play-offs: Blades must defy history and slay Swindon to play Preston
On the only previous occasion Sheffield United lost a play-off semi-final first leg, they were relegated.
That thankfully cannot happen to the Blades this time around, but no team playing away second when trailing has gone on reach Wembley, and this is reflected in Coral going 7/1 (form an initial 13/5) on Nigel Clough’s team being promoted.
It’s 11/5 United win in normal time, and they have raised their game against stiffer opposition than Mark Cooper’s Swindon Town throughout their cup runs under Clough junior, so cannot be counted out.
There is a body of thought, however, it’s precisely those exertions that are one reason why the better-rested Robins have their noses in front 2-1 in this tie. No team in the Football League have played more matches than the Blades.
Right back Nathan Byrne’s stoppage time strike at Bramall Lane has put Swindon, 5/4 favourites for victory in 90 minutes at home and 13/8 (from 11/4) to go up, in the driving seat to join Preston North End in this year’s League One play-off final.
Surprise sources scoring was the order of the day in the first leg with Robins loanee and fellow defender Sam Ricketts also on target after Kieron Freeman’s opener for United. None of these names are rated likely to repeat their exploits again, however.
All Cooper and co need to reach Wembley is a draw (9/4), though playing for that would be a dangerous game. Swindon may promote 22-goal top scorer Andy Williams into the starting XI, as Jermaine Hylton did not look to be on the same wavelength as Michael Smith. Both of the Robins’ leading marksmen are 9/5 anytime scorer chances.
Recent history is certainly on the West Country club’s side with back-to-back home wins over this opposition. Smith scored twice in the regular season fixture at the County Ground, so for a brace or better again take odds of 6/1.
One silver lining for Sheffield United is the return of Matt Done from injury. He looked a real handful in the first leg when he came on and, when punters consider 10 of his 17 league goals came on the road, former Rochdale forward Done is a nifty 9/4 to net anytime.
Jamie Murphy, meanwhile, saw a lot of the ball for Clough’s boys early on, and is 5/2 in that market. Jose Baxter should be back after illness, and is better at 13/5.
Another Swindon win with both teams scoring, which has happened in two of three meetings between them and the Blades this term, is a fabulous 4/1. A repeat 2-1 result is a 17/2 shout.